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Archive for the ‘Birmingham’ Category

—1 —

I was in Living Faith last Sunday. Go here to read it. Next time won’t be until March, I believe. 

— 2 —

This coming Sunday: Sexagesima Sunday. What’s that?

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MORE on Lent, etc. 

Ashwednesday

— 3 —

Saints! Today! February 14!

First, Sts. Cyril and Methodius.

B16, from 2009:

Wishing now to sum up concisely the profile of the two Brothers, we should first recall the enthusiasm with which Cyril approached the writings of St Gregory of Nazianzus, learning from him the value of language in the transmission of the Revelation. St Gregory had expressed the wish that Christ would speak through him: “I am a servant of the Word, so I put myself at the service of the Word”. Desirous of imitating Gregory in this service, Cyril asked Christ to deign to speak in Slavonic through him. He introduced his work of translation with the solemn invocation: “Listen, O all of you Slav Peoples, listen to the word that comes from God, the word that nourishes souls, the word that leads to the knowledge of God”. In fact, a few years before the Prince of Moravia had asked the Emperor Michael III to send missionaries to his country, it seems that Cyril and his brother Methodius, surrounded by a group of disciples, were already working on the project of collecting the Christian dogmas in books written in Slavonic. The need for new graphic characters closer to the language spoken was therefore clearly apparent: so it was that the Glagolitic alphabet came into being. Subsequently modified, it was later designated by the name “Cyrillic”, in honour of the man who inspired it. It was a crucial event for the development of the Slav civilization in general. Cyril and Methodius were convinced that the individual peoples could not claim to have received the Revelation fully unless they had heard it in their own language and read it in the characters proper to their own alphabet.

….Cyril and Methodius are in fact a classic example of what today is meant by the term “inculturation”: every people must integrate the message revealed into its own culture and express its saving truth in its own language. This implies a very demanding effort of “translation” because it requires the identification of the appropriate words to present anew, without distortion, the riches of the revealed word. The two holy Brothers have left us a most important testimony of this, to which the Church also looks today in order to draw from it inspiration and guidelines.

They are  in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints: 

 

— 4 —

Now, to St. Valentine.

Chad C. Pecknold is a theology professor at the Catholic University of America – some of you might have heard about the Twitter seminar he ran on St. Augustine’s City of God a couple of years ago and right now, he’s leading a Twitter Seminar on the Confessions. 

A couple of years ago, he wrote a very good (public) Facebook post on St. Valentine, in which he takes on the modern assumptions that, oh of course the guy didn’t exist….mythology, legends….let’s take him off the calendar and make funny memes! Worth a read:

 Recently I read a skeptic claiming that medieval monks invented St. Valentine’s Day, which is a pretty common alternative to the fact that Pope Gelasius set his feast day on February 14th in Anno Domini 496. So little is known about him that even the Church, following the dubious claim of a book published in 1966 that the saint never existed, removed him from the liturgical calendar in 1969. It is an odd fact that his feast is celebrated (in a deracinated way) by the world but not the Church. Since a basilica was built over his tomb just 75 years after his death by Pope Julius, and relics from his body spread throughout the Roman empire, the evidence of his existence seems manifest to me.

MORE

— 5 –

Last week I read the novel The Gifted School– about the opening of a public magnet “gifted” school (duh) has on the Colorado community in which it’s to be located, and specifically on a few families determined to get their kids in.

It’s long, but I knocked it off in about 24 hours. It wasn’t that good. I was expecting more Big Little Lies and a lot more satire and humor. The book played it straight and melodramatic, for the most part, with not nearly the bite the whole situation deserves.

— 6 —

I’ve mentioned a few newsletters to which I subscribe:

Prufrock News – always at least one worthy link to follow up on. 

These Seven Days

and The Convivial Society – which focuses on matters of the Internet and Social Media. From a recent edition, on the Iowa caucus:

So while my first instinct was to label the whole mess a pseudo-event, the less flip, more disconcerting reality is that labeling something a pseudo-event was reassuring because it assumed our ability to identify “real”-events. The role of the obviously fantastical is to reassure us of the reality of our ordinary experience. Presently, that distinction is tenuous at best. Who can draw the line? What part of the proceedings last night can one deem real as opposed to fake or artificial? What aspect wasn’t already shot through with qualities of a pseudo-event or overlaid with the textures of hyperreality?

As the author Tim Maughan recently tweeted, “everybody got excited about postmodernism, nobody was ready for postmodernity.” That seems about right.

One could say that about so many matters, including Church affairs.

— 7 —

Thursday evening, #5 and I attended a local production of Porgy and Bess. It was really excellent – local theater is generally so impressive these days. Music was provided by a pair of very impressive pianists on uprights on either side of the stage.

I did a bit of follow-up – officially, this version is The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess – a 2012 reworking of the opera book by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. Much of the recitative is replaced by dialogue and there are a few plot points that shift about. Here’s a good discussion here of the differences in all the versions, from the novel to the play to Gershwin’s original vision to the present. 

