Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category

Well, it happened again. Sunday morning, I had half of a decent post written and by early afternoon, events of the day had rendered it, if not pointless, but at the very least needing a second look. Which I didn’t have time to give it at the moment, immersed as I had gotten myself in a beast mode of cleaning and organizing in the basement.

It’s not that it’s messy. It’s just that there’s a lot of stuff down there, and hardly any of it has much to do with me personally in the present day. It’s the museum stacks, the archives, the storage room. It’s where all that I’ve absorbed from all the dead has come to rest – from my mother (2001), my husband (2009) to my father (2011) – and all that they had taken with them.

Not all, of course. My parents’ household stuff had long gone, and I’ve spent years culling down the thousands of books we had. No, what remained could indeed be kept in plastic bins and it was. Along with a couple of bins of my own childhood goods and one or two from my daughter.

It’s just that I am thinking that I want to move from this house in a couple of years, and I’m determined to drive away with basically a car full – and nothing more.

Last week, I did a little searching and shifting. I was going to see my daughter, and I wanted to take her a load of items that she would either be free to keep or sell in her Etsy shop. Then Son #2 was coming through over the weekend, and I wanted him to take a look at his grandfather’s considerable collection of political items, hoping that now they’ve moved into a larger house, he can make plans to get them out of my basement and at least into his garage.

So inspired by all of that poking and initial sorting, I was inspired, and have been, as I said, in beast mode. Many trash bags filled. With no regrets, either.

The experience once again inspires thoughts of memory and mementos and what we can’t take with us and what we will inevitably leave behind, but I’ll save that for another day. What I want to share with you is the one thing I came across that truly surprised me.

(If you “open image in a new tab” – you can get a much bigger and clearer image)

What’s surprising is not when or where my mother graduated from 8th grade. St. Ignatius School in Sanford, Maine. I knew all that. At the time she attended, half the day was taught in English, half in French. Got it. No, it’s the nature and quality of the diploma that astonished me.

I probably should take another photo with something beside it for scale, but – as you can see, it’s very elaborately lettered. I assume the material is sheepskin. And it’s….21″ X 15″ in size. Now step aside and picture that. It’s huge.

For an eighth grade diploma.

The reason, of course, was that in 1939, graduating from 8th grade was a milestone and for many, a culmination and the grand finale of their formal education. We see it all the time: tests given to graduating 8th graders from early in the century, reading lists and expectations that are more demanding that college freshman experience today. Why is that? Well, we know the answers to that, too. School was mandatory only through 8th grade in most places at this time. Not everyone went to high school, and it was not assumed that the only employable individuals were those who went to high school and college. There were other means and avenues for getting employment training in various fields, and, in general, people didn’t equate being “educated” with time spent in school quite as intensely as we do today.

So that 8th grade diploma meant something because the cumulative education you received up to that point was expected to equip you to enter the work force and adult life.

Not much more to say that I haven’t said before, ad nauseum.

And yes, I’ll get to both that Sunday blog post and more ruminations about what we inherit and what we bequeath at some point soon….

Oh, and in case you were suspecting as much, the Methodists have confirmed it for you:

Read Full Post »

North American Martyrs

  Today  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

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.

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

Read Full Post »

Sunday Briefing

More a bit later, but just for now, two notes:

Yes, it’s Sunday, but it’s still the feast of St. Luke –  so….from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols – the symbols of the evangelists:


Secondly, I’m in Living Faith today. Go here for that.

Read Full Post »

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 left 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 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 between configuration 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.

Read Full Post »

7 Quick Takes

—1 —

Hey guys, coming to you from Louisville where we are visiting folks and went to Nate Bargatze’s drive-in comedy performance last night. I really like Bargatze, and he was in good form last night. The opening comedians were…not great, though, unfortunately.

The other thing that struck me pretty strongly was the experience of participating in a performance in this kind of venue. People either in cars, or sitting outside their cars, far apart – a completely different energy than what you’d experience in a room where you were closer to other audience members and laughter (and other sounds) fills a room.

