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Today, May 2, we remember St. Athanasius.

But what possible value can there be in even taking three seconds to think about a 4th-century fellow who spent his adult life fighting battles over words and formulations and theories?

Wouldn’t it be better to spend our time thinking about real life and real problems?

Well, sorry but theology matters. It doesn’t matter to us because we are attached to words or formulas. It doesn’t matter to us because we are focused on human intellectual constructs rather than human life. It doesn’t matter because we are afraid to get down into the messiness of human life in favor of the cool, dry safety of walled-in libraries.

Theology matters because it is an attempt to understand and express what is real.   Have you ever taught religion, catechism or theology? If so, then you might understand that a great part of what you were doing in that classroom was helping students dig deeply and understand how the teachings of the Church do not stand opposed to the realities of life, but in fact accurately express How Life Is.  You find this in so many conversion stories: the realization, sudden or gradual, that what has been fought or rejected for so long in fact expresses what is real and true, not just about some transcendent sphere, but about your life. 

From a 2007 General Audience, Benedict XVI

"amy welborn"

…it was not by chance that Gian Lorenzo Bernini placed his statue among those of the four holy Doctors of the Eastern and Western Churches – together with the images of Ambrose, John Chrysostom and Augustine – which surround the Chair of St Peter in the marvellous apse of the Vatican Basilica.

Athanasius was undoubtedly one of the most important and revered early Church Fathers. But this great Saint was above all the impassioned theologian of the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God who – as the Prologue of the fourth Gospel says – “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).

For this very reason Athanasius was also the most important and tenacious adversary of the Arian heresy, which at that time threatened faith in Christ, reduced to a creature “halfway” between God and man, according to a recurring tendency in history which we also see manifested today in various forms.

In all likelihood Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in about the year 300 A.D. He received a good education before becoming a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, the great Egyptian metropolis. As a close collaborator of his Bishop, the young cleric took part with him in the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council, convoked by the Emperor Constantine in May 325 A.D. to ensure Church unity. The Nicene Fathers were thus able to address various issues and primarily the serious problem that had arisen a few years earlier from the preaching of the Alexandrian priest, Arius.

With his theory, Arius threatened authentic faith in Christ, declaring that the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained for ever inaccessible to us. The Bishops gathered in Nicaea responded by developing and establishing the “Symbol of faith” [“Creed”] which, completed later at the First Council of Constantinople, has endured in the traditions of various Christian denominations and in the liturgy as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

In this fundamental text – which expresses the faith of the undivided Church and which we also recite today, every Sunday, in the Eucharistic celebration – the Greek term homooúsios is featured, in Latin consubstantialis: it means that the Son, the Logos, is “of the same substance” as the Father, he is God of God, he is his substance. Thus, the full divinity of the Son, which was denied by the Arians, was brought into the limelight.

In 328 A.D., when Bishop Alexander died, Athanasius succeeded him as Bishop of Alexandria. He showed straightaway that he was determined to reject any compromise with regard to the Arian theories condemned by the Council of Nicaea.

His intransigence – tenacious and, if necessary, at times harsh – against those who opposed his episcopal appointment and especially against adversaries of the Nicene Creed, provoked the implacable hostility of the Arians and philo-Arians.

Despite the unequivocal outcome of the Council, which clearly affirmed that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, these erroneous ideas shortly thereafter once again began to prevail – in this situation even Arius was rehabilitated -, and they were upheld for political reasons by the Emperor Constantine himself and then by his son Constantius II.

Moreover, Constantine was not so much concerned with theological truth but rather with the unity of the Empire and its political problems; he wished to politicize the faith, making it more accessible – in his opinion – to all his subjects throughout the Empire.

Thus, the Arian crisis, believed to have been resolved at Nicaea, persisted for decades with complicated events and painful divisions in the Church. At least five times – during the 30 years between 336 and 366 A.D. – Athanasius was obliged to abandon his city, spending 17 years in exile and suffering for the faith. But during his forced absences from Alexandria, the Bishop was able to sustain and to spread in the West, first at Trier and then in Rome, the Nicene faith as well as the ideals of monasticism, embraced in Egypt by the great hermit, Anthony, with a choice of life to which Athanasius was always close.

St Anthony, with his spiritual strength, was the most important champion of St Athanasius’ faith. Reinstated in his See once and for all, the Bishop of Alexandria was able to devote himself to religious pacification and the reorganization of the Christian communities. He died on 2 May 373, the day when we celebrate his liturgical Memorial.

The most famous doctrinal work of the holy Alexandrian Bishop is his treatise: De Incarnatione, On the Incarnation of the Word,the divine Logos who was made flesh, becoming like one of us for our salvation.

In this work Athanasius says with an affirmation that has rightly become famous that the Word of God “was made man so that we might be made God; and he manifested himself through a body so that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and he endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality” (54, 3). With his Resurrection, in fact, the Lord banished death from us like “straw from the fire” (8, 4).

The fundamental idea of Athanasius’ entire theological battle was precisely that God is accessible. He is not a secondary God, he is the true God and it is through our communion with Christ that we can truly be united to God. He has really become “God-with-us”.

