Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category

It’s the Feast of the Visitation.

As with any feast, today gives layers and layers for our contemplation – John’s recognition of Jesus – the first person to recognize Jesus was an unborn child, remember – to Mary’s hymn of praise, giving glory to God and celebrating that His ways are not at all the world’s ways.

From my book, Mary and the Christian Life:

For Mary, life has changed. You might even say it’s turned upside down. Elizabeth’s world is a bit different too, weighted by an unexpected, unlikely, growing baby boy. In that small village in the hill country of Judah, the two women met, embraced, shared their good news, marveled, and wondered what it all could mean.

Then, like faithful women everywhere, past and present, they praised God…..

…..Being with Elizabeth inspires Mary. All of these things she’d been mulling over, the amazing news she’d received come together at last through Elizabeth’s response to her. The same is often the case with us. Our news—good or bad—takes on another shade of meaning when it’s affirmed by the presence of someone who shares that experience. What we’ve been thinking about can’t be contained any longer; and so, like Mary in the presence of her once-barren cousin with a baby leaping in her womb, as David leaping before the ark on the way to Jerusalem, we exult.

When we are part of something astonishing and new, we know that we’re in the middle of something bigger than ourselves, something miraculous and true, and this is what Mary expresses. We can almost hear the words tumbling out of her in that way of chanting and singing so typical of ancient prayer. In her soul, in what is happening to her, in her small, humble self, God is magnified. He looms large and powerful because the promise is finally being fulfilled.

What promise?

The ancient promise of redemption: of healing of a broken world; of mercy flowing; of the poor, those who know that their lives depend on God, being rewarded; and the haughty, proud, and rich, who think they need nothing except their own powers, being sent away.

The world, damaged by sin so that it values power and domination, is saved and set right by the small, the unnoticed, and even the despised. Mary, in awe that she’s a part of this, praises God.

Of course!


Mary’s Magnificat might help us think about our own prayer lives.

What is that like? What is it like for you to pray? What does God hear on his end of things?

Jesus tells us over and over to bring all of our needs to God. No matter how small our request, no matter how small we think of ourselves, like the widow coming before the judge, the neigh-bor needing help in the middle of the night, Jesus tells us to bring him all, whenever we feel so moved and however often we need.

But he also gave us a commandment. A first commandment. A greatest commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart.

What is love if it is not expressed? In our prayers of praise and gratitude, we live in obedience to the greatest commandment. After all, how authentic would we judge the affection of another from whom we only heard requests and needs?

To praise, to thank, to bless. This is at the heart of prayer. If you look at traditional Jewish and Christian prayer, you will find some very interesting and perhaps startling things. You’ll find that traditionally, Jews and Christians throughout history haven’t conceptualized prayer primarily as “making stuff up in your head and spilling it out to God.”

No, when the ancient spiritual writers thought and wrote about prayer, they were thinking first of all of praise—of what we as creatures owe the Creator every day. Both Jews and, follow-ing in their stead, Christians divided the day into hours marked by prayer that were always sung, chanted, or spoken aloud, and that were overwhelmingly prayers of praise. All of creation grew, moved, and breathed in gratitude for its existence, and we join in the song.

Look carefully at Mary’s prayer. For what is she praising God? Satisfying her needs, making her personally “happy,” or fixing her problems?

Not really. It seems as if she is praising and thanking God for his power and his mercy and that she, his handmaid, is playing a role in his plan of redemption, of shaking the world out of its self-satisfaction and self-reliance, turning that world radically, like the poor, back to dependence on God.

Mary sings that her soul “magnifies” the Lord. In the words of Joseph Ratzinger, to magnify the Lord means

not to want to magnify ourselves, our own name, our own ego; not to spread ourselves and take up more space, but to give him room so that he may be more present in the world. It means to become more truly what we are: not a self-enclosed monad that displays nothing but itself, but God’s image. It means to get free of the dust and soot that obscures and begrimes the transparency of the image and to become truly human by pointing exclusively to him.

Our spiritual lives, our lives with God, really are journeys. Like Mary, we travel along the road, trying to piece it all together. We’ve not yet reached our destination. Our prayer reflects that when it is small, self-referential, anxious, crabby, and resentful that life is not going according to our plan and that the world is not making us happy. Mary’s prayer teaches us another way. It points to the destination: a joyful spirit that understands, no matter how small we seem, that God has put us here for a reason. In that fact and in our efforts to let God love the world in our daily choices and encounters, God is magnified. In the midst of the cosmic drama of passionate love, our hearts are joined to Mary, and we praise.

From the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

Recall the structure: Stories organized according to when they are normally heard in Sunday Mass during the liturgical year. Each story is retold, and each ends with a tie-in to some aspect of Catholic faith or practice, a reflection question and a prayer.

Parenting and indeed, just living, is hard. We are not made to do it alone, to go solo, to do everything ourselves, despite what American individualism preaches. Why is it that human children are born so much more helpless than other newly-birthed creatures? My imaginative spiritual take is that this indicates an important aspect of human nature: our Creator intends for us to learn what we need to learn from other human beings – from their touch, their voice, their smiling faces. Our social nature is built into the way we must learn if we are to mature properly. We can’t avoid it.

