Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category

St. Hildegard of Bingen

Also today, Hildegard of Bingen, canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. 

She’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

Three substantive talks from B16 on Hildegard.  First, two in his series of General Audiences focused on great figures of the Church:


During the years when she was superior of the Monastery of St Disibodenberg, Hildegard began to dictate the mystical visions that she had been receiving for some time to the monk Volmar, her spiritual director, and to Richardis di Strade, her secretary, a sister of whom she was very fond. As always happens in the life of true mystics, Hildegard too wanted to put herself under the authority of wise people to discern the origin of her visions, fearing that they were the product of illusions and did not come from God. She thus turned to a person who was most highly esteemed in the Church in those times: St Bernard of Clairvaux, of whom I have already spoken in several Catecheses. He calmed and encouraged Hildegard. However, in 1147 she received a further, very important approval. Pope Eugene iii, who was presiding at a Synod in Trier, read a text dictated by Hildegard presented to him by Archbishop Henry of Mainz. The Pope authorized the mystic to write down her visions and to speak in public. From that moment Hildegard’s spiritual prestige continued to grow so that her contemporaries called her the “Teutonic prophetess”. This, dear friends, is the seal of an authentic experience of the Holy Spirit, the source of every charism: the person endowed with supernatural gifts never boasts of them, never flaunts them and, above all, shows complete obedience to the ecclesial authority. Every gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit, is in fact intended for the edification of the Church and the Church, through her Pastors, recognizes its authenticity.

I shall speak again next Wednesday about this great woman, this “prophetess” who also speaks with great timeliness to us today, with her courageous ability to discern the signs of the times, her love for creation, her medicine, her poetry, her music, which today has been reconstructed, her love for Christ and for his Church which was suffering in that period too, wounded also in that time by the sins of both priests and lay people, and far better loved as the Body of Christ. Thus St Hildegard speaks to us; we shall speak of her again next Wednesday. Thank you for your attention.

And, as promised….9/8/2010:

Today I would like to take up and continue my Reflection on St Hildegard of Bingen, an important female figure of the Middle Ages who was distinguished for her spiritual wisdom and the holiness of her life. Hildegard’s mystical visions resemble those of the Old Testament prophets: expressing herself in the cultural and religious categories of her time, she interpreted the Sacred Scriptures in the light of God, applying them to the various circumstances of life. Thus all those who heard her felt the need to live a consistent and committed Christian lifestyle. In a letter to St Bernard the mystic from the Rhineland confesses: “The vision fascinates my whole being: I do not see with the eyes of the body but it appears to me in the spirit of the mysteries…. I recognize the deep meaning of what is expounded on in the Psalter, in the Gospels and in other books, which have been shown to me in the vision. This vision burns like a flame in my breast and in my soul and teaches me to understand the text profoundly” (Epistolarium pars prima I-XC: CCCM 91).

Hildegard’s mystical visions have a rich theological content. They refer to the principal events of salvation history, and use a language for the most part poetic and symbolic. For example, in her best known work entitled Scivias, that is, “You know the ways” she sums up in 35 visions the events of the history of salvation from the creation of the world to the end of time. With the characteristic traits of feminine sensitivity, Hildegard develops at the very heart of her work the theme of the mysterious marriage between God and humanity that is brought about in the Incarnation. On the tree of the Cross take place the nuptials of the Son of God with the Church, his Bride, filled with grace and the ability to give new children to God, in the love of the Holy Spirit (cf. Visio tertia: PL 197, 453c).

From these brief references we already see that theology too can receive a special contribution from women because they are able to talk about God and the mysteries of faith using their own particular intelligence and sensitivity. I therefore encourage all those who carry out this service to do it with a profound ecclesial spirit, nourishing their own reflection with prayer and looking to the great riches, not yet fully explored, of the medieval mystic tradition, especially that represented by luminous models such as Hildegard of Bingen.

Finallly, from his proclamation of her as a Doctor of the Church, in 2012:

Hildegard’s eminent doctrine echoes the teaching of the Apostles, the Fathers and writings of her own day, while it finds a constant point of reference in the Rule of Saint Benedict. The monastic liturgy and the interiorization of sacred Scripture are central to her thought which, focusing on the mystery of the Incarnation, is expressed in a profound unity of style and inner content that runs through all her writings.

The teaching of the holy Benedictine nun stands as a beacon for homo viator. Her message appears extraordinarily timely in today’s world, which is especially sensitive to the values that she proposed and lived. For example, we think of Hildegard’s charismatic and speculative capacity, which offers a lively incentive to theological research; her reflection on the mystery of Christ, considered in its beauty; the dialogue of the Church and theology with culture, science and contemporary art; the ideal of the consecrated life as a possibility for human fulfilment; her appreciation of the liturgy as a celebration of life; her understanding of the reform of the Church, not as an empty change of structure but as conversion of heart; her sensitivity to nature, whose laws are to be safeguarded and not violated.

For these reasons the attribution of the title of Doctor of the Universal Church to Hildegard of Bingen has great significance for today’s world and an extraordinary importance for women. In Hildegard are expressed the most noble values of womanhood: hence the presence of women in the Church and in society is also illumined by her presence, both from the perspective of scientific research and that of pastoral activity. Her ability to speak to those who were far from the faith and from the Church make Hildegard a credible witness of the new evangelization.

And if you are in a listening mood, this BBC radio edition of In Our Time focusing on Hildegard is worth your time.


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Thursday late digest

Life is so weird right now. Not that anything untoward is happening. In fact, in the externals, life is pretty calm. But my ability to focus has plummeted to a ridiculously low level, and this sad entry is the fruit of that. Here we go.


Writing:  Shouldn’t even bother with that one. Well, at least I got one stupid lengthy blog post out of my system yesterday. Hopefully more to come in a more systematic way. College Guy was sort-of-unexpectedly home last weekend, lots of activities started up over the past week…distractions. Excuses!

And to be sort-of-honest, but still-veiled – I’m starting to think about next year. Things are starting to get real, guys, and if Kid #5 does, indeed, head off to college, which he seems to have every intention of doing, there is absolutely no reason at all, on earth, if I am still healthy, for me to sit around this house in this town. Oh, I’ll keep the home base for a few more years, because the two youngest have ties here. But do *I* need to wake up in this house every day, every week, every month?


And so, I’m…thinking about that. A lot.

One writing-related note. I’ve long mourned that the “worst” selling of my Prove It books was Prove It Prayer. Best has usually been Church – it’s more hot button than any of the others, with God coming in second. But the relatively weak performance of Prayer has always saddened me a bit because I think, when teaching teens, forming them spiritually and teaching them about prayer is one of the most valuable and necessary gifts we can offer them.

But…over the past year, sales of Prayer have grown. Obviously, folks are using it in the classroom (because sales of all the Prove It books jump in August-September and then again in January) and that….makes me happy.

Say your prayers!


Physics, economics and apologetics via the co-op are underway. Had the first Latin tutoring in a few months at (gulp) 7 am on Wednesday. AP Statistics tutoring continues. Major piano recital this weekend. History – his own choice – is reading and talking about this book.

Literature is the only subject left to me, praise the LORD. We’re up to the Canterbury Tales. Read and discussed the Prologue this week, and next week, he’ll read three of the tales that I select plus one of his own choosing, and we’ll talk about them.