I tend to be sanguine about matters of life and death – of adults, at least – and don’t do a lot of “What could he/she have accomplished?”  – But George Gershwin is an exception. I actually get a little sad when I think about it:only 38 when he died, it does seem a tremendous loss – you really wonder what musical brilliance we might have seen if he’d lived longer. Even just a little bit…

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All right, guys – NYC excitement coming up soon. Catch it in this space, and also, throughout the day, on Instagram. 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Yeah, I start out each week thinking…this will be the week I blog every day and it will be substantive and awesome…and then I don’t.

The culprits this week? College Kid heading back to school for the spring semester, then getting back into Homeschool High School in a We’re Really Serious About This, Guys kind of way, music matters (practicing for church job/intensifying Brahms practice because Guess What, that’s going to be performed on the 26th – better get on that; and then heading back to jazz lessons after a two-month break…); conversations about a project or two, and of course the ever-present Trip Planning: South Florida and NYC at the moment.

And then there are the zillion interesting events that occur every day, which I try to shut out, but which find their way back to my attention – got to read the analyses and laugh at the memes….arrgh.

Thinking all the while, I have Things to Say…maybe I should write the words down.  But then events speed by so quickly, the moment passes, and, with some issues, I think, Does the world really need one more opinion drifting through the air? Nah. Probably not. 

But I promise   – that Young Pope/New Pope piece will be coming. As I said on Twitter, I may be hesitant to invite the boring yet totally predictable disapproval of my failure to disapprove of these programs, but really, after watching them, I can’t say that much of anything dramatized there is any less crazy or outrageous than the current Vatican shenanigans we’re blessed to enjoy here in the 21st century.

— 2 —

What’s going on the homeschool? Let’s make a list, quickly.

  • Reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – he’s read it before, but we think it was probably at least 2 or 3 years ago, and, as Twain himself said, it’s not a children’s book. Tom Sawyer is – but this isn’t.  Hope to get that done by the end of next week, then back to the ancients with The Odyssey.
  • Also read “The Destructors” by Graham Greene this week. If you’ve never read it – do.It’s here.And here’s a good pdf study guide. 
  • Religion: Read big chunks of the Pentateuch, Joshua and Judges, read Ruth today. Will read the appropriate material in this book for greater depth,and then start 1 Samuel next week. My favorite!
  • History: He does his own thing, which jumps between various ancient cultures and the World Wars. Next week, we’ll do a bit of Florida history in prep for a trip.
  • Biology: Still in the class taught by a college prof in the local Catholic homeschool co-op.
  • Math: Geometry via AOPS. We’ve settled down – after jumping between Counting, then a bit of Algebra II (quadratic equations) – and committed to Geometry for the rest of the school year. Right Triangles were the subject this week.
  • Music: That competition I wrote about before, which will happen over the next few months, with performance, technique and music literature analysis components. At least one Brahms performance coming up, and I’m starting to hear that there will be a jazz recital.
  • Latin: Chapters 17/18 of Latin for the New Millenium, then, per the tutor’s advice, he will hit “pause” on the text, and do focused vocab and grammar review in prep for the National Latin Exam, which he’ll take with a local group in the beginning of March.
  • Spanish: He works on his own, mostly with  Great Courses. We’re starting to think about another week in a Spanish-speaking country, maybe in the spring. Probably Costa Rica or Antigua, Guatemala.
  • Other: Fraternus, Nazareth House (catechist for developmentally disabled youth), serving dinner at a local woman’s shelter ever few weeks; probably getting back into boxing soon. Plus, of course, the church organ job.

 

— 3 —

This is a really good article from a secular publication (Cincinnati Magazine) on how the family of one of the Covington Catholic kids– one who wasn’t even in Washington, but was accused and doxxed – responded. It’s very inspiring.

When asked if he’s fully moved on from the doxxing, threats, and attacks, Michael says, “It sticks with me a little bit, but not really too much at all.” That said, it “has made me a lot more skeptical of social media. That, and the media, too. [It] just makes me look into facts behind different stories rather than just taking their word for it.”

Did the whole experience ruin his senior year of high school? “Even though all this happened, I would say this was probably my favorite year at CovCath,” he says, citing how the sense of brotherhood he’d always felt there somehow strengthened, in spite of everything.

Given all the Catholic undertones, there are lots of biblical stories that could speak to the lessons this whole event imparts. But maybe the moral of this particular story is better interpreted through the work of an extraordinary writer who lived and died long before the internet and social media were even invented. Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic, built a successful secular career writing fictional stories in the 1950s and ’60s about self-righteous people who ultimately became the very things they despised. O’Connor’s fiction was often misinterpreted as dark, for the tragic ends her characters almost always met, but in truth her overwhelming message was that healing and grace could, and often did, come from suffering and evil.

On Wednesday, January 23—the same day the Hodges hit rock bottom and Pamela came up with the idea to do a fund-raiser—the college lecturer who’d initially helped spread Michael’s name online posted a 252-word apology on her Facebook page that garnered little attention. Turns out, Andrew had reached out to her directly, explaining how the misinformation she’d helped spread had devastated the family. In the post, the lecturer took full responsibility for what she’d done, writing, “I am horrified at my own behavior as there is a child out there trying to live his life and was wrongly identified. I am now a party of the cause of his fear and misery…I am now guilty of behaviors I normally disdain. It is wrong. I did wrong to this young man.”