Among the other works of this great Father of the Church – which remain largely associated with the events of the Arian crisis – let us remember the four epistles he addressed to his friend Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, on the divinity of the Holy Spirit which he clearly affirmed, and approximately 30 “Festal” Letters addressed at the beginning of each year to the Churches and monasteries of Egypt to inform them of the date of the Easter celebration, but above all to guarantee the links between the faithful, reinforcing their faith and preparing them for this great Solemnity….

…Yes, brothers and sisters! We have many causes for which to be grateful to St Athanasius. His life, like that of Anthony and of countless other saints, shows us that “those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 42).

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 Athanasius (and others) 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.

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Some pages relevant to next week from books I’ve written:

Link, as usual, does not go to Amazon. The books are available at any online bookseller and, I hope, through your local Catholic bookstore. Please support them!


From my favorite old-school 7th grade catechism, With Mother Church. 

EPSON MFP image

From B16 in 2007:

He was making his way to the heights of the Cross, to the moment of self-giving love. The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being.

Our procession today is meant, then, to be an image of something deeper, to reflect the fact that, together with Jesus, we are setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God. This is the ascent that matters. This is the journey which Jesus invites us to make. But how can we keep pace with this ascent? Isn’t it beyond our ability? Certainly, it is beyond our own possibilities. From the beginning men and women have been filled – and this is as true today as ever – with a desire to “be like God”, to attain the heights of God by their own powers. All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free. Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months.


A few years ago, we were in Mexico City on Palm Sunday. The post I wrote on that is here, but I’ll go ahead and just repost some of it here:

Our primary goal was Mass, which we hit about halfway through at a church I thought had something to do with St. Francis, but which I cannot for the life of me locate on the map right now. We’ll pass it again at some point – I want to go in and look at the décor more carefully, and take phots with my real camera. Some interesting points:

Those of you familiar with Catholicism in Latin countries probably already know this, but it was new to me. And I don’t know if this is standard practice everywhere, but at this parish in Mexico City, it was. In the US, we have our palms  given to us at the beginning of Mass. Regular old strips of palm leaves. We process, have Mass, and that’s it.

It’s different here. Outside of the church are crafters and vendors of artifacts made of palms – the intricately woven standards you might have seen, but even very elaborate figures, such as the crucifixes you see in the photo. People buy those before (and after) Mass, and bring them into church.

Now, we were not there at the beginning, so I don’t know if there was a procession, but it was the end of Mass that intrigued me.

After Mass, everyone who has something – either purchased that day or from home – brings it up to the front for a blessing (It’s like what I’ve seen at the Hispanic community’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Masses in Birmingham – everyone brings up their religious objects, no matter how big, at the end for blessing.)

What was thought-provoking to me was that while, as is normally the case, perhaps ten percent of the congregation received Communion, almost everyone had a sacramental to be blessed and take home. I need to think about it more and work it out, but the dynamic seems to be that Mass is the locus of blessing, the presence of Jesus. From the Mass, we can take the sacred back into the world, into our homes.

Those of us who are frequent Communion-receivers frame that dynamic in terms of the presence of Christ within us in Eucharist – but those who don’t receive the Eucharist frequently still find a way. A powerful way, it seems to me.

One of the reasons I want to go back to this church is to take a closer look and better photos of the medallions of the evangelists in the sanctuary – you can barely see them running across the center above. What was great about them (again, maybe this is a common motif – I’ve just never run across it before) is that each of the evangelists is, as usual, paired with his symbol – ox, eagle, man, lion – but here they are riding them. It’s fantastic.

Photos here, but they are blurry. You might get a sense – I never got back to take better photos. Also below is a photo of something that was being sold all over Puebla during Holy Week: remnants of communion wafers, sold for snacks in bags. Also a Holy Week schedule from the Cathedral in Puebla. 


Don’t forget to do the correct thing this week!

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‘As we begin Lent this week, I’ll be reposting condensed versions of previous entries in which I share thoughts on fasting from spiritual masters, from St. Francis de Sales to Dorothy Day.

All of the previous posts are linked here. What I’ll do this week is share briefer versions. Starting with St. Francis:

The whole, original post is here.

To treat of fasting and of what is required to fast well, we must, at the start, understand that of itself fasting is not a virtue. The good and the bad, as well as Christians and pagans, observe it. The ancient philosophers observed it and recommended it. They were not virtuous for that reason, nor did they practice virtue in fasting. Oh, no, fasting is a virtue only when it is accompanied by conditions which render it pleasing to God. Thus it happens that it profits some and not others, because it is not undertaken by all in the same manner.

The first condition is that we must fast with our whole heart, that is to say, willingly, whole-heartedly, universally and entirely.

This is what the Church wishes to signify during this holy time of Lent, teaching us to make our eyes, our ears and our tongue fast. For this reason she omits all harmonious chants in order to mortify the hearing; she no longer says Alleluia, and clothes herself completely in somber and dark colors. And on this first day she addresses us in these words: Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return [Gen. 3:19], as if she meant to say: “Oh man, quit at this moment all joys and merrymaking, all joyful and pleasant reflections, and fill your memory with bitter, hard and sorrowful thoughts. In this way you will make your mind fast together with your body.”

