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Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category

As I did yesterday, I’m going to share with you excerpts from my books related to the Mass readings from today.

The first reading, from Acts – a page from The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes from the section, “Heroes are known by their love.”

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The Gospel is the narrative of the Road to Emmaus. From The Loyola Kids Book of Bible StoriesRemember, the stories are organized according to when we generally hear them in the context of the liturgy:

 

 

 

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Just a post with excerpts from various books of mine related to today’s liturgical signposts.

First, the Gospel reading for Mass is John’s narrative of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus at the empty tomb. The chapter from my book Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies is here, in the previous post. 

Here she is from The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. Remember that each entry in the book is a two-page spread. This is the first page, the simple explanation. The facing page is a full page of text going into more depth for older children.

 

Here’s the last page on this encounter from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. You can see the structure of the last part of each entry – tying the narrative (which is in a larger section gathering stories general heard during a particular liturgical season)  into bigger spiritual themes, Catholic life and tradition, with suggested questions for deeper understanding and reflection:

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, even though we don’t celebrate it since it’s Easter week, today’s the commemoration of St. George.

St. George is in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.  In the first part of the chapter I try to strike the balance between what we think we know about George and the legendary material. But I also always try to respect the legendary material as an expression of a truth – here, the courage required to follow Christ. He’s in the section, “Saints are people who are brave.”

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Today’s Gospel for Mass contains the narrative of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus at the empty tomb. Here’s the chapter from my book Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies that discusses this encounter and Mary’s role in that post-Resurrection period in general.

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Chapter 2:

‘WHY ARE YOU WEEPING?’

Luke is the only evangelist to mention Mary Magdalene before the Passion narratives, but once those events are set in motion, Mary is a constant presence in all of the Gospels, without exception. For the first few centuries of Christian life, it is her role in these narratives that inspired the most interest and produced the earliest ways of describing Mary Magdalene: “Myrrh-bearer” and “Equal-to-the-Apostles.”

At the Cross

In both Matthew (27:55) and Mark (15:40-41), Mary Magdalene is named first in the list of women watching Jesus’ execution.

Luke doesn’t name the women at the cross, but he does identify them as those who had “followed him from Galilee.” John also mentions her presence (19:25), but his account highlights the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ words commending her to John’s care.

After Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, Mary and the other women are still there. Matthew (27:61) and Mark (15:47) both specifically mention her as seeing where Jesus’ body was laid, and Luke again refers to the “women . . . from Galilee” (23:55), whose identity we are expected to understand from Luke’s early mention of their names in chapter 8.

Finally, as the Sabbath passes and the first day of the week dawns, the women still remain, and the Twelve are still nowhere in sight. Matthew describes Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (not the mother of Jesus, but probably the Mary, mother of James and Joseph, whom he had mentioned in 27:56) coming to “see” the tomb. Mark and Luke get more specific, saying that the women have come to anoint Jesus’ body. John, interestingly enough, in chapter 20, ignores any other women, and focuses on Mary Magdalene. She comes to see the tomb, finds the stone moved and the tomb empty, and runs to tell Peter.

At least one early critic of Christianity seized on Mary Magdalene’s witness as discrediting. As quoted by the Christian writer Origen,the second-century philosopher Celsus called her a “half-frantic woman” (Contra Celsus, Book II: 59), thereby calling into doubt the truth of her testimony of the empty tomb.

What is striking about John’s account is that even though Peter and others do indeed run to the tomb at Mary’s news and see it empty, that is all they see. They return, and after they have gone away, Mary remains, alone at the tomb, weeping. It is at this point that, finally, the risen Jesus appears.

Of course, Jesus appears to Mary and other women in the Synoptic Gospels as well. In Matthew (chapter 28), an angel first gives them the news that Jesus has risen from the dead. The women then depart to tell the Twelve, and on the way they meet Jesus, they worship him, and he instructs them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

In Mark (chapter 16), they meet the angel first as well, and receive the same message as Matthew describes, and are, unlike the joy described by Matthew, “afraid.” (Fear and lack of understanding on the part of disciples is a strong theme in Mark’s Gospel, by the way.)