She is only one person of the thousands who rushed to condemn Hodge, Sandmann, and their peers. And yet, through O’Connor’s lens, maybe her bold example, paired with the GoFundMe and the way the CovCath boys grew so strong together, is nothing short of a beacon of hope.

— 4 —

“American Pilgrimage” by Stefan McDaniel, in First Things:

 

Back on the road, in between sung Latin rosaries and hymns, I got to know my brigade. They were disturbingly wholesome. Almost everyone was from an intensely Catholic family, yet no one, it seemed, was here out of inertia. Some had come on pilgrimage to mark a new, deliberate seriousness in their life of faith. One woman told me that her traditionalist community had shunned and slandered her after a broken engagement and she was here in part to ­reevaluate her beliefs.

Vehicular traffic was scarce, but wherever we encountered it we stopped it or slowed it down. Many motorists honked and waved encouragement; many scowled, some defying our Romanism with choice Anglo-Saxon words; and many (perhaps the greatest number) fixed us with confused stares.

We carried on till lunch, which we took at a pleasant park. A moment to rest was welcome, but it allowed our legs to freeze up. As we limped back to the road, I didn’t see how I could do this for two more miles, let alone two more days.

Near 3 p.m., we began the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy. I had always disliked this devotion, but to my surprise I joined in the recitation now with tremendous feeling. Physical pain, that concrete ­experience of my own limitations, softened my heart and brought home my need for mercy.

We arrived at our first bivouac as night fell. After setting up our tents, we were served a restorative dinner. Inhaling a good but peppery soup, I forgot my pain and delighted in the motley humanity at table with me: the Melkite priest, the man with the honest-to-God Mayan wife, the former Pentecostal sporting Carlist symbols and dressed like an alpinist. Chaucer could not have assembled a better cast.

The next morning, a Saturday, we heard Mass and began walking in the light drizzle under a gray sky—melancholy weather, but perfect for hard walking. Having used up our store of Catholic songs, my brigade turned, at my instigation, to the great common national treasury, freely mixing sacred and profane. After we had sung “Dixie” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” back-to-back (thus healing sectional divisions once and for all), we calmed down with the Joyful Mysteries.

Though we had returned to devotional themes, I remained in a reverie of patriotism. I realized that I had shaken off an anxiety that had clung to me for years. Like many Catholics of my generation, I had long wondered how I might rightly love America, having renounced the commercial, individualistic social philosophy called “Americanism.” Now, meditating on our North American Martyrs, I embraced their dream of a new Catholic civilization to be planted right here, in this land we were traversing, using their methods of husbandry: to respect, study, and refine existing virtues and institutions and order them to the Prince of Peace. What vision could be grander, or better inspire private and public virtue? Where should we find nobler Founding Fathers to revere and to imitate?

 

— 5 –

I was very glad to see that one of my favorite blogs, Deep Fried Kudzu, seems to be back after a hiatus. Ginger, a local, travels about the South and beyond – her interests are in food, literature, art and roadside oddities. Her notes and photos have guided my own explorations ever since we moved here. I’m glad she’s back.

 

— 6 —

After seeing 1917 (which we’re seeing this weekend),Bishop Barron writes a piece that I endorse 100%. He articulates what I’ve long thought – in all of our hand-wringing about the West’s loss of faith, we can blame scientism and positivism and rationalism and Communism all we want – and sure, why not? – but what about the impact of this:

For the past many years, I have been studying the phenomenon of disaffiliation and loss of faith in the cultures of the West. And following the prompts of many great scholars, I have identified a number of developments at the intellectual level—from the late Middle Ages through the Enlightenment to postmodernism—that have contributed to this decline. But I have long maintained—and the film 1917 brought it vividly back to mind—that one of the causes of the collapse of religion in Europe, and increasingly in the West generally, was the moral disaster of the First World War, which was essentially a crisis of Christian identity. Something broke in the Christian culture, and we’ve never recovered from it. If their Baptism meant so little to scores of millions of combatants in that terrible war, then what, finally, was the point of Christianity? And if it makes no concrete difference, then why not just leave it behind and move on?

 

— 7 —

Went to the movies tonight at our newish local art-house place, which is in the basement floor of our local food hall, which is in turn on the ground floor of a condo development which is all in a building that used to be a department store, back in the day.

The movie? Rififi – a 1955 French heist movie – very good, with a spectacular 30-minute dialogue-less set piece of, well, a jewelry store heist. That, plus the final outcome (spoiler alert) which highlights, as the best heist movie outcomes always do, the emptiness of all that hard work for ill-gotten gain, made it a satisfying couple of hours.