So it is with just living and especially living in families and well, communities. Years ago, as a young parent, it was reading Germaine Greer’s stimulating mess of a book Sex and Destiny that blew up the ideal of the atomized, independent, self-sufficient nuclear family for me: traditional societies just did not have the expectations of the singularity of parents that we have – it did, indeed take a village, and that was good.

And what does this have to do with the feast of the Visitation?

The encounter between Mary and Elizabeth is celebrated, rightly, as a model of women reaching out, assisting, and encouraging each other. But, as with everything else, it’s also an opportunity to pause and discern. It’s a tiny thing really.

In contemplating and applying the dynamic of the Visitation into our lives, are we focused on what we can give or what we want to receive?

A lot of that Visitation-parent-helping-parent energy is articulated these days in the concept of that village. A true and worthy ideal, but as everything else, susceptible to manipulation, selfishness and narcissism.

Are we about – I’m building the village as I reach out, bearing Christ, to help parents (and others!) who are struggling, drowning, and desperately need help.

or is it – I’m building the village so I can find someone to do the family and home stuff I don’t want to do so I can do my own thing which is a helluva lot more fun amiright ladies?

Moms (always moms…) are encouraged: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Don’t think you need to do it on your own!

But perhaps more in line with a spirit of discipleship would be, while granting that first point, to emphasize: Don’t be afraid to offer help.

In this life, ideally, we’re not too selfish or proud to acknowledge our moment in either spot when life calls for it – we give and we receive.

We welcome the visitor who’s come to lend a hand and we race to visit, bearing good news.

No matter where we are, though, keeping the great things the Almighty has done for us at the center, fundamentally energized less by our own needs and wants than by that sacrificial – sacrificial – love we bear within us.

Discipleship doesn’t center ourselves and our “dreams.” It centers God, then neighbor.

From a poem by Thomas Merton, “The Quickening of John the Baptist:”

It’s a marvelous poem, drawing a connection between John recognizing Christ from deep in the dark of Elizabeth’s womb, to contemplatives past and present, who likewise live in a sort of darkness and silence waiting:

Her salutation
Sings in the stone valley like a Charterhouse bell:
And the unborn saint John
Wakes in his mother’s body,
Bounds with the echoes of discovery.

Sing in your cell, small anchorite!
How did you see her in the eyeless dark?
What secret syllable
Woke your young faith to the mad truth
That an unborn baby could be washed in the Spirit of God?
Oh burning joy!

What seas of life were planted by that voice!
With what new sense
Did your wise heart receive her Sacrament,
And know her cloistered Christ?

You need no eloquence, wild bairn,
Exulting in your hermitage.
Your ecstasy is your apostolate,
For whom to kick is contemplata tradere.
Your joy is the vocation of Mother Church’s hidden children –
Those who by vow lie buried in the cloister or the hermitage;
The speechless Trappist, or the grey, granite Carthusian,
The quiet Carmelite, the barefoot Clare, Planted in the night of
contemplation, Sealed in the dark and waiting to be born.

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Today’s the memorial of St. Joan of Arc.  Here are the first and last pages from the entry on her  from The Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

(Clicking on each page will bring up a larger, readable version.)


Clip from Carl Theodore Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. My film-buff older-son-with-a-new-novel-coming-out’s #1 favorite film of all.


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Today’s the memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury, evangelizer of England and the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

We can talk about legends, but we won’t. We’ll adopt influencer and life coach lingo instead, and talk about pivoting.

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And this will end up being more about Gregory the Great than Augustine, so sorry.

The question, naturally, is evangelization. We know little about what actually happened on the ground in England at this time, and most of what we know comes from the histories of the Venerable Bede (whose memorial was earlier this week) and the letters of Pope Gregory the Great.

Specifically, in England, the first assumption was that of course about pagan shrines: Augustine and his missionaries would suppress, destroy and in general wipe them out. Gregory indicated as much in an initial communication to England. But a month later, he…pivoted. Rather dramatically, too.

From his letter to Abbot Mellitus, who had left Rome and was on his way to join Augustine – the pope clearly expected for the letter to reach Mellitus on the way:

Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.

Further, since it has been their custom to slaughter oxen in sacrifice, they should receive some solemnity in exchange. Let them therefore, on the day of the dedication of their churches, or on the feast of the martyrs whose relics are preserved in them, build themselves huts around their one-time temples and celebrate the occasion with religious feasting. They will sacrifice and eat the animals not any more as an offering to the devil, but for the glory of God to whom, as the giver of all things, they will give thanks for having been satiated.

Thus, if they are not deprived of all exterior joys, they will more easily taste the interior ones.

For surely it is impossible to efface all at once everything from their strong minds, just as, when one wishes to reach the top of a mountain, he must climb by stages and step by step, not by leaps and bounds…. Mention this to our brother the bishop, that he may dispose of the matter as he sees fit according to the conditions of time and place.

Why? Who knows, really. But influential in understanding why is a 1970 lecture/article by historian R. A. Markus who wrote, admittedly speculating:

(Originally, this was mostly a single paragraph. I’ve broken it up for ease of reading. Sorry Professor Markus)

We need only visualize the Pope in June 601, up to now almost entirely ignorant of conditions in Britain, receiving Augustine’s messengers in Rome. Overjoyed by their reports of his success, he dispatches a further band of missionaries under Abbot Mellitus’s command. At the same time, he has heard about the slow headway the mission is making in England; perhaps the king has not put his weight behind its work as much as a king should? At any rate, a little exhortation to this and can do no harm, and Gregory had a whole pile of precedents in his own correspondence for writing to him in the vein he now adopted.

