Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category

A very quick, super busy weekend in NYC.

The occasion: For some reason my 17-year old is a Vikings fan. Vikings were playing the Jets. Oldest son, who lives in NYC, said, “Hey, why don’t you bring him up for the game?”


Left Friday, arrived at LGA about 9:30. Took shuttle to hotel #1 in Astoria (picked because of the shuttle). Went out and walked down the nearby Steinway Street, which, for the distance we walked it, is shoulder to shoulder hookah bars that time of night – interesting! We got some fabulous shwarama and falafel at Duzan, then went back and crashed.

Up the next morning, packed up and walked (with our backpacks – we were only staying for two days – it’s all we needed.) down to the Museum of the Moving Image, located in the old Astoria Studios, which for a time (the 1910’s-20’s) was the busiest movie studio in the country. It was good, although I wish they had the history of the place a little more prominently displayed and even used as a framework for exhibits. The special exhibit right now is on Jim Henson, which was very interesting, especially the material about his early career. Jim Henson’s is the only celebrity death I’ve ever reacted strongly too – if you were around and sentient during that time, perhaps you remember? It was because he was relatively young (53) and it seemingly came out of nowhere (it was toxic shock syndrome related to a bacterial infection…although there’s also disagreement about that, too), so it shocked many of us.

Anyway, after that, we caught the train, went across the East River, checked into hotel #2 – the first time I’ve ever gotten a hotel in Manhattan on points, so yay – and it was perfectly located – the Residence Inn that’s very close to Bryant Park. We were headed to the Morgan Library, but on the way we stopped at this chicken place in Korea Town we’d been to a couple of visits ago – and it did not disappoint this time, either. Super quick, too – it’s already


cooked, and you just grab it from the case. Perfect for what we needed. at the moment.

Then over to the Morgan Library for their excellent exhibit on Frankenstein at 200. I’d figured this would be the main museum experience for J because he’d be game watching the rest of the time – and he read Frankenstein last summer for school, so perhaps he’d relate?

One side was material related to the cultural and personal genesis of the work – explanations of the gothic, of the state of science in the early 19th century, and so on. Included were a few manuscript pages of the novel, written in Mary Shelley’s 18 & 19-year old hand. Amazing.

On the other side were posters and programs and illustrations from adaptations. As with so much else, the popularity of Frankenstein was solidified very early by adaptations.

Ann Engelhart – friend, collaborator and water-colorist – met us at the Morgan. I always enjoy going there – they have good, well-curated smaller exhibits (Frankenstein this time and one on Thoreau last time we were here)  and it’s always wonderful to peruse whatever manuscripts they’ve pulled out of the collection in the library itself – not only the illuminated manuscripts and one of the three Gutenburg Bibles in the collection, but things like a hand-written Liszt transcription of Rossini’s William Tell Overture. 


At this point, the oldest son met us, and then took J away to watch football (Tennessee-Alabama & Indiana-Penn State about covered it) with him at a bar. The three of us then walked back through Bryant Park and up to Steinway Hall, Steinway’s Manhattan showroom.

A diversion – Steinway, is of course, headquartered in Astoria – the very spot we’d been in the day before. The history of Steinway is a good one to study for a bit of a microcosm of immigrant energy, 19th century social tensions, and the transformation of the urban landscape during this period.

Here’s a short summary of Heinrich Steinweg’s invention and development of the fortepiano and his emigration to America in 1853. 

And here’s a history of the Steinway presence is Astoria/Queens – Steinway (as he changed his name) moved his workshop from Manhattan to Queens in the face social unrest – fears of anarchists and socialists – and the draft riots.

With all of this newfound space, William was able to bring in plenty of infrastructure to support the company and its employees. Victorian row houses were built for Steinway employees so that they could all live close to the new production headquarters. Steinway Village spanned, roughly, from what is now Ditmars Boulevard up to the East River/Bowery Bay; and from 31st Street to Hazen Street. A group of the original two-story brick homes has been preserved on 20th Avenue and 41st Street.

Besides the housing, several amenities were developed to make Steinway Village a place that employees and their families could spend all their time. Steinway Reformed Church, built in 1890 on land donated by William Steinway, still stands at 41st Street and Ditmars. The Steinway Library, started with books from William’s own collection, is now a branch of the Queens Library. A public school (one of the first free kindergartens in the country), a fire house, and a post office were also built.

For entertainment, Steinway employees had North Beach, an amusement park/resort area with a ferris wheel, swimming pool and German beer garden located on the Bowery Bay waterfront. The venue did not survive Prohibition, however, and eventually became the site of North Beach Airport (which was later renamed LaGuardia Airport).

William helped develop a whole network of transportation, including ferries, streetcars, trolleys, and horse-car railroads to make the neighborhood more convenient and bring in additional revenue. His influence in the area was so far-reaching that he was responsible for the development of the tunnel under the East River that is used by the 7 train today. 

Someday, we’ll go on the Steinway factory tour – but not for a couple of years – since you have to be 16 to go on it…..

Oh, but back to Manhattan. Steinway Hall has a dedicated room for those who’d like to play a Steinway. There are perhaps some days when it’s more in demand than others, but on this day, we only had to wait about five minutes to take our turn.

Yes, an $80,000 piano feels different….

img_20181020_180038We then did some wandering, stopping in a store here and there (like this one – my son’s favorite), seeing a group doing Capoeira – this Brazilian martial arts/dance thing that is becoming all the rage up here, I guess, then eventually ended up back at Pete’s Tavern, where my oldest wanted to take us to dinner. It’s one of his favorites, and a fun spot to go, it being the longest continually-operating restaurant in New York City.

Sunday morning:

Mass right around the corner from our hotel at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents. It really is just by coincidence that the Masses I’ve attended while traveling over the last two weeks have been Extraordinary Form Low Mass – they’ve both been closest to our hotels at the moment. This one was considerably less crowded than Mass in Kansas City, but that’s not surprising – it’s not a residential area, to say the least. I do wonder how many tourists stumble in there for Mass and settle in, only to be deeply confused, wondering if they’ve entered a time warp of some kind. I think they could probably do a bit more with information directed at people in that situation.

Then a quick breakfast at a deli – we attempted the Andrews Coffee Shop, but it was packed out (not surprisingly), so we just stopped in at a deli down the block, where the guy behind the counter took about five orders before he started cooking, didn’t write anything down and got it all almost 100% correct. “A legend,” as my son said.

Next: Penn Station where my oldest met us, and my fears of my Vikings-gear clad son getting beat up by Jets fans was somewhat alleviated by the waves of Vikings fans surrounding us, also headed to the game. A good weekend trip to NYC, I guess, right?

Then M and I headed to Brooklyn, bearing all of our backpacks – we’d checked out of the hotel, of course. We took the 2 train down here:

…where Ann met us, and we had a lovely afternoon at the Brooklyn Museum – where I’d wanted to go for a while.  They had a decent little Meso-American collection, which M enjoyed – particularly since he found a pretty definite error on one of the placards (I’m going to have him write a letter this week to the museum about it, suggesting a correction.) He also enjoyed the Egyptian collection, which is good-sized, and we were all moved by these large paintings of prisoners during the Russian-Turkish War.

There is some fine American work, including this striking portrait.


The “Brooklyn Della Robbia” is lovely, and I was..amused by this placard.

My translation: For a while, this piece was deemed way too Eurocentric and Christianist for our eyes. 

Ann and I both took some time to separately go view Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. 