This is also what the Christians of the primitive Church taught us when, in order to spend Lent in a better way, they deprived themselves at this time of ordinary conversations with their friends, and withdrew into great solitude and places removed from communication with people……

The second condition is never to fast through vanity but always through humility. If our fast is not performed with humility, it will not be pleasing to God…

Follow the community then in all things, said the great St. Augustine. Let the strong and robust eat what is ordered them, keeping the fast and austerities which are marked, and let them be content with that. Let the weak and infirm receive what is offered them for their infirmity, without wishing to do what the robust do. Let neither group amuse themselves in looking to see what this one eats and what that one does not eat, but let each one remain satisfied with what she has and with what is given to her. By this means you will avoid vanity and being particular...

The third condition necessary for fasting well is to look to God and to do everything to please Him..

And as he summarizes:

This is all that I had to tell you regarding fasting and what must be observed in order to fast well. The first thing is that your fast should be entire and universal; that is, that you should make all the members of your body and the powers of your soul fast: keeping your eyes lowered, or at least lower than ordinarily; keeping better silence, or at least keeping it more punctually than is usual; mortifying the hearing and the tongue so that you will no longer hear or speak of anything vain or useless; the understanding, in order to consider only holy and pious subjects; the memory, in filling it with the remembrance of bitter and sorrowful things and avoiding joyous and gracious thoughts; keeping your will in check and your spirit at the foot of the crucifix with some holy and sorrowful thought. If you do that, your fast will be universal, interior and exterior, for you will mortify both your body and your spirit. The second condition is that you do not observe your fast or perform your works for the eyes of others. And the third is that you do all your actions, and consequently your fasting, to please God alone, to whom be honor and glory forever and ever.

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If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are the most pitiable people of all.

I walked to Mass tonight. It’s about 2.5 miles – definitely in walking distance (for me), but not an easy jaunt, since it involves considerable hills coming and going. So this was the first time I’d done it.

It’s not my usual parish, although it might be my actual, geographical parish – I’ve never checked the boundaries. I’ve been to Mass there a bit, though, even though my parish, by membership, is the Cathedral, where I usually attend the Saturday Vigil Mass.

But tonight, I was without a car. In the past when that’s happened, I’d just go to the 7:15 am Mass on Sunday, but the problem with that this weekend is the Mercedes Marathon – a marathon, obviously, the course of which takes over a lot of space and blocks a lot of roads between my house and the Cathedral. In fact, the course runs down a cross street to my own. I’ll start hearing the cheers around 9 am tomorrow, I’d imagine.

All that is to say, I just didn’t want to bother finding a way around all of that at 7 am tomorrow.

(Which I’d have to do because the car will be gone again with the organist soon after that.)

So, walk, it was.

And a perfect day for it. One of my older kids is in Chicago this weekend, seeing a high school friend who’s in the national tour of Hairspray, and the report is…cooooold….Not here. Tomorrow the temperature will dip, but today it was in the 60’s and gorgeous. Perfect for getting back out there and getting in a few miles.

So I walked.

At Mass, the young priest focused on the lines above from the epistle:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.

He took one, perfectly legitimate angle, focusing on the truth of the Resurrection, and then what it means to live that here on earth, moving into the Beatitudes.

My mind went in a different direction, but a totally predictable one, for those who read me.

Once again, I thought of the many ways that we understand our faith, even our faith in Christ, Lord of the Universe, in terms of how it helps me in this life.

It’s that prosperity Gospel, but, not just for money: for all the good feelings and achievements that make us feel at home in the world.

A temptation that’s hard to resist because, after all, who doesn’t want to feel comfortable and at ease?

But then there’s that Gospel, isn’t there?

Blessed are you who are poor….hungry….weeping…people hate you….exclude and insult you….

Blessed. Are. You.

Woe to you who are rich….filled…laugh….all speak well of you…

Woe. To. You.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ….

I walked back and forth to church, five miles total, nurturing the low-grade frustration that’s always there these days – frustration that there’s so much to say, but I can’t figure out how or where to say it.

I thought about the many people I know and read whose faith is shattered right now for various reasons.

I got to church a little late, and left a little early as is my probably unfortunate habit these days. I was surprised because the church was more full than I’d seen it ages. The music was as mediocre as always, but the preaching was good and there were no narcissistic liturgical shenanigans. A crowd of teens sat in the front, I’m thinking at the end of a Confirmation retreat. A man in the back pew smiled and graciously made room for my latecoming self. A mentally disabled man limped past me after Communion. The deacon brought the Eucharist to an elderly woman in a wheelchair, and the mother in front of me pointed to the words of the Creed in her little boy’s Magnifikid.

It is not easy to be a person, to be a human, to be a Catholic. I don’t think it ever has been, and the institution and the people help sometimes and hurt quite a bit.

I don’t know what to make of it all, and have not yet figured out how to say what I do make of it, but I think I do know that nothing begins until you open the door, take that uphill walk, find your place with the rest of the broken, no matter when you arrive, and try to listen.