The first thought to come into his mind was to apply, once again. the customary missionary methods deployed on previous occasions, the mission backed by coercive power. With their brief framed in these terms, Mellitus and his men depart, with every appearance of haste, within the month.

… The Pope had little information, and the little took some time to sink in. Did he perceive its implications as soon as Mellitus was gone? Gregory took pause to think, and he had second thoughts: perhaps he had not quite understood the reports about the king’s reluctance: perhaps his admonitions to the king had been somewhat unrealistic? If such were his thoughts—and we can only conjecture this—they were undoubtedly right.

We know, as Bede knew, the entrenched strength of English paganism which forced the Kentish king to proceed with tact and caution and prevented him from taking the path of coercion;’ we know, as Bede knew, the tenacity of the old religion shown in its resurgence in Kent and Essex on the death of King Aethelberlitt. It is not impossible that in the weeks after Mellitus’s departure the realities of this situation gradually dawned on Gregory.

He had after all, as he himself says in his letter. ‘thought long and deeply’ on the matter. And if my conjecture is the right reconstruction of his thought during that month, then we need not be surprised by his change of mind and his urgent, dramatic dispatch, of the letter containing his second thoughts to Mellitus, now on his way, somewhere in Gaul. ..

Here was a real turning point in the development of papal missionary strategy. The settled, almost unquestioned policy of reliance on coercion by the secular authorities suddenly, under the pressure and the demands of a new situation, gave way to quite another conception.

More than a century later, writing within a milieu in which Bede’s work was well known, Bishop Daniel of Winchester gave advice to Boniface, then labouring among the Germans: argue with them, he said, ‘ without insulting or irritating them, but gently and with great tact’.’ Here was a man who, though remote from the missionary situation, had learnt the lesson which the consciousness of a new situation had forced upon Gregory.

Listen. Observe. Let go of assumptions. And just remember…

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Source. Randomly pulled from the totally unsurprising wealth of “Pivot” sermon – sorry, “message” – series graphics out there.

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This past week, I read Jonathan Rosen’s devastating piece on his childhood friend Michael Laudor, who murdered his girlfriend, Caroline Costello in 1998. Laudor, brilliant and schizophrenic, had received various forms of treatment for his illness and remains institutionalized today.

Rosen’s account of the specifics of Laudor’s life are sobering and arresting. His reasons for writing the piece are not primarily about the specifics of the case, though, in some sort of True Crime style, but to ask questions about the treatment of mental illness, past, present and future.

In doing so, he has to explore the history of this struggle in the United States: from asylums to outpatient treatment dependent on medication and community services, civil liberties questions, and finally, the inarguable failure of the whole system in our present day.

As I read the piece, I was (not surprisingly, for me) reminded of the conversations and arguments Catholics are constantly having about the Church, especially as that conversation relates to the recent past (Vatican II, etc) and the present day – and by implication, the future.

If you read Rosen’s piece, you might be struck by the same aspect that struck me: his clear-headedness and intellectual generosity about why people and institutions made decisions in the past and the unintended consequences those decisions might have had.

The title of Rosen’s book on the matter is an apt expression of his approach: The Best Minds: A Story of Friendship, Madness, and the Tragedy of Good Intentions. “The best minds” = Laudor, who was brilliant, as well as the way that we define those working on our social problems: the best minds are on it.

As Rosen takes on the issue, there is no sense of inevitability or insistence that the best solution to the care and treatment of the mentally ill must have been either faultless or mendacious in the past and so of course everything happening since was either a betrayal or fulfilment of that inevitable fixed point.

So in short, he explains that, yes, those who instituted asylums thought they were helping, and those who broke down the asylums thought they were, too – Rosen makes clear something I had not thought about before – that those who sought to de-institutionalize the mentally ill and their treatment were basing their stance on faith in pharmaceuticals, for in the 50’s and 60’s it seemed as though that were the future of treatment and indeed, institutionalization would be unnecessary – and now it’s clear that this was flawed, as was the particular balance struck between individual civil liberties and social safety.

It’s actually remarkable, I think, how Rosen is able to run through this history and confront the challenges of the present in this way: refusing to sanctify any one solution or moment, giving all players a voice without assuming motives, and being honest about successes, failures, missteps and consequences.

Yes, Rosen is dealing with human institutions and efforts without the complication of believing that the “Spirit” is guiding one direction or another, a complication which seems to result in divinizing every decision and choice you support in church matters, although a quick study of church history should give us pause there. Nonetheless, it’s good read, mostly because of the tragic human stories at the heart of it and the vexing social issue that we have so much difficulty addressing, but also because of Rosen’s discussion of the issue and what it reflects about conversations and arguments about our own once and future church.

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The door

The Cultural Tutor is a marvelous site (and Twitter feed – here in its raw form and organized thematically here) offering a weekly digest designed to educate and provoke thought. It’s called the Areopagus. I do want to emphasize that in this era of multiplying subscriptions, it’s free. God bless him.

Every edition contains information on: a piece of music, an historical figure, a work of art, an architectural masterpiece, an element of rhetoric and a piece of writing – as well as musings both from the author and reader contributors on various questions.

In the latest edition, his architectural masterpiece is a door – a simple door in the medieval church of his childhood.