I’ll admit – I was surprised, both by the piece and by my reaction to it. As a young woman, I followed the very controversial beginnings of this piece, as it toured the world, scandalized some and then finally settled in Brooklyn. I was somewhat intrigued, but saw it mostly as a pretty strange concept, and not expressive of any kind of feminism I was interested in signing up for.

Seeing it in person is an experience that convinced me it’s a worthy piece of art, not just a gimmick. And to be honest –  the conceit of it is going to strike a 58-year old woman differently than it will a younger person. We are, in generally, more comfortable and less shockable (some of us, at least) and the body is just…the body. Weird, amazing, singular, life-giving and at the same time, dying. Given the chapel-like setting, of course a spiritual response is expected – but what that is will depend on whether or not you’re looking for the divine feminine or your looking for hints of the desire for Truth, Beauty and Life in what people make in a broken world, through a glass darkly, despite themselves.


(If you go to the museum site and read the questions and answers about the piece, you’ll see how the end game to identity politics is clearly in sight, as the museum earnestly responds to a question about the exclusion of “transgender women” from the piece…..)

We then had a fabulous lunch at Werkstatt – fresh, homemade pretzel, wurst, schnitzel and goulash, with lovely cool little dabs of salads to provide contrast. It’s the kind of place: small, serious yet informal – that is totally the norm in the New York City, that is not a big deal, that just sits on the corner like it’s a Waffle House or something – and would be dominating Instagram as  The Restaurant of the Moment for six solid months in Birmingham. It’s just what happens when you get millions of people living in a few dozen square miles, having to compete, live and express their passions. Everything happens and such a higher level – for good and for ill, I suppose.

A great meal!

Ann then drove us around Prospect Park, showing us some great home architecture as I, as I always do, try to figure out how in the world normal people live there, living in these expensive apartments and houses, eating out all the time, paying enormously high taxes… And they do. I get part of it – salaries are higher, people share dwellings, but still. I really don’t understand!


Ready for Halloween!

I didn’t get a photo – I don’t know why – but of particular interest was the fabulous Japanese House, constructed in the early 20th century. Go check it out. 


Then…..the ordeal of getting back here. Which was only sort of an ordeal. We went back to Penn Station, then the train to the Newark Airport (flying out of Newark because of the kid at the game in NJ). For his part, he was making his way from MetLife Stadium to the airport, accompanied part of the way by my oldest. There was some…confusion, but all’s well that ends well. He made it. Our original flight was supposed to leave at 8:30, but it was massively delayed, assuring that we’d miss our connection from ATL to BHM. When I got to the airport, I immediately went to the gate agent and she put us on standby for another, earlier – also delayed – flight. It was supposed to leave at 7:15, I think, but was now scheduled for 8:05. I really don’t understand how all of this works. There were over a hundred people on standby for this flight, and we were #8-10. How did we get so highly placed? I don’t know. And we got on. I don’t have status of any sort. So no – how we got on is a mystery. But we did, and were able to make the connection (if we hadn’t – we would have taken the later flight, and I would have rented a car in Atlanta and just driven home.)

And now, grumbling, everyone’s back in school, and here I am….phew!



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— 1 —


You must have sincere affection for the Savages, looking upon them as ransomed by the blood of the son of God, and as our brethren, with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives.

Today is the feast of the North American Martyrs. I have a post here, and I encourage you to go over and read it, and take special care to read St. Jean de Brebeuf’s instructions to his missionaries for how to minister to the Hurons.

There is so much nonsense tossed about more or less constantly about the…well, about almost everything having to do with the Church. So many straw men, so many mischaracterizations of the past, so much selective remembering and so much obsession with a few hobbyhorses that, honestly, aren’t anywhere to be found in the Gospel or the greater Tradition.

So, yes, contrary to what you hear these days, accompaniment and going to the peripheries is not something that Catholics only recently discovered, and that thanks to Pope Francis. I mean – be logical. How could the Gospel be spread through the whole world if, you know, these women and men weren’t all about going to the peripheries? 

So yes. Read what St. Jean de Brebeuf had to say hundreds of years ago:

You must bear with their imperfections without saying a word, yes, even without seeming to notice them. Even if it be necessary to criticise anything, it must be done modestly, and with words and signs which evince love and not aversion. In short, you must try to be, and to appear, always cheerful.


— 2 —

Last night, my youngest son and I attended a lecture in a nearby brewery given by one of our local academic stars, Dr. Sarah Parcak, who has won wide recognition for her work in satellite archaeology. She spoke about her citizen scientist initiative, which she funded from the million bucks she was awarded by the TED initiative:

GlobalXplorer° is an online platform that uses the power of the crowd to analyze the incredible wealth of satellite images currently available to archaeologists. Launched img_20181018_184055by 2016 TED Prize winner and National Geographic Fellow, Dr. Sarah Parcak, as her “wish for the world,” GlobalXplorer° aims to bring the wonder of archaeological discovery to all, and to help us better understand our connection to the past. So far, Dr. Parcak’s techniques have helped locate 17 potential pyramids, in addition to 3,100 potential forgotten settlements and 1,000 potential lost tombs in Egypt — and she’s also made significant discoveries in the Viking world and Roman Empire. With the help of citizen scientists across the globe, she hopes to uncover much, much more. This is just the beginning. With additional funding, Dr. Parcak aims to revolutionize how modern archaeology is done altogether, by creating a global network of citizen explorers, opening field schools to guide archaeological preservation on the ground, developing an archaeological institute, and even launching a satellite designed with archaeology in mind.

Pretty great stuff!

— 3 —

Has anyone watched the PBS This American Experience about Eugenics? I’m wondering how honestly it grapples with the fact of the association between Progressivism and eugenics. 

— 4 —

The NY Post looks at homeschooling New Yorkers. 

By the way, I’ve started dipping my toe back into that world. We’re definitely home/roadschooling at least the first year of high school here, so let those rabbit trails begin again…..

Oh, and here’s another article from City Journal:

Maleka Diggs didn’t intend to homeschool her children. She and her husband, along with their two young daughters, moved to an apartment in a sought-after Philadelphia neighborhood with top-rated public schools. But when Diggs took her older daughter to kindergarten registration, bringing the necessary paperwork to prove residency and eligibility, the school principal didn’t believe that she lived where she did and made disparaging remarks, including asking if coupons paid her rent. “I was angry and hurt,” she recalls, “but it was the best day because it was the beginning of my journey toward homeschooling.”

She quit her job in corporate America and began replicating school at home. She was determined to create a rigorous academic environment for her daughters, complete with worksheets, cubbies, and bells, but the rigidity began to strain the mother/daughter relationships and to hinder learning. She began exploring self-directed education, avoiding the teach-and-test model of schooling in favor of interest-led learning. Today her daughters, now 13 and 11, learn in and from the city, becoming immersed in the vibrancy around them. Her older daughter leads a book group for tweens and teens and is starting a business based on her talent for cooking. Her younger daughter plays Brazilian drums in an adult ensemble group. Diggs has launched the Eclectic Learning Network to create connections among city homeschoolers and to partner with local organizations and businesses to offer homeschooling programming. “My mission is to build community one family at a time,” she says.

From the same author, Kerry McDonald (who has a book coming out next year on unschooling) – a look at compulsory education laws:

Without the state mandating school attendance for most of childhood, in some states up to age 18, there would be new pathways to adulthood that wouldn’t rely so heavily on state-issued high school diplomas. Innovative apprenticeship models would be created, community colleges would cater more toward independent teenage learners, and career preparation programs would expand. As the social reformer Paul Goodman wrote in his book New Reformation: “Our aim should be to multiply the paths of growing up, instead of narrowing the one existing school path.”