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As I said before, saints’ days, most holy days and special topics (movies, books, gender, TC, synod) are and will be collected elsewhere. These posts are taking it month-by-month. More links at the end of the post.

Lacking in one thing (10/9)

I’d much prefer, if trying to figure out how to make the Church a more powerful witness to the Gospel in the world today, to begin there – the Gospel and then the richness of two thousand years of experience and wisdom (and mistakes) – than just constantly being pointed to some ambiguous “new” thing that the “Spirit” is going to guide me towards.

Because you know what? All that talk, reducing authority to the person of the guy holding the microphone at the moment, all that ignore the past, trust the Spirit talk comes across to me as trust us more than anything else. Which in turn sounds like a call, not so much to clarity, but to rationalization.

The Kids Need Saints (10/25)

The Kids Need Saints because when they are immersed in the lives of these women, men and children, they see something unique, something that they find in no other institution, culture or subculture in human history. Yes, all cultures honor other human beings, they erect statues, some even have their miracle-workers. They have their wise men and founders, they have their holy fools and mystics.

But in what other human context are rulers and managers and the wealthy – the valedictorians, the Merit Scholars, the All-Stars and the Ivy-League bound – reminded, no exceptions, that their fulfillment – the actual, real fulfillment of their very real lives – might just be rooted in honoring, emulating and humbly seeking the prayers….. of a beggar?

It is Fully Merry in Heaven! On Margery Kempe – (10/25)

Reflections on the book Going to Church in Medieval England

Pax Christi. Sometimes.

The Sunday Loaf

The Sabbath Christ

All Stand

What interests me here, though is something just a touch different. Basically, the regulation of the laity’s liturgical responses – or lack thereof.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? That since the focus and, frankly, burden of action was on clerical shoulders – that frequently-derided sense of a “drama” happening on the altar to which the laity were “merely” spectators – the laity’s behavior, beyond normal respect and decorum, really didn’t matter much.

Which leads me, before I offer you a quote from Orme’s book, to reflect on the direction of post-Conciliar liturgical reform, which has been offered in the name of getting us all involved and helping us understand and experience the liturgy as the “work of the people” (a worthy goal, the goal of the entire 20th century Liturgical Movement) – but have ended up, it seems to me, to be quite often more about Liturgical Police barking orders at congregations about their behavior or endlessly discussing – in print, online or at their (I repeat myself) endless meetings – what the congregation “should be doing.”

Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, October 2021

Where, when, how and why

Octobe15: Travel day, Salt Lake City

October 16: Capitol Reef National Park

October 17: Leprechaun Canyon, Blarney Canyon, Goblin Valley State Park, Moab

October 18: Devil’s Garden Trail hike, Arches National Park. Islands in the Sky overlooks, Canyonlands National Park

October 19: Fiery Furnace hike, Arches National Park, travel to Needles section of Canyonlands

October 20: Chelser Park Overlook hike, Canyonlands, Delicate Arch trail hike, Arches

More photos and videos at Instagram, both in posts and in “highlights.”



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

2021 Highlights: October

2021 Highlights: November

2021 Highlights: December

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As I said before, saints’ days, most holy days and special topics (movies, books, gender, TC, synod) are and will be collected elsewhere. These posts are taking it month-by-month. More links at the end of the post.

No Greater Commandment (6/3)

But most of the rest of it is a manifestation of us privileged Westerners justifying career goals, personal aspirations, vanity and lifestyle, wearing it like the inspirational t-shirt we picked up on Etsy and comfortably leaning on it like our favorite inspirational pillow.

There’s not a thing wrong with seeking to flourish…thrive…follow your dreams….be your best self. But it’s not the Gospel, and it’s the Gospel of sacrificial love that we’re invited to put at the center of our lives every day, even as every day, we’re also tempted to replace it with something else.

Salt, Light, etc. (6/8)

It’s a tricky line to walk, as I’ve written before, countless times. We do have unique gifts that we’re called to use. It’s the purpose of those gifts – to turn over to the Lord’s will. But the temptation to put ourselves – without discerning our own temptations – at the center, rather than Christ, is a temptation as old as James and John’s request to sit at Jesus’ right hand right after he’d predicted his Passion.

Good. Now do clerics. (6/11)

Then throw 21st century social media, a decades-long focus on personality as the core appeal of the globe-trotting papacy, the temptation to power-trip, messiah complexes and the assumption that evangelization=establishing a personal connection with a really cool person, and oy….

Give me Flannery’s ideal, instead, any day:

An Ode (6/14)

An aspirational, achievement-oriented culture seeds anxiety as pervasive as the mushrooms in my yard this morning. Especially among the young. In addition, more pertinent to this writer’s point, are the heightened expectations of the Awesome Excitement and Fulfillment we’re all due – because that’s what we see everyone else experiencing, right? And isn’t our God an Awesome God? And if He’s around, and we’re right with him, shouldn’t we always feel Awesome, too?

A church that doesn’t fight this, a church that, in its institutions and official and unofficial spokespeople, feeds this is not truly counter-cultural.

