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Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category

Gregory’s story has a lot to teach us about that tricky thing called discernment.

Back in 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI devoted two General Audiences to this saint.  He began with a helpful outline of his life – born into an important Roman family, serving as prefect of Rome, turning his family’s land into a monastery to gregory the greatwhich he retired, then entering the service of the pope during very difficult times in Rome, including the plague, which killed the pope, and then…

The clergy, people and senate were unanimous in choosing Gregory as his successor to thend  See of Peter. He tried to resist, even attempting to flee, but to no avail: finally, he had to yield. The year was 590.

Recognising the will of God in what had happened, the new Pontiff immediately and enthusiastically set to work. From the beginning he showed a singularly enlightened vision of realty with which he had to deal, an extraordinary capacity for work confronting both ecclesial and civil affairs, a constant and even balance in making decisions, at times with courage, imposed on him by his office.

Benedict engages in some more analysis in the second GA. This is useful and important to read. 

Wanting to review these works quickly, we must first of all note that, in his writings, Gregory never sought to delineate “his own” doctrine, his own originality. Rather, he intended to echo the traditional teaching of the Church, he simply wanted to be the mouthpiece of Christ and of the Church on the way that must be taken to reach God. His exegetical commentaries are models of this approach.

And that is what any teacher of the faith, especially a pastor, is called to do.

Moving on:

Probably the most systematic text of Gregory the Great is the Pastoral Rule, written in the first years of his Pontificate. In it Gregory proposed to treat the figure of the ideal Bishop, the teacher and guide of his flock. To this end he illustrated the seriousness of the office of Pastor of the Church and its inherent duties. Therefore, those who were not called to this office may not seek it with superficiality, instead those who assumed it without due reflection necessarily feel trepidation rise within their soul. Taking up again a favourite theme, he affirmed that the Bishop is above all the “preacher” par excellence; for this reason he must be above all an example for others, so that his behaviour may be a point of reference for all. Efficacious pastoral action requires that he know his audience and adapt his words to the situation of each person: here Gregory paused to illustrate the various categories of the faithful with acute and precise annotations, which can justify the evaluation of those who have also seen in this work a treatise on psychology. From this one understands that he really knew his flock and spoke of all things with the people of his time and his city.

Nevertheless, the great Pontiff insisted on the Pastor’s duty to recognize daily his own unworthiness in the eyes of the Supreme Judge, so that pride did not negate the good accomplished. For this the final chapter of the Rule is dedicated to humility: “When one is pleased to have achieved many virtues, it is well to reflect on one’s own inadequacies and to humble oneself: instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what was neglected”. All these precious indications demonstrate the lofty concept that St Gregory had for the care of souls, which he defined as the “ars artium”, the art of arts. The Rule had such great, and the rather rare, good fortune to have been quickly translated into Greek and Anglo-Saxon.

Another significant work is the Dialogues. In this work addressed to his friend Peter, the deacon, who was convinced that customs were so corrupt as to impede the rise of saints as in times past, Gregory demonstrated just the opposite: holiness is always possible, even in difficult times.

He proved it by narrating the life of contemporaries or those who had died recently, who could well be considered saints, even if not canonised. The narration was accompanied by theological and mystical reflections that make the book a singular hagiographical text, capable of enchanting entire generations of readers. The material was drawn from the living traditions of the people and intended to edify and form, attracting the attention of the reader to a series of questions regarding the meaning of miracles, the interpretation of Scripture, the immortality of the soul, the existence of Hell, the representation of the next world – all themes that require fitting clarification. Book II is wholly dedicated to the figure of Benedict of Nursia and is the only ancient witness to the life of the holy monk, whose spiritual beauty the text highlights fully.

Above all he was profoundly convinced that humility should be the fundamental virtue for every Bishop, even more so for the Patriarch. Gregory remained a simple monk in his heart and therefore was decisively contrary to great titles. He wanted to be – and this is his expression – servus servorum Dei.Coined by him, this phrase was not just a pious formula on his lips but a true manifestation of his way of living and acting. He was intimately struck by the humility of God, who in Christ made himself our servant. He washed and washes our dirty feet. Therefore, he was convinced that a Bishop, above all, should imitate this humility of God and follow Christ in this way. His desire was to live truly as a monk, in permanent contact with the Word of God, but for love of God he knew how to make himself the servant of all in a time full of tribulation and suffering. He knew how to make himself the “servant of the servants”. Precisely because he was this, he is great and also shows us the measure of true greatness.

I found an interesting website from Harvard – a collection of brief articles focused on medieval preaching as reflected in the Houghton Library’s holdings. 

Here’s a page dedicated to Gregory the Great’s influence:

The influence of Gregory the Great is so widespread that the great scholar of exegesis, Henri de Lubac, dubbed the period from Gregory’s death up to the thirteenth century “The Gregorian Middle Ages.” Preachers were everywhere citing, referencing, and, generally, re-using the work of one they affectionately called “our Gregory” or “the homilist of the Church.”

And he’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints. 

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Forgot that today was one of my days. It’s about the lure of Ikea, in case you can’t tell. 