In his biography of Horace Mann, historian Jonathan Messerli explains how compulsory schooling contracted a once expansive definition of education into the singular definition of schooling. Indeed, today education is almost universally associated with schooling. Messerli writes: “That in enlarging the European concept of schooling, [Mann] might narrow the real parameters of education by enclosing it within the four walls of the public school classroom.”² Eliminating compulsory schooling laws would break the century-and-a-half stranglehold of schooling on education. It would help to disentangle education from schooling and reveal many other ways to be educated, such as through non-coercive, self-directed education, or “unschooling.”

Even the most adamant education reformers often stop short of advocating for abolishing compulsory schooling statutes, arguing that it wouldn’t make much difference. But stripping the state of its power to define, control, and monitor something as beautifully broad as education would have a large and lasting impact on re-empowering families, encouraging educational entrepreneurs, and creating more choice and opportunity for all learners.


— 5 —

You know how some cities have great old train terminals? A lot of them seem to be called Union station or something close. Well, Birmingham used to have a grand old structure like that. Used to.  But in our version of the Penn Station tragedy – but without quite as much protest – it was torn down. Here’s the story, in case you’re interested. And take a look. Sigh.


— 6 —

I’m proud to announce that The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories was awarded a silvermedal in the religion category of the Moonbeam Awards:

Launched in 2007, the awards are intended to bring increased recognition to exemplary children’s books and their creators, and to celebrate children’s books and life-long reading. ….

Creating books that inspire our children to read, to learn, and to dream is an extremely important task, and these awards were conceived to reward those efforts. 

Reminder: The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories is structured according to the liturgical year, and the stories are retold within a Catholic, liturgical paradigm. So if you’re looking for Advent devotional reading – you might consider adding this!

(It’s available at any Catholic bookseller of course, but I do have copies here as well.)


— 7 —

Heading to NYC later today…keep up with the shenanigans on Instagram, especially Stories. 


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

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Everyone should note that today (the 19th  – Friday, even though this is being published Thursday night!)  is the feast of the North American Martyrs. Jogues, Brebeuf, etc. Read Black Robe in celebration! Well, “celebration” doesn’t quite capture it. Remembrance, maybe?

Or, perhaps you might read Parkman’s The Jesuits in North America

Mosaic from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Or, you could really go to town and take a look at the Jesuit Relations which are, amazingly, all online right here

This site contains entire English translation of the The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, originally compiled and edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites and published by The Burrows Brothers Company, Cleveland, throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century. Each file represents the total English contents of a single published volume. The original work has facing pages in the original French, Latin or Italian, depending on the author.

Of particular interest might be Brebeuf’s Instructions to the Missionaries. I am going to reproduce it in full here. We are hearing a lot these days about “meeting people where they are.”

Again, not a concept of recent origin:

(From Vol. XII of the Relations, 1637)

Let us say a few words more before concluding this chapter. Father Brebeuf sent me some instructions, which I have all our Fathers read whom I send to the Hurons. I thought it would be wise to place them here, so that those who should be appointed to this mission might see from France the trials with which they will have to contend. I know very well that the greater these trials are made, the more ardor we see in our Fathers, who [page 115] even go so far as to wish for them too eagerly. It is better, in my opinion, while one is still in France, not to think either of the Hurons, or of the Algonquins, or of the Montagnez, or of Kebec, or of Miskou, or even of converting the Savages, but to take up the Cross wherever Jesus Christ shall offer it to us. Let us come to the point.


HE Fathers and Brethren whom God shall call to the Holy Mission of the Hurons ought to exercise careful foresight in regard to all the hardships, annoyances, and perils that must be encountered in making this journey, in order to be prepared betimes for all emergencies that may arise.

You must have sincere affection for the Savages, looking upon them as ransomed by the blood of the son of God, and as our brethren, with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives.

To conciliate the Savages, you must be careful never to make them wait for you in embarking.

You must provide yourself with a tinder box or with a [233 i.e., 229] burning mirror, or with both, to furnish them fire in the daytime to light their pipes, and in the evening when they have to encamp; these little services win their hearts.

You should try to cat their sagamité or salmagundi in the way they prepare it, although it may be dirty, half-cooked, and very tasteless. As to the other numerous things which may be unpleasant, they must be endured for the love of God, without saying anything or appearing to notice them. [page 117]

It is well at first to take everything they offer, although you may not be able to eat it all; for, when one becomes somewhat accustomed to it, there is not too much.

You must try and eat at daybreak unless you can take your meal with you in the canoe; for the day is very long, if you have to pass it without eating. The Barbarians eat only at Sunrise and Sunset, when they are on their journeys.

You must be prompt in embarking and disembarking; and tuck up your gowns so that they will not get wet, and so that you will not carry either water or sand into the canoe. To be properly dressed, you must have your feet and legs bare; while crossing the rapids, you can [234 i.e., 230] wear your shoes, and, in the long portages, even your leggings.

You must so conduct yourself as not to be at all troublesome to even one of these Barbarians.

It is not well to ask many questions, nor should you yield to your desire to learn the language and to make observations on the way; this may be carried too far. You must relieve those in your canoe of this annoyance, especially as you cannot profit much by it during the work. Silence is a good equipment at such a time.

You must bear with their imperfections without saying a word, yes, even without seeming to notice them. Even if it be necessary to criticise anything, it must be done modestly, and with words and signs which evince love and not aversion. In short, you must try to be, and to appear, always cheerful.

Each one should be provided with half a gross of awls, two or three dozen little knives called jambettes [pocket-knives], a hundred fishhooks, with some beads [page 119] of plain and colored glass, with which to buy fish or other articles when the tribes meet each other, so as to feast the Savages; and it would be [235 i.e., 231] well to say to them in the beginning, ” Here is something with which to buy fish.” Each one will try, at the portages, to carry some little thing, according to his strength; however little one carries, it greatly pleases the Savages, if it be only a kettle.

You must not be ceremonious with the Savages, but accept the comforts they offer you, such as a good place in the cabin. The greatest conveniences are attended with very great inconvenience, and these ceremonies offend them.

Be careful not to annoy any one in the canoe with your hat; it would be better to take your nightcap. There is no impropriety among the Savages.

Do not undertake anything unless you desire to continue it; for example, do not begin to paddle unless you are inclined to continue paddling. Take from the start the place in the canoe that you wish to keep; do not lend them your garments, unless you are willing to surrender them during the whole journey. It is easier to refuse at first than to ask them back, to change, or to desist afterwards.

Finally, understand that the Savages [236 i.e., 232] will retain the same opinion of you in their own country that they will have formed on the way; and one who has passed for an irritable and troublesome person will have considerable difficulty afterwards in removing this opinion. You have to do not only with those of your own canoe, but also (if it must be so stated) with all those of the country; you meet some to-day and others to-morrow, who do not fail to inquire, from those who brought you, what sort of [page 121] man you are. It is almost incredible, how they observe and remember even to the slightest fault. When you meet Savages on the way, as you cannot yet greet them with kind words, at least show them a cheerful face, and thus prove that you endure gayly the fatigues of the voyage. You will thus have put to good use the hardships of the way, and have already advanced considerably in gaining the affection of the Savages.