Counter-cultural is remembering the lilies of the field, the whispers to Elijah, a teen girl’s fiat in a backwater village, a priest’s angelic encounter in the midst of his dull routine duties, a traveling evangelist mending tents. Counter-cultural is reminding ourselves of our creaturehood and that we only see through a glass darkly right now, and God is not about emotion but about trust that yes, He lives, in this moment, here, no matter how ordinary and even no matter how sad. Counter-cultural is encouraging, above all, the holiness borne of living in that actuality, wiping newborn bottoms and holding aged, frail, cool hands, pushing a wheelchair, sweeping a floor, listening when you’d rather not and, as Parker says, forgiving the idiots, even yourself.

Seeds (6/14)

Apertif…soutane…genuflect? (6/18)

Here I am, a 60-year old woman, writing a few things, tending to the people in her life in 2021, contemplating words noted down from a dead Palestinian scholar from a book written by a Canadian around the time I was born about the Writing Life in Paris circa 1929, around the time my mother was born. In Canada.

Almost a hundred years.

I don’t know what the connection means. I can’t explain, can’t think of a cozy, succinct circle to draw. All I know is that I like it.

I like the actual piece of paper and the photograph printed on paper surprising me, fluttering to the ground from the book made of paper that I bought in a garage in a real house from real people – the daughters, maybe, or granddaughters of the man in the picture – a mile or so from my real house – that somehow connects me to those people, and then to Palestine, to Paris, to Toronto, to all kinds of people, real people, trying to make sense of life, and caring enough about it all to leave their questions, if not their answers, behind for me to find.

ineffable…profligate….

genuflect (?)

Keep Listening (6/23)

Abram’s home was in a land of idols. Of anxious worship directed at man-made objects of stone and wood, at the forces of nature, the points of light in the sky.

And in the midst of this time and place in which no sane person would have done anything else but shape his life according to these objects and forces, God spoke to Abram.

To yearn for a culture more sympathetic to our sense of truth and reality is reasonable, and to work to shape it is as well, and perhaps even necessary.

But just as we let life pass us by if we are constantly waiting for the perfect moment to act or we declare that we are just living for the weekend to come or for the kids to move out or for retirement – we’re closing our hearts to God’s usually startling invitation right now – if we convince ourselves that God’s reach is constrained by the world’s weakness, sin and misdirection.

Or even our own, right?

The Fatal Contrast (6/18)

Hardly any of us, no matter how many solid individual bishops we know of, have much faith in the American bishops as a group. I’m just here to point out that this is nothing new. And the emancipation of enslaved peoples is a good way to understand that.

Just pick up any objective (aka, non-triumphalist) history of the Church in the United States and you will read that the leadership of the American Church (along with most Catholics south and north) stood in opposition to abolition of slavery and anything but gradual – very gradual – emancipation. I’m not going to rehash all that history here. It’s easily available. Last month, I highlighted this good, brief article in The Catholic Thing on the subject.



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

2021 Highlights: October

2021 Highlights: November

2021 Highlights: December

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The Scriptures and prayers we hear and say during the season of Advent are not, of course, just cobbled together. It’s not a random mix of Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist and, late in the game, some Mary.

In the days of the older lectionary, there was not a three-year cycle, but one. People argue about the relative merits of each, but the ancient way, it seems to me, benefits from simplicity, clarity and focus. Yes, the three-year cycle exposes us to a broader range of Scripture, but loses some of that grounding and paradoxically, can lose some richness.

(At the bottom of this post are some scans of an older Mass book I have, for comparison. More details below)

Anyway, one of the few older Catholic websites that’s still a) operating and b) useful and c) not filled with dead links is Fr. Felix Just SJ’s lectionary site. It’s very old-school in presentation, and very easy to navigate as a result. Here’s his Advent page, which is a concise source of information, including his summary of the themes of each of the Sundays of Advent.

  • First Sunday of Advent – The readings look forward to the “End Times” and the coming of the “Day of the Lord” or the “Messianic Age”; the Gospel is an excerpt from the Apocalyptic Discourse of Jesus in one of the Synoptic Gospels.
  • Second Sunday of Advent – The Gospel readings focus on the preaching and ministry of John the Baptist as the precursor or forerunner of Jesus, the one who came to “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” by calling the people to turn back to God.
  • Third Sunday of Advent – The Gospel readings continue to focus on John the Baptist, who talks about the one who is to come after him, while the first and second readings convey the joy that Christians feel at the world’s salvation through the incarnation of thje Savior.
  • Fourth Sunday of Advent – The Gospels tell of the events that preceded and prepared for the birth of Jesus, including the dreams of Joseph (Year A), the Annunciation (Year B), and the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Year C).

More from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, including part of the table of contents. I keep bringing this to your attention because I think it’s so important to teach children to read Scriptures with the heart of the Church, and, conversely, to experience the liturgical year through the Scriptures. That’s how the book is organized.

First page of the entry
Last page

You can get a good preview of the book here.

(And Signs and Symbols at the same site, here)

Below are scans of some pages from Parish Mass Book and Hymnal, which was a missal for the new Mass, celebrated beginning the first Sunday of Advent, 1965. However, the revised lectionary was not promulgated until 1969, so the Scripture readings are traditional. As I said, I have a copy, and it’s a nice, compact little volume, but you can peruse the whole thing via archive.org here.