SAT and PSAT incoming, as well as college applications. We’ll see.

It’s fine, but quite a change from, say, five years ago, when it was All On Me.

This is…better.

Cooking: As I keep telling you, it’s mostly only the two of us, but in honor of College Guy showing up this past weekend, I did bake some bread and some brownies and make some steak and potatoes. All favorites. It was appreciated. And the steak – a flank steak – provides enough for two more meals around here. Super frugal, we are.

Listening: This, over and over, in various permutations and divisions. And after this weekend, I think we will move on to this.

Watching: Not much on our end because of schedules and gaming time, but last night, we did finally watch The Seventh Seal – partly because, well, we should watch it, and partly because it sort of fits in with the literature curriculum, being that we’re in the Middle Ages.

Here’s Movie Son’s take.

What do you say about a classic? About iconic imagery?

Well, perhaps you say – watch it anyway. It might surprise you. If you have HBO Max, you’ve got it – or check it out from the library. It’s serious, surprisingly humorous and even though it’s a fable of sorts, it’s also absolutely true to life.

For it’s all about the dance with death that we’re all a part of, every one of us – and how we react, how we play our part. It’s mannered and a bit strange, but, as I said, quite truthful. Some of us engage, vigorously. Some of us try to ignore the real issue. Some of us argue and fight and try to win the battle. Some of us are shrugging cynics. And some of us are simple visionaries who manage to see the truth, and find peace in the midst of it.

Reading: A lot. As per usual.

Over the past week, I read two novels by Randy Boyagoda. He’s written a lot for First Things and here’s a nice piece by him in another venue on creativity – his daughter’s and his.

I read Original Prin and the just-published Dante’s Indiana.

I have to say, first off, that I read both in digital versions, via my local library’s Hoopla app. Which, as per usual, proved itself inadequate. Not that I couldn’t read them, not that it was difficult or not enjoyable. No. The problem is that reading a lengthy work online quite often- as in this case – renders the work ephemeral. It’s hard for me to remember, even a week out, what I liked….

Nonethless, I recommend both to you – Dante’s Indiana being far better than Original Prin, although they are parts 2 and 1 of a trilogy, so while not necessary, it helps to read Original Prin before Dante.

Although I am certainly a devotee and advocate of the mid-century Catholic literary sort-of-renaissance, I am not one to mourn the present and declare that Catholic LIt is dead. It’s not. Boyagoda’s work is a good example – if you enjoy Walker Percy-ish satire of the craziness that is contemporary culture and society with a hapless Catholic fellow observing it all – well, Boyagoda’s work might scratch that itch. Entertaining, sharply observant, honest and authentic about the push and pull between a scrambling faith and a ridiculous, unthethered, but unjustifiably assured cultural scene – try them out.

Now I’m on to Colson Whitehead’s new novel Harlem Shuffle which, somehow, I snagged – on its publication date – from a certain library branch which shall go unnamed despite there being a 20+ waitlist for the title. Not sure how that happened. Don’t worry. I’ll finish it over the next day or so and return it for the next eager reader.

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St. Cyprian – September 16

His memorial is today.

And…..here we go again. You know about B16’s General Audience talks on the Fathers. Well, here’s the link to the talk on Cyprian, and below it, the pages from the free pdf study guide I wrote (now out of print) for the OSV collection of those talks. Feel free to download it, share it, and use it in your parish or just for your own study and reflection. 
Maybe it bears repeating – why do I stubbornly insist on sharing this information about 1600-year old saints, when I should be using this space to share Inspiring Moments From Everyday Life or just ignoring this space completely and picking fights on Twitter?
Because….we are the Body of Christ.  And that Body of Christ isn’t just your parish, now, in 2021, or even this global church in 2021. It stretches, embraces, speaks, heals and suffers across time and space. Yes, the Spirit moves now, in this present moment, but the key to discerning whether what we’re sensing is, indeed, the Spirit, is by being deeply familiar with Scripture and Tradition. 
It’s also absolutely necessary, if one is to avoid despair in the present moment. Conflict and struggle in figuring out what fidelity to Christ is right here and now has always been…a struggle. 

In the series of our catecheses on the great figures of the ancient Church, today we come to an excellent African Bishop of the third century, St Cyprian, “the first Bishop in Africa to obtain the crown of martyrdom”.

His fame, Pontius the Deacon his first biographer attests, is also linked to his literary corpus and pastoral activity during the 13 years between his conversion and his martyrdom (cf. Life and Passion of St Cyprian, 19, 1; 1, 1).

Cyprian was born in Carthage into a rich pagan family. After a dissipated youth, he converted to Christianity at the age of 35.

He himself often told of his spiritual journey, “When I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night”, he wrote a few months after his Baptism, “I used to regard it as extremely difficult and demanding to do what God’s mercy was suggesting to me. “I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe I could possibly be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices and to indulge my sins….

“But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of my former life was washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, was infused into my reconciled heart… a second birth restored me to a new man. Then, in a wondrous manner every doubt began to fade…. I clearly understood that what had first lived within me, enslaved by the vices of the flesh, was earthly and that what, instead, the Holy Spirit had wrought within me was divine and heavenly” (Ad Donatum, 3-4).

Immediately after his conversion, despite envy and resistance, Cyprian was chosen for the priestly office and raised to the dignity of Bishop. In the brief period of his episcopacy he had to face the first two persecutions sanctioned by imperial decree: that of Decius (250) and that of Valerian (257-258).

After the particularly harsh persecution of Decius, the Bishop had to work strenuously to restore order to the Christian community. Indeed, many of the faithful had abjured or at any rate had not behaved correctly when put to the test. They were the so-called lapsi – that is, the “fallen” – who ardently desired to be readmitted to the community.

The debate on their readmission actually divided the Christians of Carthage into laxists and rigorists. These difficulties were compounded by a serious epidemic of the plague which swept through Africa and gave rise to anguished theological questions both within the community and in the confrontation with pagans. Lastly, the controversy between St Cyprian and Stephen, Bishop of Rome, concerning the validity of Baptism administered to pagans by heretical Christians, must not be forgotten.

In these truly difficult circumstances, Cyprian revealed his choice gifts of government: he was severe but not inflexible with the lapsi, granting them the possibility of forgiveness after exemplary repentance. Before Rome, he staunchly defended the healthy traditions of the African Church; he was deeply human and steeped with the most authentic Gospel spirit when he urged Christians to offer brotherly assistance to pagans during the plague; he knew how to maintain the proper balance when reminding the faithful – excessively afraid of losing their lives and their earthly possessions – that true life and true goods are not those of this world; he was implacable in combating corrupt morality and the sins that devastated moral life, especially avarice.

“Thus he spent his days”, Pontius the Deacon tells at this point, “when at the bidding of the proconsul, the officer with his soldiers all of a sudden came unexpectedly upon him in his grounds” (Life and Passion of St Cyprian, 15, 1).

On that day, the holy Bishop was arrested and after being questioned briefly, courageously faced martyrdom in the midst of his people.

The numerous treatises and letters that Cyprian wrote were always connected with his pastoral ministry. Little inclined to theological speculation, he wrote above all for the edification of the community and to encourage the good conduct of the faithful….