I’m highlighting it because he articulates so well so much of what I try to say in this space: the value of history – which is essentially the value of communion with other human beings – and the power of structures to embody this communion. The essential place, really, of structures, in communicating meaning and drawing us together, past and present.

So, a short elegy on this door. I suppose what struck me first, and most lastingly, was its age. That this simple stone doorway was almost one thousand years old — and that parts of it, or at least some of the supporting masonry, was Saxon and therefore even older — seemed almost impossible. Here I found a surprising but direct link to the distant Middle Ages. For this was not a history book, not a set of facts or dates, but a real thing in the real world, open to the sky and the rain, placed there by some mason a millennium ago, a mason who carefully cut and aligned the stones of the arch, stacked and mortared its jambs, and perhaps delighted in carving its chevrons. The Middle Ages came to life. But then I wondered at all the things this door must have seen; all the people who had passed beneath or even briefly gazed at it, or run their hands over its masonry. So many lives, so many moments, all forever lost to the passage of time, suddenly apparent to me…

….Second to its age was the ordinariness of this little door. It was attended by neither pomp nor fanfare and it was paid attention by nobody. Though museums are wonderful places, by sealing objects off in glass cases and explaining them with informational plaques they can render “history” too distant a thing, and even make it dead to us. Not here. This thousand year-old doorway was not behind a rope or pane of glass; it was simply… there. I could touch those ancient stones and examine their forms and faults up close. It was like any other normal object in our daily lives – a car, a phone, a chair, a plate – which we treat with no special veneration and do not have explained to us by plaques. This history was not dead. It was alive, and present, in the real world, beneath the skies, crumbling slowly away, but somehow more meaningful and powerful and instructive by that very fact than if it had been cordoned off and sanitised in a museum….

…I share all this with you not out of sentimentality (I hope) but rather because it summarises some of what I consider to be important truths about architecture. First of all that architecture is not about the great and famous buildings of the world but the ordinary; the buildings in which we live and work, by which we pass every day and whose shapes and forms direct our lives, whether we like it or not. And, secondly, that architecture has immense expressive power and is no less an art form than painting, music, poetry, literature, or sculpture. And that it is unique among these art forms because it lives more in the real world than any of them; it ages and wears, it is used and abused, it is worshipped and forgotten. And that architecture is a proverbial history book of just as much use, if not more, than literal history books. Architecture might just be the truest book of civilisation.

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I spent much of yesterday reading this book, which means I spent much of yesterday wondering…how did she?….and feeling thoroughly inadequate.

Isabella Bird (1831-1904) was an Englishwoman who was the child of an Anglican curate, was educated at home, had health challenges as a child and young woman…and then spent most of her adult life traveling the world.

Here’s the list of her books at Gutenberg.

In 1873 – so at the age of 41 – on the way from Hawaii to England, she made her way from San Francisco to Colorado, where she spent a few months exploring, mostly on her own on horseback in the late fall and early winter. A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains is the account of that time, told through letters to her sister. The book was a sensation and, according to this, an important factor in making Bird the first female member of the Royal Geographical Society.


So remember: mostly on horseback, mostly alone, in the late fall and early winter. So, snow.

Of course, she wasn’t going about this blind. The area was wild, but settled, and she was given guidance, direction and the locations of places she could stop – and during this era, every person who lived in any kind of shelter along these trails and roads was expected to receive travelers.

Nonetheless. It’s a fascinating account of:

  • Colorado territory during the era
  • Other areas of the West – most of which she doesn’t think much of, with the exception of the area around Truckee, California. She has particular disdain for the towns of Wyoming, although she doesn’t have much love for Colorado’s settlements, either. But Wyoming, to Bird = the worst.
  • How people lived and survived during the time in this area and the variety of settlers: Civil War veterans, English folk, Germans, many people who’d come from the East for their health, particularly consumptive patients, and indigenous peoples.

Speaking of the last, Bird, like most Europeans visiting the United States in the 19th century, is direct and harsh in her observations of how Americans treated subjugated populations, here the Native Americans. She often alludes to the damage of hunting the buffalo to extinction, the conflicts over land that always end to the native peoples’ disadvantage, and the corruption of the agencies charged with dealing with the issue:

The Indian Agency has been a sink of fraud and corruption; it is said that barely thirty per cent of the allowance ever reaches those for whom it is voted; and the complaints of shoddy blankets, damaged flour, and worthless firearms are universal. “To get rid of the Injuns” is the phrase used everywhere. Even their “reservations” do not escape seizure practically; for if gold “breaks out” on them they are “rushed,” and their possessors are either compelled to accept land farther west or are shot off and driven off. One of the surest agents in their destruction is vitriolized whisky. An attempt has recently been made to cleanse the Augean stable of the Indian Department, but it has met with signal failure, the usual result in America of every effort to purify the official atmosphere. Americans specially love superlatives. The phrases “biggest in the world,” “finest in the world,” are on all lips. Unless President Hayes is a strong man they will soon come to boast that their government is composed of the “biggest scoundrels” in the world.

  • The perspective and experience of a woman in the late 19th century.

In regard to the last point: I hate to break it to you, but the history of women is not a history of “housewives” (in the contemporary sense) tending to the hearth while the men worked “outside the home” until Liberation Day arrived a few decades ago. With the exception of the leisured classes, everyone worked, all the time, somewhere. Until the Industrial Revolution and continuing in areas less directly impacted by it, “work” was an organic activity that certainly had a gendered component, related to childbearing and tending as well as physical strength, but was on the whole just…life. And it (work) was demanding, no matter who you were. It was not to a woman’s advantage to be a delicate flower.