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As we all know, Advent begins next Sunday, November 28/ Below are some of the Advent resources I’ve written over the years.

First, remember that my Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories is organized according to the liturgical year. The stories retold for Advent include “Prophets Say That a Messiah is Coming,” “Prophets Describe the Messiah,” “Zechariah Meets the Angel Gabriel” and so on.

The first reading on the First Sunday of Advent refers to the “just shoot” God will raise from the House of David.  In The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols, I cover the Jesse Tree – the traditional artistic rendering of this concept.

Note how it’s organized – and this the organization of the entire book. On the left side for every entry is a short, simple explanation for younger children. On the right is a more in-depth entry for older students.

Moving on…

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(BTW – I don’t make any $$ from the sales of these booklets. The way it works is that these kinds of materials are, for the most part, written as works-for-hire. You write it, you get paid a flat fee, and that’s it. No subsequent royalties. I just …think what I’ve written is not terrible and hope my words might be helpful to someone out there…so I continue to spread the word!)

First, is the family devotional I wrote for Creative Communications for the Parish.

The entries are not dated – they are “First Sunday of Advent” – “Monday, first week of Advent” – and so on, so it is still useable.

There’s a digital version available here.  So if you’d like it for your own use in that format – go for it! 

Wonders Of His Love
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More samples – pdf 

Several years ago, I wrote another Advent family devotional. It’s no longer available in a print version, but the digital version can still be had here.  Only .99!

In 2016, Liguori published daily devotions I wrote for both Lent and Easter. They publish new booklets by different authors every year, but mine are still available, both through Liguori and Amazon.

Liguori – English

(pdf sample)

Liguori  – Spanish

(pdf sample)

A daily Advent meditation book I pulled together from reflections my late husband had posted on his blog:

Unfortunately, the booklet I wrote on St. Nicholas for Creative Communications is now officially out of print. You can still access the pdf of the sample – about half of the text – here. If you’re interested. 

Nicholas-Of-Myra

For more about St. Nicholas, visit the invaluable St. Nicholas Center.

Years ago, I wrote a few pamphlets for OSV, among them these two:

How to Celebrate Advent. Also available in Spanish. 

PDF review copy of English version here.

PDF review copy of Spanish version here. 

How to Celebrate Christmas as a Catholic. 

PDF available for review here. 

PDF of the Spanish version available for review here.

And then….Bambinelli Sunday!

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As the calendar year draws to a close and Advent begins, it seems a proper moment for stock-taking and pondering. What do all of these disruptions, changes and challenges we’re constantly experiencing mean? What is this new world and how do we live in it?

Well, when you take time to sit with the Scriptures of Advent, you might be struck, most of all by the old news, once again, that all this supposedly unprecedented disruption, change and challenge is not new at all.

For most of human history, most people, even the wealthy, have lived on the edge of earthly existence, with very little sense of control. Life was precarious. High maternal mortality, high childhood mortality, high mortality, period. Populations subject to the vagaries of climate and natural disaster, without benefit of satellite or radar to know what’s coming. Famine, floods and pestilence always on the horizon of possibility, which meant, not that you’d have to put off a trip to the store and consider a week or month-long disruption of the supply chain, but that you, your children and maybe your whole village would  starve.  Brutal rulers, punishments and restrictions, pogroms and genocide.

And you don’t even have to reach back to the Middle Ages to find it.

In such a context, it is not difficult to remember that you yourself are not God, or even a god, that you don’t create your own destiny. With that understanding, it’s not so much of a challenge to live in the knowledge that any joy or contentment you can grab from life on earth will not – and cannot – be tied to material prosperity and peak physical health, for neither of those things will probably ever come to you at all.

For most of human history, it hasn’t been the full, satisfied college degree holder looking to scratch a vague itch of existential despair who’s been hearing the Good News. It’s been the peasant nursing constantly aching teeth, squinting to see through weakened eyes, middle-aged at thirty, working hard from dawn to dusk, remember dead children, hearing rumors of war, studying the skies, waiting and praying for rain, subject to the whims of human authorities.

If they could see us, reeling from our present-day troubles, they might well ask us, “Well…what did you expect?”

Consider one of the traditional Advent Scriptures: Isaiah 63-64. It’s an astonishing outcry of a people in exile, a wild mix of all that every person feels in time of loss and crisis: What did we do to do deserve this? Why are we suffering so? Have we done wrong? Are we suffering consequences of that wrong? God is so harsh with us! God seems to be silent, hidden and absent? But….you know what? He’s our Father. We trust him. He’s like a potter, we’re clay. Go ahead, Shape us.

The voices come to us from 2700 years ago – 2700 years – questioning, railing and ultimately trusting – and it’s as if they could be speaking today

Well, they are.

Same human race, same struggle, same veil we yearn to lift, same ache in our hearts for peace, wholeness, life and love.

Same cry for a savior.