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—1 —

Happy Christmastide and feast of St. John –if you’re around the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Alabama at noon, you can come have some wine blessed:

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— 2 —

And then….there’s this:

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— 3 —

As a young person, and then youngish church geek, both employed and volunteer, I was formed in the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s – an era in which people were forever making stuff up in the name of helping people bring faith into daily life, making it more relatable in modern times and such. When all along, what they should have been doing was rejecting the adolescent urge to reject what their parents (aka the Church) was giving them, listen, dig deeper, and see how almost two thousand years of Tradition and traditions means something. Maybe it just means that there are practices that, by their antiquity, have been experienced as powerful and, yes, pertinent to the daily joys and struggles of human beings, no matter where or when they lived.

— 4 —

Did you know that Hallmark worked with Salvador Dali to create Christmas cards? Not many were sold in the US, but here are a few articles and images.

From the Hallmark site.

From Artsy:

“It was the founder of Hallmark’s idea. Santas were always a hit,” explains historian for the Hallmark Archives Samantha Bradbeer of the anomalous, albeit wonderful Dalí painting. “Dalí’s first series of cards had just been pulled from the shelves, so he really wanted to design a popular card. He thought this might be it.” Hallmark, the biggest greeting card company in the world, had commissioned Dalí, and other up-and-coming artists of the decade, to design holiday cards earlier that year. But Dalí’s initial attempts—which depicted a headless angel, a glowing but featureless baby Jesus, and three wise men atop snarling camels—proved too avant-garde for the everyday buyer.

“Unfortunately, they just didn’t sell,” continues Bradbeer. “So that’s when Dalí asked for our founder J.C.’s advice.” Dalí’s second go, however, didn’t work out either. When the artist presented his unique Santa to Hallmark founder Joyce Clyde Hall, affectionately known as J.C., he wasn’t a fan. While Hall graciously purchased the painting for Hallmark’s permanent art collection, it was promptly stashed in a closet where it hid for many years. Only recently has it seen the light of day, on the walls of the company’s sprawling Kansas City headquarters.

From an expert on Spanish culture, more on these and the cards Dali created for Spanish markets:

This early 1948 rendition of a “Christmas” landscape, however, is but one of Dalí’s efforts to illustrate the holiday season. In 1958 he created the first of his eventual 19 greeting cards for Hoeschts, and the publishing company would annually send these artsy holiday cards to doctors and pharmacists throughout Spain. Importantly, Dalí’s renditions did not incorporate traditional Mediterranean, Catholic Christmas imagery such as the Nativity scene or the Reyes magos (Wise men), but rather they appropriated more American and Central European elements, such as the Christmas Tree. The “árbol santo” is in fact a constant element in these 19 illustrations, and Dalí occasionally converted the Christmas Tree into an allegorical depiction of the years events or infused it with distinctive elements of Spanish culture.

 

 

— 5 –

And here you go:

More images at all the links up there.

— 6 —

We have been awash in music, of course. Son #5, employed as the organist at a local parish. There’s a snippet of a postlude up on Instagram here.

— 7 —

Be sure to check out:

Christmas-related material for kids in some of my books!


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Went up the mountain, came down.

About 10K total. A little more than seven hours.

Really, really, really hard.

But done for the kid’s birthday, so there’s that. Too wiped out to give detail, so here are some photos to tide you over:

Our hotel owner had said she’d drive us all up, but when the time came, her truck was blocked in by other guests – so she grabbed the key to the hotel mototaxi and off we went! It was something!

Note: the men in the middle photo on the bottom work for the water system – this provides a lot of the water for the Gracias area. They’re doing a routine cleanup of the source.

We had a guide, and it was a good thing from a number of perspectives. We didn’t get lost – the trails are well marked, but I could see us still getting confused. He was a biology student and could point out various flora and fauna. Plus, if he hadn’t been guiding us, no way would I have done the full hike. I would have been done at about 3K and said, “Eh, that’s enough…we’re going back.” And it was good that we kept going.

The vegetation on the mountain transitions from normal hardwood, surprisingly conifer-rich forest to a “cloud forest,” which was my son’s goal. The park has the highest peak in Honduras – but it really requires camping to reach it. But what we did was pretty spectacular – it was a very high peak, way up in the clouds. Hellish to get there, but worth it.

Added bonus: None of us had phone service to call the hotel to come get us, but there was a family there at the visitor’s center whom our guide knew – and they gave us ride back to town in their pickup, everyone except the dad and me sitting in the truck bed. We had a very good conversation – he works in telecommunications, installing internet. Doesn’t live in the area, but was visiting family (government school major vacation here is November 15-February 1, and his kids had just finished school.)  We were making another pickup on the way – his sister’s kids who go to a Christian school run on the US timetable (summer vacation, 8-4 hours – so as we sat and waited for them to emerge, Nelson and I talked about the United States – he had Google Earth on his phone, so I should him exactly where my house was, he asked pretty penetrating questions about the layout of the city, roads, and so on, and mentioned Chattanooga as a model for internet conductibility….

Oh, and here’s some of the flora and fauna seen – several birds were seen, but I didn’t photograph them. The white caterpillar was dead – it had been, our guide said, attacked by a fungus that just….enveloped it…

 

Not a tree trunk – a root.

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Well, good evening from Gracias, Honduras!

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Same country, new hammock.

For the first time in over a week, some of us were able to sleep past 7 am – I knew there would be evening Mass in Gracias, so we made that our plan, and a bit more sleeping was therefore in order. For some of us. I was still awake at six, but no Facetiming French people were at fault this time.

A lovely breakfast – as per usual at our stay – La Casa de Cafe, about which I’ll write more in my traditional summary post of “Why We Went/How we got there/Where we stayed.” Short version: If you go to Copan (and you should consider it) – stay there!

One of the great aspects of traveling is the people you meet, and this morning was no exception.

Are you afraid to get out? Hesitant to go beyond theme parks and all-inclusives? Afraid to go to places designated as “dangerous” by First World governments?

Well, meet Pamela.

Pamela is in her mid-70’s if she’s a day, lives between Cambridge and London, travels for two months every year, and this year her two months have been in Central America, getting around solely by bus, staying  only in hostels.

By herself, loving it, and fearless.

As she said, “If I listened to our Foreign Office’s warnings, I’d be afraid to go to Wales. ” 

And so we left her, there in the sun she’d been seeking when she came and sat near us, Pamela from somewhere between Cambridge and London, drinking her tea and reading her book there in a Honduran garden.

It was a fifteen-minute conversation, but it gave me enough inspiration, I think, for the next ten years.

And, I hope, adding to my son’s treasury of wisdom about life, journeys, openness and courage for the rest of his life.

After breakfast, we dashed out to do a few more purchases – I was actually surprised at how busy Copan was on a Sunday morning – it’s not like Italy – everything is open, including the place where son wanted to buy a couple more shirts and this spot, featuring the weaving of an indigenous community up near Hacienda San Lucas, where we walked on Thursday. 

Well then, ahem…to meet our, yeah…driver to go to Gracias. From which Pamela had just come on the buses. Hey guys, I explained this to you before…schedule…connections…etc. Okay. That’s my excuse. Next time. Bus. 

Anyway, yeah, the driver. A very nice guy, no English, arranged by our hotel. About a three hour drive through increasingly gorgeous country. I mean, the entire country of Honduras is beautiful, but the drive between La Entrada and Gracias was stunning. Mountainous and pristine. A photograph from a rapidly moving van can’t capture it.

Then to our present stay, an orientation, a walk around and a lunch at what seems to be a local fast food place called Buggy’s Burgers – it being Sunday afternoon, there wasn’t a lot open, so we went with the somewhat safe, although local fast food is always an adventure. I wouldn’t say it was “fast” – more like what we’d call in the US “fast casual.”  Served, by the way, on china plates with real silver, etc. It was big enough so that there’s going to be no more eating for the rest of the day….

Then back to the room for a couple of hours until Mass. Here:

Totally full, overflowing church. I was wondering why the presiding priest wasn’t wearing green vestments, but the introductory words by another concelebrating priest indicated that it was this priest’s fiftieth anniversary of ordination – so the Mass was a celebration of that, I’m guessing. Notes on the Mass:

  • Music was one guitar and some vocals in this large packed church. I really liked the setting of the Gloria and the Sanctus – I might try to find it online, although it will probably be impossible. The trouble was that the guitar was so terrible. Not in the playing, but in the quality of the instrument. Unless it was some native Honduran instrument. I felt like going up and making a personal donation so they could buy a better guitar.
  • As I said, church was packed. And not, as the mythology dictates, old women. It was everyone, from all walks of life. It was just Catholic.
  • They did this in Copan too – perhaps it is some Honduran thing – they did little introductions to each of the Scripture readings – you know, how we used to do it in the US in 1985?
  • They did this in Copan as well  – after the consecration of each element, there is some congregational response. In Copan, it was a general murmuring – probably of a prayer I just didn’t understand. Here it was an antiphon of sorts – the first phrase was “Dios es aqui” – God is here. Followed by something else I didn’t catch. And then with the memorial acclamation in the usual place.
  • As was the case in Copan, the entire congregation recites the Eucharist Prayer Doxology.
  • The Lord’s Prayer was sung, and the version was…not literal. I mean, it had the whole Lord’s Prayer in it, but each phrase was interspersed with “Gloria a Dios”
  • At the Sign of Peace – La Paz – there was a general rush up to the front which was very confusing, until I realized what was going on was that a lot of people were going up to give the pastor celebrating his anniversary their greetings.
  • It did seem to me – untutored, narrow, minimal experience – from the music and the priest’s (not the one celebrating his anniversary – a younger, concelebrating priest) very energetic, dramatic style of preaching, as well as the greater level of congregational interaction – that there might be a deliberate attempt to bring some Evangelical stylings into the Mass down here…just guessing.

And then, right after the Agnus Dei…

BOOM!

Out! Went the power. Pitch black, except for a few candles and an increasing number of phone flashlights. As the Communion Rite progressed, more candles were brought in, and at Communion, the altar servers holding patens were further assisted by another person standing over them with a phone light.

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We would have hung around after Mass or wandered a bit, except, you know…there was no power. Anywhere in town. You could see a store light here or there, but it was from places with generators. So might as well go home – we weren’t hungry, and it was 8:30, so what else should we do? Led by phone flashlights, then, we made our way through a pitch-black Honduran town on a Sunday night.