Which is all to say that Bird’s presence and way on this journey was not received as a revolutionary violation of gender norms. If anyone warned her not to embark on a particular path it was because, well, there was probably a blizzard coming, Ma’am…and not because she was a woman. In fact, during her lengthy stay in Estes Park, she was regularly asked to help with cattle round-ups and such because of her skill – this 40+ year old Englishwoman, riding, as she put it, in her “Hawaiian riding costume” out there in the mountains.

Her ascent (with three companions) of Longs Peak:

SCALING, not climbing, is the correct term for this last ascent. It took one hour to accomplish 500 feet, pausing for breath every minute or two. The only foothold was in narrow cracks or on minute projections on the granite. To get a toe in these cracks, or here and there on a scarcely obvious projection, while crawling on hands and knees, all the while tortured with thirst and gasping and struggling for breath, this was the climb; but at last the Peak was won. A grand, well-defined mountain top it is, a nearly level acre of boulders, with precipitous sides all round, the one we came up being the only accessible one.

It was not possible to remain long. One of the young men was seriously alarmed by bleeding from the lungs, and the intense dryness of the day and the rarefication of the air, at a height of nearly 15,000 feet, made respiration very painful. There is always water on the Peak, but it was frozen as hard as a rock, and the sucking of ice and snow increases thirst. We all suffered severely from the want of water, and the gasping for breath made our mouths and tongues so dry that articulation was difficult, and the speech of all unnatural.

From the summit were seen in unrivalled combination all the views which had rejoiced our eyes during the ascent. It was something at last to stand upon the storm-rent crown of this lonely sentinel of the Rocky Range, on one of the mightiest of the vertebrae of the backbone of the North American continent, and to see the waters start for both oceans. Uplifted above love and hate and storms of passion, calm amidst the eternal silences, fanned by zephyrs and bathed in living blue, peace rested for that one bright day on the Peak, as if it were some region

Where falls not rain, or hail, or any snow,
Or ever wind blows loudly.

We placed our names, with the date of ascent, in a tin within a crevice, and descended to the Ledge, sitting on the smooth granite, getting our feet into cracks and against projections, and letting ourselves down by our hands, “Jim” going before me, so that I might steady my feet against his powerful shoulders. I was no longer giddy, and faced the precipice of 3,500 feet without a shiver. Repassing the Ledge and Lift, we accomplished the descent through 1,500 feet of ice and snow, with many falls and bruises, but no worse mishap, and there separated, the young men taking the steepest but most direct way to the “Notch,” with the intention of getting ready for the march home, and “Jim” and I taking what he thought the safer route for me—a descent over boulders for 2,000 feet, and then a tremendous ascent to the “Notch.” I had various falls, and once hung by my frock, which caught on a rock, and “Jim” severed it with his hunting knife, upon which I fell into a crevice full of soft snow. We were driven lower down the mountains than he had intended by impassable tracts of ice, and the ascent was tremendous. For the last 200 feet the boulders were of enormous size, and the steepness fearful. Sometimes I drew myself up on hands and knees, sometimes crawled; sometimes “Jim” pulled me up by my arms or a lariat, and sometimes I stood on his shoulders, or he made steps for me of his feet and hands, but at six we stood on the “Notch” in the splendor of the sinking sun, all color deepening, all peaks glorifying, all shadows purpling, all peril past.

“Jim” had parted with his brusquerie when we parted from the students, and was gentle and considerate beyond anything, though I knew that he must be grievously disappointed, both in my courage and strength. Water was an object of earnest desire. My tongue rattled in my mouth, and I could hardly articulate. It is good for one’s sympathies to have for once a severe experience of thirst. Truly, there was

Water, water, everywhere,
But not a drop to drink.

Three times its apparent gleam deceived even the mountaineer’s practiced eye, but we found only a foot of “glare ice.” At last, in a deep hole, he succeeded in breaking the ice, and by putting one’s arm far down one could scoop up a little water in one’s hand, but it was tormentingly insufficient. With great difficulty and much assistance I recrossed the “Lava Beds,” was carried to the horse and lifted upon him, and when we reached the camping ground I was lifted off him, and laid on the ground wrapped up in blankets, a humiliating termination of a great exploit. The horses were saddled, and the young men were all ready to start, but “Jim” quietly said, “Now, gentlemen, I want a good night’s rest, and we shan’t stir from here to-night.” I believe they were really glad to have it so, as one of them was quite “finished.” I retired to my arbor, wrapped myself in a roll of blankets, and was soon asleep.

