Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category

Edinburgh (1)

Coming to you from a Waterstone’s in London before we off to the Globe…

Settled in Edinburgh at the guesthouse, a little out of the center, but that was fine because the center was super-busy and expensive. This is good. This is the kind of place I’ll be staying at when (and if) I’m on my own: budget, simple, small.

First stop of the day, the really excellent, different and a little odd National Museum of Scotland.

It is indeed impressive, if challenging to understand. There’s a big chunk that’s about, you know, Scotland’s history, and it was very well done, including the religious history. I was a little surprised because my impression of Scotland and the Church of Scotland has always been Hate Catholics, aye, but the deep religious history of Scotland was dealt with very respectfully, with lots of interesting artifacts on display.

At one point, I happened upon a small group being led by a man in religious garb. I assumed he was LARPing and this was some sort of odd tour, but as I tagged along and listened, it seemed to me that the fellow really was a religious of some sort in his grey habit. He pointed out, for example, that the cross below is sometimes interpreted as a fusion of Christian and pre-Christian pagan beliefs, but another interpretation was that it represents the triumph of the Cross over paganism…

So you have the Scottish part, through which I learned a lot, gaining, most of all, an appreciation for the Scots identity and sense of nationhood. And then there are themes related to technology and culture which are certainly comprehensive and impressive, but organized, not horizontally – as if you would walk from gallery to gallery on the same floor – but vertically. Once I got the hang of that – well, I got the hang of it.

Lots and lots to see. Truly a unique museum.

We set out to find food and other things, and on the way stopped in St. Patrick’s Church, which hosts a shrine to the Venerable Margaret Sinclair, of whom I’d never heard, but who is worth hearing about:

Margaret Sinclair is a contemporary example of how each of us should pursue personal holiness. Firstly, she strove for sanctity wherever she found herself in life, whether that was the convent, the home or the factory. Secondly, her determination to do God’s will, often in the teeth of great difficulty, reminds us that saints are made, not born.

Lunch at Oink, a chain serving up roast pig:

A stop in St. Giles – a huge church, the mother church of the Church of Scotland, featuring the OG Presbyterian, John Knox. I was intrigued by the set-up, which is hard to explain, but I wondered if it was original or a contemporary arrangement with the altar in the middle near the very large and central pulpit – so I asked a docent, who first off, quickly and very justifiably corrected me – NOPE – not an “altar” – a TABLE. I slipped once more and yes, was corrected. I mean – he’s not wrong. No sacrifice is offered, so of course not an altar.

Anyway – his answer? In previous years, the table had been against the back wall (I assume close to where it was when it was a Catholic Church and there was an ALTAR there) and so the impression I got is that when they had communion in a service, they just sort of arranged things back there and brought them to the congregation when it was time.

Then up to the Edinburgh Castle. Lots to see, but mostly the view and the chapel of another Margaret – St. Margaret of Scotland.

Again, walking (quickly) through the various museums and exhibits dedicated to various branches of the Scots military, as well as the War Memorial (especially the War Memorial), I really came to a much deeper understanding of the uniqueness of the Scots identity.

Then back to the guest house for Mass (I wrote about it here) at St. Mary Star of the Sea:

A quick walk through Leith, and then dinner at an excellent pizza place with an obvious theme:

Tomorrow: SHEEP

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Why highlight these saints so often when there is so much…news happening?

Simple: Because through the saints, we learn how to be disciples. We learn how rich, textured and diverse Catholic life is. Because saints lived in the past, when we make reflecting on the life, work, witness or writing of a saint part of our day, we situate our faith more properly than we do if we situate our faith only in the present moment.

In short: We grow more from a few moments of being quietly attentive to the real world around us, consciously situated in the greater cosmic context of traditionally-centered faith, than we do from one more session of racing through scads of information and opinion via a screen. I know I do, at least.

Moreover, with all the talk about “eucharist coherence,” maybe Irenaeus is a good person to drop in and check on – and check ourselves with: working from the assumption that Jesus says he’s the Way, the Truth and the Life, and those words don’t just jump from his mouth to our ears without a Spirit led process of transmission, teaching and shaping – that we just can’t ignore.