Mark presents us with a bit of a problem, because the oldest full manuscripts of Mark, dating from the fourth century, end at 16:8, with the women afraid, and with no appearance of the risen

Mark presents us with a bit of a problem, because the oldest full manuscripts of Mark, dating from the fourth century, end at 16:8, with the women afraid, and with no appearance of the risen Jesus described. Manuscripts of a century later do contain the rest of the Gospel as we know it, continuing the story, emphasizing Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene, and identifying her as the one from whom he had exorcised seven demons. She sees him, she reports to the others, and they don’t believe it. Jesus then appears to “two of them” (perhaps an allusion to the encounter on the road to Emmaus we read about in Luke 24) who then, again, report the news to the Twelve who, again, do not believe it. Finally, Jesus appears to the disciples when they are at table, and as is normal in the Gospel of Mark, their faithlessness is remarked upon.

Some modern scholars suggest that Mark 16:8 is the “real” ending of this Gospel, which would mean that it contains no Resurrection account. Others, including the Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright, a preeminent scholar of the New Testament, argue that when one looks at Mark as a whole, it is obviously building up to the Resurrection,including prophecies from Jesus himself. Wright theorizes that the original ending was perhaps lost (the ends of scrolls were particularly susceptible to damage), and that what we have now is an attempt by a later editor to patch up that lost ending, but not in a way inconsistent with Mark’s intentions.

The theme of disbelief also runs through Luke. Interestingly enough, this Gospel doesn’t recount an encounter between the women (who are finally again specifically identified) and Jesus, but only the appearance of “two men” in “dazzling apparel,” who remind them of Jesus’ prophecies of his death and resurrection. The women, no longer afraid, go to the apostles, who, of course, dismiss their tale as idle chatter.

What’s clear in these Synoptic Gospels is, first, the strong sense of historical truth about the accounts. Rationalist skeptics would like to dismiss the Resurrection as a fabrication, but if it is, then the storytellers did a terrible job, didn’t they?

After all, if you were creating a myth that would be the origins of your new religion, would you write something in which the central characters — the first leaders of this same religion — were so filled with fear and doubt that they appeared weak?

If you were making up the story of the Resurrection from scratch, you would, as a person living in the first century, in the Roman Empire, and presumably as a Jew, only be able to think about this resurrection business in the terms and concepts available to you. And, as N. T. Wright has so ably demonstrated in The Resurrection of the Son of God (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003), even the first-century Jewish world, which did believe in a resurrection of the body, saw it in completely different terms — that it would eventually happen to everyone, at once, at the end of time (Wright, pp. 200-206).

And in general, when you read over the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, you are immersed in an account in which people are afraid, confused, in awe, and eventually profoundly overjoyed. There is a veil drawn over the core event — the Resurrection itself is never described because, of course, none of the witnesses saw it.

They saw the empty tomb, and they saw the risen Jesus. A clever fabricator and mythmaker would not have woven his account with such nuance, and would probably have offered a direct account of the event itself, perhaps even with a clear explanation of what it all meant. But that’s not what we read, and somehow, ironically, all of the confusion and human frailty is powerful evidence for the truth of the account.

Most importantly for us, a first-century mythmaker would not have featured women as the initial witnesses of these formative events. It is inaccurate to say that first-century Jews did not accept women as reliable witnesses at all. There was, of course, no unified system of law within Judaism, and what was practiced was dependent upon which rabbi’s interpretation of the Law was used. Some rabbis did, indeed, hold the opinion that women were not reliable witnesses, but others disagreed and counted a woman’s witness equal to a man’s.

However, the fact that a woman’s reliability as a witness was disputed, unclear, and not consistently accepted, would, it seems, discourage a fabricator from using women as his source of information that the tomb was indeed empty. It certainly wouldn’t be the first choice to come to mind if your aim was to present a story that was easily credible, would it?

“[And] so that the apostles [the women] did not doubt the angels,Christ himself appeared to them,so that the women are Christ’s apostles and compensate through their obedience for the sin of the first Eve. . . . Eve has become apostle. . . . So that the women did not appear liars but bringers of truth, Christ appeared to the [male] apostles and said to them: It is truly I who appeared to these women and who desired to send them to you as apostles.” (Hippolytus, third century, quoted in Mary Magdalene: Myth and Metaphor, by Susan Haskins [Berkley, 1997], pp. 62-63)

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Noli Me Tangere

John’s account of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to Mary in chapter 20 adds more detail than the Synoptics. She comes to the tomb while it is still dark — recall how John’s Gospel begins, with the wonderful hymn describing the Word bringing light into the darkness — and she sees that it is empty, and then runs to get the disciples. Peter and another disciple come to the tomb, see it for themselves, but leave, since, as John says, they didn’t yet understand “the scripture” — perhaps the Hebrew Scriptures as they would be later understood by Christians.