When I woke, the moon was high shining through the silvery branches, whitening the bald Peak above, and glittering on the great abyss of snow behind, and pine logs were blazing like a bonfire in the cold still air. My feet were so icy cold that I could not sleep again, and getting some blankets to sit in, and making a roll of them for my back, I sat for two hours by the camp-fire. It was weird and gloriously beautiful. The students were asleep not far off in their blankets with their feet towards the fire. “Ring” lay on one side of me with his fine head on my arm, and his master sat smoking, with the fire lighting up the handsome side of his face, and except for the tones of our voices, and an occasional crackle and splutter as a pine knot blazed up, there was no sound on the mountain side. The beloved stars of my far-off home were overhead, the Plough and Pole Star, with their steady light; the glittering Pleiades, looking larger than I ever saw them, and “Orion’s studded belt” shining gloriously. Once only some wild animals prowled near the camp, when “Ring,” with one bound, disappeared from my side; and the horses, which were picketed by the stream, broke their lariats, stampeded, and came rushing wildly towards the fire, and it was fully half an hour before they were caught and quiet was restored. “Jim,” or Mr. Nugent, as I always scrupulously called him, told stories of his early youth, and of a great sorrow which had led him to embark on a lawless and desperate life. His voice trembled, and tears rolled down his cheek. Was it semi-conscious acting, I wondered, or was his dark soul really stirred to its depths by the silence, the beauty, and the memories of youth?

We reached Estes Park at noon of the following day. A more successful ascent of the Peak was never made, and I would not now exchange my memories of its perfect beauty and extraordinary sublimity for any other experience of mountaineering in any part of the world. Yesterday snow fell on the summit, and it will be inaccessible for eight months to come.

This is only a glimpse. It’s a delightful, fascinating read.

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Lots related to the feast, so we’ll start now…..

This is one of my favorite stained glass windows in town.

It was, for a long time, just a blur of colors on my right when I attended Mass at this parish. But over the last couple of years, we had occasion to spend a lot of time in this church building as the parish staff graciously allowed my son to practice piano and organ there, and I finally paid attention to it.

So, let’s take a look.

It’s a Pentecost window, of course. At the center top is the Holy Spirit, showering down those gifts on those gathered in the upper room.

And then, to the right, you have another figure – who is it? St. Paul, preaching, receiving the same light of the Spirit. St. Paul, of course, being the patron of the Diocese of Birmingham and the namesake of our Cathedral.

To the left is another figure – St. Francis Xavier, the patron of this very parish. He’s surrounded by symbolic respresentations of the Far East and the people whom he served.

The same Spirit, the same gifts, the same courage given to every link in the chain, from the upper room, through the various branches of the Communion of Saints that leads us to this spot here, in this church building, in this community, on this planet at this moment in time. And this is where you start – right here – and then keep moving, led by that same Spirit to speak – where ever you land.

Come, O Holy Spirit, come!
From your bright and blissful Home
Rays of healing light impart.

Come, Father of the poor,
Source of gifts that will endure
Light of ev’ry human heart.

Pages above are (left) from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols , then the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories and on the far right, the Loyola Kids Book of Seasons, Feasts and Celebrations. Click on images for larger versions. Remember that for the Signs and Symbols entry, there’s another page –  a full page of more detailed text.

Here we are –  For help in preparing the kids, and perhaps ourselves, let’s go to one of my favorite sources – this wonderful  old Catholic religion textbook.

The short chapter on Pentecost is lovely and helpful.

This volume is for 7th graders.

What I’m struck by here is the assumption that the young people being addressed are responsible and capable in their spiritual journey. They are not clients or customers who need to be anxiously served or catered to lest they run away and shop somewhere else.

What is said to these 12 and 13-year olds is not much different from what would have been said to their parents or grandparents. God created you for life with him. During your life on earth there are strong, attractive temptations to shut him out and find lasting joy in temporal things. It’s your responsibility to do your best to stay close to Christ and let that grace live within you, the grace that will strengthen you to love and serve more, the grace that will lead you to rest peacefully and joyfully in Christ.

Pentecost is one of the events in The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

(The book is structured around the virtues. Each section begins with an event from Scripture that illustrates one of those virtues, followed by stories of people and events from church history that do so as well)

Finally, Veni Creator Spiritus – or Come Holy Ghost, as most of us know it.  I have a chapter on it in The Words We Pray. A sample:

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St. Philip Neri – May 26

Here’s a post from many  years ago (2008) – when I traveled to Rome to visit Son #2 who was teaching English there at the time – related to today’s saint.

Friday morning, after I’d finished at St. Peter’s, I had some time to kill before meeting my son at 11 in front of S. Maria di Trestavere. So, over to the Center for a bit. I disembarked in front of the Chiesa Nuova, which is the church of S. Philip Neri.

It was about 9 o’clock, and drizzling, a foretaste of the rest of the day during which we would do battle with occasional blasts of rain and even hail. I noted a bakery across the road for a later visit.

The church, cavernous and thick with paintings and decoration, was practically empty. As my eyes grew accustomed to the half-light and I searched for the typical wall-chart explaining the interior, a voice echoed through the space. I checked the schedule – it must be Mass.

And it was. Up to the left, at a side chapel, which turned out to be the resting place of St. Philip’s body. One priest, one congregant with backpack and umbrella and very much the air of a pilgrim, I decided as I observed him walking around later, and then me.


The priest finished proclaming the Gospel, then turned quickly to begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  There was so much going on in the world, so much suffering and weeping that was not absent from his place, but was instead quietly confronted and humbly offered up,  the mystery of a small, yet persistent light penetrating that darkness, borne in a Body, born in the bodies of those who embrace, suffer and bear the light of the Risen One.

Corpo di Cristo.

And we walked back out into the rain, the pilgrim and I, he going one way,  another, but both, I sensed, journeying in the same direction.

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Thursday Notes

I’m in Living Faith today. Here’s the entry. Below are some photos from the day I describe in the devotional.