I mean, the man himself says it:

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself.

Mike Aquilina:

St. Irenaeus is an important link in tradition’s golden chain. He probably composed his works when he was very old, in the late 100s in the land we now know as France. When he was a young man, though, he lived in Asia Minor, where he studied under the holy bishop Polycarp, who had himself converted to Christianity under St. John the Apostle. Irenaeus treasured the stories of John that he had learned from his master. His few, small anecdotes are a precious witness to the life of the apostle.

And all of Irenaeus’s life gave witness to the teaching of the apostles. The man was steeped in Scripture, steeped in liturgy, in love with the Church and all of its glorious structures of authority. In Irenaeus’s voluminous writings we find it all: the Mass, the papacy, the office of bishop, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the condemnation of heresy. One of my favorite lines from his work is this, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.” This is the most primitive form of the axiom that later Fathers would state as “Lex orandi, lex credendi.” The law of prayer is the law of belief. The liturgy is the place where living tradition truly lives.

Then Bishop Barron:

Now this regula veritatis, Irenaeus insists, was not so much his work but that of the apostle John, the mentor to Polycarp who in turn taught Irenaeus himself. “For John, the disciple of the Lord … wishing to put an end to all such ideas (Gnosticism) … and to establish the Church in the rule of truth” handed on this formula. Time and again, Irenaeus characterizes his work as the handing on of the apostolic teaching; in fact, his short summary of the Adversus Haereses bears the straightforward title Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. In a word, the regula does not represent a philosophical consensus or an externally imposed matrix of interpretation, but rather the apostolically ratified distillation of the essential biblical worldview, the fundamental metaphysics that St. John and his companions insisted must undergird the biblical story. This is why, for Irenaeus, these “doctrinal” claims are not the least bit distorting but clarifying. Indeed, apart from them, the biblical witness would remain opaque and the essential story murky and open to misinterpretation. To suggest that the regula fidei should be set aside in order to allow the authentic intention of the biblical authors to emerge would have struck Irenaeus as so much nonsense.

Then, B16:

As can be seen, Irenaeus did not stop at defining the concept of Tradition. His tradition, uninterrupted Tradition, is not traditionalism, because this Tradition is always enlivened from within by the Holy Spirit, who makes it live anew, causes it to be interpreted and understood in the vitality of the Church. Adhering to her teaching, the Church should transmit the faith in such a way that it must be what it appears, that is, “public”, “one”, “pneumatic”, “spiritual”. Starting with each one of these characteristics, a fruitful discernment can be made of the authentic transmission of the faith in the today of the Church. More generally, in Irenaeus’ teaching, the dignity of man, body and soul, is firmly anchored in divine creation, in the image of Christ and in the Spirit’s permanent work of sanctification. This doctrine is like a “high road” in order to discern together with all people of good will the object and boundaries of the dialogue of values, and to give an ever new impetus to the Church’s missionary action, to the force of the truth which is the source of all true values in the world.

Repeating what I said yesterday about Cyril, if you have a mind to study the Church Fathers via these talks either as an individual or as a parish study group, feel free to use the free pdf of the study guide I wrote for OSV.  For example the reflection questions for the section on Clement, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen are:

1. These thinkers of early Christianity did not shy from engaging with non-Christian thinking. How would you describe their relationships to it? What seems to you to be their standard for what elements of non-Christian thinking to accept or reject?

2. Apologetics is still an important part of Christian expression. What issues have you experienced as being areas in which you or others you know are called upon to offer an “apologia”? Are there any resources you have found particularly helpful?

3. All of these thinkers — and most in this book — emerged from the East, the birthplace of Christianity. What do you know about the Eastern Catholic churches today? Have you ever attended an Eastern Catholic liturgy?

4. Irenaeus battled Gnostic heresies in which only an elite had access to the ultimate saving spiritual knowledge. Can you see any currents of this element of Gnostic thinking in the world today? Do you ever catch yourself thinking along these lines?

5. These thinkers were engaged in very creative work, but work that was very faithful to the tradition they had been handed by the apostles. What kind of creative, faithful ways of teaching and expressing faith are you aware of today? If you were in charge of evangelization  for the Church in your area, what kinds of approaches would you encourage?