This is a lesson which is easy enough to learn, but very difficult to put into practice; for, leaving a highly civilized community, you fall into the hands of barbarous people who care but little for your Philosophy or your Theology. All the fine qualities which might make you loved and respected in France [237 i.e., 233] are like pearls trampled under the feet of swine, or rather of mules, which utterly despise you when they see that you are not as good pack animals as they are. If you could go naked, and carry the load of a horse upon your back, as they do, then you would be wise according to their doctrine, and would be recognized as a great man, otherwise not. Jesus Christ is our true greatness; it is he alone and his cross that should be sought in running after these people, for, if you strive for anything else, you will find naught but bodily and spiritual affliction. But having found Jesus Christ in his cross, you have found the roses in the thorns, sweetness in bitterness, all in nothing. [page 12

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints – under “Saints are People Who are Brave.”  I’ve got the last page here for you. 



Stephanie Mann has an excerpt from a Willa Cather novel in which a character speaks of one of the lesser-known martyrs.

“But through all these physical sufferings, which remained as sharp as on the first day, the greatest of his sufferings was an almost continual sense of the withdrawal of God. All missionaries have that anguish at times, but with Chabanel it was continual. For long months, for a whole winter, he would exist in the forest, every human sense outraged, and with no assurance of the nearness of God. In those seasons of despair he was constantly beset by temptation in the form of homesickness. He longed to leave the mission to priests who were better suited to its hardships, to return to France and teach the young, and to find again that peace of soul, that cleanliness and order, which made him the master of his mind and its powers. Everything that he had lost was awaiting him in France, and the Director of Missions in Quebec had suggested his return.

“On Corpus Christi Day, in the fifth year of his labours in Canada and the thirty-fifth of his age, he cut short this struggle and overcame his temptation. At the mission of Saint Matthias, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, he made a vow of perpetual stability (perpetuam stabilitatem) in the Huron missions. This vow he recorded in writing, and he sent copies of it to his brethren in Kebec.

“Having made up his mind to die in the wilderness, he had not long to wait. Two years later he perished when the mission of Saint Jean was destroyed by the Iroquois,–though whether he died of cold in his flight through the forest, or was murdered by a faithless convert for the sake of the poor belongings he carried on his back, was not surely known. No man ever gave up more for Christ than Noël Chabanel; many gave all, but few had so much to give.


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Ignatius of Antioch

An introduction, from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

St Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch, which today is located in Turkey. Here in Antioch, as we know from the Acts of the Apostles, a flourishing Christian community developed. Its first Bishop was the Apostle Peter – or so tradition claims – and it was there that the disciples were “for the first time called Christians” (Acts 11: 26). Eusebius of Caesarea, a fourth-century historian, dedicated an entire chapter of his Church History to the life and literary works of Ignatius (cf. 3: 36).

Eusebius writes: “The Report says that he [Ignatius] was sent from Syria to Rome, and became food for wild beasts on account of his testimony to Christ. And as he made the journey through Asia under the strictest military surveillance” (he called the guards “ten leopards” in his Letter to the Romans, 5: 1), “he fortified the parishes in the various cities where he stopped by homilies and exhortations, and warned them above all to be especially on their guard against the heresies that were then beginning to prevail, and exhorted them to hold fast to the tradition of the Apostles”.

The first place Ignatius stopped on the way to his martyrdom was the city of Smyrna, where St Polycarp, a disciple of St John, was Bishop. Here, Ignatius wrote four letters, respectively to the Churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralli and Rome. “Having ignatius-of-antiochleft Smyrna”, Eusebius continues, Ignatius reached Troas and “wrote again”: two letters to the Churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna, and one to Bishop Polycarp.

Thus, Eusebius completes the list of his letters, which have come down to us from the Church of the first century as a precious treasure. In reading these texts one feels the freshness of the faith of the generation which had still known the Apostles. In these letters, the ardent love of a saint can also be felt.

Lastly, the martyr travelled from Troas to Rome, where he was thrown to fierce wild animals in the Flavian Amphitheatre.

No Church Father has expressed the longing for union with Christ and for life in him with the intensity of Ignatius. We therefore read the Gospel passage on the vine, which according to John’s Gospel is Jesus. In fact, two spiritual “currents” converge in Ignatius, that of Paul, straining with all his might for union with Christ, and that of John, concentrated on life in him. In turn, these two currents translate into the imitation of Christ, whom Ignatius several times proclaimed as “my” or “our God”.

Thus, Ignatius implores the Christians of Rome not to prevent his martyrdom since he is impatient “to attain to Jesus Christ”. And he explains, “It is better for me to die on behalf of Jesus Christ than to reign over all the ends of the earth…. Him I seek, who died for us: him I desire, who rose again for our sake…. Permit me to be an imitator of the Passion of my God!” (Romans, 5-6).

One can perceive in these words on fire with love, the pronounced Christological “realism” typical of the Church of Antioch, more focused than ever on the Incarnation of the Son of God and on his true and concrete humanity: “Jesus Christ”, St Ignatius_of_AntiochIgnatius wrote to the Smyrnaeans, “was truly of the seed of David”, “he was truly born of a virgin”, “and was truly nailed [to the Cross] for us” (1: 1).
Ignatius’ irresistible longing for union with Christ was the foundation of a real “mysticism of unity”. He describes himself: “I therefore did what befitted me as a man devoted to unity” (Philadelphians, 8: 1).

For Ignatius unity was first and foremost a prerogative of God, who, since he exists as Three Persons, is One in absolute unity. Ignatius often used to repeat that God is unity and that in God alone is unity found in its pure and original state. Unity to be brought about on this earth by Christians is no more than an imitation as close as possible to the divine archetype.

Thus, Ignatius reached the point of being able to work out a vision of the Church strongly reminiscent of certain expressions in Clement of Rome’s Letter to the Corinthians.

For example, he wrote to the Christians of Ephesus: “It is fitting that you should concur with the will of your Bishop, which you also do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the Bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore, in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And man by man, you become a choir, that being harmonious in love and taking up the song of God in unison you may with one voice sing to the Father…” (4: 1-2).

And after recommending to the Smyrnaeans: “Let no man do anything connected with Church without the Bishop”, he confides to Polycarp: “I offer my life for those who are submissive to the Bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may I along with them obtain my portion in God! Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together as the stewards and associates and servants of God. Please him under whom you fight, and from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your Baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply” (Polycarp, 6: 1-2).

Overall, it is possible to grasp in the Letters of Ignatius a sort of constant and fruitful dialectic between two characteristic aspects of Christian life: on the one hand, the hierarchical structure of the Ecclesial Community, and on the other, the fundamental unity that binds all the faithful in Christ.
Consequently, their roles cannot be opposed to one another. On the contrary, the insistence on communion among believers and of believers with their Pastors was constantly reformulated in eloquent images and analogies: the harp, strings, intonation, the concert, the symphony. The special responsibility of Bishops, priests and deacons in building the community is clear.

This applies first of all to their invitation to love and unity. “Be one”, Ignatius wrote to the Magnesians, echoing the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper: “one supplication, one mind, one hope in love…. Therefore, all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one” (7: 1-2).

Ignatius was the first person in Christian literature to attribute to the Church the adjective “catholic” or “universal”: “Wherever Jesus Christ is”, he said, “there is the Catholic Church” (Smyrnaeans, 8: 2). And precisely in the service of unity to the Catholic Church, the Christian community of Rome exercised a sort of primacy of love: “The Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness… and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father…” (Romans, Prologue).