A very interesting take on YA literature:

The older books depicted girlhood as a preparation for a future where happiness demands sacrifice and the suppression of unbecoming qualities that may very well be “who we are” as adolescents but will not suffice for who we aspire to be in adulthood. In these books, as in life, coming of age requires agency, a conscious and concerted formation toward an ideal of who one hopes to be. When adulthood is no longer a moral achievement but a hormonal eventuality, there is nothing to aspire to or prepare for—no higher education, no vocation, no marriage or motherhood (except as an undesired mistake). Despite their ignorance of second-wave feminism, Louisa May Alcott’s and L. M. Montgomery’s protagonists became, even in adolescence, significantly more intellectually and even professionally accomplished than Blume’s.

It would be unrealistic to deny the existence of young readers who wish for books to play back and amplify their struggles and anxieties, to wrap them in a hug of affirmation for who they are right now, rather than trouble them with the risks and possibilities of who they might one day become. It would be likewise unrealistic to deny that middle-aged women might wistfully recall their own experiences as such readers. As Blume has admitted, the Margaret movie is not for children so much as it is for the “nostalgia audience,” their parents who grew up with the book.

But what would be most unrealistic of all would be to believe that such books speak to the deepest or most universal desires of girlhood. In its quest for realism, YA has lost sight of the fact that young girls possess equally real aspirations for intellectual and ethical self-development that can’t be satisfied or replaced by literary sex ed. An adolescence that never even threatens to issue in adulthood is a distortion of experience, not its honest rendering.

Ted Gioia continues to beat the drum on music, money, streaming and profit. It’s pertinent not only for musicians, but for anyone involved in creating and crafting and putting what you’ve made out into the world.

Passionate music fans are unprofitable. They consume too much at the all-you-can-eat music buffet. They can’t be steered to cheap AI music. They’re skeptical of fake artists. They don’t like to be manipulated.

So they must be replaced by passive listeners…


The only positive thing in this whole story is the first stirrings of a music counterculture that operates outside this vicious circle.

I see signs of it on Bandcamp. I see it on Substack (even here at The Honest Broker). I see it on Patreon. I see it in the artist-centric music startups that reach out to me on a regular basis. I see it in the clubs and in various other fringe and niche areas of the music scene.

So let me conclude by quoting Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

It’s increasingly clear to me that this will be our only genuine solution. If that happens, I might even be grateful that streaming platforms and record labels got so lazy and incompetent—because they will have forced us to create something better.

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Read Bede!



Today is the memorial of the Venerable Bede, the author of The Ecclesiastical History of England. But there’s more, of course. 

The Saint we are approaching today is called Bedeand was born in the north-east of England, to be exact, Northumbria, in the year 672 or 673. He himself recounts that when he was seven years old his parents entrusted him to the Abbot of the neighbouring Benedictine monastery to be educated: “spending all the remaining time of my life a dweller in that monastery”. He recalls, “I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture; and amidst the observance of the monastic Rule and the daily charge of singing in church, I always took delight in learning, or teaching, or writing” (Historia eccl. Anglorum, v, 24). In fact, Bede became one of the most outstanding erudite figures of the early Middle Ages since he was able to avail himself of many precious manuscripts which his Abbots would bring him on their return from frequent journeys to the continent and to Rome. His teaching and the fame of his writings occasioned his friendships with many of the most important figures of his time who encouraged him to persevere in his work from which so many were to benefit. When Bede fell ill, he did not stop working, always preserving an inner joy that he expressed in prayer and song. He ended his most important work, the Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, with this invocation: “I beseech you, O good Jesus, that to the one to whom you have graciously granted sweetly to drink in the words of your knowledge, you will also vouchsafe in your loving kindness that he may one day come to you, the Fountain of all wisdom, and appear for ever before your face”. Death took him on 26 May 737: it was the Ascension….

….Bede was also an eminent teacher of liturgical theology. In his Homilies on the Gospels for Sundays and feast days he achieves a true mystagogy, teaching the faithful to celebrate the mysteries of the faith joyfully and to reproduce them coherently in life, while awaiting their full manifestation with the return of Christ, when, with our glorified bodies, we shall be admitted to the offertory procession in the eternal liturgy of God in Heaven. Following the “realism” of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person “not only a Christian but Christ”. Indeed, every time that a faithful soul lovingly accepts and preserves the Word of God, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ anew. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments the Church “reproduces herself” or, to use a more daring term, the Church becomes “Mother of God”, participating in the generation of her children through the action of the Holy Spirit.


And since we’re approaching Pentecost, how about looking at what one of my favorite accounts, A Clerk at Oxford, has to share about Bede and one of his Pentecost homilies:

A person who trusts that he can find rest in the delights and abundance of earthly things is deceiving himself. By the frequent disorders of the world, and at last by its end, such a one is proven convincingly to have laid the foundation of his tranquility upon sand. But all those who have been breathed upon by the Holy Spirit, and have taken upon themselves the very pleasant yoke of the Lord’s love, and following his example, learned to be gentle and humble of heart, enjoy even in the present some image of the future tranquility.

(She doesn’t blog much anymore – she’s got quite a library of posts – but she is on Twitter. Worth a follow if you do such things. )

Amazon.com: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; The ...