6. Justin Martyr felt that certain elements of his pagan life had actually worked to prepare him for his Christian life. Are their any elements of your life before your fuller coming to faith that you feel have prepared you for deepening your faith today?

7. Ignatius and Origen both longed for martyrdom. What do you think about that?

8. Several of these thinkers indicate the importance of the bishop of Rome. How do you see the importance of the papacy expressed in the Church and the world today?

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Puffins, okay?

Well, I am stuck on a train that has stopped somewhere in a field in the middle of England, so might as well write a bit more.

We had (have) ticket from Edinburgh to London, but train travel has been chaotic because a) leftover complications from the strike (i.e. still reduced service, more people traveling who didn’t ravel last week) and b) theft of some cables from our route, which has made a “special working” necessary, I assume, so we don’t barrel along and crash into another train.

So let’s write about puffins.

Again, you are wondering….how…? Why?…I think it all goes back to me thinking about Scotland, and having associated puffins with Scotland, wondering, Where can we see puffins? And it turning out that a fantastic place to see puffins is not in Scotland, but in England, on the Farne Islands.

As I wrote before, the Farne Islands, off the east coast of England, are a favorite of David Attenborough. Every spring and summer, tens of thousands of birds nest and breed here – and you can, indeed, go see them. Which we did…via Billy Shiels Boat Tours.

We could have chosen to simply ride and view from the boat, but why do that when you can get off and walk amidst the puffins? Why?

So here you go. I don’t know what the other birds are. I was told, but I don’t remember, except that there are three different types of gulls. It was fascinating, loud, smelly and a great experience. For video, go to Instagram and click on the appropriate highlight. At some point I’ll do a proper Instagram post on it, but probably not until we get back.

Puffins live in burrows that are about an arm’s length long, and that split into two chambers.

We couldn’t help but continually wonder about St. Cuthbert sailing out to these islands (which he did) for a little peace and quiet away from the monastery…

We left from the harbor just below our hotel, and returned a little before one. Travel would be a little fraught – it was not a strike day, but of course, everyone was still living with the consequences.  We rode the bus from Seahouses up to Berwick-on-Tweed, where we’d hopefully get a train to Edinburgh (about 40 minutes by train.) I hadn’t purchased tickets ahead of time because I didn’t think it was necessary, but when we got off the boat, I noticed that a lot of trains – including the one we’d planned on taking – had been cancelled. So, out of an abundance of caution – as we say – I went ahead and got a ticket from 3:40.

The train station had a weird vibe going on – basically a post-event vibe. An attendant (they were just milling around outside) told me the trains had just started running again, and good luck – it might be crowded on ours.

Well, it was crowded, but it was also on time, and we had our seats, so no problem.

To Edinburgh!

Where we checked into our guest house – two rooms on the top floor with a bathroom that was not ensuite, but still just ours.

Dinner? Just down the bock was a well-reviewed Polish restaurant, so that was my choice for the night, and yes, it was excellent. And very Polish, including the clientele,

This was also the night that we really did understand that the further north you go…the more the sun is around this time of year. By 11pm…it was still pretty light outside. Crazy!

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Well, here we are at last. Seahouses, UK. That’s our hotel in the center of the photo up there, the only “regular” hotel of the trip – all the rest have been small guesthouses, B & B’s and one apartment. The taxi driver got us to the hotel, kindly helped with our bags, we got checked in even though it was early, got ourselves ready, and set out for the Holy Island.

Here’s the brief history of Lindesfarne:

Possibly the holiest site of Anglo-Saxon England, Lindisfarne was founded by St. Aidan, an Irish monk, who came from Iona, the centre of Christianity in Scotland. St Aidan converted Northumbria to Christianity at the invitation of its king, Oswald. St. Aidan founded Lindisfarne Monastery on Holy Island in 635, becoming its first Abbot and Bishop. The Lindisfarne Gospels, a 7th century illuminated Latin manuscript written here, is now in the British Museum.