As can be seen, Ignatius is truly the “Doctor of Unity”: unity of God and unity of Christ (despite the various heresies gaining ground which separated the human and the divine in Christ), unity of the Church, unity of the faithful in “faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred” (Smyrnaeans, 6: 1).

Ultimately, Ignatius’ realism invites the faithful of yesterday and today, invites us all, to make a gradual synthesis betweenconfiguration to Christ (union with him, life in him) and dedication to his Church (unity with the Bishop, generous service to the community and to the world).

To summarize, it is necessary to achieve a synthesis between communion of the Church within herself and mission, the proclamation of the Gospel to others, until the other speaks through one dimension and believers increasingly “have obtained the inseparable Spirit, who is Jesus Christ” (Magnesians, 15).

Imploring from the Lord this “grace of unity” and in the conviction that the whole Church presides in charity (cf. Romans,Prologue), I address to you yourselves the same hope with which Ignatius ended his Letter to the Trallians: “Love one another with an undivided heart. Let my spirit be sanctified by yours, not only now, but also when I shall attain to God…. In [Jesus Christ] may you be found unblemished” (13).

And let us pray that the Lord will help us to attain this unity and to be found at last unstained, because it is love that purifies souls.


The writings of St .Ignatius – those letters – are here, as well as many other places.

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I’m going to apologize in advance.


For what?

Well, you know how I’ve been sort of pleased about JSTOR, the academic writing site that graciously allowed me to read like five articles every six weeks at no cost?

Turns out that thanks to my public library, I have access to another academic database – EBSCOhost, and it’s a beautiful thing. I am never going to run out of words to read about church history, social history, medieval, Renaissance or Early Modern. Never. 

(Check your own public library’s digital databases. You probably have access, too. Of course, if you’re connected to a college or university, you have it all. )

Which means: you might want to turn around and sneak back out the door right about now.  Because you’re going to be hearing about a lot of obscure corners of history from this point on. But remember! They’re no more “obscure” in the Big Picture than your life is at this moment. These times are Crazy Times, but guess what – study history and you learn that every time is Crazy Time, and not only does that give solace, it also illuminates possible ways out of the Crazy.

To reiterate: I travel with my boys because I want them to understand that life is not defined by the views, habits and priorities of, say, a group of 8th graders or 12th graders in one school in one corner of one city of Alabama in the Year of Our Lord 2018. I read history for essentially the same reason.


Today’s readings: one journal articles and one rabbit trail of a book.

My first stop was the most recent issue of Church History, and this eye-opening article about a pair of 19th century Spiritualists who converted to Catholicism: “All Catholics Are Spiritualists: The Boundary Work of Mary Gove Nichols and Thomas Low Nichols.”

The abstract of the article, written by Wheaton historian Jonathan Riddle (who is apparently twelve years old. Jeez.):

From the 1840s to the 1870s, the first wave of Spiritualism swept across the Atlantic world. Many social reformers looked to messages from the spiritual realm to bolster their endeavors for this-worldly improvement. The Catholic Church, sensing diabolic powers at work, condemned the movement and its attendant reforms. It therefore surprised many when, in the mid-1850s, the spirits of dead Jesuits prompted Mary Gove Nichols and Thomas Low Nichols—both prominent Spiritualists and reformers—to convert to Catholicism. While the Nicholses are best known for their reform efforts, as their conversions suggest, they also led vibrant religious lives. By charting their religious biographies and using previously neglected writings, this article demonstrates that the Nicholses abandoned neither Spiritualism nor reform upon their conversion. Rather, they argued that both séance supernaturalism and social reformation should be pursued within the Catholic Church. In this way, the Nicholses challenged the church’s attempts to demarcate acceptable spirituality, intentionally crossing and blurring received religious boundaries. In doing so, they redefined what it meant to be Catholic in order to accommodate their experiences and commitments. Their story recasts the history of Spiritualism and Catholicism as a boundary contest and provides a detailed case study of the process of religious hybridization.

Riddle does an excellent job laying out the groundwork – what fascinating lives these people had. He examines how the 19th century Church dealt with spiritualism:

The church could not accept Spiritualists’ own explanations of the séance room with their anti-Christian visions of the afterlife. Yet neither could it dismiss all Spiritualist phenomena as trickery or the result of natural processes. To do so would betray its own commitment to the reality and power of the spiritual realm while ceding ground to another contemporary threat: the materialists who disbelieved in the supernatural altogether. Indeed, the church condemned “naturalism” in the 1864 Syllabus of Errors and anathematized anyone who denied the possibility of miracles at the First Vatican Council (1869–1870) Thus, for example, even as the church opposed Spiritualism, it defended the miraculous nature of healings at Lourdes against naturalist explanations of doctors and psychologists.

The church’s solution was to admit the supernatural character of Spiritualist phenomena but to attribute them to diabolical forces. Spiritualists insisted that they communicated with the spirits of the dead. Catholics agreed that Spiritualists contacted beings beyond the material realm, but they insisted those beings were, in fact, evil spirits. That the forces at play were diabolical was clear to Catholics because of the spirits’ anti-Christian teachings. Assuming Christianity to be true, Catholics reasoned that no well-intentioned spiritual being could say otherwise.Thus, in 1852, one Catholic writer cautioned readers of the Boston Pilot against Spiritualism because, “with all the humbug, there may be a devilish agency at work in the matter.” Brownson, whom Mary called one of the “fathers” of “the diabolical theory of spiritual manifestations,” fictionalized the argument in his novel, The Spirit-Rapper; An Autobiography (1854).

I did wish that he’d reached a bit further back in history, though. What’s missing is a look at how Catholicism addressed these types of phenomenon and practices before the more formal Spiritualism movement, reaching back into the Medieval period.

But anyway – the couple did convert:

In the winter of 1856, the spirit of a dead Jesuit appeared to Mary Gove Nichols. Mary and her husband, Thomas Low Nichols, had recently established a utopian community at Yellow Springs in southern Ohio. As part of their daily routine, the members of the small community gathered each morning for Spiritualist séances. The appearance of the Jesuit at this particular séance came as a surprise, for the Nicholses were not Catholics, and the Jesuit had bypassed the “guardian spirit” who vetted Mary’s otherworldly guests. Mary, therefore, shrugged off the spirit’s suggestion to study the history and teachings of the Society of Jesus. Six months later, however, the spirit of a martyr named Gonzales—“a venerable shade”—visited Mary. He rebuked her and cried, “Justice! justice to the Society of Jesus!” Next came none other than the spirit of Ignatius Loyola to exhort the Nicholses to investigate Catholicism. Still Mary and Thomas tarried. Finally, the spirit of Francis Xavier instructed Mary in the Catholic faith himself. Mary dictated the teachings “in a kind of trance” for several days as Thomas wrote. Though the Nicholses claimed to know nothing of Catholicism at the time, Mary produced “so full and clear a statement of Roman Catholic Theology” that a living Jesuit confirmed it was “in every item, of the Catholic faith.” The doctrines appeared beautiful to the Nicholses. “God’s grace seemed to be infused into our hearts,” they wrote. “We bowed humbly to his sweet influence, and Faith was born in our souls.” Following the advice of John Purcell, the archbishop of nearby Cincinnati, the Nicholses sought the direction of the Jesuit rector of Saint Xavier College, Maurice Oakley. On the afternoon of Sunday, March 29, 1857, Oakley baptized Thomas and Mary, their daughter, and fellow utopian Sarah F. Hopkins into the Catholic Church.