We have spoken of his thought on the Church but, lastly, let us not forget Cyprian’s teaching on prayer. I am particularly fond of his treatise on the “Our Father”, which has been a great help to me in understanding and reciting the Lord’s Prayer better.

Cyprian teaches that it is precisely in the Lord’s Prayer that the proper way to pray is presented to Christians. And he stresses that this prayer is in the plural in order that “the person who prays it might not pray for himself alone. Our prayer”, he wrote, “is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people, are one (De Dom. orat. [Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer], 8).



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Folks, this is tough stuff. Not pleasant. But you know what? That’s how harm and destruction infiltrates our lives – it’s just too hard and disturbing and gross to talk about, so we don’t, or we allow narratives woven from obfuscating language to set the tone and direct the conversation.

So let’s not do that this time.

There’s not a lot of news about this issue out there this very second (although I was prompted to pull this together by this Twitter thread about possible medical industry influence on Kristi Noem regarding this issue) , but I’m sure there will be an uptick this winter, as soon as state legislatures are back in session – so let’s get prepared.

Which means we’re going to talk about children and gender,

The push is on. The push to allow, or even encourage children, from toddlers on up, to determine their own “gender” and for parents and others to facilitate any changes or transitions to that end, socially or medically.

Let’s focus on the medical aspect, for that is what has and will be coming up in terms of legislation and public policy: legislation to prohibit this kind of intervention, and the subsequent cries of injustice.

Step by step, just so you can unpack this for yourself when it’s presented to you.

First of all, it’s essential to understand the assumptions. And the fundamental assumption here is that any change is not, in fact, a change in favor of something new. It’s an affirmation or confirmation of what always was.

What’s happened in recent years is that trans activists have promoted the idea that gender dysphoria and the like is a birth defect. A massive, total, body-wide birth defect. Penis, testicles, hormones, chromosones – the whole thing. Just…wrong.

Anyway. So, just as a birth defect of, say, club foot, would be corrected with surgery without a bit of ethical angst by parents and clinicians, so should the “birth defect” of feeling like you’re a girl when you have a penis.

The conclusion, then, is that any medical intervention to attempt to “change” sex is really a correction, and an affirmation of the patient’s true self, true identity.

Now – if you have been following this at all, you know that this, as radical as it sounds, comes straight up against another stream in the movement, which is that your physical attributes don’t matter – if an intact dude wants to call himself a woman – well – get the hell out of his way and let him in your restroom, bigot.

So yeah, none of it makes sense. But we forge on.

All that is just to explain the groundwork here – you must understand this set of assumptions in order to understand the urgency and passion behind the move to medically transition children.

Now. Here’s the meat. Oh, sorry. The nut. No, that’s not good either. Okay, the core of the post. What are we talking about when we’re talking about these “gender correcting” procedures. Please note that access to these procedures is scattershot. Puberty blockers are hard to find prescribed in the US, surgeries on minors less so, but once someone turns 18, all bets are off – except for mastectomies.

This is just a quick survey. You can get a lot more horrible detail at websites like Transgender Trend. and Fourth Wave Now.

You might also look at the case of Keira Bell, whose victorious suit – against a UK gender-treatment clinic that had prescribed her puberty blockers at the age of 16 – late last year has really shifted the debate and raised questions in way that are hard to suppress. She’s a brave young woman. Here’s here story.

(9/17 update: Court of Appeal unfortunately overturned the ruling.)

So the first thing that might be prescribed are puberty blockers. First developed for children who suffer from premature puberty, someone got the bright idea somewhere along the line to give them to children who suffer from bodily dysphoria or confusion.

So that’s the first thing. Puberty blockers that inhibit the development of secondary sex characteristics like breast and penis growth.

But then what?! You’ve blocked the development of those secondary characteristics (and who knows what else). But yet….having a micropenis doesn’t make you a girl. Having a flat chest doesn’t make you a boy! What shall we do?

Let’s prescribe cross-sex hormones.

So. Let’s give testosterone to girls and progesterone and estrogen to boys. What will this do? It will make the girls’ voices deepen, encourage their bodies to grow hair in male patterns. And the boys? It will soften their skin and adjust the way fat is distributed on their bodies.

And maybe – if things are clipping along as we want them to – we’ll proceed with some surgery. Here. We. Go.


As we mentioned – mastectomies. That’s the first thing. Yeet the Teets!

(Oh, and remember that if you weren’t lucky enough to get hormone blockers and those breasts popped out anyway, you can always get a corset binders. Crushed ribs? Collapsed lung? Small price to pay, I’d say.)

There are, indeed, “doctors” in the Western hemisphere who are making a very healthy living from amputating young women’s healthy breasts. And they’re not secretive about it either!

Here’s Gender Surgeon – out of the FLA – on TikTok.

The Instagram for the Mclean Clinic up in Canada is now private – but it wasn’t when I first discovered it some time back. Dee-lightful.

That’s the euphemistically described “top surgery.”

Well…you are wondering…what about the “bottom?”

Hopefully none of these procedures are performed on minors – but – I bring them up because these other procedures do indeed impact what’s possible later on.

If a female desires “bottom surgery” – that involves some sort of enlargement of the clitoris and/or harvesting of skin from the thigh or the arm to construct a (non-functional, of course) penis. That harvesting has to go more than skin-deep, of course. It has to take up not only skin, but blood vessels and nerves or else it would be like if you massively skinned your knee and then tried to pin what came off to your ear or something. It would just…die. Rot.

Which it often does anyway.

For the boys who want to be girls? Well, that’s more doable, isn’t it? Cut off that penis and those testicles (called a castration and an orchiectomy) and then..well…dig a hole. You know. Like a vagina? Sort of?

How does that work? Well, since is the unregulated Wild West of “surgery” we’re talking about, whatever. Usually, what is involved is lining the cavity where the male reproductive organs would have been with skin from the testicles. But if that’s not available – hey, let’s take it from the colon. Really.

Which – I’m going to tell you, just might be the case if – and let’s circle back to the beginning of this post – if the boy has been put on puberty blockers. Because guess what happens when you’re put on puberty blockers? Your little boy penis stays at little boy size. It doesn’t grow. It might even shrink. There’s not enough skin to line your fake vagina.

Oh. Dear.

Which is exactly what happened to Trans Poster Child Jazz Jennings.

In his own words:

(Wondering about my pronoun use? This is why.)

Jennings’ use of puberty blockers meant doctors had to be innovative. “Being on the blockers is something that I don’t regret at all,” she said. “But the only, you know, downside to it was that I didn’t have enough growth down below. “So there wasn’t enough tissue to work with when it came to the surgery,” she continued. “And it was very challenging to find a doctor, a surgeon who was willing to perform the operation on me just ’cause I’m such a difficult case.””They’re using the tissue I have, the peritoneum, and also, they may take a skin graft as well,” she explained. “I say it’s going to be like a patchwork vagina, Franken-vagina. So yeah, as long as it’s functional, that’s all that matters.”Following her surgery, which reportedly took three surgeons nearly five hours, Jennings’ recovery proved to be a bit challenging.

Now – we’re not finished.

For of course, your fake vagina has been cut out of your body, which makes it, what? A wound. That’s right. And what do our bodies do in response to a wound? Right again – try to heal it. Close it.

You’ve had pierced ears. You know how it is.