In other words…being in the room is better. For the performers most of all, I’d imagine.

— 2 —

On the way up, we stopped in Nashville to get some Nashville Hot Chicken in actual Nashville – Kid #5 is a Hattie B’s devotee and loves the stuff, so we owed it to ourselves to search out some authenticity. Found it!

Moore’s Spicy Fried Chicken, a one-man operation in Hendersonville, and it was excellent.

TripAdvisor reviews sometimes take the place down a notch because of the “rudeness” of the owner/operator. He’s certainly no-nonsense, but for heaven’s sake, he’s running the whole show himself and has things to do!

For the record, there wasn’t a hint of rudeness for us. He was thorough and, as I said, no nonsense, but as we left he asked what we thought, and gave us a great smile for our thumbs-up and wished us a good rest of our trip.

Highly recommended!

— 3 —

What else has happened this week? Well, we did a quick college trip earlier in the week, Kid took the PSAT on Wednesday, and here we are – we’ll be back home later today, and then probably staying put there until….2022? Who knows.

Oh, and that royalties statement and check? Two weeks after being mailed from Chicago….it arrived. Two weeks. Along with a few other time-sensitive pieces of mail – car registration renewal forms – that normally would arrive at the beginning of October, given to me creased and worn at the edges – which lends credence to my theory that all of that was stuck somewhere in the cracks and crevices of the mail truck. for ten days or so.

Next week? Plumber. Deep Breath. Reaches for checkbook.

— 4 —

From  The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols pertinent today, the feastday of St. Mary Margaret Alacoque:


— 5 –

Many, many reasons to yearn for the end of this election season, and one of them just might be the end of every entity on earth so helpfully reminding me to VOTE. Did you know there’s an election? And you should VOTE?

Thanks, McD’s – I didn’t know.

— 6 —

I started reading Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich this week, and my neck is tired from nodding. I wish I had read it long ago – it helps me articulate my thoughts on these issues in a way that hardly anything else has. More next week.

School prepares people for the alienating institutionalization of life, by teaching the necessity of being taught. Once this lesson is learned, people loose their incentive to develop independently; they no longer find it attractive to relate to each other, and the surprises that life offers when it is not predetermined by institutional definition are closed.

— 7 —

Finally – lacking hope? Maybe this will help, from downtown Birmingham, Alabama

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

Read Full Post »

Teresa of Avila

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

We actually went to Spain that year – to Madrid. We didn’t go to Avila, choosing 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), B16  turned to Teresa.  It’s a wonderful introduction to her life.  After outlining her biography and achievements, he opens up 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.) 


The point of Teresa’s efforts and reforms was, in a word, freedom. She understood that the more her sisters were involved with the world and worldly concerns, the less spiritually free they were….

Even outside the cloister…something to keep in mind. It’s that never-ending struggle to balance the truth that God reveals himself to us through creation and created things can hold us back from God. Isn’t it?


Read Full Post »

There and Back Again

Took a quick trip up to College Kid’s…. college. They were having an information day for potential students, so I figured it was a good opportunity to a) get Kid #5’s mind moving in the direction of post-high school life for realz and 2) see College Kid.

Mission accomplished.

We flew up and over Sunday afternoon and were back here by mid-afternoon today. We couldn’t stay any longer because tomorrow is PSAT day, which should help to focus the mind a little more. (He’s only a sophomore, but it will be a good chance to see where he’s at).

It is quite interesting to experience Life Without Checking the News and Commentary every ten seconds. I recommend it.

Seriously. You want better mental health? If that’s a part of your life, absolutely start right there. Disengage. It’s amazing. Your candidate and your cause can probably function, survive, and maybe even win without the vibes you’re so anxiously attempting to send over the airwaves or bytes or whatever we do now.

You might want the Travel-In-the-Age-of-Covid report. I’m happy to report that this time – in contrast to the first step of our Yellowstone trip – we were actually asked to lower our masks at security in Birmingham. And yes, masks everywhere, and both airlines (Delta there, Southwest back – #points #Miles #cheapskate) were politely firm that if you weren’t willing to abide by their rules, you wouldn’t be traveling on their planes.