There are certain stores that must surely inject some sort of aspirational virus in me at the doorway.

A particular Swedish home furnishings enterprise. High-end cookware shops. Even big box hardware and lumber stores can get that buzz going in my head:

“My life could look like this. It could be neater, trimmer, coolly designed, and of course, if it were all that, it would be so much better than it is now. It might even be perfect. All I need to do is have this in my house and this and…”   MORE

Also recently, August 31

and

August 28

If you like that sort of thing, Living Faith is very affordable. 

And A Catholic Woman’s Book of Days is composed of those sort of devotionals. 

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From Atlas Obscura:

The martyrs were a group of priests, seminarians, bishops, and, most famously, the Archbishop of Arles. They were rounded up by a mob ofsans-culottes and imprisoned in the convent near St. Joseph’s after refusing to take an oath that undermined papal authority. The mob’s punishment for this transgression was quick and especially brutal. They began killing their prisoners on September 2, 1792, when they bashed in the Archbishop’s head, stabbed him, and trampled the body.

The following day the mob set up a kangaroo court to try the remaining prisoners. Martyrologist John Foxe described them as soaked in blood up to the elbows with executioners and judges freely subbing in for one another without bothering to wipe the gore off their hands.

Unsurprisingly, nearly all the clergy members were found guilty. But instead of condemning them from the bench, the judges simply told them they were free to leave. Each defendant left down the same stairway and at the bottom there were plenty of people waiting to hack their bodies apart. British ambassador, Earl Gower, described the wake the mob left behind:

“After [the killings] their dead bodies were dragged by the arms or legs to the Abbaye… here they were laid up in heaps till carts could carry them away. The kennel was swimming with blood, and a bloody track was traced from the prison to the Abbaye door where they had dragged these unfortunate people.”

When it was over, 190 people were killed at the convent in just two days. Their bodies were thrown in a pit and covered in quicklime.

We visited the site in 2011 – the account is here.  I didn’t know, at the time, that there were times to take scheduled tours. I I wish I had.  The Atlas Obscura site has photos from inside. Ah, well…you can read about what we did see here. 

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One of the several saints on today’s calendar is St. Simeon Stylites, who lived this way for 36 years:

From the 6th century historian Evagrius:

In these times [about 440 A.D.] flourished and became illustrious, Simeon, of holy and famous memory, who originated the contrivance of stationing himself on the top of a column, thereby occupying a space of scarce two cubits in circumference. This man, endeavoring to realize in the flesh the existence of the heavenly hosts, lifts himself above the concerns of earth, and overpowering the downward tendency of man’s nature, is intent on things above. He was adored by all the countryside, wrought many miracles, and the Emperor Theodosius II listened to his advice and sought his benediction.

Simeon prolonged his endurance of this mode of life through fifty-six years; nine of which he spent in the first monastery where he was instructed in divine knowledge, and forty-seven in the “Mandra” as it was called; namely, ten in a certain nook; on shorter columns, seven; and thirty upon one of forty cubits. After his departure [from this life] his holy body was conveyed to Antioch, escorted by the garrison, and a great concourse guarding the venerable body, lest the inhabitants of the neighboring cities should gather and carry it off. In this manner it was conveyed to Antioch, and attended, during its progress, with extraordinary prodigies….

…According to another writer, Theodoret, in Simeon’s lifetime, he was visited by pilgrims from near and far; Persia, Ethiopia, Spain, and even Britain. To these at times he delivered sermons.

You’ve heard of him, and perhaps you have thought of him as being nothing more than an extremely strange person.

His life is a radical statement, to be sure, but what is discipleship but radical?

Simeon sought to live his earthly life reaching for God, but don’t think that he therefore separated himself from the needs of others.  Paradoxically, from that distance, he was able to serve, and powerfully.

I wrote about him in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints. He’s under “Saints are people who surprise others.” While that chapter is not online, here are some screenshots of the first couple of pages:


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A word about this book.  When Loyola asked me to write a book of saints for children all those years ago, I though long and hard about a structure.  It seemed that everything had been done: to arrange the saints chronologically according to their lives or according to the liturgical year, or alphabetically.  What might be different?

Then I hit upon this notion of sections, each beginning, “Saints are people who…..”

In addition, I wrote the stories, not just to inform, but also to help children see that the circumstances of their own lives may look much different from those of the saints, but they really are not. The temptations, the obstacles and then, the abundance of grace through Christ mark the lives of the saint, yes, but also our lives – no matter how old we are.

Also, back to the saint – this book suggests that the pillars had held pagan statuary, and were appropriated by the stylite hermits for Christ. Interesting.

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Be bloody, bold, and resolute. Laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.
Well, that’s not appropriate, is it?
Okay, not really, but it’s what naturally popped into my head when I learned about today’s saint and what his name means…
Born in Spain in the 13th century, yet “not born”  – the meaning of his nickname, nonnatus. 
How could that be?
Because he was taken from mother, who had died in labor, one month prematurely.  The meaning of “born” was via the birth canal, hence emerging via Caesarean section would not come under the strict definition of “born.”
(Sorry for the Macbeth spoiler, there.)
Raymond, once an adult, joined the Mercederians:

The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy is an international community of priests and brothers who live a life of prayer and communal fraternity. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, their members take a special fourth vow to give up their own selves for others whose faith is in danger.