Mary stays, though, weeping ( John 20:11). She peers into the tomb (the level of detail in this account is fascinating) and sees two “angels in white” who ask her why she is crying. She says, sadly, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” ( John 20:13). She then turns and sees another figure; we are told it’s Jesus, but she doesn’t know until he speaks her name ( John 20:16)

One of the more well-known moments in this account comes in John 20:17, when Jesus says to Mary, in the famous Latin rendering of the words, “Noli me tangere,” which has commonly been translated, “Do not touch me.”This, however, is not the most accurate translation — either in Latin or English — of the Greek, which really means something like, “Do not cling to me” or “Do not retain me.”

So, no, Jesus is not engaging in misogynistic behavior here. Nor is he (as some modern commentators suggest) alluding to a supposed former intimate relationship between him and Mary. This is not about touching; it is about understanding who Jesus is and what his mission is. After all, Thomas is invited to touch the wounds of Jesus in John 20:27. No, Jesus tells Mary to let go of him, to look beyond the moment, to the future. After all, his very next words direct her to go to the apostles and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” ( John 20:17). Knowing Jesus for who he is, we cannot stand still. We have to move, get out, and share the marvelous news that in Jesus the barriers between humanity and God are dissolved.

Which, of course, Mary Magdalene does. All of the evangelists agree that she was the first to announce this Good News to the apostles, who, more often than not, responded with skepticism.

But such is the way it has always been. God always chooses the least in the world’s eyes, the unexpected and the despised, to do his most important work. To see this event only through the prism of politics, and to be inspired by it to think only about gender roles and such, is to be willfully blinded to the greater reality: Jesus lives, Jesus saves, and as we are touched by this truth, we are, at the same time, called to go out and share it.

Mary of the Bible

Mary Magdalene’s future in Christian spirituality and iconography is rich, evocative, and even confusing, as we’ll see in subsequent chapters. But it all begins here, with powerful simplicity and themes that will resonate through the centuries.

Mary Magdalene, healed of possession, responds to Jesus with a life of faithful discipleship. As spiritual writers and theologians will point out, she’s like the Bride in the Song of Songs. She’s like the Church itself, called by Christ out of bondage to the evils that pervade our world, giving ourselves over to him in gratitude, waiting with hope by the tomb, even when all seems lost, and rewarded, in a small, grace-filled moment, when, in the midst of darkness, we hear him call our name.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What does Mary’s desire to hold on to Jesus symbolize to you? How do you experience this in your own life?
  2. Why is Mary referred to as “Apostle to the Apostle
  3. What can Mary’s fidelity teach you about your own relationship to Jesus?

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And…..here are the appropriate pages from our favorite vintage 7th grade Catholic textbook, part of the Christ-Life Series in Religion . The first about the season in general, the second about next Sunday (before it became Divine Mercy Sunday, of course).

What I like about these – and why I share them with you – is that they challenge the assumption that before Vatican II, Catholicism offered nothing but legalistic rules-based externals to its adherents, particularly the young. Obviously not so

I also appreciate the assumption of maturity and spiritual responsibility. Remember, this is a 7th grade textbook, which means it was for twelve and thirteen-year olds at most. A child reading this was encouraged to think of him or herself, not as a customer to be placated or attracted, but as a member of the Body of Christ – a full member who can experience the deep joy and peace that Christ gives, and has a mission from him to the world.

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Speaking of Books

I just received a shipment of Saints from Loyola for a local Catholic school’s First Communion class. I have a few extra, so I’m back in stock with that one.

Go to my bookstore to purchase personalized copies of the books I have available – mostly

The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

The Loyola Kids Book of Saints

The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days

and a few others.

Loyola books

 

More about the kids books here. 

If you’d rather do the deal directly, email me at amywelborn60 AT gmail DOT com.

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For the next few weeks at least…

One of the great mysteries to me is why, at this time of year, the Heroes book greatly outsells the Saints book, at least on Amazon. It started a couple of years back. I don’t know if the publisher or Amazon pushes it in advertising, but there it is. (In my view, the Saints book is more suitable as a First Communion gift because it’s pitched just a bit younger in terms of reading level – but I suppose since Heroes are in – Heroes it is. )

A few other book notes:

I’ve got How to Get the Most out of the Eucharist available for free for the next few days. 