So take a look at An Ecclesiastical History. Here’s a bit of a takeaway from me:

We can never sit still. In matters of evangelization and formation in faith, we might be tempted to say, There. Baptized. Confirmed. Got a parish. Built a church. Good for us. We’ve got this now. 

As Bede’s History makes clear, we are foolish to believe this. The people of his time didn’t believe it. The History is one of progress and regress, of baptism and apostasy.

Never take faith for granted. The darkness that seeks to pull us away doesn’t rest, and neither should we.

A couple more notes:

  • Much of the focus in evangelization of the peoples of this island involves, of course, pointing out the folly of worshiping idols.

For Sigbert, 414 who reigned next to Sigbert surnamed The Little, was then king of that nation, and a friend to King Oswy, who, when Sigbert came to the province of the Northumbrians to visit him, as he often did, used to endeavour to convince him that those could not be gods that had been made by the hands of men; that a stock or a stone could not be proper matter to form a god, the residue whereof was either burned in the fire, or framed into any vessels for the use of men, or else was cast out as refuse, trampled on and turned into dust. That God is rather to be understood as incomprehensible in majesty and invisible to human eyes, almighty, eternal, the Creator of heaven and earth and of mankind; Who governs and will judge the world in righteousness, Whose eternal abode must be believed to be in Heaven, and not in base and perishable metal; and that it ought in reason to be concluded, that all those who learn and do the will of Him by Whom they were created, will receive from Him eternal rewards.

Note who’s doing the reasoned evangelization here: not a cleric, but a lay person – King Oswy.

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope..(1 Pt. 3:15) isn’t just for the ordained or the consecrated.

And, of course, while not many we encounter will be worshiping actual pagan idols, anything of the earth that we rely on for ultimate happiness, hope and peace  – even physical earthly life itself, even freedom from earthly discomfort, even good health – functions as an idol.

Among other lessons in holy living,Aidan left the clergy a most salutary example of abstinence and continence; it was the highest commendation of his doctrine with all men, that he taught nothing that he did not practise in his life among his brethren; for he neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately among the poor whom he met whatsoever was given him by the kings or rich men of the world. He was wont to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity; to the end that, as he went, he might turn aside to any whomsoever he saw, whether rich or poor, and call upon them, if infidels, to receive the mystery of the faith, or, if they were believers, strengthen them in the faith, and stir them up by words and actions to giving of alms and the performance of good works.

His course of life was so different from the slothfulness of our times, that all those who bore him company, whether they were tonsured or laymen, had to study either reading the Scriptures, or learning psalms. This was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him, wheresoever they went; and if it happened, which was but seldom, that he was invited to the king’s table, he went with one or two clerks, and having taken a little food, made haste to be gone, either to read with his brethren or to pray. At that time, many religious men and women, led by his example, adopted the custom of prolonging their fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, till the ninth hour, throughout the year, except during the fifty days after Easter. Never, through fear or respect of persons, did he keep silence with regard to the sins of the rich; but was wont to correct them with a severe rebuke. He never gave money to the powerful men of the world, but only food, if he happened to entertain them; and, on the contrary, whatsoever gifts of money he received from the rich, he either distributed, as has been said, for the use of the poor, or bestowed in ransoming such as had been wrongfully sold for slaves. Moreover, he afterwards made many of those he had ransomed his disciples, and after having taught and instructed them, advanced them to priest’s orders.

It is said, that when King Oswald had asked a bishop of the Scots to administer the Word of faith to him and his nation, there was first sent to him another man of more harsh disposition, who, after preaching for some time to the English and meeting with no success, not being gladly heard by the people, returned home, and in an assembly of the elders reported, that he had not been able to do any good by his teaching to the nation to whom he had been sent, because they were intractable men, and of a stubborn and barbarous disposition. They then, it is said, held a council and seriously debated what was to be done, being desirous that the nation should obtain the salvation it demanded, but grieving that they had not received the preacher sent to them. Then said Aidan, who was also present in the council, to the priest in question, “Methinks, brother, that you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been, and did not at first, conformably to the Apostolic rule, give them the milk of more easy doctrine, till, being by degrees nourished with the Word of God, they should be capable of receiving that which is more perfect and of performing the higher precepts of God.” Having heard these words, all present turned their attention to him and began diligently to weigh what he had said, and they decided that he was worthy to be made a bishop, and that he was the man who ought to be sent to instruct the unbelieving and unlearned; since he was found to be endued preeminently with the grace of discretion, which is the mother of the virtues. So they ordained him and sent him forth to preach; and, as time went on, his other virtues became apparent, as well as that temperate discretion which had marked him at first.


This ideal is one we encounter over and over in our history. The ideal of absolute commitment to the evangelical counsels on the part of the consecrated, the ideal held up to be lived, as much as possible, by those dwelling in the world as well – to be focused, ultimately, on Christ and let your life reflect, not your own desires, but his love. We strive, we fail, but, as the last part of that passage indicates, we’re gently brought along according to our capabilities, but – with the ideal always in sight, not as judgment, but as a promise. For nothing else we rest our eyes on can promise anything that lasts, can it?

Well, as I said at the beginning – we read history these days, trying to figure out the present in light of the past. Because it’s all there: uncertain times, the threat of collapse and death, looking to earthly idols for solace, the constant struggle to be faithful, religious leaders who might or might not be actually focused on Christ.

And somehow, the answers always end up being the same. Somehow, that always happens, doesn’t it?

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