The Order, also called the Mercedarians, or Order of Mercy, was founded in 1218 in Spain by St. Peter Nolasco Raymond Nonnatusto redeem Christian captives from their Muslim captors. The Order exists today in 17 countries, including Spain, Italy, Brazil, India, and the United States. In the U.S., its student house is in Philadelphia, and it also has houses in New York, Florida, and Ohio.

Today, friars of the Order of Mercy continue to rescue others from modern types of captivity, such as social, political, and psychological forms. They work in jails, marginal neighborhoods, among addicts, and in hospitals. In the United States, the Order of Mercy gives special emphasis to educational and parish work.

****

According to the most reliable Mercedarian tradition, Saint Raymond was born in the town of Portello, situated in the Segarra region of the Province of Lérida at the dawn of the thirteenth century. He was given the surname of Nonnatus or not born because he came into the world through an inspired and urgent incision which the Viscount of Cardona made with a dagger in the abdomen of the dead mother. In his adolescence and early youth, Raymond devoted himself to pasturing a flock of sheep in the vicinity of a Romanesque hermitage dedicated to Saint Nicholas where an image of the Virgin Mary was venerated. His devotion to the Holy Mother of Jesus started there.

 

He joined the Order of Mercy at a very early age. Father Francisco Zumel relates that young Raymond was a “student of the watchful first brother and Master of the Order, Peter Nolasco.” Therefore, Raymond was a redeemer of captives in Moorish lands. In a redemption which took place in Algiers, they had to stay behind as hostages. It was then that he endured the torment of having his lips sealed with an iron padlock to prevent him from addressing consoling words to Christian captives and from preaching the liberating good news of the Gospel. After he had been rescued by his Mercedarian brothers, Pope Gregory IX appointed him Cardinal of the Church of San Eustaquio. Summoned by the Supreme Pontiff, Raymond was on his way to Rome when he met death in the strong and rocky castle of Cardona in 1240

Some of the more contemporary accounts of his life, such as this pdf linked at the Mercederian site, cast doubt on the claim that he was named a cardinal. 

He is invoked as a patron of childbirth expectant mothers, midwives, the falsely accused and others.

Some other interesting facts:

As we approach this Year of Mercy, it is helpful to consider that this “beating heart of the Gospel”  – the merciful love of God – has been lived out, shared, expressed and embodied in countless ways over the past two thousand years, not least in the ordinary, amazing thing that happens thousands of times every day in every nation, in which Christ meets us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

It is helpful to study and reflect on the creative and courageous ways in which the saints have reached out to the peripheries and margins with God’s mercy and freedom, risking their own physical lives for the sake of the souls of others.

So here, we have an entire religious order (not the only one) established to share God’s mercy in a particular apostolate, and today’s saint willingly and joyfully devoted his life to this – mercy.

(What an interesting idea for a study guide/group discussion for the Year of Mercy – Saints of Mercy – or something like that. Thought-provoking, inspiring, and grounded in the life of the Body of Christ, past and present.)

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A look ahead at the saints this coming week….

"amy welborn"

A couple of reminders:

  • These are only some of the saints and blesseds remembered this week.  Every day has at least ten names associated with it.
  • But then, you wonder…if you look at the liturgical calendar..why aren’t all of these actually there?
  • Simple answer: that would be crazy. 
  • More complete answer: It has to do with the priority of liturgical celebrations, which is a complicated thing. You can read more about it in many places, including here. Here also.  This is a good handout, especially for RCIA and catechists. 

Why am I focusing on this these days? Because I think that allowing our spiritual formation to be guided by the Church in this way leads us to a well-grounded, holistic understanding of what faith in Christ is all about. It isn’t about tagging on extras for the sake of “Catholic identity is awesome, you guys!” or shopping for a cool saint who works on my Spiritual Style Look Book or Pinterest Board.

So who can we encounter this week, if we choose?

  • A man who used his inherited wealth to establish monasteries, was engaged in diplomacy, wrote about pastoral care, and (unwillingly) became Pope.
  • A gifted young woman who studied music in New York City
  • A man who witnessed to Christ for decades — sitting atop a pole
  • A convert to Catholicism from Ethiopian Orthodoxy, caught between two worlds
  • Martyrs to revolution
  • An Albanian woman who served Christ in the dying and forgotten in India
  • A man, intended for service in the Spanish court, who instead dedicated his life to ransoming slaves.
  • A young woman who spoke truth to power –  the Holy Roman Emperor –  in the 13th century.

When you engage with the Church’s Scripture-soaked liturgy and the Saints on a daily basis, you really can’t hide. It becomes more difficult, if not impossible to work that do-it-yourself spirituality that all of us would prefer, led only by our favorite voices and Catholic Flavors-of-the-Month sympathetic to our prejudices and ideologies. It leads us out of simplistic, present-centered either/ors but paradoxically, to more clarity in the midst of deeper mystery.

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