I do ponder how, especially since everyone knows what to expect and I’d think hardly anyone fights it, how much less work the life of a flight attendant entails now. Unless you’re in first class, all you get is a water and a snack – on Delta, it’s all tossed in a plastic bag and handed to you, while on Southwest, you’re given a cup of water – so at least they have to pour that out.

Anyway, it all went smoothly and all airports (BHM, ATL, MCI and DAL) were fairly busy – the last time Kid #5 had been in ATL was in late June for a trip to Florida and for me it was in August on my return from helping College Kid move back – it was startling, for both of us, to see how busy Atlanta was once again – it had been almost like a ghost town even in August.

Planes were fairly full, but not as packed as our flights to and from Jackson Hole in August -they were able to do empty-middle-seats on each leg this time, which had definitely not been the case on those other flights.

Anyway, it was good, with all goals accomplished. Plus some good food at Willie’s in Atchison, Kansas, and Jake’s in St. Joseph, Missouri. I hasten to say that the very gross-looking sandwich pictured at the far left was not my meal. And the person who ordered it could only eat half.

The beer was all mine, though.

There was also this, but I suppose the less said about the Vikings the better.

The only specific thing I’ll say is that at least for us, this college year is…happening. And happening in about a 75% normal fashion. Worth every penny.

I read a book! Sadly, not a printed-on-paper book, but I was traveling, so downloading a Kindle book makes sense in that context. Less bulk to haul around.

The book?

In Context: Teresa of Ávila, John of the Cross, and Their World

From the description:

In Context: Teresa of Ávila, John of the Cross, and Their World explores the social, cultural, intellectual, and religious themes that prevailed during the time in which St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross lived and breathed. This book is not only a thematic overview but also visits particular situations in the lives of these saints: the events that shaped their writings, their lives, and the Carmelite Reform they initiated.

Offering for the first time in English a comprehensive contextual overview of the Carmelite reformers, Father O’Keefe draws upon pivotal scholarly sources not available to many beginner-to-intermediate students of spirituality. The extensive bibliographies point readers toward the next steps in diving deeper into Carmelite studies. Also including a fully linked comprehensive index and 16 pages of color photos, this book is an excellent resource for any earnest student of St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross.

Did exactly that. I would say, though, that it didn’t straddle the middle as strongly as it could have. It didn’t contain enough background on Teresa’s reforms and John’s life to make it really useful for someone who didn’t have all of that in her head – and it was a little too basic for someone who does have familiarity with Teresa and John’s lives and work. Even something like a timeline of the highlights of both figures’ lives would have made it more useful to some.

And just know – it’s far more Teresa than John, probably because far more is known of the former than the latter.

You know (maybe) that I am always all about the context. One of the most challenging aspects of looking at the past is grasping the sometimes wildly different contexts in which people lived and not judging them according to our present-day context. So in this case, probably the most interesting aspects of what O’Keefe is doing relates to the Inquisition and, related, the converso question, as well as Teresa’s self-understanding and self-presentation as a woman. He strikes a useful and realistic middle ground between the contemporary temptation to judge and impose our present-day expectations on past figures and the other temptation to uncritical hagiography.

The most interesting takeaway to me was about the complexity of Teresa’s reforms. I will not claim to be any kind of expert, but I thought I had the gist of it down. I didn’t. The short version: She didn’t emerge out of the blue. There was a reforming spirit in all religious orders at the time (Counter-Reformation/Trent, of course), and part of the reason Teresa was controversial and considered problematic by some was not because of “reform” but because (of course) because of territorial issues between the Carmelites, the Spanish crown, and Rome.