But this is a little more invasive than a piercing. So for the rest of one’s life, that male who’s paid doctors to cut out a wound between his legs must dilate that wound – insert something like a vibrator into that cavity. For 30 minutes twice a day for the first year, and once a day for the rest of your…life.

Which leads me back to Jazz.

As you know, Jazz and family have been the subject of a reality TV series. Here’s a clip – sorry I can only find it on Twitter at this moment – of Jazz’s mother commiserating with moms of other young people, complaining how uncooperative they are about the dilating thing. Kids today!

You can watch it here (30 seconds) – but the short version is that Mother of the Year Jeannette complains:

I have woken Jazz out of a dead sleep and taken the dilator and put the lubrication on it and said: ‘Here! You take this, and you put it in your vagina. If not, I will.’ I will be so mad if […] that thing seals up

Yeah, this is only the beginning of the horror show that is sex reassignment surgery. The life long consequences are partly horrible and partly unknown. Just to toss out one more example: if a female goes on testosterone to the extent that female-to-male trans people must in order to even gain even a smidgen of male attributes (hair, coarsening skin, lowering voice, body shape) – they will probably have to eventually have a total hysterectomy, since elevated levels of testosterone in the body of a woman who’s still producing estrogen and progesterone will likely lead to cancer.

Adults doing all of this is tragic enough.



We’re talking about children here.

“Posie Parker” is the public name of Kelli-Jay Kean, a British woman who is on fire about these issues and is routinely banned from various platforms for that sin – she’s still on Instagram and YouTube however – and here’s just one post, from a couple of days ago. I don’t know what country this is in – obviously English-speaking. But look at this child. Child.

Finally, let’s talk $$$$.

Isn’t that where we always end up?

Because you know it, don’t you? These things don’t just….happen.

If you want to see a lot of dots connected, head to Jennifer Bilek’s 11th Hour Blog.

Short version:

If you set any person on a road of medicalized sex surgeries and interventions…you’ve got them for a lifetime. They can’t ever stop taking the hormones. The body parts are going to need tweaking and tightening, cleaning and re-stitching. The Adam’s apple and facial bones might call for shaving (MTF) or building up (FTM). Electrolysis! Laser hair removal! And on and on and on.

It’s a gold mine.

And this is where I want to end up. But before I do, let’s recap.

Over the next few months, you’re going to see tears shed for the sake of “gender affirming medical care” for “trans kids.”

What is that?

What I outlined above. Blocking normal puberty with chemicals, then bombarding the bodies of young people with cross-sex hormones, and holding out to them the promise of surgery to cut off their breasts, penis and testicles and attach flaps of skin and create cavities for the sake of their….identity.

What. The. Fuck.

You don’t often “hear” me use that language (because you don’t live with me), but this calls for it. This is such total, absolute abuse, made all the worse for the gentle and manipulative words used to describe it. It shouldn’t be legal and medical practitioners who are a part of this should be driven out of the profession and, hopefully, someday, sued into oblivion, when all of this is understood, some day, as the lobotomy of the early 21st century.

This is a social and culture movement filled with and constructed of lie and illusions, built on and exploiting deep suffering and confusion.

Don’t feed the monster.

Because that’s exactly what it is.


From another article, published this week:

We have no doubt that the medicalisation of GNC young people over the last decade is the biggest medical scandal of our time, perhaps of all time. It is robbing thousands of children of their fertility and future sexual function, while a host of other serious side effects are only just now beginning to emerge. (These have been superbly and chillingly documented by Professor Michael Biggs). Most damningly of all, hormones and surgery were found to have no mental health benefits.

For some campaigners, the fight against medicalising GNC children will be won when GIDS halts its treatments and commits, fully and transparently, to evidence-based, peer-reviewed medicine. For others, it won’t be over until the people who championed and undertook these barbaric treatments are in the dock. Until very recently, however, it’s been the whistleblowers who have been subjected to disciplinary action.

More from me on these issues.

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All those sorrows….

Let’s consider the last couple of days – the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (yesterday) and Our Lady of Sorrows today)  and last Sunday’s Gospel.

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me. 
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.

The question I’ve been asking for a long time, stubbornly – as in this essay – is: How do the modes of contemporary media that we use to communicate faith affect the shape and experience of faith – both of the speaker and the listener?

This, as you recall, was the question in the novel The Hack – and I spent some time exploring that and attempting to apply it to the present moment.

In short – contemporary modes of communication enable each of us to be a creator, a producer, a publisher and the star of whatever we make. It’s persona-based communication – put an attractive persona out there with a compelling personal narrative for people to get caught up in, and then they’ll hear your message.

I’ve suggested that, in looking at this landscape, we remember that a product reflects its producer’s concerns. So someone who puts a lot of time and energy into putting herself out there is (to be circular about it) probably going to be a person whose understanding of success and goal-meeting and fulfillment is – putting herself out there. Joy = creating something and getting attention for a media product and message that centers on them. Oh sure, to encourage and inspire you, but still.

Yes, I know it’s circular. But then – the process is circular. It just is.

All I’m saying is that if the Spiritual Guru Flavor of the Season is telling you to that fulfillment and joy happens when you Wash Your Face and Claim Your Awesomeness – they’re just telling you about what gets them jazzed and hoping that by…putting themselves and this narrative out there – they can make a living.

Even if it’s couched in religious or vaguely spiritual terms – bottom line, yeah, it’s marketing and trying to make a living.

Of course, this is all happening in an even broader cultural context, explored by Carl Trueman in his book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self – which I will write about soon, I promise. In short, in a culture centered on human beings creating their own meaning and pursuing happiness defined as self-fulfillment – definitions absorbed and baptized by almost all Christian bodies, in some way, everywhere.

So the question worth asking is – does any of this overwhelming message of self-actualization and fulfillment and worldly happiness have anything to do with the Gospel?

Not really. Not at its core. The fruit of faith can certainly be self-acceptance and peace and even worldly “success” or prosperity – as we get our lives together, try to stop being a jerk and see ourselves and the world more clearly, sure. Who knows what can happen?

But as a spiritual goal? As a test of faith? Nope.

And here we come to the issue – an important question. Or, as Paul says, the opportunity to test everything. 

In a persona-soaked spiritual landscape in a privileged, materially prosperous culture, what is lost?

From B16 in 2011:

Marian devotion focuses on contemplation of the relationship between the Mother and her divine Son. In their prayers and sufferings, in their thanksgiving and joy, the faithful have constantly discovered new dimensions and qualities which this mystery can help to disclose for us, for example when the image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is seen as a symbol of her deep and unreserved loving unity with Christ.

It is not self-realization, the desire for self-possession and self-formation, that truly enables people to flourish, according to the model that modern life so often proposes to us, which easily turns into a sophisticated form of selfishness. Rather it is an attitude of self-giving, self-emptying, directed towards the heart of Mary and hence towards the heart of Christ and towards our neighbour: this is what enables us to find ourselves.