Mary Magdalene is, of course, at the heart of the Resurrection narratives – read more about her, share more about her for .99 with my book Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies. 

More gift ideas here. 

And…as you can see from the sidebar, the book I worked on last year – a daily devotional for 2020 – is available for pre-order. As I mentioned before, I don’t make any royalties on this book. It is written as a work-for-hire, words bought and paid for already. But I’d love to share it with as many people as possible, so please spread the word, especially if you know folks involved in Catholic institutions like schools or parishes, who might be able to use a gift to share with a group of employees or volunteers.

Contact Loyola if you are interested in bulk pricing. 

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Triduum

The year before last, our Triduum was spent mostly at the convent, with the boys serving. Last year, we were in Mexico. This year, I decided that we’d dip into some of the diversity of Catholic life here in Birmingham. It’s a challenge because of the restrictions on the timing of Triduum liturgies. Everything tends to happen at the same time. But we did what we could.

Thursday was at the Cathedral of St. Paul – beautiful as usual. No photos, but you can see some at the Cathedral’s social media pages – Facebook and Instagram – as well as through the Instagram page of photographer Hashtag Catholic.  There’s also video at those pages as well as my Instagram.

Thursday night after Mass? Fight my sloth, gird my loins, and do my duty by mixing up dough for Hot Cross Buns. Friday morning: arise early, confident that I’d taken the dough out of the fridge even earlier, but upon achieving full awareness, realizing that I’d only dreamed that walk to the kitchen, and yes, the dough was still sitting in the refrigerator. I jerry-rigged a rapid proofing system with boiling water and towels, and it sort of worked. The rolls weren’t beautiful, but they tasted fine. Could have used more dried fruit instead of just raisins. Oh, this was the recipe.  

 

For Good Friday liturgies, we first headed to a local parish for a live Stations of the Cross offered by the Hispanic community. We’d been to one several years ago at another parish in town, but never this one – and it’s closer to our home. This is the parish where we often attend Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations.

 

It was cold and rainy, which we kept telling ourselves was appropriate. It’s fitting during a Stations of the Cross to be uncomfortable and more tempted with every chilly rain shower and burst of wind to just take the easy way out and leave this discomfort behind, right?

Everyone seemed to be taking their roles very seriously, from Jesus to Pilate to the centurions wielding their scourges to the little angels, who, I’m assuming, were there as a symbol of God’s constant presence amidst suffering. No matter how much we might wonder, how far away goodness seems – it’s hovering, somewhere.

 

And yes, of course, it was in Spanish, but we know the Stations, and we know when to kneel and one of us (not me) even knows how to pray Padre Nuestro. Players and observers, we were diffuse and scattered up and down the parking lot, some gathered around closely, watching intensely, others hanging at the edge of the crowd barely paying attention, some responding when it was time, others simply listening – or not. It was just as it is, all the time with us as we struggle to follow him, here, there and barely here.

 

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Friday evening, we drove about five miles east of this spot, across the UAB campus, to St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church. The Lebanese community has deep, deep roots here, going back practically to the beginnings of the city in the late 19th century. Lebanese and Italians were the core of the earliest Catholics here, followed quickly by the Irish, of course. But the Mediterranean influence was and is strong (there’s also a Greek Catholic Church here, as well as Greek Orthodox, of course) – not least in the area’s food culture.

We have been to St. Elias before, and my kids are not unfamiliar with the liturgies and traditions because in one of the Catholic schools they’ve attended, there’s a Maronite liturgy at least once – maybe twice – a year, many of their friends have roots in that community or are parishioners. They know all about the original order of the Sacraments of Initiation, not from books or edicts, but from their classmates who celebrated them all as infants.

But we’ve never been during the Triduum (because we usually have commitments elsewhere) – and so I am so glad we did. If you’ve never been – well, it’s too late for this year, but do consider it, if it’s an option, next year. The liturgies of the Eastern Catholic churches are rich and pretty much continuous through the Triduum. Here’s the St. Elias schedule. 

The liturgy we attended was the Liturgy of the Burial of Our Lord.  The Liturgy of the PreSanctified had been celebrated in the morning.

I got a few photos, but not many. We were squeezed way in the back, and I couldn’t much photographing without being obtrusive and distracting…which is all for the best.

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The central symbol of this liturgy is a bier, draped in black, covered in flowers and holding on top, in this case, a crucifix. I don’t know if there is variety in how this is done in terms of the kind of corpus that is used.

First off – the church was packed. To the brim. It’s not a huge church, but it’s not tiny either. There were easily 300 people there, perhaps more. So let that sink in – a Maronite Catholic Church in Alabama overflowing for a Good Friday liturgy.

The liturgy is composed of chanted hymns (some alternating between Aramaic and English), Scripture readings, including two Gospels, an excellent homily on the subject of truth preached by a young priest, and then prayers over the bier and a procession. The procession of the bier went around the interior of the church, and then outside, with us following, carrying nifty little electric candles. There were valiant, but spotty efforts to continue the chanting outside, but again – wow, it was cold, and soon the focus in the line came to be a quiet rumble of …why are they stopping…keep going! Let’s get back inside! 

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If you’ve driven through Birmingham on I-65, you’ve seen this church. It’s right next to the interstate, at the UAB exit. You’ll note that it’s very western looking. I don’t know the origins of this particular church building, but I do know that Maronite are the most similar to the Latin rite of all the Eastern churches. There are, for example, very few, if any icons in this church – the imagery is very western-looking.

Well, we soon discovered why the return to the church took so long – the bier was held aloft at the entrance, and as you came in, you reached up to touch the cross on the fabric, and then continued in, walking underneath and then to your seat.

 

After the procession, we then processed again up to the front of the church to venerate the corpus, much as a Good Friday Veneration of the Cross in the Latin rite. After that, the priests and deacons took the corpus and “buried” it in large “stone” tomb that was erected in the sanctuary, and then sealed, mournful Middle Eastern chanting accompanying.

It was impressive and moving. The Syrian Catholics were doing it at 3, so I’d had to choose between it and the Hispanic Stations. I’m glad we made the choice we did, but next year, if we are here for Holy Week, we’ll probably try to be a part of this liturgy at that parish.

We returned home and watched The Passion of the Christ, which they’d never seen – and I’m glad I held it until now. I’d only seen once, upon its release (I remember in a theater in Cincinnati, I’m pretty sure, with my daughter.) and had forgotten how the intense violence just goes on and on. My sense of the movie remains the same as it was – that the film was an act of penance by Gibson. The violence is hard to take on a visceral level, but the most excruciating and authentic pain in the film, in my mind, is embodied in, of course the Blessed Virgin’s eyes as she follows her Son’s way of love, in love.

Saturday morning, our parish sponsored a Polish blessing of the food, which I missed, but which you can see photos of here.

We returned to the Cathedral in the evening for the Vigil, which was beautiful and moving – a packed church witnessed several catechumens being baptized and many candidates profess their faith and be confirmed.

 

A beautiful, solemn liturgy, with three of the Old Testament readings proclaimed. The Gloria was from Mozart’s Missa Brevis. Particularly notable was the post-Communion, a piece from the Mexican Baroque composer Francisco Lopez Capillas. More about him here – and really, if you are looking for something different to listen to in terms of sacred music – check out the Latin American Baroque. Its energy and richness just might captivate you.

You can read the Order of Worship for the Easter Vigil here. 

Here’s Fr. Jerabek’s homily. An excerpt:

 

I would like to offer three concrete suggestions to our catechumens and candidates – and they’re good reminders for us all –, as we do go forward on the way. The first thing is: Get involved! Register in a parish – whether here or wherever you choose to attend. Don’t put it off. Be counted and share your gifts. Get to know other parishioners and break bread with them. Ask the Lord to show you how he desires you to be of service – and be willing to be surprised.

(And here, Father added assurances to the introverts – like himself, he said! – listening – about what this does and doesn’t mean – and assurances that yes, their gifts are needed too!)

The second suggestion: Make a plan now about your sacramental life! Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. Monthly confession – or more often, if needed. And for those from non-Catholic families, remember what I said in class about instructing your family on calling a priest if you’re ever in need of the Anointing of the Sick. The “buzz” of this night will wear off – and then your practice of the faith will depend upon the framework you have established.

A final thing: Remember that Jesus has chosen you to be his disciples! A disciple is a student: he or she continues to learn. A disciple bears fruit: he or she leads others to the Master. RCIA classes end, but your learning must continue. Our faith is a gift into which we can always go deeper. And be sure to pray that as you do that, you will be an instrument of Christ’s love, leading others to his risen life as well. He will certainly work through you – if you let him.

 

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