Meanwhile relations between Spain and the papal court were strained. Papal international politics and actions often ran contrary to Spanish interests. Decades of papal and curial scandals in Rome had undermined the crown’s respect for papal authority and motives, even after the reforms of Trent. In the previous century, Spanish monarchs had consistently asserted royal prerogatives over the Spanish church and its reform—which was viewed in Rome as a usurpation of its power. In fact, King Philip wanted all the religious communities in Spain to accept the stricter reform of the “observants” under the authority of the crown. The Council of Trent, on the other hand, promoted a more moderate reform of the orders (as did Rubeo) under the supervision of their own general superiors. But at the same time, the papacy could not afford to alienate the Spanish king completely—and so the demands of the Spanish crown were often met with negotiations, concessions, and resulting overlapping jurisdictions.

Sometimes I think about how I used to teach church history – which I thought at the time was balanced, honest, non-idealistic and as thorough as one could hope for the high school level – and despair.

And then I make dumplings.

Read Full Post »

Speaking of Francis Borgia and Goya

Because, you know…we have been. Goya, a couple of days ago in this post, and of course, St. Francis Borgia earlier today.

My meanderings and explorations took me to this Goya painting, which is in a chapel of the Valencia Cathedral, on the right.

click here to enlarge this image
goya painting dying man


Goya’s long-time patrons the Duke and Duchess of Osuna commissioned him to paint two scenes from the life of Saint Francis for a chapel dedicated to the saint in the Cathedral of Valencia. This scene comes from an 18th Century account of the saint’s life written by Cardinal Alvaro Cienfuego who states that the saint realized that this sinner couldn’t be saved and “detached its [the crucifix’s] nailed right arm, and placing its hand in that profusely bleeding lacerated wound in its chest, withdrew a fist filled with blood, and hurled it with indignation at the frowning, denigrated face, saying ‘Since you scorn this blood, which was shed for your glory, let it serve for your eternal unhappiness.’ Then that pitiful man, with an awful, blasphemous shout directed against Jesus Christ, gave up his soul, convulsed by a horrid moan, and it was turned over to the infamous ministers of fire and fright.”

So…not exactly a happy ending.

Read Full Post »

St. Francis Borgia

St. Francis Borgia

To conclude in a few words what remains to be said on this subject, I believe it will be very useful to keep ourselves in humility with regard to our neighbour, to reflect that the devil lays snares for us every instant to make us consent to pride, and that we shall undoubtedly fall into these snares, if we are not extremely on our guard.

Thus, every time we treat with our neighbour, we should observe our- selves carefully ; have as much respect for him, whoever he be, as if he were our master or superior; listen to him when he speaks, as if God was speaking by his mouth ; value the good advice and wise instructions which he gives us; and, above all, take care not to think ourselves better than he, for fear of deceiving ourselves. For, besides being very bad judges of what we see, we allow ourselves frequently to be deceived by appearances, either by our want of discrimination, or by the reserve of those with whom we treat.

Thus the surest means of not allowing ourselves to be mistaken in the judgments which we pass on our neighbour, is to believe always that we may be deceived, to bless God for the good which we see in our brethren, ever to take the most favourable view of doubtful things, not to condemn persons who seem to us to be wicked, since our duty is to judge ourselves only ; on the contrary, charitably to excuse them, and consider that he whom we see do a bad action has before done numberless good ones ; that if we compare ourselves to him, we shall have a greater subject for humility in our own faults than of scandal in his ; that he has perhaps sinned through ignorance, or that be has already repented of his sin, and is now in a state of grace ; in fine, that his fall will perhaps procure for him in heaven a higher degree of glory, by the great penance which he has done for it. 

I am a bit confused about his feastday. It is definitely such on the Extraordinary Form calendar. On the post-V2 calendar, it’s September 30 – also the feastday of St. Jerome. But folks all over Twitter are wishing each other a happy feastday of St. Francis Borgia (did you miss it? It’s not #trending? No? Oh.) …even Cardinal Cupich! Well, that clinches it. October 10 it is.

Well, and the Franciscan Saint o the Day site marks today as his day, so here we go.