In other words, in other paradoxical words:

If this world of Passionately-Chasing-Your-Dreams-to-Set-the-World-on-Fire is not your life, if your life, in comparison, seems too quiet and humble and maybe even painful to boast about, if, on a daily basis, you put aside your own desires so you can serve others, and the current flow makes you wonder about that, prompts you to wonder sometimes if you’re actually living an “authentic” “vibrant” “fulfilling” “faith-filled” life? If you are, perhaps, putting your real, important, significant life “on hold?” If – and this pertains the shape of the last eighteen months – circumstances have challenged and upended your achievement-oriented goals and you’re having to spend time shifting gears, serving others and making sacrifices for them and the greater good instead of chasing your own dreams? And if these months, when you look back, will be defined, most of all by words like confusion, grief, frustration and loss?

Well, hang on – and it’s not me saying this. It’s the Catholic spiritual tradition, from Jesus himself on. Be assured:

In your sacrifice and, when it comes, in your sorrow, you are close – very close – the heart of Christ. 

And so in that, peace. 

From another perspective, Danielle Bean.

Deny yourself … Take up your cross … Lose your life … Turns out “putting your life on hold” is the Gospel. No wonder it stirs up controversy.

From the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

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Exaltation of the Holy Cross

…is kind of a big deal.

It’s a feast, not just a memorial. That means that there are Sunday-like three readings at Mass, rather than the usual daily two. You can read them here. 


This day is also called the Exaltation of the Cross, Elevation of the Cross, Holy Cross Day, Holy Rood Day, or Roodmas. The liturgy of the Cross is a triumphant liturgy. When Moses lifted up the bronze serpent over the people, it was a foreshadowing of the salvation through Jesus when He was lifted up on the Cross. Our Mother Church sings of the triumph of the Cross, the instrument of our redemption. To follow Christ we must take up His cross, follow Him and become obedient until death, even if it means death on the cross. We identify with Christ on the Cross and become co-redeemers, sharing in His cross.

We made the Sign of the Cross before prayer which helps to fix our minds and hearts to God. After prayer we make the Sign of the Cross to keep close to God. During trials and temptations our strength and protection is the Sign of the Cross. At Baptism we are sealed with the Sign of the Cross, signifying the fullness of redemption and that we belong to Christ. Let us look to the cross frequently, and realize that when we make the Sign of the Cross we give our entire self to God — mind, soul, heart, body, will, thoughts.

O cross, you are the glorious sign of victory.
Through your power may we share in the triumph of Christ Jesus.

Symbol: The cross of triumph is usually pictured as a globe with the cross on top, symbolic of the triumph of our Savior over the sin of the world, and world conquest of His Gospel through the means of a grace (cross and orb).

The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following September 14 marks one of the Ember Days of the Church. See Ember Days for more information.

From “A Clerk at Oxford” Blog:

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (‘Holyrood day in harvest’, as it was sometimes called in the Middle Ages), so here’s a fourteenth-century translation of the Crux Fidelis, a verse of the sixth-century hymn Pange Lingua:

Steddefast Crosse, inmong alle other,
Thou art a tree mikel of prise;
In brawnche and flore swilk another
I ne wot non in wood no ris.
Swete be the nalis, and swete be the tree,
And sweter be the birdin that hangis upon thee.

That is:

Steadfast cross, among all others
Thou art a tree great of price;
In branch and flower such another
I know not of, in wood nor copse.
Sweet be the nails, and sweet be the tree,
And sweeter be the burden that hangs upon thee.

From the Latin:

Crux fidelis, inter omnes arbor una nobilis:
nulla silva talem profert,
fronde, flore, germine.
Dulce lignum, dulces clavos,
dulce pondus sustinet.

This verse is used in the liturgy several times through the course of the year, and at different seasons its poetry will resonate in subtly different ways. This tree is like no other, and it bears at once both flower and fruit; what kind of tree you picture as you sing this verse will depend on what your eyes are seeing in the world around you. The hymn is sung in the spring, on Good Friday and at the cross’ first feast in May, and at that time of year the image of a flowering tree evokes blossom and the spring of new life; and it’s sung again at this feast in the autumn, when trees are laden with fruit (their own ‘burden’), and the image instead speaks of fruitfulness, sustenance, the abundance of divine gift. Imagery of Christ as the ‘fruit’ of the cross is common in the liturgy of Holy Cross Day, perhaps in part because of the time of year when it falls. One purpose for the image is to draw a contrast with the fruit of the tree in Eden, to link the sin and the redemption, the sickness and the remedy: as one medieval antiphon puts it, ‘Through the tree we were made slaves, and through the Holy Cross we are made free. The fruit of the tree seduced us; the Son of God redeemed us.’

I‘m sure you’ll see more at her Twitter feed today.

In 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI signed a post-Synodal exhortation for the Synod of the Bishops of the Middle East on this date. He said – and note what I’ve bolded:

Providentially, this event takes place on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a celebration originating in the East in 335, following the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection built over Golgotha and our Lord’s tomb by the Emperor Constantine the Great, whom you venerate as saint. A month from now we will celebrate the seventeen-hundredth anniversary of the appearance to Constantine of the Chi-Rho, radiant in the symbolic night of his unbelief and accompanied by the words: “In this sign you will conquer!” Later, Constantine signed the Edict of Milan, and gave his name to Constantinople. It seems to me that the Post-Synodal Exhortation can be read and understood in the light of this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and more particularly in the light of the Chi-Rho, the two first letters of the Greek word “Christos”. Reading it in this way leads to renewed appreciation of the identity of each baptized person and of the Church, and is at the same time a summons to witness in and through communion. Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!


Jump back to 2006, and the Angelus on 9/14:

Now, before the Marian prayer, I would like to reflect on two recent and important liturgical events: the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, celebrated on 14 September, and the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, celebrated the following day.

These two liturgical celebrations can be summed up visually in the traditional image of the Crucifixion, which portrays the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross, according to the description of the Evangelist John, the only one of the Apostles who stayed by the dying Jesus.

But what does exalting the Cross mean? Is it not maybe scandalous to venerate a shameful form of execution? The Apostle Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (I Cor 1: 23). Christians, however, do not exalt just any cross but the Cross which Jesus sanctified with his sacrifice, the fruit and testimony of immense love. Christ on the Cross pours out his Blood to set humanity free from the slavery of sin and death.

Therefore, from being a sign of malediction, the Cross was transformed into a sign of blessing, from a symbol of death into a symbol par excellence of the Love that overcomes hatred and violence and generates immortal life. “O Crux, ave spes unica! O Cross, our only hope!”. Thus sings the liturgy.

In 2008, Benedict was in Lourdes on 9/14:

This is the great mystery that Mary also entrusts to us this morning, inviting us to turn towards her Son. In fact, it is significant that, during the first apparition to Bernadette, Mary begins the encounter with the sign of the Cross. More than a simple sign, it is an initiation into the mysteries of the faith that Bernadette receives from Mary. The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith, for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us. It is this mystery of the universality of God’s love for men that Mary came to reveal here, in Lourdes. She invites all people of good will, all those who suffer in heart or body, to raise their eyes towards the Cross of Jesus, so as to discover there the source of life, the source of salvation.

The Church has received the mission of showing all people this loving face of God, manifested in Jesus Christ. Are we able to understand that in the Crucified One of Golgotha, our dignity as children of God, tarnished by sin, is restored to us? Let us turn our gaze towards Christ. It is he who will make us free to love as he loves us, and to build a reconciled world. For on this Cross, Jesus took upon himself the weight of all the sufferings and injustices of our humanity. He bore the humiliation and the discrimination, the torture suffered in many parts of the world by so many of our brothers and sisters for love of Christ. We entrust all this to Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother, present at the foot of the Cross.

Of course, this feast is related to St. Helena:

St. Helena is in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints....first page here…her section is “Saints are people who are strong leaders.”

"amy welborn"
"amy welborn"

And from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. I have, of course, many cross and crucifixion-related entries. One, in the symbols related to Jesus’ passion, one in the section about symbols you’d see in church, another in the section about those you’d have in your home. Remember the structure: Left-hand page has the illustration and a simpler explanation. Right-side page goes into more depth for older children.

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St. John Chrysostom – September 13

Today is the feast of St. John Chrysostom, about whom Mike Aquilina posts here.

It was his fame as a preacher, however, that brought him to the attention of the wider Church, and especially the imperial court. Thus, when the patriarch of Constantinople died, the emperor unexpectedly summoned John from Antioch to the most powerful bishop’s throne in the East. John declined the honor. But the emperor ordered that John be taken by force or subterfuge, if necessary, and so he was.

john chrysostom

John’s habitual honesty and integrity did not serve him well, by capital standards. He was a reformer and an ascetic, demanding much of others, but even more of himself. The clergy of Constantinople were not, however, eager to be reformed or to imitate John’s spartan lifestyle. Nor was the imperial family — especially the empress — interested in John’s advice about their use of cosmetics, their lavish expenses, and their self-aggrandizing monuments. John found it outrageous that the rich could relieve themselves in golden toilet bowls while the poor went hungry. He reached the limits of his patience when the empress went beyond the law to seize valuable lands from a widow, after the widow had refused to sell the property. (John did not miss the opportunity to cite relevant Old Testament passages, like 1 Kings 21.)

Ordinary people found inspiration, solace, and — no doubt — entertainment in the great man’s preaching. But the powerful were not amused. They arranged a kangaroo court of bishops to depose John in 403. In fact, a military unit interrupted the liturgy on Easter Vigil, just as John was preparing to baptize a group of catechumens. Historians record that the baptismal waters ran red with blood.

Fr. Steve Grunow:

Yet St. John was not flattered by the presence of celebrity, nor was he impressed by wealth. He saw himself as a servant of God’s truth in Christ and therefore repeatedly called for the transformation of the society of his day, reminding the wealthy of their responsibility to aid the poor, and all Christians to remain faithful to the Lord in whom they had been saved.

From today’s Office of Readings:

The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.

What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? ‘The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.
Do you not hear the Lord saying: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst? Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together? I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbour. Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!
If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear? Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are roused against me, they are less to me than a spider’s web. Indeed, unless you, my brothers, had detained me, I would have left this very day. For I always say “Lord, your will be done”; not what this fellow or that would have me do, but what you want me to do. That is my strong tower, my immovable rock, my staff that never gives way. If God wants something, let it be done! If he wants me to stay here, I am grateful. But wherever he wants me to be, I am no less grateful.
Yet where I am, there you are too, and where you are, I am. For we are a single body, and the body cannot be separated from the head nor the head from the body. Distance separates us, but love unites us, and death itself cannot divide us. For though my body die, my soul will live and be mindful of my people.
You are my fellow citizens, my fathers, my brothers, my sons, my limbs, my body. You are my light, sweeter to me than the visible light. For what can the rays of the sun bestow on me that is comparable to your love? The sun’s light is useful in my earthly life, but your love is fashioning a crown for me in the life to come.

And then to B16:

The first two were general audience talks.  As you recall, Benedict’s General Audience talks tended (like John Paul II’s) to be thematic, being really “mini courses” on some aspect of Church history or theology.  For a good long while, Benedict focused on great figures on the Church, beginning with the Apostles and moving forward in time to the early Church Fathers. These were, of course, collected and published by various publishers, including OSV. I wrote study guides for their collections. The pages for Chrysostom are below, and you are welcome to download the entire pdf of the guide here – it’s a great free resource for either personal use or a study group – B16’s talks are online, this pdf is free – you’re good to go, without the ritual Catholics-charging-for-catechetical-materials-must-be-that-New-Evangelization.

So, 9/19/2007 he concentrates on biographical material:

It was here that he reached the crucial turning point in the story of his vocation: a full-time pastor of souls! Intimacy with the Word of God, cultivated in his years at the hermitage, had developed in him an irresistible urge to preach the Gospel, to give to others what he himself had received in his years of meditation. The missionary ideal thus launched him into pastoral care, his heart on fire.

Between 378 and 379, he returned to the city. He was ordained a deacon in 381 and a priest in 386, and became a famous preacher in his city’s churches. He preached homilies against the Arians, followed by homilies commemorating the Antiochean martyrs and other important liturgical celebrations: this was an important teaching of faith in Christ and also in the light of his Saints.

The year 387 was John’s “heroic year”, that of the so-called “revolt of the statues”. As a sign of protest against levied taxes, the people destroyed the Emperor’s statues. It was in those days of Lent and the fear of the Emperor’s impending reprisal that Chrysostom gave his 22 vibrant Homilies on the Statues, whose aim was to induce repentance and conversion. This was followed

by a period of serene pastoral care (387-397).

Chrysostom is among the most prolific of the Fathers: 17 treatises, more than 700 authentic homilies, commentaries on Matthew and on Paul (Letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and Hebrews) and 241 letters are extant. He was not a speculative theologian.

Nevertheless, he passed on the Church’s tradition and reliable doctrine in an age of theological controversies, sparked above all by Arianism or, in other words, the denial of Christ’s divinity. He is therefore a trustworthy witness of the dogmatic development achieved by the Church from the fourth to the fifth centuries.

His is a perfectly pastoral theology in which there is constant concern for consistency between thought expressed via words and existential experience. It is this in particular that forms the main theme of the splendid catecheses with which he prepared catechumens to receive Baptism.

Then, the next week:

Against this background, in Constantinople itself, John proposed in his continuingCommentary on the Acts of the Apostles the model of the primitive Church (Acts 4: 32-37) as a pattern for society, developing a social “utopia” (almost an “ideal city”). In fact, it was a question of giving the city a soul and a Christian face. In other words, Chrysostom realized that it is not enough to give alms, to help the poor sporadically, but it is necessary to create a new structure, a new model of society; a model based on the outlook of the New Testament. It was this new society that was revealed in the newborn Church. John Chrysostom thus truly became one of the great Fathers of the Church’s social doctrine: the old idea of the Greek “polis” gave way to the new idea of a city inspired by Christian faith. With Paul (cf. I Cor 8: 11), Chrysostom upheld the primacy of the individual Christian, of the person as such, even of the slave and the poor person. His project thus corrected the traditional Greek vision of the “polis”, the city in which large sectors of the population had no access to the rights of citizenship while in the Christian city all are brothers and sisters with equal rights. The primacy of the person is also a consequence of the fact that it is truly by starting with the person that the city is built, whereas in the Greek “polis” the homeland took precedence over the individual who was totally subordinated to the city as a whole. So it was that a society built on the Christian conscience came into being with Chrysostom. And he tells us that our “polis” [city] is another, “our commonwealth is in heaven” (Phil 3: 20) and our homeland, even on this earth, makes us all equal, brothers and sisters, and binds us to solidarity.

That same year, he issued a letter on the occasion of the 1600th anniversary of the birth of the saint:  It is well worth reading.

Chrysostom’s faith in the mystery of love that binds believers to Christ and to one another led him to experience profound veneration for the Eucharist, a veneration which he nourished in particular in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, one of the richest forms of the Eastern Liturgy bears his name: “The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom”. John understood that the Divine Liturgy places the believer spiritually between earthly life and the heavenly realities that have been promised by the Lord. He told Basil the Great of the reverential awe he felt in celebrating the sacred mysteries with these words: “When you see the immolated Lord lying on the altar and the priest who, standing, prays over the victim… can you still believe you are among men, that you are on earth? Are you not on the contrary suddenly transported to Heaven?”. The sacred rites, John said, “are not only marvellous to see, but extraordinary because of the reverential awe they inspire. The priest who brings down the Holy Spirit stands there… he prays at length that the grace which descends on the sacrifice may illuminate the minds of all in that place and make them brighter than silver purified in the crucible. Who can spurn this venerable mystery?”….

Of course, he also drew from contemplation of the Mystery the moral consequences in which he involved his listeners: he reminded them that communion with the Body and Blood of Christ obliged them to offer material help to the poor and the hungry who lived among them. The Lord’s table is the place where believers recognize and welcome the poor and needy whom they may have previously ignored. He urged the faithful of all times to look beyond the altar where the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered and see Christ in the person of the poor, recalling that thanks to their assistance to the needy, they will be able to offer on Christ’s altar a sacrifice pleasing to God.

Pages. Download pdf here.

The Apostles guide is here.

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7 Quick Takes

—1 —

Life proceeds – mostly me asking people when they’ll be back and saying “Be careful!”

Not complaining. Sooner than I can blink, it will all change again.

What am I supposed to do with in this moment? Is the question. What is this space for?

— 2 —

Okay. A new book looks at Chesterton and anti-Semitism, among other flaws. Two reviews:

Dan Hitchens:

In this short but ambitious book, Ingrams aims to undermine the generally accepted story of Chesterton’s life as one of childlike innocence. And it all goes back to that man Hilaire Belloc.

For all his brilliance, Belloc was capable of the most poisonous bigotry. During the Dreyfus af­fair, almost the entire British press was united in indignation at such a flagrant injustice – except Belloc, on the grounds that Dreyfus was Jewish and must therefore be involved in an international conspiracy. When stories began to emerge about Belgian atrocities in the Congo, Belloc alone sided with King Leopold II: after all, the King was Catholic – so the coverage had to be unfair.

On the other hand, Belloc declared war on the chocolate magnate George Cadbury, a kindly philanthropist who campaigned for social reform, treated his workers with exceptional gentleness and respect, and bankrolled the Daily News, Chesterton’s employer. Cadbury was a Quaker, you see, and therefore – Belloc concluded – motivated solely by greed and moral puritanism. …

…As Ingrams shows, Chesterton’s loyalty to Belloc and Cecil defined a good deal of his political engagement. It led him to look sympathetically on antisemitism. As editor of the New Witness, he published – and later defended – a grotesquely hate-filled diatribe penned by Cecil’s wife. It led him, after Cecil’s death, to devote much of his energy to keeping alive his brother’s old paper. And it led him to adopt a variety of strange positions – opposing National Insurance, downplaying Mussolini’s crimes – which intruded a permanent element of confusion into his otherwise lucid prose. Sometimes more than confusion: Ingrams has found sentences in the Autobiography that actively distort the historical record.

The Sins of G K Chesterton is no hatchet job: it takes for granted that Chesterton was, for the most part, a man of profound integrity. Precisely because Chesterton loved truth, Ingrams speculates, ignoring it caused him tremendous, unconscious stress; hence his near-fatal breakdown in 1914, and his final illness in 1936. For Ingrams, the whole story is a ‘heroic tragedy’.

— 3 —

Allan Massie:

The chief sin with which Ingrams charges Chesterton was anti-Semitism, which he contracted first from Belloc and then, more virulently, from Cecil. Belloc’s anti-Semitism was of the French variety. He felt that Jewish finance was corrupting Catholic Europe. He was an anti-Dreyfusard, maintaining to the end of his long life that Captain Dreyfus was a German spy: ‘poor darling, he was guilty as sin,’ he would say, long after it had been proved that he was innocent.

Four years as a Liberal MP (1906–10) convinced Belloc that parliamentary democracy was rotten and a sham – perhaps because he failed to make a mark in the Commons. Cecil eagerly swallowed Belloc’s prejudices and gave them virulent expression in New Witness, his weekly magazine. In this he was aided and encouraged by his future wife, a remarkable freelance journalist usually known as ‘Keith’; she later became a communist and would survive both brothers to write a biography of them.

These prejudices came to the fore during the Marconi scandal. A British monopoly of the new wireless technology was granted by the attorney general Rufus Isaacs, the son of a Jewish merchant, to the British Marconi Company, whose managing director was his brother Godfrey. Prior to this, several members of the cabinet had bought shares in the American Marconi Company in the expectation that its value would rise in parallel with the British one. It was a piece of shoddy insider trading, but no more than that. Cecil denounced it as a Jewish ramp. Gilbert followed loyally in his wake. For the rest of their lives, he and Belloc vastly exaggerated the importance of the Marconi scandal. Cecil’s accusations petered out humiliatingly in court….

….Ingrams has written an admirable book. It is lucid, intelligent, sometimes disturbing and generally fair. It won’t please zealots, but as a study of the man and his milieu it could scarcely be bettered.

— 4 —

Sticking with Britain – as part of our study of the Canterbury Tales, we’re watching the first episode of a 3-episode BBC series on Pilgrimage. It’s all available online and is very good – charming.

— 5 –

Moving across the Channel and then to my own present state – this review of what looks like an interesting newish book on the journeys of exiled Bonapartist loyalists to and in the Americas tells me that there was a very brief, short -lived attempt to establish a colony in Alabama, centered on vinticulture. Didn’t work.

You can read most of the pertinent chapter online here – just search for “Alabama.”

Because I know you’re super interested!

It was called the Vine and Olive Colony, and here’s a readable account from the Alabama Encyclopedia.

— 6 —

100 Days of Dante – started a couple of days ago, but you can still catch up!

— 7 —

A somewhat busy weekend around here. Local Catholic HS homecoming game. Local Catholic HS homecoming dance. Playing a 9/11 Memorial Mass tomorrow. Playing regular Mass Sunday. Physics and econ have started up, Latin tutoring is resumed next week, somewhat important piano recital in a week.

Me: When do you think you’ll be back? Be careful!

(Picks up book.)

(Also realizes that if she’s going to go to her usual Saturday night Mass, she’s going to have to ride a bike. Good thing the parish installed a rack this week!)


For more Quick Takes, Visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

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“No life, except the life of Christ, has so moved me as that of St. Peter Claver.”

Pope Leo XIII

A statue of Peter Claver and a slave in Cartagena. This is a very good introduction, from a Cartagena page. 

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

BTW, link does not go to Amazon, but to the publisher’s page, where you can find links to all the Loyola Kids books that I and others have written and still others have beautifully designed and illustrated.

Here’s the entry.

If you’re ever in Cartegena…from Lonely Planet:

This convent was founded by Jesuits in the first half of the 17th century, originally as San Ignacio de Loyola. The name was later changed in honor of Spanish-born monk Pedro Claver (1580–1654), who lived and died in the convent. Called the ‘Apostle of the Blacks’ or the ‘Slave of the Slaves,’ the monk spent all his life ministering to the enslaved people brought from Africa. He was the first person to be canonized in the New World (in 1888).

The convent is a monumental three-story building surrounding a tree-filled courtyard, and much of it is open as a museum. Exhibits include religious art and pre-Columbian ceramics, and a new section devoted to Afro-Caribbean contemporary pieces includes wonderful Haitian paintings and African masks.

You can visit the cell where San Pedro Claver lived and died in the convent, and also climb a narrow staircase to the choir loft of the adjacent church…. The church has an imposing stone facade, and inside there are fine stained-glass windows and a high altar made of Italian marble. The remains of San Pedro Claver are kept in a glass coffin in the altar. His skull is visible, making it an altar with a difference.

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The Chair

Having grown up in academia, academic satire is going to be my genre of choice, no question. Favorites? David Lodge’s “Campus Trilogy,” Richard Russo’s Straight Man and Michael Malone’s Foolscap.

So when I saw word of a new Netflix series set on a college campus called The Chair, I was in, especially since it was only six short episodes – equivalent of watching a 3-hour movie – so why not? Toss in Sandra Oh and Jay Duplass, both of whom I like a lot, I was in.

Well, that was disappointing.

Brief, official synopsis:

At a major university, the first woman of color to become chair tries to meet the dizzying demands and high expectations of a failing English department.

Pros: Mostly good performances, enjoyable to watch. Yes, Duplass plays a cliché – the disheveled, charming dysfunctional middle-aged humanities professor, but his humor, sharpness and self-awareness bring it up a level. Oh as the chair – Ji-Yoon Kim – is excellent, of course.

The Chair TV Review

Most notable, though, is Everly Carganilla , the child actor who plays Oh’s adopted daughter Ju Ju. She’s only six, and of course a great deal of what makes a child actor’s performance effective on film can often be ascribed to skillful editing, but as a person who finds most American child acting wooden in one sense or another, this little girl was a cut above – natural and unforced.

There are individual moments of warmth and realism – mostly offhand exchanges between characters that are strikingly true, either affecting or humorous. I found the presentation of Ji-Yoon’s homelife to be quite interesting and a relaxed, unique presentation of a different kind of cultural diversity – she’s an American woman of Korean ethnicity who’s adopted a child with a Mexican background. Ji-Yoon’s father and extended family is around, and his house, in particular, is decorated with Catholic imagery. It’s never mentioned, but it’s present.

So yes – the family material, the Jay Duplass character and small moments were good – very good, in fact.

But…when it comes to the big picture? The main point? The foundational setting? The academic world it’s presenting to us?

Sorry. F. Maybe D+ at most.

First – one of the plot points revolves around the issue of free speech on campus – hot, of course – but does so in an easy way that doesn’t even come close to the actual conflicts we’ve been seeing for decades now.

Duplass’ character, Bill, teaching a class on “Death and Modernism,” joking imitates a Nazi in class. Student cameras sneak out, and before you know it, he’s viral and in deep trouble.

The defense centers on his right to tell jokes, to use that imagery to make a point – that is, of course, not at all, supportive of actual Nazis.

(My favorite point in this subplot comes when Bill, explaining how he’ll defend himself, is perfectly serious, then edges into…..I’ll say it…..Springtime! for Hitler! And Germany!)

And this is all well and good – touching, as it does, although not explicitly, on the use of “unacceptable” language and imagery to make points in teaching – or even to convey a sense of a period or work accurately. (See…Huckleberry Finn…)

Which of course is not how it’s usually playing out on contemporary campuses, in which it is not that there are people telling actual Nazi jokes, but that anyone and everyone who breaks the code of acceptable Right Think is called a Nazi or a fascist, whether they are or not.

The conversation on college campuses is not generally – what is appropriate language – but what views are acceptable to hold, what worldviews are permitted – and then by extension – why are we here? What’s the purpose of higher education?

Secondly, while the show assumes a stance against racism and sexism, the ageism in character presentation comes on strong – surprisingly so, and in a way that has been remarked on by reviewers. These elderly faculty members are certainly sympathetic but they are also mostly clueless caricatures.

Finally – and this is really the major point, the big problem.

This is 2021. The show is set in the present.

The older vanguard of (white) faculty keeps telling us how they’ve been in place for thirty years.

Which, you know – hate to break it to you, because it makes me feel old, too – would take us to:


Not 1950, with tweedy white men smoking pipes in the faculty room, sniffing at the colored folk, droning on about sonnets.

No – 1990. Decades into the transformation of the humanities in western higher education.

But that’s not the sense you get from The Chair. The central pedagogical conflict is between those stuffy, hidebound traditionalists, who have been supposedly dominating the department, and who apparently haven’t been to an MLA conference – ever  – with the resultant decline in enrollment – and the with it minority faculty, with their innovative teaching and eye on colonialism and queer subtexts.

In 2021.


I mean, this has been well-documented everywhere, and everyone knows it, so I shouldn’t have to press the point but some personal insight nonetheless. I was in college from 1978-82, then graduate school from 83-85. In the south. My emphasis was on history, not literature, but nonetheless, it will not be news to anyone, that my studies were engaged with all sorts of isms – and I’m not saying that’s a negative either – it’s just the way it was. My “History of the Industrial Revolution” course was shaped by leftist, labor-sympathetic ideals and took as its primary text one of the major leftist-centered labor histories out there. It was a great class! My 18th and 19th century American history classes all centered the experiences of native peoples and women. Religious studies? A global view that critiqued the role of colonialism in the expansion of Christianity. Even in those ancient days, the humanities I was taught as both an undergraduate and graduate student was very much moving away from being centered on European males to be inclusive of the experiences of “minorities” and women, to explore social and cultural history instead of being centered, as has been traditional, on political history.

This was forty years ago.

I think if you were to do a more accurate satire of contemporary academic life, you’d have to take into account that the old fogeys who got into this forty years ago and are grumbling in confusion at the present scene are probably going to be, not cut in the mold of Mark Van Doren, but Noam Chomsky.

And you know what? That would be a fascinating piece, wouldn’t it? To see the conflict between the aging radical academics and their replacements of every ideological stripe?

Yeah, so The Chair lost me, ultimately, because of that distance from actual reality. Diversity in academia is an issue these days, yes. But the tension is not about pedagogical or even ethnic diversity, but diversity of viewpoint. That’s the current flashpoint.

And there’s this: effective satire, it seems to me, can’t have heroes. Oh, maybe it can have one – the innocent observer, appalled at all she is witnessing – but no more. In order for satire to be effective and strike us as true in its absurdity, everyone must be the butt of a joke, everyone’s foibles be exaggerated and held up for mockery – not just the bad guys with the appropriately unacceptable viewpoints.  In an academic setting, every character should have a share of that unique, weird combination of obsession, introversion, ambition, passion, cynicism and weary disillusionment that is the typical academic personality.

Believe me – I know.

Update: Case in point, just from today.

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