A few minutes after we returned, the power came back on, but still – we weren’t feeling any need for food, so might as well settle into our new home for the next few days. Except for those hours we’re out climbing mountains or some such nonsense.

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(And for the record, there is not a McDonald’s in Gracias, Honduras. One popped up on the map, and we walked over to see if it was so…but no. Someone must be playing games with Google Maps…)

 

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I was thinking about doing a digest for this, but then thought the better of it. Too confining. So  on this Sunday night as Son #5 watches The Hobbit in the next room, I’ll just chat about the weekend.

(He wasn’t a super-early Tolkein freak, but now, at the age of 14, he’s in the midst of reading the trilogy, has immersed himself in the watching of them all on film, and tonight decided he’d take a look at the film of The Hobbit (“even though I’ll probably get disgusted after half an hour.” We’ll see. Update: 90 minutes later – not disgusted.)

The latter part of our weeks are hamstrung – although that phrase gives too negative a light on it, since all that we have is good  – by Wednesday night church activity, Thursday morning high school biology classes, Thursday afternoon jazz classes, Saturday morning volunteer work and frequent Saturday evening/Sunday morning responsibilities (serving, music). A space came free this weekend, so we took advantage of it.

Friday afternoon was Ruffner mountain. About fifteen minutes from our house and a favorite hike/walk of his, a mountain yes, but also a former mining site (as are most mountains around here) Not a favorite of  mine – it’s fairly boring with no water or other features – but that’s not the point, is it? He asked to go, he wanted to walk, explore and talk,  so off we went.

 

 

The overlook is into the former quarry. In the photo on the right, the tiny lump on the horizon is the Birmingham skyline.

After that, to a local beer/wine store – Hop City – at which an English double decker/food truck called Little London Kitchen was parked. They’ve been around for some months, but this was the first time we’d had to sample their wares, and they were excellent! What is it about English fish and chips?

Saturday morning, he did his volunteer work (a religious education program for developmentally disabled children and young people), came home, practiced piano, and we were off to Montgomery. The final destination of the day would be the Alabama Shakespeare-sponsored production of Hamlet at 7, so that was our parameter.

First stop was the EJI National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Otherwise known around these parts as “the lynching museum.” Sorry, but it is. So, yes – go Alabama. But actually – yes. For all of the state’s faults, this is also the state in which you can find this space in which the dreadful past is acknowledged, gathered up, and contemplated.

The Equal Justice Institute is the organization associated with Bryan Stephenson, the author of Just Mercy and of course the force behind EJI.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go to the museum on Saturday, so we simply went to the memorial. We have several other must-sees in the Montgomery area, and we’ll add the museum to that list. (We – including he – have actually been to many of those “must-sees” – but it was at the beginning of our homeschooling years, so he doesn’t remember them. We’ll return to the Rosa Parks museum, the Alabama state archives/museum and the Fitzgerald House – Zelda was from Montgomery and they lived there for about a year.)

The memorial calls to mind the thousands of African-Americans killed by lynching in the United States. It is a sobering and thought-provoking space, and done in exactly the right spirit – of honesty and reconciliation: this is what happened  – and we must admit it, and move forward. 

 

 

Most lynching victims were male, of course, but I am always interested in finding female victims – and I found one –  Elizabeth Lawrence, right in my own present home of Jefferson County, Alabama, killed in 1933:

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Then, since it was on the way to church and he’s a musician, a quick turn up to the cemetery where Hank Williams is buried:

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Again – he’d been there before, but had no memory of it.

More interesting to me than Hank’s grave is the grave – right next to it – of several dozen RAF and French Air Force personnel who died while training at the nearby Maxwell Air Base during World War II. 

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Between June 1941 and February 1943, when the RAF terminated what became known as the Arnold Plan, 4,300 of more than 7,800 RAF cadets sent to the United States completed the three-phase AAF flight training program. Within three months, some of the same schools, including the phase 2 school at Gunter Field, began training Free French Air Force flight cadets. By November 1945, when the US government terminated the French training program, 2,100 French flight cadets out of the 4,100 who came to the United States had received their wings. 

Then to Mass, here. 

An energetically-delivered, substantive homily on the Gospel, and a cantor with a lovely voice, unaccompanied, although there was an organ nearby (and a piano and a drum kit…)

Then….a quick stop at Chick Fil A, and off to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival for Hamlet. 

It was very enjoyable and, for the most part, the perfect first live performance of this play for a 14-year old.

First off – this was not a production of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Their season doesn’t begin for some weeks. This was a production of New York’s Bedlam Theatre – performing this and Saint Joan in repertoire for the next month. 

The conceit? The gimmick, if you will? There are four actors – period. Four actors performing all the roles.

The theater was small – it was the “Octagon” theater of the facility, which is downstairs and perhaps about a hundred seats. In addition, there is some creative staging with this production, so for the first act, for example, there are about two dozen chairs positioned more closely about the performing space – and we grabbed a couple of those for ourselves (since I’d purchased tickets only that morning, our seats weren’t together – but this way, it worked out). Then for the second section (after acts 1-3), seats were re-arranged, and so on.