As Riddle describes it, the Nicholses reshaped their lives in a Catholic context – they maintained a commitment to reform and health-related causes, but now within the boundaries of Catholicism.

And what about the Spiritualism? Well, as Riddle describes it – they didn’t set it aside as much as some have believed. In fact, they didn’t seem to have set it aside at all. When the Civil War broke out, the couple moved to England:

While many Spiritualists shared the belief that Spiritualism combatted materialism, the Nicholses reworked the argument after their conversion to Catholicism. For many non- or anti-Christian Spiritualists, the séance room provided an alternative to Christianity—“a surrogate faith,” in historian Janet Oppenheim’s words. After becoming Catholics, Thomas and Mary understood things differently. Reversing his pre-conversion arguments, Thomas insisted that Spiritualism so powerfully disproved materialism that, far from replacing Christianity, it in fact led to Christianity, and specifically to Catholicism. Once skeptics believed in immortality and the spiritual realm, why would they not investigate the claims of Christianity? These investigations would lead them to the Catholic Church thanks to its belief in miracles. “Strange as it may seem,” Thomas wrote, “the spread of and belief in Spiritualism in America appears to favour the progress of the Roman Catholic faith.”

Seen as a conduit from materialism toward supernatural belief, Spiritualism appeared more providential than diabolical. Rather than asking what lay behind Spiritualist phenomena, then, Thomas thought Christians might instead judge Spiritualism by its fruit. Only “rash and ignorant” Catholics denounced Spiritualism as evil, Thomas said. “Better informed and wiser Roman Catholics” appreciated “that a considerable number of infidels and materialists, after becoming spiritualists, have been brought into the faith of the Church.” Catholics should therefore “recognize the providential character of such manifestations.” Indeed, Mary quoted one American bishop as saying, “Spiritualism was the mighty means that God had begun, and would continue to use for the conversion of the multitudes who had come to a state of entire disbelief in the Christian faith.”To the Nicholses, the saving power of Spiritualism was demonstrated nowhere more powerfully than in their own lives. Reflecting on the miracles in the life of Francis Xavier, Mary and Thomas wrote, “May it not be that the Almighty has permitted similar manifestations, out of the Church, to awaken people to the great fact of a spiritual existence, and then to be the means, as in our case, of bringing them into the fold of His Church, which is truly spiritual, and full of divine and miraculous manifestations?” Far from opposing Catholicism, when wielded by God, Spiritualism became a providential weapon to strike a blow against materialism on behalf of the church.

Really, really interesting.

This led me to a perusal of one of Thomas’ books, Forty Years of American Life, available here at the Internet Archive.  

I didn’t read the whole thing, focusing on what he wrote about Catholicism and then about the South, particularly Mobile and Montgomery. He paints an cheery, idealized picture, his primary purpose, it seems, to dispel European and particularly English prejudices.

If the clergy are not aided by the Government, neither are they hampered or corrupted as in Cuba and Mexico. Their energies expand in the contest in which they
must engage. Few in numbers, and with a support which gives
them the bare necessaries of life, they have constant toils. In the
large towns they are over-whelmed with the care of the poor and
the sick. In the country their flocks are scattered over large
districts. 1 have known a priest to return late in a winter’s night
from a sick call twelve miles away, to find an urgent message
which hurried him as far through a lonely forest, in the opposite direction. In sickly seasons, or in epidemics, their labours are almost super-human.

In my travels North and South, I have often enjoyed the genial
hospitalities of Roman Catholic prelates and clergy; and always
found a hearty welcome. I have sweetened my tea at a bishop’s
table with brown sugar, stirred with a pewter spoon, when he
was expending thousands a year on schools, asylums and
hospitals. The bishop was up at five o’clock every morning, and
seldom went to bed before twelve at night. He said mass every
day, preached three times every Sunday, visited the sick, and
attended to an amount of business, secular and religious, such as
few men could have undertaken.

The impression made upon me by Roman Catholic priests,
and members of male and female religious orders, was a very
peculiar one. The enjoyment of a party of priests, dining together, with stories, jokes and laughter, is like that of a party of merry, good schoolboys. They have no air of shrewdness or worldliness, or constraint. As for the nuns, wherever I have seen
them they appeared to overflow with a childlike merriment. In
their schools they are big children among the little ones, real
“mothers” and “sisters,” as they are called, to those committed
to their charge.

The confession, I know, will shock some respectable English-
men, but it has happened to me to make the acquaintance of a
number of Jesuits, of various nationalities, in New York, Cin-
cinnati, St. Louis, Mobile, and New Orleans, everywhere the
same refined, gentle, highly educated, polished men, devoted to
their calling, devoted to the poor, and, to all appearance, earnest
and sincere Christians; and the more I saw of them, the more
profoundly was I astonished at the things said about them in
Protestant pulpits, and written about them in books and

Nichols, whose commitment to reform movements did not extend deeply into Abolitionism, takes a rather benign view of slavery in his travels and consistently expresses a casual, paternalistic racism. It’s interesting to contrast his words, for example, with those of Englishwoman Harriet Martineau, who traveled extensively in Jacksonian America, and whom I wrote about here.

So, Nichols:

The fields were being ploughed for the cotton planting. The ploughing was done by
the mules and women. They took it very easy. I could not see  that they hurried to the fields or in the fields. The overseer planned and directed the work. He rode from field to field, when it was going on, to see that the men with their hoes, and the women, driving the mules, or guiding the ploughs, did their work properly. He had a whip, but I never chanced to see him use it. If I wished to paint a picture of careless enjoyment, it
would be a portrait of a young negress I saw riding afield on her mule, on a plantation in Alabama. Her figure, attitude, expression — all told volumes of a care-free life of easy, saucy, animal enjoyment.

And now Martineau:

I repeatedly heard the preaching of a remarkably liberal man,of a free and kindly spirit, in the south. His last sermon,extempore, was from the text “Cast all your care upon him,for He careth for you.” The preacher told us, among other things, that God cares for all,–for the meanest as well as the mightiest. “He cares for that coloured person,” said he, pointing to the gallery where the people of colour sit,–“he cares for that coloured person as well as for the wisest and best of you whites.” This was the most wanton insult I had ever seen offered to a human being; and it was with difficulty that I refrained from walking out of the church. Yet no one present to whom I afterwards spoke of it seemed able to comprehend the wrong. “Well!” said they:”does not God care for the coloured people?”

Of course, in a society where things like these are said and done by its choicest members, there is a prevalent unconsciousness of the existing wrong. The daily and hourly plea is of good intentions towards the slaves; of innocence under the aspersions of foreigners. They are as sincere in the belief that they are injured as their visitors are cordial in their detestation of the morals of slavery. Such unconsciousness of the milder degrees of impurity and injustice as enables ladies and clergymen of the highest character to speak and act as I have related, is a sufficient evidence of the prevalent grossness of morals. One remarkable indication of such blindness was the almost universal mention of the state of the Irish to me, as a worse case than American slavery. I never attempted, of course,to vindicate the state of Ireland: but I was surprised to find no one able, till put in the way, to see the distinction between political misgovernment and personal slavery: between exasperating a people by political insult, and possessing them,like brutes, for pecuniary profit. The unconsciousness of guilt is the worst of symptoms, where there are means of light to be had. I shall have to speak hereafter of the state of religion throughout the country. It is enough here to say that if, with the law of liberty and the gospel of peace and purity within their hands, the inhabitants of the south are unconscious of the low state of the morals of society, such blindness proves nothing so much as how far that which is highest and purest may be confounded with what is lowest and foulest, when once the fatal attempt has been entered upon to make them co-exist. From their co-existence, one further step may be taken; and in the south has been taken; the making the high and pure a sanction for the low and foul. 

The difference, perhaps, between a resident and a visitor – another reason to take fresh eyes abroad. Or maybe just the difference between a spiritually serious person and a flake?



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TuesdayIn which we digest a bit.

Reading: Yesterday I read the very short novel Convenience Store Woman. I’d seen it mentioned in a blog somewhere, and the idea of it appealed to me: a look at Japanese culture through the lens of a young woman who has worked at a convenience store for many years. Convenience stores are a prominent fixture of Japanese culture, most offering, for example, a far wider and deeper selection of ready-made food than their American counterparts with our slushies and hot dog roller grills. I thought it would be a quirky little satire, maybe?

Eh. I didn’t love it. I wasn’t repelled by it – I just didn’t think it offered much insight or interest.

Keiko, the narrator, tells her story in a flat affected manner that is, even in translation, purposeful, I think – for Keiko is a person who has very little sense of self. Or, perhaps it’s better to say that her authentic self is a little mysterious and problematic, she senses this, and lives deeply connected to the rituals associated with the convenience store in order to be able to feel at all “normal.”

In a way, Convenience Store Woman is about the pressure to conform. Keiko is 36, unmarried, a virgin, working in what we might call a dead-end job, with no career aspirations. She feels a bit separated from her friends and family because of this. At one point, she falls into a strange not-relationship with a weird former co-worker, and both of them decide to use the perception that they are in a relationship for their own advantage: she to fit in with others better, and he to hide from others. It falls apart, the fellow goes on his way, and Keiko, who has quit her job at some point, goes to interview for another type of job, goes into a convenience store on the way, hears the siren call, and knows where she really belongs.  She happily embraces who she’s decided she is – every part of her made for the convenience store.

I was wasting time talking like this. I had to get myself back in shape for the sake of the store. I had to restructure my body so it would be able to move more swiftly and precisely to replenish the refrigerated drinks or clean the floor, to more perfectly comply with the store’s demands….

I caught sight of myself reflected in the window of the convenience store I’d just come out of. My hands, my feet — they existed only for the store! For the first time, I could think of the me in the window as a being with meaning. 


I thought of the window in the hospital where I first saw my newborn nephew. Through the reflections a bright voice resembling mine rang out. I could distinctly feel all my cells stirring within my skin as they responded in unison to the music reverberating on the other side of the glass. 

(Irasshaimase! is the greeting the convenience store workers offer to customers.)

On that level, the book was a straightforward, fairly obvious parable. What gave it a dose of oddness though, is that when we are introduced to Keiko early on, she offers us three memories of her childhood which hint that she might be on the spectrum or even, more extremely,  some kind of sociopath, and comments from her family members allude to some kind of treatment or hope for a cure – even though they don’t seem concerned that Keiko is going to harm herself or others.

With that in mind, then, I had to wonder – if Keiko feels completely at home and useful in the convenience store – isn’t that a good thing? This is where she’s content, and in that context, the allusions to being a “cog” in the machinery are not an expression of meaninglessness, but actually the opposite. And whether or not she’s got a problem or not, if Keiko’s normal is most fully realized in serving customers in a convenience store – is that a bad thing?

So, I don’t know. As I said, it’s very short – 163 little pages – a bit of a conversation piece, and fun to connect with our trip to Japan, but not as insightful as advertised.

Also: an academic article last night: “Pluralism, Liturgy, and the Paradoxes of Reform: A Reforming Pluralist in Early Sixteenth-Century Rome.” 

“Pluralism” here is not what you think – a multiplicity of cultures or views. No, in this context – medieval and early Modern church history – “pluralism” refers to the practice of a cleric holding more than one office, and specifically, bishops holding either an office in Rome as well as a diocesan see, or even being the ordinary of more than one see.

Now. This article – on a very narrow topic – one bishop of one diocese who was also Papal Master of Ceremonies for time – seems as if it would only be of interest to the specialist. But bear with me here, for I’m about to plunge into one more lecture on Why History Helps.

I say it again and again: wrapped up in the present moment, inundated with news and hot takes from the present moment, we lose perspective. If we don’t have a broader, deeper understanding of how the Church has existed on earth, in real cultures and societies, with real people running it, we risk falling into despair as we are faced with bad news day after bad news day. It’s also important to have a good sense of history as we work for solutions of whatever problem we’re facing, whether it be at a parish level or in the Vatican.

So let’s take a quick look at this article. This scholar, an historian now at Ball State, has a very interesting perspective. She points out that church reformers of this period saw eliminating absentee and plural bishoprics as a key to reform. They held up the bishop as pastor, present to his people, teaching and sanctifying, as a model and a necessary cornerstone to reform, and, therefore, the absentee or pluralistic bishop as a Bad Guy.

DeSilva takes a far more nuanced view. She points out that reform – educating the clergy, educating the laity, and so on – cost money, and bishops, responsible for the finances of their diocese, didn’t grow money on trees, nor was diocesan funding dependent on contributions from the masses (no stewardship campaigns, in other words). A diocese’s financial health was rooted in its income (perhaps from agricultural holdings) and what the bishop brought to it. Where did he get his money? If he was an aristocrat, from his personal holdings and benefices, but also from his work. So, she says – a reforming bishop might find himself in a bind – would he be able to generate the funds to do the reforming work if he lived by the reformist ideal and never left his diocese?

The bishop’s active role as a reformer of belief and practice was accepted and interpreted in a variety of ways by conscientious men, who frequently were absentee or pluralist bishops. The future Pope Paul IV, Gian Pietro Carafa, a stalwart reformer and founder of the Theatine Order, was a pluralist early in his career, simultaneously holding the sees of Chieti (1506-24) and Brindisi (1518-24). The reality of ecclesiastical governance meant that any reform campaign reinforced by episcopal authority demanded significant financial resources, either to patronize reformers or to produce corrected texts or environments. The model of the reformed bishop, which the Fifth Lateran Council endorsed, ignored the efforts made by absentee or pluralist bishops. Often the reforming pluralist was absent from his bishopric because of bureaucratic work that ben-efited the institutional church. Without funds procured from administrative work at the papal court or through a portfolio of benefices. the reforming pluralist bishop could not pursue his broader reform campaigns, yet reformers vilified him for abandoning the local church to a vicar.

While in truth many bishops resident in Rome were absentee pluralists who avoided calls for reform that would target personal abuses, there were also reformers among them. Instead of investing years in their bishopric, some bishops made brief and busy visits, during which they attempted to review the activities and institutions under their control. Other bishops satisfied their obligations through literary activities or reform advocacy. The reforming pluralists used whatever skills, knowledge, and financial resources they had in order to expand their reputation as administrators and correctors in accordance with the contemporary emphasis on personal intervention in the diocese. The paradoxical quality of the reforming pluralist is undeniable; such men emphasized reform while abusing the system. Yet the practical limitations of extraliminal responsibilities often produced unusual strategies for balancing the bishop’s financial needs with his desire to fulfill his episcopal role.

Again – I don’t expect many of you to be interested in the specifics here – but perhaps you are! – My point is to offer a hint of the complexities of history and a caution, I suppose, against fine-sounding idealistic catch-phrases. We need it all to live in ever closer conformity to Christ, both as individuals and as an institution – the call to a strong ideal, but also realism and patience with our limits in the process.