The island of Lindisfarne with its wealthy monastery was a favourite stop-over for Viking raiders from the end of the 8th century. These Vikings raiders obviously concerned the monks somewhat as they vacated the monastery and did not return for 400 years. Lindisfarne continued as an active religious site from the 12th century until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537. It seems to have become disused by the early 18th century.

Like Mont-St. Michel, Lindesfarne is a tidal island. It’s only accessible by road or walking at certain times of the day. The tidal charts for the current timeframe are here.

Not a great photo, and taken from the taxi. But you get the idea.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and so this popular spot was very busy on a Friday afternoon. Our driver dropped us off a little after three and we agreed to meet there again at 5:30.

There was a very good little exhibit before you went out to the priory. The setting of the priory was not what I expected – I thought it would be high up on the coastline, looking out onto the sea, but it was actually set back a bit and down low, protected by a natural barrier.

There is a castle, though – and that sits up very high. It’s closed for the moment, but you can walk out there and around it, where you will have close encounters with sheep.

We started out with food – of which we’d not had any that day – crab salad sandwiches for two of us and a ham and cheese toastie (grilled cheese) for another. Then we wandered, together at times, splitting up at times. We hit the priory, of course, one of us got down to the tidal pools, others of us made our way to the sheep, and we all tasted some mead at  Lindesfarne Mead

Returning, we rested a bit, then had some fish and chips here, wandered a bit more, and one of us decided he wanted to take a dip in the North Sea. So he did.

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Now things get complicated. And they also get stupid because of my mistake.

First off, let’s review. I had built in a potential almost full day for Hadrian’s Wall sites, with us then getting to the next stop (Seahouses) in the early evening, and doing the activities in that area on Friday. It would be tight getting them both in on one day, but I was pretty sure we could swing it.

But after our afternoon at the Roman Army Museum, a bit of the wall and Vindolanda, it was decided that this was enough. More would have been great, and perhaps will be another time, but given the complexities of travel, especially on a strike day, we thought it best to just get going Thursday morning in case we’d end up having to take a bus all the way.


The original plan had been to ride the train from Hexham to Newcastle, and then Newcastle to Alnmouth, where we’d get a taxi to Seahouses. There are buses from Alnmouth to Seahouses, but honestly, I just didn’t want to bother with figuring out and coordinating with one more schedule. It seemed as if it all work out – but then the strike was declared.

So..plan B. We’d have to take a bus from Hexham to Newcastle, since that train would not be running. However, there was limited service along the Edinburgh-London route, with a stop at Alnmouth. That would do fine.

Early Thursday morning I got the bright idea, though, of doing a taxi to Newcastle. It was only 22 miles, for heaven’s sake, and the bus would be almost an hour and a half. (78 – yes 78 – stops). The hotel clerk called a couple of services for me, but the answer was the same: “They’re all out taking kids to school and won’t be available until 10.” Taxis take kids to school in England? Okay, well good for them, bad for us, time to get up and get going to the bus station.

Newcastle train station was almost empty (of course. There’s a strike!) The ticket-taking gates were wide open. A train arrived at the right platform, destination Edinburgh, we got on for the 20+ minute ride to Alnmouth. Our tickets were never checked. We sped along. And kept going. And going.


I walked up and down the cars. There was no one working (it’s a strike!). I asked one of the four other passengers on the train if he thought the train would stop. He said maybe at this place…but also maybe not. But why? Was this an effect of the strike?

No, idiot – you got on the wrong train, that’s what. Which happened to be an express train to Edinburgh. Geez. Lesson learned. If a train pulls up and leaves early – that is probably not your train. And if you are not sure…ASK. (if you can find someone)

I had already booked tickets for a boat trip out to the Farne Islands from Seahouses that would be leaving at 1:30 that afternoon. Even getting to Edinburgh and getting on another train immediately to come back down south would not get us there in time. I did some rearranging, the boat company kindly transferred our tickets to Friday – and they didn’t mind because that freed up three more seats on an afternoon boat that was sold out. The taxi driver was kind and sympathetic, and even though I told him to charge me, he refused, and just asked for a good review instead – which he got and deserved. I was pretty upset about my stupidity, but it really did turn out fine. We just were able to flip our plans around, doing what we planned for Thursday on Friday, and Friday on Thursday….