 

The actors wore ordinary clothes – pants, vests, shirts – for costumes, as well as a hat or two and some glasses. There were three men and one woman. The actor played Hamlet played only Hamlet – everyone else switched around and traded up. There were no other scenes or props other than flashlights and some drapes and chairs.

I’d say that 3/4 of it was absolutely mesmerizing and marvelous. The actors were fantastic, with smooth and impressive transitions between characters. It was the perfect introduction to a live production of Hamlet for a 14-year old boy, what with actors right in his face, even speaking right to him – the actor who played Polonius also played Laertes, which worked fine for most of it, but for the neither a borrower nor lender be speech – he went full Polonius –  and designated Michael as Laertes, directing the entire speech right to him. I’m really hoping that the words –  To thine own self be true will resonate in a particularly personal way for a very long time as a result…

But then?

Ah, that last act. It just didn’t work. I think their mistake was incorporating a bit of comedy in the wrong way. I watched the Mel Gibson version this evening (as I’ll talk about in a moment), and there is some comedy – but very slight and almost bitter – in the combat. What happened here, though,  was some business having an audience member “be” the table on which the poisoned cup sat – and it just broke the entire drama of the moment. Which, I have to say, had been sustained very well up that point, with some moving aspects and powerful speeches. But this, as I said – broke it, and it was unfortunate, as was the production’s ultimate way of interpreting the final set of deaths. It just didn’t work – everyone writhing on the floor, shouting their lines at the same time – but then, oh, the production fell back into an excellent place with the very final lines, uttered in near-darkness by the actors prone on the floor as Fortinbras and Horatio.

They just need to work, I think, on the actual Final Combat. Smooth that out, dispense with the comic business, and you’ve done it.

What was lost, I think, was the central drama of the piece, which was about Hamlet himself, of course. What was he about? And what is thread that takes us from the young man’s first hints that something is wrong and perhaps should be righted to the final irony of the one who had, for whatever reason, decided not to take revenge – almost accidentally wreaking havoc.

We hadn’t finished reading Hamlet by the time we saw it Saturday night, and I found the whole presentation of the final scenes so confusing, I thought he could use another version – and the only free version on any of the streaming services was the Gibson version.

As I said before, this is not *ideal* because Zeffirelli condenses and summarizes, and th age difference between Gibson and Glenn Close is…awkward. But that final scene? Oh, so well done, and so, so moving. 

So yes, we watched that this evening. 

(He was gone all day with a friend, to a swimming hole about 90 minutes away called Martha’s Falls.)

And then I remembered – well, thanks Netflix for reminding me – that Bill Murray had been Polonius in the Ethan Hawke version, and his “to thine own self be true” speech was very good – natural and unaffected, but somehow …effective.


 

I tried to think – what is it that binds all of this together? In fact, I had decided I would ask him to consider this for a writing project this week. Twenty-four hours spent:

  • Walking paths that hard-working miners had trod decades ago
  • Accompanying a differently-abled child, trying to help  him  understand Jesus’ love for him
  • Going to a memorial to the victims of racial injustice  – women and men who’d suffered and been terrorized, among other places, just scant miles from our house
  • Visiting the grave of a genius who’d self-destructed
  • Seeing the graves of men who’d died during a war, far from their homes, but not even in combat
  • Being witness to actors pouring out their hearts, in service to words written hundreds of years ago, meditations on the purpose of life, the specter of death, the response to injustice and the impact of the past on the present
  • Hearing a Gospel of mercy, bound in prayer, sharing the Body of Christ with other disciples all over the world

 

What is it we do when we teach, when we bear the gift of forming a child? To teach “values?” Skills? Prepare for a profession, for life?

All of that, but it seems to me that the most important thing I can do in teaching, raising and forming is sharing bad and good news with that young person. Or just news. It’s just the news, and the news is this: Human beings are beautiful and broken. Created in the image of God, shattered. Some of the brokenness is so deep within it seems as if it is just you, bound up, born that way. Some of the brokenness is manifest in your body, some of it in your spirit. Some of the brokenness comes through things that happened to your family yesterday or your people long ago. Some of your brokenness comes from the way you were raised, and then from your own choices.

And your task, your mission, your purpose as a human creature is to listen, watch and learn. It’s to walk as a broken creature – not deceiving yourself into thinking you are anything but –  in this broken world, listening and trusting. Trusting that despite the brokenness, despite evidence to the contrary, you and every other creature were made by a loving God in his image, who calls you even now. What does that voice sound like? How can you recognize it and not be deceived by imitators?

The walls are high and thick, the few windows in that wall are cracked and dim, the light on the other side seems far away, the music muffled and every other person you see on this side seems like a stranger and even, sometimes, like an enemy, but there is truth about this world, about all of us, about each of us that can heal these wounds, truth to be found, explored, listened to and lived – but we must learn how to recognize it, how to see and how to listen.

What a hard life this is on earth, what suffering we endure and inflict on others. To educate, it seems to me, means to be honest and real about all of this, not hiding a bit of it, to teach a young person to accept all of the brokenness within and without, past and present – but refuse to be defined or controlled by it –  and then, every day, point to the thin places in the wall, polish the glass so the light can shine brighter and crack the door a little wider so when the voice calls and invites us to that healing, nourishing feast – we’ll recognize it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Of the many saints we could celebrate today, she’s the one I’ll pick. I’ll start by highlighting a 10-year (ten!) old blog post of mine, written the day of her canonization.

(She is the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

I see the retreat master this past weekend was a Discalced Carmelite and the retreat was for Third-Order Carmelites (ah…that explains the big scapulars. Got it.) . He preached a very good homily tying together the Scriptures, the canonization of the saints that had taken place that day (he was quick enough to look up the Holy Father’s homily so he could quote from it at 11am Mass),  and, well, life.

What struck me about his homily was his description of three of the newly canonized – St. Damien, St. Jeanne Jugan, and St. Rafael Arnaiz Baron, as “outcasts” of a sort: St. Damien for his life among the lepers; St. Jeanne Jugan because of her removal as superior of the community she founded, and St. Rafael because of his health problems (diabetes), which prohibited him from joining the Trappists in the way he had hoped (he was able to become an Oblate, but not a brother or priest)

Sell all you have and give the money to the poor.

All of it.

Pope Benedict’s homily:

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the question that opens the brief dialogue we heard in the Gospel, between a man, identified elsewhere as the rich young man, and Jesus (cf Mk 10:17-30). We do not have very many details about this nameless character: all the same from the little we do have we are able to perceive his sincere desire to attain eternal life by living an honest and virtuous existence on earth. In fact he knows the commandments and has obeyed them since childhood. And yet all of this, while important, is not sufficient — says Jesus — there is one thing missing, but it is an essential thing. Seeing then that he is willing, the Divine Master looks at him with love and proposes the qualitative leap, he calls him to the heroism of sanctity, he asks him to abandon everything and follow him: “Sell what you own and give the money to the poor…then come, follow me!” (V. 21).

“Then come, follow me!” This is the Christian vocation that flows from a proposal of love by the Lord, and that can be realized only thanks to our loving reply. Jesus invites his disciples to the total giving of their lives, without calculation or personal gain, with unfailing trust in God. The saints welcome this demanding invitation and set about following the crucified and risen Christ with humble docility. Their perfection, in the logic of a faith that is humanly incomprehensible at times, consists in no longer placing themselves at the center, but choosing to go against the flow and live according to the Gospel.

And after Mass:

At the end of Mass, Benedict XVI made his way to the raised dias in front of the basilica, where tens of thousands of pilgrims were waiting gathered in the square, with whom he prayed the Angelus. In his reflection before the Marian prayer, he returned to the value of the witness of the saints canonized today. He asked French-speaking pilgrims to follow the example of St. Jeanne Jugan, “to take care of the poorest and smallest” to support with prayer and work “the generous people involved in the fight against leprosy and all other forms of leprosy due to the lack of love,  ignorance or meanness”. The pope also asked them to help the work of the Synod for Africa in progress this week in Rome. Benedict XVI also recalled the figure of St. Damian for Flemish pilgrims: “This holy priest was led by God to allow his vocation flourish into a total ‘yes’. May the intercession of Our Lady and the apostle of lepers free the world of leprosy, make us open to the love of God and give us joy and enthusiasm in service to our brothers and sisters. ”   Among the many pilgrims, the pope also greeted – in English – a group of survivors of nuclear attacks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “I pray – said the pontiff – that the world will never witness such a mass destruction of innocent lives again. May God bless you all, as well as your families and your loved ones at home”.

More on St. Jeanne Jugan, including the time Charles Dickens met her:

Jeanne chose the name Sister Mary of the Cross but was commonly known as Mother Marie of the Cross. She would often say, “the poor are Our Lord.” Locals began to call her humble sisters and their hospitality efforts, the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

In 1851 a small group of Little Sisters crossed the English Channel to establish the first home outside France, in a London suburb. Spain was next, followed by Belgium, Ireland, North Africa and North America. In just the last decade, new homes for the elderly have opened in India, Peru, and the Philippines. 

Like the grain of what that falls to the earth and dies, Jeanne’s life has produced great fruit that continues today—but she was not always honored or appreciated during her life.  One day a new priest who was put in charge of the young congregation decided to replace Jeanne as superior and place her in retirement without any say in the decision.  While others protested what was viewed as an injustice, Jeanne simply accepted it as the will of God, and went about begging for contributions to support the growing order. The priest was later removed by the Holy See in 1890. Jeanne told her sisters, “We are grafted into the cross and we must carry it joyfully unto death.” When she died 27 years later, few of the young Little Sisters even knew that she was the foundress.

Once after meeting Jeanne Jugan, Charles Dickens said, “there is in this woman something so calm, and so holy, that in seeing her I know myself to be in the presence of a superior being. Her words went straight to my heart, so that my eyes, I know not how, filled with tears.”  

 

 

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