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…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. 

More:

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:

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!

Source

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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What inspires you?

Here’s what inspired me on Thursday.

Mass, of course. Not only the Mass itself and all of its components, and the encounter with the Lord, but also having this encounter with others, past and present, in a simple, beautiful structure built by human hands, standing in this place for centuries now. A testimony, as was the presence of the couple of dozen folks there in that early morning hour, bringing whatever they have – burdens, joys – to the same Lord, not knowing how any of it will turn out, but trusting nonetheless, in the presence of the saints.

Considering creativity at Ghost Ranch, learning about Georgia O’Keefe. Hearing about a complicated woman living a complicated life, but also knowing herself and her own mind, and living it out. The tour I took was the “landscape tour” – on a bus (you can also do hiking and horseback tours – I was into efficiency yesterday) – on which the docent narrates O’Keefe’s life, especially in New Mexico, and compares images of her paintings to the landscape subjects.

To consider how she saw, how she worked, her focus, her self-understanding of what she needed to do and how she needed to live in order to share what she saw. Challenging and yes, inspiring.

The hike to Chimney Rock. There are several hikes originating at Ghost Ranch, and this is one of the most popular. It’s not a difficult hike, but the challenges are twofold: some scrambling up to the mesa near the end, and then the fact that it’s unshaded, except for some scrabbly junipers along the way. Maybe this was not the best choice for an August afternoon when the temperature, according to my car when I got back, was 93? (It hadn’t been that hot all week, so I hadn’t even considered that in my trail decision.

Other than that, it was a good hike, with spectacular views at the end. I had paused about halfway through at a point when I was high enough to get a good view of Ghost Ranch and the surrounding landscape from above as well as a picturesque view of Chimney Rock, and I thought…that’s good enough….right?

(Because it was hot.)

But then I heard the voice of my youngest, with whom I’ve walked and hiked countless trails, including at at least one on which I thought I just. Might. Die. He’s far away now, living life, but just as with every other of my kids, his personality and his interests enriched mine, and I doubt I would have even been on that trail if it weren’t for him. You’re not gonna stop now, are you? Keep going. It will be worth it.

It was.

Some of the voices that live in our head can be destructive, limiting, and should be exorcised. But others – so many, voices of those we’ve known well or who lived far in the past – where would we be without them? How impoverished our lives would be if, however unexpected, they had never snuck, barged or strolled into our lives, even for a moment.

A tiny cafe with a beautiful, perfect, green chili stew. To sit in a place so lovingly, carefully created to be a unique spot in this small town, the design and the food intentionally and purposefully crafted with care and vision?

And it’s not just this boho-hipster spot in the desert. It’s every person who’s taken a spot on the land, a spot in time, and made something of it, not knowing what will become of it, just knowing that this is the time and place to do this thing that’s rumbling inside, wants to get out, and might just add something that the world could use right now. Another inspiring nudge.

Georgia O’Keefe lived and worked at Ghost Ranch, but eventually she purchased a home and created a studio in Abiquiu proper. Tours must be booked far ahead of time (they’re booking October now), so that was impossible, but I drove by the gate anyway, then continued up the curve of the road to the Penitente Morada – the structure that the Penitente brotherhood uses for meetings and ceremonies. You may associate Penitente with re-enacting the Crucifixion, and I don’t know if they do that in this part of the world, but what they do engage in are charitable acts – they are, it seems, essentially confraternities.

There’s a couple of small museums at Ghost Ranch, one of which features a display of santos by a local artist named Max Roybal, who was a member of the brotherhood. If you click on the photo below, you can read more of an explanation.

How striking. O’Keefe, whose unique way of seeing expresses a sort of spiritual vision and who, while not tempted to convert at all, was a visitor to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert – lived and worked just a few yards from the simple structure where men gathered, seeking to deepen their own spiritual vision and the living of it.

The juxtaposition, the differences, but trying to work out the commonality, living and breathing out here in light of the same mountains, under the same heavens. It will never stop being fascinating – and yes, inspiring – to me.

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Welcome, Big Pulpit readers. Here’s a new (8/6) post on these issues.

Well, we don’t, for some reason, have Camille Paglia to eviscerate this stupid moment in time, but American-born, now UK-residing novelist Lionel Shriver (who is female, btw – here’s a brief review of one of her novels), is able to fill some of the gap here. In the UK Spectator, she writes on the Tavistock decision, but runs gender ideology through the gauntlet in a general way. It’s:

Anti-reality. Astonishingly, fanatical activists have brainwashed many otherwise, you would think, intelligent people into reciting like zombies: ‘Trans women are women.’ I can’t be the only one who reflexively translates when reading ‘trans women’: ‘Oh, right. “Men”, then.’ Thus our activist motto decodes: ‘Men are women.’ We might as well recite ‘Lamps are carrots’ or ‘Knitting needles are tractors’…

Anti-nature. Screen junkies forget this, but we live in bodies. They are not our invention. They’re not toys, like Barbie and Ken. They’re not infinitely malleable, mere canvases for our fantasies. It can’t be a coincidence that so many young people are suddenly determined to change their perceived sex during the digital era. But our bodies aren’t video-game avatars and cannot be rearranged at will with a pull-down menu. In elevating the subjective experience of self above the physical reality of us breathing, rutting bipeds, trans activists express an utter alienation from nature, to which the same younger generations claim to be so attached.

Anti-science. The notion that some people are ‘born in the wrong body’ belongs right up there with belief in phrenology (the Victorians), ‘wandering wombs’ (ancient Greece) or the vital medical balancing of ‘the four humours’, blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile (Hippocrates). We’ve come a long way, you say? Maybe not. Having embraced wrong-body folklore, ideologues are pumping children full of puberty blockers with no clue about the long-term consequences of this experimental off-label medication for their patients. No one really knows the results of cross-sex hormones over a lifetime delivered at scale. The drugs are distributed like Smarties anyway.

According to the above conceit, I was born in the wrong body. I am 5ft 2in. But inside? I feel tall. My soul is tall. I experience myself as 6ft 5in. And because a terrible mistake was made when I was born and ‘assigned’ as this short person, I’m going to force everyone to look me in the eyes by staring 15 inches over my head.

We’re not nearly as sophisticated as we imagine. We’re as prey to nonsensical manias, untruths and superstitions as we were in the 1600s. You’ve got to wonder, too, what’s wrong with a culture obsessed with pretending to switch sexes when hardly short of genuine problems. We’re fiddling with our genitals while Rome burns. And the trans fetish is doing untold, often permanent damage to children who deserve the protection of proper grown-ups.

Looking at her next-to-the-last paragraph, that’s a notion I’ve taken up here as well as, more recently, here, in a reflection on an article on a female artist’s self-portrait of her aging self:

My spirit looks nothing like my body…

Well, proclaims the modern age, fix it up! Become the self you know you are inside! Lift, tuck, go to the dermatologist and the surgeon, get a makeup and hair consult, and let me tell you about the best filters!

Or…just accept? Accept not only the reality of who we are and our physical state, but accept the dissonance we live with in these bodies, on this earth, in this life.

Sorry, it’s not going to “match.” Ever. It’s just going to be. That’s the curse, that’s the gift.

More from me on this issue

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Lots of places had Corpus Christi processions this past weekend.

So back in Alabama – my parish of the Cathedral of St. Paul. These are wonderful photos – go check them out!

Then down in Mobile:

And then in Oxford, England – where we continued our tradition of seeing a Corpus Christi procession in a another country (well, if by “tradition” you mean “we were in Seville for Corpus Christi in 2019”).

We didn’t process – but I knew that it began at 2, and would be passing by the Ashmoleon Museum while we were there. So we popped out and there they were:

(Remember that with a gallery in these posts – you can click on the individual photos and you’ll get a larger version)

Here’s what I particularly liked:

They were handing out cards to those on the street (and there were a lot – this was one of Oxford’s main streets on a busy Sunday afternoon) – cards which explained what this was all about, with contact information.

As Pope Benedict said on nearly every occasion of a Corpus Christi procession during his papacy – this is a moment in which we do what we are called to do all the time – take Christ out into the world that needs Him so badly. Taking that one, very small step further – of actively inviting and engaging the curiosity and interest witnessing the procession might inspire – is, yes, brilliant.

We’re hearing about the “need” for a Eucharistic Revival which, in the United States, is animating much of the energy for the Corpus Christi processions and 40 Hours devotions this year. The “need,” though, is often articulated in terms of Catholic identity and not much more. Well, there is much more – and it’s what this card expresses. The “need” for the Eucharistic revival is, at its simplest, the need of every person in the world for Christ.

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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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