So on we sped to Edinburgh, which would have been fantastic if that had been our train. Luckily, there was a train back leaving in about twenty minutes, so we just were able to get on that. It wasn’t stopping at Alnmouth, however, but at Berwick-on-Tweed, which was north of Seahouses, rather than south. Which was fine – we’d get there sooner, but not soon enough.

Arriving at Berwick-on-Tweed, I was really relieved to see a taxi stand. I went to a random driver, who was sitting in his car with his mate and explained the issue and the plan. Could he A) Take us from Berwick-on-Tweed to Seahouses so we could check into our hotel and drop our luggage then B) from Seahouses up to the Holy Island or Lindesfarne and C) get us a couple of hours later on the Holy Island and then take us back to Seahouses?

(There is a bus from Berwick to Seahouses, but you know – it’s a bus, with a schedule, and then I’d have to find a way up to Lindesfarne and back, which required a car on this particular day, since the tourist bus wasn’t running – so might as well use the same driver.)

They worked it out, consulted on a price, which was very fair, and off we went!

So yes, those were our two destinations on this very short leg of the trip:

Lindefarne, or Holy Island, where St. Aidan came from Iona to found a very early monastery, the Vikings invaded very early on, and the source, of course, of the famed Lindesfarne Gospels.


The Farne Islands – off the east coast, islands which David Attenborough said were his favorite place to see nature in the UK. Every spring through early summer, hundreds of thousands of birds nest here, including….

Well, that’s enough of this nonsense. Let’s do Holy Island in another post.

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St. Cyril and OLPH

Before you read this, considering that you might not read to the end – I’ll toss this in here:

Speaking of good homilies….as I did yesterday…

One of the great tasks and challenges of being a Catholic minister or faith-sharer of any sort is to help one’s listener understand the timelessness of this body of faith and practice. The importance of that timelessness is not to “prove” anything but, more than anything else, to give hope. You, there – you are not alone in your weakness, pain, suffering and fears. It’s called being human and in Christ, no matter who you are, when or where you live or what the specifics of your situation are, in him and his Body, the Church, you will find comfort, healing, hope and answers.

In other painfully well-worn words, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every generation. We have the spiritual resources, if we understand them properly and at a deep level, to point the suffering, questioning soul in the right direction, to open their hearts so they can hear Him.

A few weeks ago, our Cathedral rector offered this homily – short, direct and substantive – on Pentecost, in which he held up the Pentecost Sequence as a framework for discerning how to live out the call to share the gifts the Spirit has given us:

The beautiful Sequence for this feast gives us much food for thought in regard to how we can put our gifts at the service of others, and ultimately to the service of the Church, for it describes the action of the Holy Spirit in very concrete terms: as a “Father of the poor”, as a “comforter”, as “sweet refreshment”… “coolness in the heat”, “solace in the midst of woe”, the healer of wounds, one who can “bend the stubborn heart and will”, and “guide the steps that go astray”. All of these are things that we can share in, things that we can do.

Therefore, we can ask: How do I provide for the poor? How do I offer comfort to others? How do I seek to refresh others, help them find relief? Am I a source of solace – am I there for those who are hurting or mourning? Do I try to be a healer and a peacemaker? Am I willing to dialogue with the stubborn and the inflexible to help them find a place of healthy compromise? And do I correct those who are erring? All these things have their source in the gift of the Holy Spirit – and we can be his hands, his feet, his mouthpiece in these works.

So on to today – June 27 – the life and thought of an ancient philosopher and a not-so-ancient but still old tradition. Relevant? Potentially helpful in the 21st century? Perhaps.

There are a couple of memorials associated with today’s date – June 27. First is St. Cyril of Alexandria.

From B16, a General Audience talk, an introduction to Cyril, from 2007.

 In it, we see two important truths emphasized. First, the importance of theology, which is not pointless nit-picking, but rather part of the journey to clarify the mysteries of faith as far as is humanly possible. Secondly, the Christian faith as one rooted in revealed truths, and the Body of Christ has a responsibility to guard and share those truths faithfully.

