Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category

Today’s her feastday!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s also the first day of October (obviously) – a month full of wonderful feastdays. Here, from Enid Chadwick’s My Book of the Church Year – is a peak.

(Chadwick was Anglican, so of course the book is for that audience. It’s been republished by the Catholic St. Augustine Academy press and can be ordered here.)

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St. Jerome – September 30

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

From a Reddit thread on the sculpture and the sculptor:

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

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


From The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

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


Good children’s books on St. Jerome:

It’s tragic, but….Margaret Hodge’s version with paintings by Barry Moser is out of print…

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

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

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

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


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

What can we learn from St Jerome? It seems to me, this above all; to love the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. St Jerome said: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. It is therefore important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialogue with the Word of God given to us in Sacred Scripture.

This dialogue with Scripture must always have two dimensions: on the one hand, it must be a truly personal dialogue because God speaks with each one of us through Sacred Scripture and it has a message for each one. We must not read Sacred Scripture as a word of the past but as the Word of God that is also addressed to us, and we must try to understand what it is that the Lord wants to tell us.

However, to avoid falling into individualism, we must bear in mind that the Word of God has been given to us precisely in order to build communion and to join forces in the truth on our journey towards God. Thus, although it is always a personal Word, it is also a Word that builds community, that builds the Church. We must therefore read it in communion with the living Church.

The privileged place for reading and listening to the Word of God is the liturgy, in which, celebrating the Word and making Christ’s Body present in the Sacrament, we actualize the Word in our lives and make it present among us. We must never forget that the Word of God transcends time. Human opinions come and go. What is very modern today will be very antiquated tomorrow. On the other hand, the Word of God is the Word of eternal life, it bears within it eternity and is valid for ever. By carrying the Word of God within us, we therefore carry within us eternity, eternal life.

And from the second

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

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

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

And, of course, on those GA talks – here’s the link to the study guide for the collection. As I say, over and over – an excellent and free – since the talks are online, as well – resource for personal or group study. Maybe a little better than sitting around chatting about how we feel about stuff.

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

And then to the Clerk of Oxford for some medieval insight:

Today is Michaelmas, the golden autumn feast of St Michael and All Angels. It falls at perhaps the most beautiful time of the year, on the cusp between the last glow of fiery summer and the yellow-gold ‘fallowing’ leaves of autumn; the wings of Michael and his angels seem to flutter in harmony with the unleaving of the trees. ‘Michaelmas’ has been the English name for the feast since at least the eleventh century, and it’s a lovely one in every context: Michaelmas daisies, Michaelmas fairs, Michaelmas moons, and more. (Terms, too.) The Anglo-Saxon poem the Menologium alliteratively calls it the ‘high-angel’s tide in harvest’, i.e. ‘the archangel’s day in autumn’:

You may or may not recall that last year there was a scuffle of sorts in the Archdiocese of Chicago about the post-Mass Prayer of St. Michael. I wrote about it here:

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

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

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

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

Yes, it is a battle.

The Matsui image is my son’s. Daniel Mitsui, the artist, seems to no longer have the cited explanation up on his website, but here it is nonetheless from another website:

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

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

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

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

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Over last weekend, I read Ian McEwan’s latest, called Lessons. It’s McEwan’s longest novel (and it’s pretty long), taking us through the life of a man born just after World War II to the present day, framed at every step by world events. Some are suggesting that you could call it something like Boomer: His Life and Times, but I don’t think so. Sure, the timeframe fits, but Roland, our protagonist is not a stereotype.

I don’t recommend it because well, recommending books to read is not my thing. People have different tastes. That, however, doesn’t stop me from admitting that although I liked the way he brought it all around at the end,  it was generally plodding. A bit of a slog at points Nonetheless, I want to highlight three discussion-worthy aspects.

First, there is a specific theme of sexual abuse. It’s not in a Catholic or even religious context at all: the central character is sexually exploited by his (female) piano teacher as a teen. Hence, the title and cover image, although the theme of lessons is broader than this one set of incidents. I am still pondering McEwan’s handling of this matter. It is not moralistic in the way we might expect (from another author) or even want. While not denying the negative impact and immorality of the affair. Roland, late in life, cannot quite see himself as a victim (which is common among victims, and probably, I’m guessing, more so among males), even as he acknowledges the damage. I suppose my conclusion is that McEwan’s treatment of this simply respects his character’s experience. I, a reader, might wish the character saw things differently, but he just doesn’t.

There is actually a bit more to say, but to do so would spoil one of the few suspenseful plot points of the book, so I won’t.

Secondly: a major theme of Lessons is the question of art and life. Shocker, I know. Roland had married and his wife, Alissa, had a son. When the son was a baby, Alissa abandoned the family. She ends up being a famous novelist – one of Europe’s great novelists. For his part, Roland spent his life caring for their son back in London, and cobbling together an income through music gigs and writing greeting cards. For her part, Alissa had been indirectly inspired by her own mother’s experience, which was that of a frustrated writer (journalism, and in her case, the reporting, as a young woman, of the White Rose movement – and it was surprising to see McEwan do such a deep dive into this corner of history in the book). She didn’t want that same fate, so she made sure it didn’t happen.

Again, to tell you how it all turns out would spoil plot points – although it’s fairly predictable – but the question is constantly posed:  what can and should be sacrificed in the pursuit of personal goals? Is it worth it, in the end?

It’s not only the choice to pursue a goal at any price – it’s the choice to choose, period. That’s the contrast we’re given, that’s the characterization of Roland:

How easy it was to drift through an unchosen life, in a succession of reactions to events. He had never made an important decision……Whereas Alissa – he saw the beauty of it. On a windy sunlit midweek morning she cleanly transformed her existence as she packed a small suitcase and, leaving her keys behind, walked out the front door, consumed by an ambition for which she was ready to suffer and make others suffer too. (276)

Finally, the deepest theme of the book has to do with the relationship of an individual life to the whole of human life on earth.

Every once in a while, we get a glimpse of Roland’s sense of his place – he is hopeful that existence is a web of sorts, a web of meaning and care. Is it an ideal? Certainly, and we get a first glimpse of his sensibility when, as a child walking with his father in London, they witness an accident.

He began to cry. He moved away so that his father wouldn’t see. Roland was sorry for the man and the woman but that wasn’t it. His tears were for joy, for a sudden warmth of understanding that did not yet have these terms of definition: how loving and good people were, how kind the world was that had ambulances in it that came quickly out of nowhere whenever there was sorrow and pain. Always there, an entire system, just below the surface of everyday life, watchfully waiting, ready with all its knowledge and skill to come and help, embedded within a greater network of kindness he had yet to discover. it seemed to him then, as the ambulances receded with their distant sirens sounding, that everything worked, and was decent and caring and just. He hadn’t grasped that he was about to leave home forever, that for the next seven years, three-quarters of his life would be at school and that at home he would always be a visitor. And that after school came adulthood. But he sensed he was at the beginning of a new life and now he understood that the world was sympathetic and fair. It would embrace and contain him kindly, justly and nothing bad, really bad, could happen to him or to anyone, or not for long.

Now, we think – McEwan is doing nothing more than setting us up for the shattering of childhood ideals, for of course this is not the way life is.

And along the way, we are given plenty of evidence that this is not so, both on a personal level and on the level of historic events. Life is a mess. We screw it up. No, we don’t care for each other. Yes, there is a definite lack of kindness and justice in the world. Plenty of bad things happen to Roland and the rest of us. There is a continual interplay between the two: big events out there and the individual life – to show how one impacts the other. There’s your system, young Roland, innit?

But near the end, having been through it all, old and no longer spry:

Parts of the world were burning or drowning. Simultaneously, in the old-fashioned glow of close family, made more radiant by recent deprivation, he experienced happiness that could not be dispelled, even by rehearsing every looming disaster in the world. It made no sense.

I can see what McEwan was trying to do here, and I don’t think he’s successful, but nonetheless, there is something quite moving as we enter, with Roland the dusk of his life, pondering all the lessons he’s endured, and realizing that network of kindness he intuited as a child might actually, despite everything, be real, and it might be visible in acceptance, in dignity, and most of all, as a little girl gently leads her grandfather to the family table, the family that would embrace him, the family grown from this seemingly haphazard, “unchosen” life.

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St. Wenceslaus – September 28

That’s today. He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who are strong leaders.”

First and last pages below.

(It’s also Czech Statehood Day)

(Others in that section: Helena, Leo the Great, John Neumann.)

A few more sections:

Saints Are People Who Teach Us New Ways to Pray St. Benedict,St. Dominic de Guzman,St. Teresa of Avila,St. Louis de Monfort

Saints Are People Who See Beyond the Everyday St. Juan Diego, St. Frances of Rome, St. Bernadette Soubirous, Blessed Padre Pio

Saints Are People Who Travel From Home St. Boniface, St. Peter Claver, St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis Solano, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini

Saints Are People Who Tell The Truth St. Polycarp, St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, Blessed Titus Brandsma

Saints Are People Who Help Us Understand God St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, St. Patrick, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Edith Stein

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Tuesday Books

This is just a list of books – non-fiction, mostly history, I think – that have either been recently released or will be published this fall – that look interesting to me. I might read all, I might read a few, who knows. But perhaps one or two of them will interest you as well.

A Mother’s Manual for the Women of Ferrara: A Fifteenth-Century Guide to Pregnancy and Pediatrics

Around 1460, Michele Savonarola produced the extraordinary Mother’s Manual for the Women of Ferrara, a gynecological, obstetrical, and pediatric treatise composed in the vernacular so that it could be read not only by the learned but also by pregnant and nursing mothers and the midwives and wet nurses who presided over childbirth. Savonarola’s work is not merely a trivial set of instructions, but the work of a learned scholar who drew on, among others, the ancient Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen, and Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine. The first of its kind, Savonarola’s Mother’s Manual helps readers understand both the development of late-medieval and early-modern obstetrics and gynecology, as well as the experiences of women who turn to advice books for help with reproductive issues. This book also provides a key to understanding why and how a new genre of book—the midwifery manual or advice book for pregnant women—arose in sixteenth-century Italy and eventually became a popular genre all over Europe from the early modern period to the present day.

Afro-Atlantic Catholics: America’s First Black Christians

Black Christianity in America has long been studied as a blend of indigenous African and Protestant elements. Jeroen Dewulf redirects the conversation by focusing on the enduring legacy of seventeenth-century Afro-Atlantic Catholics in the broader history of African American Christianity. With homelands in parts of Africa with historically strong Portuguese influence, such as the Cape Verde Islands, São Tomé, and Kongo, these Africans embraced variants of early modern Portuguese Catholicism that they would take with them to the Americas as part of the forced migration that was the transatlantic slave trade. Their impact upon the development of Black religious, social, and political activity in North America would be felt from the southern states as far north as what would become New York.

Dewulf’s analysis focuses on the historical documentation of Afro-Atlantic Catholic rituals, devotions, and social structures. Of particular importance are brotherhood practices, which were critical in the dissemination of Afro-Atlantic Catholic culture among Black communities, a culture that was pre-Tridentine in nature and wary of external influences. These fraternal Black mutual-aid and burial society structures were critically important to the development and resilience of Black Christianity in America through periods of changing social conditions. Afro-Atlantic Catholics shows how a sizable minority of enslaved Africans actively transformed the American Christian landscape and would lay a distinctly Afro-Catholic foundation for African American religious traditions today.

The Boke of Gostely Grace

The Boke of Gostely Grace is the anonymous Middle English version of the Liber specialis gratiae by the German visionary Mechthild of Hackeborn (1241–1298). The original Liber, compiled at the convent of Helfta in Saxony, presents Mechthild’s visions as she experienced them in the liturgy of the Christian year. Her famous visions of the Sacred Heart follow, along with instructions on the religious life in community and her visions of the afterlife. The Middle English version adapts the text to a new fifteenth-century audience, probably a Birgittine community such as the newly founded Syon Abbey on the Thames near London; it emphasises imagery of the dance of the liturgy, the vineyard and the Sacred Heart in new and vivid terms, while other aspects, such as the bridal imagery, are played down. Within a generation, the English text had become popular among the nobility, and stimulated lay piety and private prayer. While scholars have traced the influence and reception of many continental European women writers, Mechthild’s revelations have often escaped their attention, through the lack of suitable editions. This edition of Bodley 220, the manuscript written in the London area, includes introduction, commentary and glossary, and breaks new ground in the study of late medieval vernacular translation and women’s literary culture.

Stigmatics and Visual Culture in Late Medieval and Early Modern Italy

This book places the discourse surrounding stigmata within the visual culture of the late medieval and early modern periods, with a particular focus on Italy and on female stigmatics. Echoing, and to a certain extent recreating, the wounds and pain inflicted on Christ during his passion, stigmata stimulated controversy. Related to this were issues that were deeply rooted in contemporary visual culture such as how stigmata were described and performed and whether, or how, it was legitimate to represent stigmata in visual art. Because of the contested nature of stigmata and because stigmata did not always manifest in the same form – sometimes invisible, sometimes visible only periodically, sometimes miraculous, and sometimes self-inflicted – they provoked complex questions and reflections relating to the nature and purpose of visual representation.

Fracta Doces: Thirteenth-Century Insular Visitors to Rome

During the period between circa 1190 and circa 1230, Rome was visited by four remarkable men from the British Isles, all of whom left lively written accounts of what they saw and experienced. Gerald of Wales, Gervase of Tilbury and Thomas of Marlborough are all readily identifiable, and the purposes of their visits reasonably clear. For these men the papal Curia was their main focus and the brilliant personality of its central figure, Pope Innocent III, is vividly portrayed from differing viewpoints. The fourth visitor, identified only as Master Gregory, is the most enigmatic of the group, and it is he who writes the most penetrating descriptions of the ancient monuments which he observed. We know virtually nothing about him, the purpose of his visit is unknown, and its date is less easily established. Ancient monuments fascinated Gregory, whilst the great Roman churches are, in contrast, summarily treated.

The contemporary city these men encountered is described and the success or failure of their visits assessed. Early thirteenth-century Rome is brought vibrantly to life and the astonishing enthusiasm for Egyptian antiquities which marked both Roman sculpture and architecture of this period is reconsidered in the light of our visitors’ comments.

Convents, Clausura and Cloisters: Religious Women in Late Medieval Rome and Latium

Literature on late medieval nunneries in Rome and Latium is sparse. This book attempts to fill this gap, by offering an overview on conventual settlements in the region between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Through the analysis of different source materials this publication presents an in depth analysis of thirteen case studies, some of which are still largely unknown. It is this combination of the well-studied and unstudied that makes this a valuable overview of the region’s nunneries. By contextualising nunneries in a historical, artistic and social framework it becomes apparent that convents were culturally defining agents.

Venantius Fortunatus and Gallic Christianity : Theology in the Writings of an Italian Émigré in Merovingian Gaul

A wandering “Orpheus among the barbarians,” a lively flatterer of the powerful and an appreciator of good food and pleasant company: the sixth-century poet Venantius Fortunatus is known to us today for being all these things. Yet in the Middle Ages people knew and loved “Fortunatus the priest:” a man of the Church and a teacher of Christian dogma.

This book for the first time looks at this other side of Fortunatus’ character through the lens of what he wrote when he was bishop of Poitiers at the end of his life: two sermons and a hymn to the Virgin Mary. Here you will encounter something unexpected: Bishop Fortunatus the stern yet skillful preacher of Augustinian grace and Chalcedonian orthodoxy.

Sonorous Desert: What Deep Listening Taught Early Christian Monks—and What It Can Teach Us

For the hermits and communal monks of antiquity, the desert was a place to flee the cacophony of ordinary life in order to hear and contemplate the voice of God. But these monks discovered something surprising in their harsh desert surroundings: far from empty and silent, the desert is richly reverberant. Sonorous Desert shares the stories and sayings of these ancient spiritual seekers, tracing how the ambient sounds of wind, thunder, water, and animals shaped the emergence and development of early Christian monasticism.

Kim Haines-Eitzen draws on ancient monastic texts from Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine to explore how noise offered desert monks an opportunity to cultivate inner quietude, and shows how the desert quests of ancient monastics offer profound lessons for us about what it means to search for silence. Drawing on her own experiences making field recordings in the deserts of North America and Israel, she reveals how mountains, canyons, caves, rocky escarpments, and lush oases are deeply resonant places. Haines-Eitzen discusses how the desert is a place of paradoxes, both silent and noisy, pulling us toward contemplative isolation yet giving rise to vibrant collectives of fellow seekers.

Accompanied by Haines-Eitzen’s evocative audio recordings of desert environments, Sonorous Desert reveals how desert sounds taught ancient monks about solitude, silence, and the life of community, and how they can help us understand ourselves if we slow down and listen.

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St. Vincent de Paul – September 27

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

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

An account of his life:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


But why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday Random

  • Later in the week, I’ll be at the Catholic Imagination Conference in Dallas. I’m pretty psyched – I will be seeing friends I actually know IRL like Dorian Speed (who is on a panel!!) and friends I’ve yet to meet in IRL and hopefully new friends.
  • I’m driving out there. I’d made plane reservations with Southwest miles, but I cancelled it because after my two huge driving trips earlier this year (out to Wyoming, and then to New Mexico and back), three trips to Charleston and two to Louisville, driving to Dallas seems like a mid-level commute at this point. And if I drove, I could take what I wanted to, be on my own schedule, and not have to rent a car. I think it’s a win-win.
  • I’ve also made definite plans – plane ticket, B&B reservation – for Guanajuato, Mexico in a few weeks. Super excited about that.
  • I was on the SonRise Morning Show this morning… talking about this post.
  • 15 musical settings of Psalm 91.

The marvelous and indispensable blog Art & Theology has a post on just that. Sorry – no On Eagle’s Wings. Can’t imagine why.

There’s beautiful music here. My favorites? Sinead O’Connor’s take and this stunning piece, which I found deeply moving.

“Qui habitat in adjutorio altissimi” (He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High) by Josquin des Prez, adapted by Laurel MacDonald: Josquin des Prez (pronounced “joss-can day pray”) was a highly influential Franco-Flemish composer of the High Renaissance. In 1542 he wrote a setting of Psalm 91[90]:1–8 in Latin for twenty-four voices (SATB ×6)—that is, six distinct soprano parts, six distinct alto parts, etc.

Inspired by this choral motet, in 2007 composer and video artist Laurel MacDonald worked with longtime associate John Oswald to create qui, a sound installation of twenty-nine voices singing an adaptation of des Prez’s “Qui habitat” in twenty-nine languages over twenty-nine speakers, for the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. MacDonald revisited the project in 2010, creating the short video “XXIX” (below) with twenty-one of the original qui singers, each singing in the language of his or her personal heritage. They weave a complex tapestry with interlocking threads of Krio, Spanish, Korean, Hungarian, Hindi, Greek, Finnish, English, French, Italian, Latin, Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho, Georgian, Russian, English, Tamil, Hebrew, Swahili, Japanese, and Arabic—a multilingual declaration of God’s protective power.

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In the end it was the only card

As I mentioned, I read three Brian Moore novels last week. I want to spend a bit of time on Catholics.

As most of you probably know, Catholics is Moore’s novel published in 1972, so just a few years after the end of the Council, set in an indeterminate future – after a Vatican IV, as a matter of fact – in which a youngish with-it priest is sent to shut down, once and for all, the last traditional Mass still being said – by a group of monks whose monastery is on an island of the coast of Ireland. It was one of the first – if not the first – made-for-television movies, starring Trevor Howard and Martin Sheen.

I edited a version of it published in the Loyola Classics series years ago, but you can get other editions – and you can even read it free online via archive.org. It’s very short – really a novella.

Readers tend to focus, naturally enough, on the liturgy and church politics and Moore’s seemingly prescient take on the ecclesiastical scene, and I’ll get to that in a moment, for it’s quite interesting.

But first, let’s talk about faith. For faith and the loss of it is Moore’s interest, one that pops up in most of his novels in one form or another. After I read those three novels last week, I though a bit about that, and compared him to other Catholic and Catholic-ish novelists who also focused on faith struggles – which is most of them, because, you know – fiction requires drama and tension, and what greater drama or deeper tension is there?

I decided, though, that there’s a difference between Moore’s take and what we find, say, in Greene. It seems to me that Greeneland presupposes that the object of faith actually exists, and our protagonists are always doing battle with Him – where our sympathies lie is up to us, but it does seem that Greene’s faith-tormented characters don’t actually doubt what’s ultimately real and true – they reject and they fight it (like Greene himself) and then at some point are put in a position in which they have to make a choice about it.

Moore’s strugglers are different. They are trying to believe, or more often, just not believing at all even though they are assumed to be – in something that is probably not true anyway. It is like we are watching mental patients trying to be healed or sad hypocrites plodding along, too cowardly to live out the truth.

So it is with Catholics. The plot twist (stop reading if you don’t want to know) is that the abbot of the monastery that is holding on the traditional ways has, unbeknownst to anyone, completely lost his faith. It happened at Lourdes, when he saw all the great suffering coming with great faith, hoping for healing, and leaving, apparently just the same as when they arrived.

Nonetheless, he has kept on, holding it together in the monastery and, when put on the spot, defending his monks’ holding on to the old ways – for a while.

So there’s that.

But what I wanted to highlight for you were a couple of conversations from Catholics about faith and authority. I thought they were quite applicable to the present moment. Eerily so.

I think what I’m going to do is just share the pertinent pages. The themes that struck me are, in the first passage, the irony (Moore likes irony, but who doesn’t?) of the liberal priest representing the liberal church being a heresy-hunter, with implicit being the question – if everything is okay, how can anything, including this Mass – be forbidden? Why is this not okay if everything else is? Not to speak of the irony – against implicit – of earnestly talking about “unity.”

(If you click “open image in a new tab” – a larger version will pop up.)

Secondly is the question of authority and obedience. Kinsella is the young enforcer priest, he’s met resistance and strong arguments, but he goes to bed, confident, nonetheless, because he’s come from Rome and so he’s got authority and obedience on his side. The last refuge, even when none of the arguments make sense – even for the most self-proclaimed open-minded among us. The issue is urgent because there’s an apparent dialogue opening with the Buddhists that the continued existence of this Mass complicates. So in the name of openness, authority will be asserted.

Like I said: prescient.

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Friday Random

Mostly (but not all) frivolous. But I am feeling much better, so there’s that.

  • The only other piece of interest to me in the issue was a short Talk of the Town about Edith Piaf. That led me down a rabbit trail regarding one of the songs mentioned – Perrine – which was about a priest’s housekeeper who had an assignation with a young man in the rectory, heard the priest come in, locked the young man in a trunk, forgot about him, and then he was eaten by rats and then they made his legs into candlesticks.


I could not find a recording of Piaf singing this, but the French-Canadian McGarrigle Sisters did a version. So here you go. Deceptively cheery tone, wouldn’t you say?

I enjoyed it mostly for Rod Stieger’s performance – he was just dynamite as the crooked impresario who brings the Bogart character in to market a supposed Argentinian phenom who is a big lug, but can’t actually, you know, box. Much fixing and many pay-offs are involved. A couple of other points – there is, of course, some Catholic Material. You know I will highlight that for you. Toro, the boxer, prays the rosary when he’s waiting for news about the health of an opponent he knocked out – and then makes the decision to leave the circuit when his mother’s pastor in Argentina contacts a priest in New York City to tell him to get home, please.

The most striking aspect of the film, though, was an interview with an actual broken-down former boxer. The interview is conducted by an actor who plays a sports reporter, but was unscripted. It’s quite sad – and one of the points of contention between Schulberg and the film’s director, the latter of whom was totally anti-boxing, which Schulberg was not. You can watch the scene here.

Lighten up!


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