I’ve attached this poem to another Advent post in the past, but it seemed fitting here. Written at the end of World War II, the poet says of it:

This poem, ‘Expectans Expectavi’, which is the title of a psalm, “I waited patiently for the Lord”, is about waiting, written at the end of the last war when the whole world, really, seemed to be holding its breath for the return of ordinary life, and all the soldiers from overseas, and I thought of it in the wintertime, at Christmas, with the carols and the children’s faces, recalling the refugees of the time. The poem happened to be chosen to be posted up on the underground, so although I never saw it myself, several of my friends have been surprised by it in the middle of a crowd of people standing up in the tube train.

Expectans Expectavi

The candid freezing season again:
Candle and cracker, needles of fir and frost;
Carols that through the night air pass, piercing
The glassy husk of heart and heaven;
Children’s faces white in the pane, bright in the tree-light.

And the waiting season again,
That begs a crust and suffers joy vicariously:
In bodily starvation now, in the spirit’s exile always.
O might the hilarious reign of love begin, let in
Like carols from the cold
The lost who crowd the pane, numb outcasts into welcome.

Advent is a reset, yes, but if we listen carefully to God’s Word and the lives of others beyond our own bubble of time and space, it can be a reset that anchors us more deeply in communion with the reality of the ebb, flow and crashing and burning of human experience, an experience that our privileged houses of sand manage to hide from us – those houses of sand Jesus warned us about for just that reason: they trick us, the rich man of the Gospel, into thinking we don’t need God.

That we don’t need a savior.

And so we listen to the Scriptures proclaimed at Mass and in the Church’s prayer, we listen to the saints whose words are given to us during this season, and we’re reminded that none of this is about hoping and dreaming that someday life will get “back to normal” or that this particular type of suffering and difficulty will end and then peace on earth will reign right now, in its fullness.

It’s about acknowledging the mess – the mess that’s now and the mess that came before the present mess – and lifting up that mess to God, trusting that he will take it and somehow make good come out of it, a type of rescue, if you will. It doesn’t diminish a bit of our current suffering. It simply situates it and puts us into communion with others who have suffered – which is everyone.

And then, as the weeks of Advent pass, we listen to the cries and questions asked and answered over centuries past in the context of Word, prayer, song and art – it becomes clearer and clearer: Yesterday and today, the human family speaks from the same broken, suffering heart – and yes, He hears us. And look right here in the mess, just look: here he is.

Others have found him. Keep looking. So can you.

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Expectation or waiting is a dimension that flows through our whole personal, family and social existence. Expectation is present in thousands of situations, from the smallest and most banal to the most important that involve us completely and in our depths. Among these, let us think of waiting for a child, on the part of a husband and wife; of waiting for a relative or friend who is coming from far away to visit us; let us think, for a young person, of waiting to know his results in a crucially important examination or of the outcome of a job interview; in emotional relationships, of waiting to meet the beloved, of waiting for the answer to a letter, or for the acceptance of forgiveness…. One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself: our moral and spiritual “stature” can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.           -B16, 2010

Repost from previous years, but Newman is always worth revisiting. 

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There is no lack of resources for keeping ourselves spiritually grounded during this season, even if we are having to battle all sorts of distractions, ranging from early-onset-Christmas settling in all around us to  the temptation to obsessively follow the news, which seems to never stop, never leave us alone.

Begin with the Church. Begin and end with the Church, if you like. Starting and ending your day with what Catholics around the world are praying during this season: the Scripture readings from Mass, and whatever aspects of daily prayer you can manage – that’s the best place to begin and is sufficient.

I found this wonderful, even moving homily from Newman, centered on worship as preparation for the Advent of God. The spiritual and concrete landscape that is his setting is particular to England in the early winter and might not resonate with those of us living, say, in the Sun Belt or in Australia, but nonetheless, perhaps the end-of-the-year weariness he describes might seem familiar, even if the dreary weather does not.

Especially in this seemingly endless period of disruption, disappointment, adjustment and challenges – it will ring true.

I’ll quote from it copiously here, but it deserves a slow, meditative read. 

I’ve broken up the paragraphs differently than the original, just to avoid a massive wall o’ text.

YEAR after year, as it passes, brings us the same warnings again and again, and none perhaps more impressive than those with which it comes to us at this season.

The very frost and cold, rain and gloom, which now befall us, forebode the last dreary days of the world, and in religious hearts raise the thought of them. The year is worn out: spring, summer, autumn, each in turn, have brought their gifts and done their utmost; but they are over, and the end is come. All is past and gone, all has failed, all has sated; we are tired of the past; we would not have the seasons longer; and the austere weather which succeeds, though ungrateful to the body, is in tone with our feelings, and acceptable. Such is the frame of mind which befits the end of the year; and such the frame of mind which comes alike on good and bad at the end of life.

The days have come in which they have no pleasure; yet they would hardly be young again, could they be so by wishing it. Life is well enough in its way; but it does not satisfy. Thus the soul is cast forward upon the future, and in proportion as its conscience is clear and its perception keen and true, does it rejoice solemnly that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand,” that there are “new heavens and a new earth” to come, though the former are failing; nay, rather that, because they are failing, it will “soon see the King in His beauty,” and “behold the land which is very far off.” These are feelings for holy men in winter and in age, waiting, in some dejection perhaps, but with comfort on the whole, and calmly though earnestly, for the Advent of Christ.

And such, too, are the feelings with which we now come before Him in prayer day by day. The season is chill and dark, and the breath of the morning is damp, and worshippers are few, but all this befits those who are by profession penitents and mourners, watchers and pilgrims. More dear to them that loneliness, more cheerful that severity, and more bright that gloom, than all those aids and appliances of luxury by which men nowadays attempt to make prayer less disagreeable to them. True faith does not covet comforts. It only complains when it is forbidden to kneel, when it reclines upon cushions, is protected by curtains, and encompassed by warmth. Its only hardship is to be hindered, or to be ridiculed, when it would place itself as a sinner before its Judge. They who realize that awful Day when they shall see Him face to face, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, will as little bargain to pray pleasantly now, as they will think of doing so then….

….Men sometimes ask, Why need they profess religion? Why need they go to church? Why need they observe certain rites and ceremonies? Why need they watch, pray, fast, and meditate? Why is it not enough to be just, honest, sober, benevolent, and otherwise virtuous? Is not this the true and real worship of God? Is not activity in mind and conduct the most acceptable way of approaching Him? How can they please Him by submitting to certain religious forms, and taking part in certain religious acts? Or if they must do so, why may they not choose their own?

Why must they come to church for them? Why must they be partakers in what the Church calls Sacraments? I answer, they must do so, first of all and especially, because God tells them so to do. But besides this, I observe that we see this plain reason why, that they are one day to change their state of being. They are not to be here for ever. Direct intercourse with God on their part now, prayer and the like, may be necessary to their meeting Him suitably hereafter: and direct intercourse on His part with them, or what we call sacramental communion, may be necessary in some incomprehensible way, even for preparing their very nature to bear the sight of Him.

Let us then take this view of religious service; it is “going out to meet the Bridegroom,” who, if not seen “in His beauty,” will appear in consuming fire. Besides its other momentous reasons, it is a preparation for an awful event, which shall one day be. What it would be to meet Christ at once without preparation, we may learn from what happened even to the Apostles when His glory was suddenly manifested to them. St. Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And St. John, “when he saw Him, fell at His feet as dead.” [Luke v. 8. Rev. i. 17.]….

…. It is my desire and hope one day to take possession of my inheritance: and I come to make myself ready for it, and I would not see heaven yet, for I could not bear to see it. I am allowed to be in it without seeing it, that I may learn to see it. And by psalm and sacred song, by confession and by praise, I learn my part.

And what is true of the ordinary services of religion, public and private, holds in a still higher or rather in a special way, as regards the sacramental ordinances of the Church. In these is manifested in greater or less degree, according to the measure of each, that Incarnate Saviour, who is one day to be our Judge, and who is enabling us to bear His presence then, by imparting it to us in measure now.

A thick black veil is spread between this world and the next. We mortal men range up and down it, to and fro, and see nothing. There is no access through it into the next world. In the Gospel this veil is not removed; it remains, but every now and then marvellous disclosures are made to us of what is behind it. At times we seem to catch a glimpse of a Form which we shall hereafter see face to face. We approach, and in spite of the darkness, our hands, or our head, or our brow, or our lips become, as it were, sensible of the contact of something more than earthly. We know not where we are, but we have been bathing in water, and a voice tells us that it is blood. Or we have a mark signed upon our foreheads, and it spake of Calvary. Or we recollect a hand laid upon our heads, and surely it had the print of nails in it, and resembled His who with a touch gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Or we have been eating and drinking; and it was not a dream surely, that One fed us from His wounded side, and renewed our nature by the heavenly meat He gave. Thus in many ways He, who is Judge to us, prepares us to be judged,—He, who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified, that He may not take us unawares; but that when the voice of the Archangel sounds, and we are called to meet the Bridegroom, we may be ready….

…And what I have said concerning Ordinances, applies still more fully to Holy Seasons, which include in them the celebration of many Ordinances. They are times when we may humbly expect a larger grace, because they invite us especially to the means of grace. This in particular is a time for purification of every kind. When Almighty God was to descend upon Mount Sinai, Moses was told to “sanctify the people,” and bid them “wash their clothes,” and to “set bounds to them round about:” much more is this a season for “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God;” [Exod. xix. 10-12. 2 Cor. xii. 1.] a season for chastened hearts and religious eyes; for severe thoughts, and austere resolves, and charitable deeds; a season for remembering what we are and what we shall be. Let us go out to meet Him with contrite and expectant hearts; and though He delays His coming, let us watch for Him in the cold and dreariness which must one day have an end. Attend His summons we must, at any rate, when He strips us of the body; let us anticipate, by a voluntary act, what will one day come on us of necessity. Let us wait for Him solemnly, fearfully, hopefully, patiently, obediently; let us be resigned to His will, while active in good works. Let us pray Him ever, to “remember us when He cometh in His kingdom;” to remember all our friends; to remember our enemies; and to visit us according to His mercy here, that He may reward us according to His righteousness hereafter.


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