Cyril’s writings – truly numerous and already widely disseminated in various Latin and Eastern translations in his own lifetime, attested to by their instant success – are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the New and Old Testament Books are important, including those on the entire Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke. Also important are his many doctrinal works, in which the defence of the Trinitarian faith against the Arian and Nestorian theses recurs. The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great Predecessor in the See of Alexandria. Among Cyril’s other writings, the books Against Julian deserve mention. They were the last great response to the anti-Christian controversies, probably dictated by the Bishop of Alexandria in the last years of his life to respond to the work Against the Galileans, composed many years earlier in 363 by the Emperor known as the “Apostate” for having abandoned the Christianity in which he was raised.

The Christian faith is first and foremost the encounter with Jesus, “a Person, which gives life a new horizon” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 1). St Cyril of Alexandria was an unflagging, staunch witness of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, emphasizing above all his unity, as he repeats in 433 in his first letter (PG 77, 228-237) to Bishop Succensus: “Only one is the Son, only one the Lord Jesus Christ, both before the Incarnation and after the Incarnation. Indeed, the Logos born of God the Father was not one Son and the one born of the Blessed Virgin another; but we believe that the very One who was born before the ages was also born according to the flesh and of a woman”. Over and above its doctrinal meaning, this assertion shows that faith in Jesus the Logos born of the Father is firmly rooted in history because, as St Cyril affirms, this same Jesus came in time with his birth from Mary, the Theotò-kos, and in accordance with his promise will always be with us. And this is important: God is eternal, he is born of a woman, and he stays with us every day. In this trust we live, in this trust we find the way for our life.

As I mention often, Benedict’s General Audience talks on great Church figures were collected into books by several Catholic publishers, including Our Sunday Visitor. I wrote study guides for two of them: his talks on the Apostles, and those on the Greek and Latin Fathers. You can find the latter in a pdf form here, and it is still useful for both individual and group study, I believe.

Below are images of the pages related to Cyril of Alexandria, and then below that the questions themselves. Thought you might find it useful.

The questions for the unit including Cyril of Alexandria:

1. Cyril of Alexandria is remembered for his defense of Christian orthodoxy against Nestorius. What did Nestorius claim?

2. What did Cyril say was wrong with Nestorius’s teaching? Why was this conflict just as much about Jesus as it was about Mary?

3. What was at stake in this controversy? What is the deeper reality that concerned Cyril?

4. Why was Hilary of Poitiers exiled? What did Hilary do during his exile?

5. How did Hilary’s approach combine adherence to truth with pastoral sensitivity?

6. How, according to Hilary, do we come into relationship with Christ? How does this change us?

7. What role do the words of baptism play in the thought of Hilary?

8. Where did Eusebius of Vercelli live and minister? What was the spiritual condition of this area?

9. What role did his monastic establishments play in his ministry? 10. What was Eusebius’s time in exile like? What did he accomplish?

11. How did Eusebius encourage his clergy and people to keep their spiritual balance?

12. What were the conditions in Turin during the ministry of Maximus?

13. To whom were many of his homilies addressed? Why?

14. What did Maximus have to say about wealth?

15. How did Maximus come to be involved in a role in the civic life of the community?

Questions for Reflection

1. The Fathers in this session, as well as in the rest of the book, grappled with questions of Jesus’ identity. Why was this not a simply academic question? Why was it so important to them? How does our sense of Jesus’ identity impact our own spiritual lives?

2. Eusebius emphasized monastic establishments as centers for spiritual renewal and pastoral ministry in his area. Why do you think he did this? Why was monasticism such an important factor in Christian life for the next millennium? What role does monasticism play in today’s Church and world?

3. Maximus spoke strongly to the people of his community about their relationship to wealth and material things. What do you think he would say to us today?

4. Pope Benedict cites Hilary’s “spirit of reconciliation” in dealing with those who cannot quite affirm the fullness of faith. Are there areas of life in which you have reached out and built relationships with those with whom you disagree? What is the foundation of such a relationship?

5. These Fathers ministered in communities in which Christianity was still a minority and often found itself in conflict. How did they minister in those situations? What can you learn from them about living in such an environment, in which the general culture stands in conflict with the Gospel?

It’s also the memorial of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, or Our Lady of Succor.

From the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols:

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To Hadrian’s Wall

This is…a fairly crazy trip. I really cannot reconstruct how I came up with this itinerary except to say that, well, since we’re on this island, we might as well got to Scotland, and Hadrian’s Wall is on the way to Scotland, and people in this crew are interested in Romans and archaeology in general, so why not…

I am not sure if it was the best decision, but it is what it is, so where we are. Or were. Because we’re in Edinburgh now.


Time to leave York!

The route? York to Newcastle to Hexham, with fingers crossed that the rail strike that had been called for the previous and the next day wouldn’t affect our travel. It didn’t.

Newcastle train station

Everything went smoothly, we arrived at Hexham before noon and walked the very short distance from the station to our hotel, quite appropriately called:

It was a little shabby, but what mattered was in place: the beds and sheets in the Family Room (three twin beds) were super clean and the employees were incredibly nice, so we were good.

It was too early to check in, but we parked our bags at the hotel and found the Hadrian’s Bus and off we went!

But first – the original “plan:”

I had built in the afternoon of the 22nd and most of the day on the 23rd for Hadrian’s Wall stuff, after which we would make our way further north, to Seahouses. For puffins. But more on that in the next post.

I had a couple of destinations in mind, but beyond that had absolutely no idea how much time we would need or want to spend in the area. Of course, spending a lot of time, and doing so hiking along the path of the wall was something that would ideally be in the cards, but given that this trip was this trip and not that trip – well, as it turns out – it wasn’t in the cards after all. There are a few major sites to see and lots of smaller ones. One could hike a chunk of the Wall, or on another trip, the whole thing. What would we want to do? There was no way of predicting until we got there and saw how long it would take to get from one spot to another.

So here we go. First off – the Hadrian’s Wall Bus is a bus, obviously, dedicated to the route along the Wall, obviously. It runs seasonally, you buy a day pass, and hop on and off. It was certainly helpful, but would have been even more convenient if it had run more frequently – say every half hour instead of every hour. Perhaps during the really busy season (which I assume is July and August) it does.

First stop: The Roman Army Museum and, with a very short walk, Walltown Crags, one of the spots where one can see a stretch of Hadrian’s Wall.

It is just what it says, the exhibit beginning with a decent, albeit a bit cheesy 3-D film, and then continuing with a clear and interesting exploration of Roman army life on the frontier.

The women’s restroom was….interesting.

As I said, a short walk from the museum was a stretch of the Wall.

Of course, we had to time everything so we wouldn’t miss the next bus – or else we’d have to wait another hour after that.

Next, the spot I’d really been looking forward to – the Vindolanda Fort and Museum. It didn’t disappoint!

The site is a working excavation, continually turning up new finds, many of which are featured in the museum. The most well-known find at the site is the Vindolanda Writing Tablets:

The Vindolanda writing tablets, written in ink on post-card sized sheets of wood, have been excavated at the fort of Vindolanda, immediately south of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. Dating to the the late first and early second centuries AD, the formative period of Roman Britain’s northern frontier, they were written by and for soldiers, merchants, women and slaves. Through their contents, life in one community on the edge of the Roman world can be reconstructed in detail.

I believe most of the tablets are in the British Museum, but they have a few on display in Vindolanda. The writing is faint, and they are delicate objects, but the display is helpful – the tablets are gently lit in a cycle, with a card and audio offering the text in both Latin and English.

Of course there is a lot more at the museum, since hundreds of people lived here and left signs and evidence of their lives – including shoes. Because of the composition of the soil at the level these were left – no oxygen – they did not decompose. Fascinating. I’m particularly taken with the designs of the textured soles.

There some folks working on the excavation.

We had to wait a bit for the bus for a few minutes after the site was closed, all alone in the parking lot, sheep gazing placidly at us from the other side of a fence. I got a touch concerned and wondered how we would get back to town if the bus didn’t show, but of course it did, so it was back to Hexham to actually go into our room (they’s gone ahead and put our bags in after check-in time), then walk up to the town for dinner in a pub, pop into the should-be-Catholic Hexham Abbey (closed to visitors, but the door was open and it looked to me like there was a wedding rehearsal happening), a stroll through Aldi, some time with a few rabbits on an athletic field..and back.

Now….tomorrow’s a strike day. We need to go somewhere. Huh.

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Who wore it better?

@ Edinburgh Castle.

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There’s that at least

More day-by-day tripblogging on the way, but first, a reflection prompted by our experience at Mass tonight (Saturday Vigil).

If nothing else has been gained from this trip, we have this at least: We’ve heard two excellent homilies at Mass.

The first at the Oxford Oratory last Sunday, and the second today, at St. Mary Star of the Sea here in Edinburgh.

Both were rooted in the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, both drew on other sources (the first, Aquinas and B16, the second, Victor Frankl) and both related the matter at hand to everyday, ordinary life. The first – since it was Corpus Christi – to the need we all have for what Christ amazingly offers us in the Eucharist, and the second, on the challenge of following Christ, especially after the initial enthusiasm wears off.

But do you know what else these homilies had in common, aside from being just good, substantive, practical and oh yes, under fifteen minutes long?

They were both written.

Oh, there were moments in which the homilist did a bit of improv and added a thought or two, but for the most part, both seem to have kept to what they had written.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never heard an off-the-cuff homily that was worth a dime. I know that homilists can be all Oh, the Holy Spirit will guide me and it will be awesome…but real talk here. Most of the time, guys…it’s not. The risk of meandering self-indulgence is super high if the homily isn’t written down and presented pretty much exactly as planned.

Anyway. Thank you to homilists who work hard, prepare, sacrifice your time and humbly – and probably quite often in fear and trembling – share that very Good News.

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York (2)

I’ll make this quick.

I began the day by going to the 8:15 Mass at St. Wilfrid’s – the York Oratory. It was a Latin Low Mass. 9 people besides me in attendance, four men, five women. Two of the women were veiled, all but one wore slacks. I only mention this because in my limited travel and even more limited presence at Traditional Latin Masses, I’ve found that in such Masses in a) cities and b) non-US countries – the demographic is always diverse and one does not see the concerns and expectations associated with the TLM crowd – either in reality or via caricature – being expressed, at least in the externals.

Anyway, a stop for pastries and then a walk back to the apartment (York is very walkable – absolutely no public transportation needed) to awaken folks, and then up and out.

First stop: Jorvik Viking Center. I thought it would be cheesy, but it actually wasn’t. It’s a combined animatronic tour through a typical Viking village – the center is built over such a site – and a small museum, with a very well-informed and interesting docent giving a presentation. I can’t believe it, but it actually worked, and was well-done.

(I guess I didn’t take many photos there. To see more go to the York Highlights on my Instagram page.)

Then York Minster, including a climb up the tower. Imposing, beautiful in its way, but also sterile and expressive, not so much of Christianity but of national religion, which…makes sense. One can’t help but look around and wonder, What is this were still Catholic?

We joined in part of a short tour and went through the very good Undercroft Museum, which relates the history of the cite as it went back to the Roman era.

That’s Constantine sitting there – he was proclaimed emperor in York.

A walk along the famed “Shambles” – supposedly one of the inspirations for Diagon Alley, and as such, peppered with Harry Potter-themed shops. But of most interest is:

It’s the shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow, who lived on this street, hid priests and hosted them saying Mass and catechized children here.

Then….to the Yorkshire Museum, which was excellent – hosting good exhibits on the Roman era, the Jurassic period and the medieval period.

I am always so moved by these ancient funerary/memorial stones, especially those that are about children.

Then back towards our apartment and the nearby Bar Convent Living Heritage Center – basically a small museum offering exhibits on Recusant Catholicism and specifically the establishment of Mary Ward’s order, the Congregation of Jesus.

Included below are images of a portable altar set-up, a bed headboard which doubled as an altar, and a very interesting vestment which, when folded, looked like a bundle of ribbons sold by a peddler, but, with all of the proper colors, was suitable for celebrating Mass in any liturgical season.


Then…back through the gate, rest, and dinner. Pretty good Thai at a small chain.

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