Driven by the local keyboardist’s work –

In looking for an online recording of a new organ piece, we stumbled upon this young Dutch organist, whose videos give us a look at not only his skills, but those of his assistants, pulling those stops.

(And to just give you another rabbit trail – if you go to his page, check out the sweet video he and his wife made to announce a pregnancy.)

And then…his new jazz piece, Bebe  – is by this fellow, apparently a very well-known Brazilian musician. But he won’t be performing in a lake any time soon, I don’t think.

Cooking: We have one of those weeks in which someone has something every night. Last night, we helped serve dinner in a local shelter. Tonight is an engineering-type activity for the older one. Wednesday, the younger one has Fraternus. Thursday, he has his jazz lesson, he and I are going to this lecture by our local archaeology star, and the older one works, and then Friday we’re off to New York City.

So it will be a week of Chick-Fil-A and Zaxby’s and maybe Hattie B’s, depending on who needs to eat, but in order to avoid total fast-food apocalypse, I made a batch of this – for the first time – and it’s fantastic. Perhaps many of you already have a version of it in your arsenal, but it’s not the kind of thing I normally cook (too carby and cheesey for me, personally) – but it’s great.  I mean – it’s basically the original Hamburger Helper, right? But still – the process resulted in a dish with a lot of depth. And by the way – Serious Eats has become my go-to cooking site. Love it, and love their Instagram.

Well, as per usual, that took longer than I hoped. Anyway – it’s time to go write Other Things. Things sort of like, but still different from this excerpt from The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols pertinent today, the feastday of St. Mary Margaret Alacoque:




I have a lot of copies of this and the…ahem…award-winning Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories on hand. Go here if you want to order one or more. 

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Today is her feastday, and 2015 was  the 500th anniversary of her birth (3/28).

When we went to Spain in 2016, the year after that, we were not able to go to Avila, unfortunately (chose Segovia as our day trip from Madrid instead), but we did encounter Teresa in an exhibit  at the Biblioteca Nacional – the national library of SpainWe stumbled upon it – I had no idea it was happening until we walked by the library – so our time there was limited.  Nonetheless, even that short time gave us a chance to see manuscripts written in Teresa’s own hand. 

A manuscript of “The Way of Perfection” in Teresa’s own hand. Gulp.

Featuring real Carmelites checking out the exhibit.

Back in 2011, as part of his series of General Audience talks on great figures in the Church (beginning with the Apostles), he turned to Teresa.  It’s a wonderful introduction to her life.  After outlining her biography and achievements, he turns to the impact of her life and work:

In the first place St Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life and in particular, detachment from possessions, that is, evangelical poverty, and this concerns all of us; love for one another as an essential element of community and social life; humility as love for the truth; determination as a fruit of Christian daring; theological hope, which she describes as the thirst for living water.


Secondly, St Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical figures and eager listening to the word of God. She feels above all closely in tune with the Bride in the Song of Songs and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with Christ in the Passion and with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Saint then stresses how essential prayer is. Praying, she says, “means being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us” (Vida 8, 5).


Prayer is life and develops gradually, in pace with the growth of Christian life: it begins with vocal prayer, passes through interiorization by means of meditation and recollection, until it attains the union of love with Christ and with the Holy Trinity. Obviously, in the development of prayer climbing to the highest steps does not mean abandoning the previous type of prayer. Rather, it is a gradual deepening of the relationship with God that envelops the whole of life.


Another subject dear to the Saint is the centrality of Christ’s humanity. For Teresa, in fact, Christian life is the personal relationship with Jesus that culminates in union with him through grace, love and imitation. Hence the importance she attaches to meditation on the Passion and on the Eucharist as the presence of Christ in the Church for the life of every believer, and as the heart of the Liturgy. St Teresa lives out unconditional love for the Church: she shows a lively “sensus Ecclesiae”, in the face of the episodes of division and conflict in the Church of her time.


Dear brothers and sisters, St Teresa of Jesus is a true teacher of Christian life for the faithful of every time. In our society, which all too often lacks spiritual values, St Teresa teaches us to be unflagging witnesses of God, of his presence and of his action. She teaches us truly to feel this thirst for God that exists in the depths of our hearts, this desire to see God, to seek God, to be in conversation with him and to be his friends.

This is the friendship we all need that we must seek anew, day after day. May the example of this Saint, profoundly contemplative and effectively active, spur us too every day to dedicate the right time to prayer, to this openness to God, to this journey, in order to seek God, to see him, to discover his friendship and so to find true life; indeed many of us should truly say: “I am not alive, I am not truly alive because I do not live the essence of my life”.

Therefore time devoted to prayer is not time wasted, it is time in which the path of life unfolds, the path unfolds to learning from God an ardent love for him, for his Church, and practical charity for our brothers and sisters. Many thanks.

Then, in 2012, Benedict sent a letter to the Bishop of Avila on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the beginning of Teresa’s reform. It’s really a wonderful letter:

By distancing herself from the Mitigated Rule in order to further a radical return to the primitive Rule, St Teresa de Jesús wished to encourage a form of life that would favour the personal encounter with the Lord, for which “we have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon him present within us. Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest” (Camino de perfección [the Way of Perfection] 28, 2). The Monastery of San José came into being precisely in order that all its daughters might have the best possible conditions for speaking to God and establishing a profound and intimate relationship with him.


Teresa of Avila’s example is a great help to us in this exciting task. We can say that in her time the Saint evangelized without mincing her words, with unfailing ardour, with methods foreign to inertia and with expressions haloed with light. Her example keeps all its freshness at the crossroads of our time. It is here that we feel the urgent need for the baptized to renew their hearts through personal prayer which, in accordance with the dictates of the Mystic of Avila, is also centred on contemplation of the Most Holy Humanity of Christ as the only way on which to find God’s glory (cf. Libro de la Vida, 22, 1; Las Moradas [Interior Castle] 6, 7). Thus they will be able to form authentic families which discover in the Gospel the fire of their hearths; lively and united Christian communities, cemented on Christ as their corner-stone and which thirst after a life of generous and brotherly service. It should also be hoped that ceaseless prayer will foster priority attention to the vocations ministry, emphasizing in particular the beauty of the consecrated life which, as a treasure of the Church and an outpouring of graces, must be duly accompanied in both its active and contemplative dimensions.

The power of Christ will likewise lead to the multiplication of projects to enable the People of God to recover its strength in the only possible way: by making room within us for the sentiments of the Lord Jesus (cf. Phil 2:5), seeking in every circumstance a radical experience of his Gospel. This means, first of all, allowing the Holy Spirit to make us friends of the Teacher and to conform us to him.


Today, this most illustrious daughter of the Diocese of Avila invites us to this radicalism and faithfulness. Accepting her beautiful legacy at this moment in history, the Pope asks all the members of this particular Church, and especially youth, to take seriously the common vocation to holiness. Following in the footsteps of Teresa of Jesus, allow me to say to all who have their future before them: may you too, aspire to belong totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus. Do not be afraid to say to Our Lord, as she did, “I am yours; I was born for you, what do you want to do with me?” (Poem 2).

I do think here that you can really see the particular way of expression that Benedict used again and again: the journey of the Christian is to be conformed to Christ. (Very Pauline, yes?)  Not merely to imitate, but to be conformed.  This suggests a deep level of engagement, a degree of surrender and understanding of the dynamic and purpose of human life that is far different that simply “trying to be like” and radically different than simply being inspired by.


She’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints, and Loyola has a very readable excerpt here 

(If you would like to read a pdf version, click here.) 



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