From another website:

Francis Borgia was born in Spain in 1510 into the wealthy and powerful Borgia family. The Borgia’s were infamous for their ambition, corruption, and dishonesty, even assassinating those who stood in their way. Francis’s family members, especially his uncle, were the subject of Machiavelli’s work “The Prince”, becoming immortalized as the archetype of evil cunning and manipulation. Francis, however, was quite different. He showed great humility as a child, and wanted to become a monk. Family affairs did not allow this, and Francis was instead married a Portuguese noble woman, had eight children, and was appointed Duke of Gandía. After his wife’s death, Francis became a Jesuit, and eventually became the third Superior General of the Society of Jesus. He helped expand the Jesuits, founded dozens of colleges, and was spiritual advisor to kings and queens.

More detail, from Bert Ghezzi:

St. Francis Borgia, a relative of Pope Alexander VI, King Ferdinand of Aragon, and Emperor Charles V, joined Spain’s imperial court at age eighteen. The next year he married Eleanor de Castro, who bore him eight children. In 1539, shortly after experiencing a religious conversion, Francis left the court but continued in public life as viceroy of Catalonia. At this time under the influence of Peter of Alcántara and Peter Favre, he progressed in prayer and the spiritual life.

In 1543, Francis succeeded his father as duke of Gandia, but when his wife died three years later he decided to become a Jesuit. He provided for his children and joined the society in 1550. While he preferred a quiet life of solitude, the Jesuits felt differently and promoted him so that he could use his great administrative talents for the church. In 1554, St. Ignatius appointed Francis commissary for Spain, where he founded twelve colleges and a novitiate. The Jesuits chose Francis as their general in 1565. His consolidation of the society and expansion of its ministry has caused him to be recognized as the second founder of the order. He established disciplined novitiates in every Jesuit province, writing regulations and books of spiritual instruction for them.

Francis created a new Jesuit base in Poland and strengthened the community’s work in Germany and France. Between 1566 and 1572 he launched the Jesuit mission to Spanish colonies in Florida, Mexico, and Peru.

Below, from the Internet Archive, is a translation of his “Spiritual Exercises”.

You’ll notice a theme. It’s humility. Abject humility, you might say.

Remember, St. Francis Borgia says, at every step of the day, how much God has given you and how you’ve wasted it.

You ought, O devout soul, to make yourself as familiar as you possibly can with these exercises, in order that your actions, which are sterile and imperfect in themselves, may become holy and salutary, and that they may merit to be presented to God as an agreeable sacrifice.

 You should commence by the ordinary actions of each day, which are common to all ; and I can assure you that if you are faithful to this practice, besides acquiring, by degrees, a great facility for acting boldly in all the other circumstances of life, you will find in it wondrous sweetness and consolation.

 Now, this practice consists in having three motives in each action that you perform:

 1st, to humble yourself before God ;

2nd, to thank Him for His graces ;

3rd, to ask Him for those of which you have need.

The following is the rule you ought to make use of in the particular actions of the day.

While dressing in the morning.

 1. Enter into a profound sentiment of confusion, in considering that you are well clothed, and that Jesus Christ was fastened naked to a cross for love of you.

2. Thank Him for having assumed our nature, although He knew at the time how ungrateful we should be for this favour; and also for having given us clothes to cover us, although we have so often despised the nuptial robe of grace, with which He clothed us. While dressing yourself, you are performing one of the works of mercy, which is to clothe the naked: implore Him to accept this action, in consideration of the garment of ignominy with which He was covered in the palace of Herod.


So negative!

Well, remember to whom Francis Borgia is writing. The people who would be reading his spiritual exercises would be, first of all, literate, with access to printed books – which means they were either from wealthy and privileged backgrounds or striving for such. Laity would be enjoying a comfortable life and be living in a world oriented towards maintaining and growing that comfort and wealth. Even those with serious spiritual aspirations dwelt in relative ease and spent their days conducting the wealth- and position-building business of the world, and of course – as the Borgia family itself demonstrates in a stupendously vivid way.

In that context, the challenge to conform one’s life to Christ – the call of every Christian – might just require hourly reminders of the gap between the appearance that surrounds you and the reality of what eternal life requires.

Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

We are not 17th century Spanish aristocrats,  but the lives of most of us in developed nations would nonetheless stun those living at that culture’s highest levels with our own ease and comfort.

So despite the tone of abject humility that might be off-putting, are we really so different from Francis Borgia’s privileged readers? Are we not tempted, to live as though salvation is about how the world views and treats us and to use the gifts God has given us, starting with life itself, with that end in mind, rather than eternal life?

Perhaps it’s not a bad thing to be reminded of our limitations. To be reminded, as the passage that begins this post points out, that our understanding of others is so blinkered and shallow that it’s impossible and wrong for us to judge them.

To be reminded that the flattery of the world – whether that come in the form of servile courtiers, land bequests, paychecks and promotions, the praise of co-workers or even the affection of friends and family, and definitely social media applause – at the very least, means nothing, and at worst, distracts us from the reality of who we are:

In a word, if you wish not to flatter yourself, you will find nothing within you which will not be a cause for humility , no, not even your good works ; since, by considering the inclination you have to evil, and the difficulty you feel in doing good, you will be surprised that a sinner like yourself can do anything agreeable to God. For a good action is the fruit of the grace of Jesus Christ, and not of nature or of sin ; and the little good you do comes not from yourself, but from God, who begins and finishes it in you.

Read Full Post »

St. Denis – October 9

Today is the memorial of St. Denis, bishop and martyr.  You can read about him here:

Missionary to Paris, France. First Bishop of Paris. His success roused the ire of local pagans, and he was imprisoned by Roman governor. Martyred in the persecutions of Valerius with Saint Rusticus and Saint Eleutherius. Legends have grown up around his torture and death, including one that has his body carrying his severed head some distance from his execution site. Saint Genevieve built a basilica over his grave. His feast was added to the Roman Calendar in 1568 by Pope Saint Pius V, though it had been celebrated since 800.

So that legend is why he is often portrayed holding his head, as in the Paris subway near the Basilica of St. Denis, here:

The Basilica of St. Denis stands outside the usual tourist track in Paris, but was really one of the most memorable sites we visited in our month there back in…gulp….2012.  So absolutely worth the metro ride. It’s of great historical importance, first because it represents one of the first (if not the first) major expression of Gothic architecture, and secondly because of its role as the last resting place of the French monarchy.  

The Abbey of Saint Denis was the burial site of the kings of France for centuries and has thus been referred to as the “royal necropolis of France.” All but three of the monarchs of France from the 10th century until 1789 have their remains here. The abbey church contains some fine examples of cadaver tombs.

The effigies of many of the kings and queens are on their tombs, but during the French Revolution, these tombs were opened by workers under orders from revolutionary officials. The bodies were removed and dumped in two large pits nearby.

Archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir saved many of the monuments from the same revolutionary officials by claiming them as artworks for his Museum of French Monuments.

Napoleon Bonaparte reopened the church in 1806, but the royal remains were left in their mass graves. Following Napoleon’s first exile to Elba, the Bourbons briefly returned to power. They ordered a search for the corpses of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, which were found on January 21, 1815 and brought to St. Denis and buried in the crypt.

So the Basilica today is repository of funerary imagery….Pepin the Short, the Bourbons….everyone.  It’s fascinating.

The absolutely most intriguing statuary to me were the two or three sets of married monarchs whose monuments had two elements: the king and queen in full worldy regalia, and then, the two of them represented laid out completely nude…as they came into the world, and as they went back into the earth:

I wrote a Living Faith devotion about it, here:

Louis XII and Anne of Brittany’s tomb is topped by images of them kneeling in prayer, fully dressed, but in a space below, we see them again, lying as in death, completely nude. It is a startling, sobering sight.

It’s also a sight that reminded me that living under the robes of any worldly honor, power or possession is a creature just like me. Only one king–gracefully born into that mortal flesh but wearing the crown of glory forever–deserves my worship, only one is truly Lord of my life now and for eternity.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: