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amy_welbornWell, good morning. I’m going to have a couple of other posts up this morning, so this truly will be a digest without rabbit trails. I’ll force the rabbit trails onto the other posts.

Let’s start with:

Writing: I put the finishing touches on a longish short story called The Absence of War that I’ve posted for sale as an Amazon Kindle ebook – it clocks in at 7000 words or so, so you might get your .99 worth! 

Steve McEvoy has kindly reviewed it here. Go to Steve’s site and enjoy his many many reviews of books. It’s an invaluable site.

What touched me most, and to be honest will have a lasting impact is the sense of other. Or to be more specific the recognition of other, not our impression, and kindle covermemories, but a true encounter. It is not said, but what it reminds me of is the passage ‘Lord open my eyes to see.’. And that is what the story has done, helped me to see differently. 

An excellent story. More than worth the price and time to read. And I can only hope that Mrs. Welborn decides to share more of her fiction with us, If it is as good as this it will be a treat indeed!

Thanks, Steve!

(Steve has also reviewed my son’s short story collections and novel here.)

Over the next week, I’m probably going to put up a novel I wrote a few years back. I’ve gone back and forth about what to do with this book. I actually had an agent agree to represent it and she worked hard to sell it, but obviously without success. But why not just self-published and get it, too, out of my brain and into yours?

I’m also working on another short story. And I have a project due in early January that I finished a solid first draft of mid-summer that it’s time to pick up and revise- that’s what I told myself I’d spend December doing, and wow…it’s almost here.

Reading:  Besides post-election and USCCB stuff, mostly J.F. Powers short fiction, and re-reading for the fifth time or so David Lodge’s Souls and Bodies. Read all the bloggers you want, if you really want to even begin to understand the Church (in the U.S. and England at least…) over the past fifty or sixty years and didn’t live through it yourself, these two are really the way to go.

(Along with Frank Sheed’s The Church and I.)

Oh, also reading TripAdvisor forums on a destination to which we’re traveling this weekend. It will just be for the weekend, and we’ll be in town most of Thanksgiving break, but I’m taking advantage of new direct fares from a discount airline to a place we’ve never been – it will be a quick trip, but, since it will be new to all of us and cheap, hopefully worth the time and money spent! Check out Instagram this weekend for the updates on that. 

Watching: Almost halfway through the last season of Breaking Bad with the guys. Not anything besides that for me.

Listening: Since last we spoke, the daily watch/listening of We are the World has continued apace for some reason, along with other random 70’s and 80’s music videos.

I listened to my son play his Beethoven at his recital – Instagram selection here – and listen to practice organ at various churches around town (we’re up to three different practice venues now – 2 Catholic and 1 Methodist) and to him play with his jazz assignments on his keyboard.

Kind of boring, but it’s 7:21 and so thanks for participating in my early-morning writing exercises….

 

 

 

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— 1 —

It’s the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

Here’s my now-17 year old on the steps back in 2006.

I have a few memories of this Basilica:

  • Our first visit, back in 2006, the stop at St. John Lateran was part of a day led for us by then-seminarian and anonymous blogger Zadok. Remember at the time, my now-almost-13-year old was a bit over a year and was being transported everywhere one someone’s back. We traded him off.  It was a great day, but exhausting as we walked and walked – and if you have been to Rome, you know that the walk between St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major is uphill…way…uphill.
  • I have often referred to the enormous statuary inside St. John Lateran, in which each of the apostles are represented, as is traditional, with the instruments of their martyrdom, St. Bartholomew depicted holding his own skin, as he is traditionaly remembered as having been flayed.
  • As interesting as the church itself is the baptistry, which is enormous.
  • We were in Rome right around Ash Wednesday, and the day we were at St. John Lateran was a Sunday, so the plaza around the church – the area around the obelisk (the oldest  Egyptian obelisk in Rome) – was filled with children dressed in costumes playing games at booths and so on – the Bishop of Rome’s church just like any other parish church during this carnevale
  • We ended up at St. Mary Major during Vespers, and there in a side chapel was Cardinal Law.
  • Back in 2012, the boys and I returned to Rome – in late November as a matter of fact.  My main memory from that trip’s visit to St. John Lateran was a rather aggressive beggar inside the church who was approaching visitors and berating them when they didn’t give – he ended up being driven out rather forcefully by security.

— 2 —

From 2008, Pope Benedict XVI:

The beauty and the harmony of churches, destined to render praise to God, invites us human beings too, though limited and sinful, to convert ourselves to form a “cosmos”, a well-ordered construction, in close communion with Jesus, who is the true Holy of Holies. This reaches its culmination in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the “ecclesia” that is, the community of baptized finds itself again united to listen to the Word of God and nourish itself on the Body and Blood of Christ. Gathered around this twofold table, the Church of living stones builds herself up in truth and in love and is moulded interiorly by the Holy Spirit, transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself ever more to her Lord Jesus Christ. She herself, if she lives in sincere and fraternal unity, thus becomes a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.

Dear friends, today’s feast celebrates an ever current mystery: that God desires to build himself a spiritual temple in the world, a community that adores him in spirit and truth (cf. Jn 4: 23-24). But this occasion reminds us also of the importance of the concrete buildings in which the community gathers together to celebrate God’s praises. Every community therefore has the duty to carefully guard their holy structures, which constitute a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy, so that she might help us to become, like her, a “house of God”, living temple of his love.

— 3 —

Tomorrow is feastday of St. Leo the Great.  Here’s a good introduction to this pope from Mike Aquilina.

The Tome of Leo on the nature of Christ.

He’s in The Loyola Catholic Book of Saintsunder “Saints are People who are Strong Leaders.”

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— 4 —

From the Catholic Herald – “A visit that confirmed all my prejudices about England’s protestant revolution:”

Norfolk, I discovered, is full of suppressed Catholicism; every field seems to contain a ruined abbey, every house a priest hole. The most impressive hideout is in Oxburgh Hall, home to the recusant Bedingfields. It’s an assault course: you have to lower yourself down a trapdoor right onto your bottom, slide along the floor beneath a sunken wall and then pull yourself up the other side into a tiny cell with a wooden bench.

Coming out again, backwards, is even harder. How many arthritic clerics went down that hole and never returned? As I squeezed myself into the cell, I imagined finding there a couple of priests from the 1500s, covered in cobwebs, drinking tea. “Is the Reformation over yet?” they ask.

Sometimes it amazes me that English Catholics don’t get angrier about all of this: the desecration of the faith was appalling. What remains of Castle Acre Priory gives visitors an impression of what was lost. A giant Norman religious establishment that housed perhaps 30 Cluniac monks, its enormous west front still stands in tall weeds, almost intact, and the foundational outline of the rest is clear enough that you can trace the nighttime run from dormitory to latrine.

— 5 —

From Crisis: “Recognition for a Much-Neglected English Catholic Artist:”

Dilworth maintains David Jones was a British original: sui generis. Perhaps that is why Jones is also neglected today. Even those interested in English poetry of the twentieth century will have rarely read his work—at best a cult figure for a few. And yet Dilworth argues that Jones’s place is with the greatest literary exponents of the modern era—Joyce, Eliot and Pound. Dilworth concludes his biography claiming that Jones “may be the foremost British [literary] modernist” and that his “creative life is probably the greatest existential achievement of international modernism.” These claims are especially interesting given Jones’s heartfelt and overt Catholicism, a trait clearly evident throughout his work, and, thanks to this biography, no doubt one that will be investigated further in the years to come.

— 6 —

If you do Twitter, check out the account and the hashtag: Before Sharia Spoiled Everything. 

— 7 —

And well…this is actually happening:

 It appears that there will be a Breaking Bad movie, but it is unclear what role that the one who knocks will have in it, according to the man himself.

Bryan Cranston, who claimed four Emmys for his performance as chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-lord Walter White in AMC’s critically worshipped drama, has confirmed that a Breaking Bad movie is happening, though he revealed that even he was in the dark about the details.

“Yes, there appears to be a movie version of Breaking Bad, but honestly I have not even read the script,” Cranston told Dan Patrick on The Dan Patrick Show. “I have not gotten the script, I have not read the script. And so, there’s the question of whether or not we’ll even see Walter White in this movie. Ohhhhh! Think about that one.”

I trust Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould to do right by this. There is no way they’d tackle it if they didn’t have a clear vision.  People had doubts about a BB spin-off, but Better Call Saul is quite a different show from Breaking Bad and just as good, in its own way (and some say – even better.)

I say….

Gus-Fring-Wants-You-To-Do-It-On-Breaking-Bad

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

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Sorry for the initial mis-dating. I started this yesterday…

Good morning. Of course lots has happened since we last met, all of which I spent much time following and thinking about, but for today I’ll stick mostly to my formula in this digest. Maybe another post in a bit on something else.

Watching: As I do every two years, I watched some cable news on election night. You Thursdayknow, when you only see a group of people once every 700 days or so, you can really track the aging process and note how everyone just gets….older and fatter. Except Wolf Blitzer, who hasn’t changed in decades. And Laura Ingraham? What is the deal there? If I had the sound turned off, I would have thought, Huh, another cable news blonde. I didn’t  recognized her at all until she started speaking. What has she had done with her face? I spent the whole time she was on camera, every time, trying to figure it out  – lips? Eyes? General facelift? We’re almost the same age…uh…amazing.

Listening: The Edith Wharton episode of In Our Time. An interesting discussion in which the fraught and shifting views on Wharton as a female writer – feminist or no? – were fairly covered.

The thread that was introduced but not really tied up, though, involved an aspect of her background I’d not known about. She was tutor and self-educated (coming from a wealthy family) and when asked about her reading, one of the panelists emphasized the importance of the works of evolutionists from Spencer to Darwin and others. A few minutes later, as they discussed her predominant themes, they sketched a picture of a changing world, yes, but also a deeply hierarchical world in which the “lower” classes and non-Europeans were given scant attention and that, mostly dismissive. That is to say – a world very reflective of social Darwinism, although no one ever explicitly made that link.

Someone dropped a comment during the discussion about Catholicism, though, that sent me on a rabbit trail, which transitions us to….

Reading:  Aside from the very hot stream of  Super Hot Takes on the election, a close read of the great J. F. Powers story, “The Lord’s Day” – this was about all I managed:

So, as I mentioned, one of the In Our Time scholars mentioned that the Church had condemned or at least criticized Wharton’s work. The impression I got from the discussion was that any Church criticism must have had to do with sexually-scandalous material.

Well, the rabbit trails indicated that was only partly so.

The main critique is related to a poem Wharton wrote on Margaret of Cortona. You can read it here, along with an accompanying Howard Pyle illustration.

Reminder: Margaret of Cortona lived with a man outside of wedlock for nine years and bore him a child. The man was murdered, and upon discovering his body, she converted to a life of penance and charity, eventually becoming a Franciscan tertiary.

In Wharton’s poem, published in Harper’s Monthly in 1901, we meet Margaret on her deathbed, confessing to a friar – is it her son? I don’t know.

The gist of the poem, and what got Catholic readers up in arms,  is that Margaret is torn between her love of Christ and her love of her dead lover – and perhaps even not so torn, since she makes it clear that what she had found with the earthly lover seemed pretty close to heaven. Here on her deathbed, she has prayed and prayed, but has been met with silence, while she knows that if her lover were alive, at least he would respond to her.

I have lain here, these many empty days
I thought to pack with Credos and Hail Marys
So close that not a fear should force the door –
But still, between the blessed syllables
That taper up like blazing angel heads,
Praise over praise, to the Unutterable,
Strange questions clutch me, thrusting fiery arms,
As though, athwart the close-meshed litanies,
My dead should pluck at me from hell, with eyes
Alive in their obliterated faces!…
I have tried the saints’ names and our blessed Mother’s
Fra Paolo, I have tried them o’er and o’er,
And like a blade bent backward at first thrust
They yield and fail me—and the questions stay.
And so I thought, into some human heart,
Pure, and yet foot-worn with the tread of sin,
If only I might creep for sanctuary,
It might be that those eyes would let me rest…

You can see how this would make people unhappy. From an article on “The Catholic in Fiction” from a secular journal called The Reader:

It is incredible that a writer of Mrs. Wharton’s refinement and ability should have taken a canonized saint as the subject on which to exercise such an unseemly flight of fancy….Mrs. Wharton makes this holy woman, after years of repentance, avow on her death-bed a preference for her lover’s caresses and the comfort his impassioned ardor, to the divine love of the crucified Lord whom she had so diligently served for years. Mrs. Wharton is entitled to no consideration for this affront, unless on the ignoble ground of ignorance.

Of course, I understand this objection, but I did read the poem from a slightly different angle as well.  The contrast between Christ and the earthly lover is certainly the major theme – in which Christ comes out less favorably – but there’s also, it seems, some grappling with an irony of the spiritual life which must strike any thinking person: you might even call it the irony of conversion. She’s asking: if I hadn’t been living a sinful life, would I have met Christ?

As well as, in a general way, the questions all of us have about the direction our life has taken as we look back on it:

 

Ah, that black night he left me, that dead dawn 
I found him lying in the woods, alive 
To gasp my name out and his life-blood with it, 
As though the murderer’s knife had probed for me 
In his hacked breast and found me in each wound… 
Well, it was there Christ came to me, you know, 
And led me home—just as that other led me. 
(Just as that other? Father, bear with me!) 
My lover’s death, they tell me, saved my soul, 
And I have lived to be a light to men. 
And gather sinners to the knees of grace. 
All this, you say, the Bishop’s signet covers. 
But stay! Suppose my lover had not died? 
(At last my question! Father, help me face it.) 
I say: Suppose my lover had not died – 
Think you I ever would have left him living, 
Even to be Christ’s blessed Margaret? 
– We lived in sin? Why, to the sin I died to 
That other was as Paradise, when God 
Walks there at eventide, the air pure gold, 
And angels treading all the grass to flowers! 
He was my Christ—he led me out of hell – 
He died to save me (so your casuists say!) – 
Could Christ do more? Your Christ out-pity mine? 

No, the poem is not anything great, and I certainly understand the reaction against it, but still. There’s a glimmer of truth in there.

I just spent a lot of time on that, but, of course, it wasn’t my intention when I began writing this to go as much into the poem as into the reaction to her novel The Valley of Decision. This was Wharton’s first published novel: a historical novel of 18th century Italy that, it seems from plot summaries, positions free-thinkers against Church and tradition, etc. I have zero interest in reading it, but when I searched for “Edith Wharton” and Catholic Church condemned – this was, besides from the poem, what popped up.

So initially I thought, “Oh the early 20th century American church criticized this content for sexual-related content it deemed immoral, obviously.” But..maybe not?

What I found was, of course, no “official” condemnation, but a strong critique published in Catholic World, which, in turn, reprints a critique from the Chicago Chronicle.

And what’s the basis of the critique?

The answer will surprise you!

The focus is the treatment of the primary female character, Fulvia, and specifically the role of education in her life. The critique takes on Wharton for, the author claims, indicating that higher education corrupts a woman’s character.  I’m going to reproduce this section at length, because I want you to participate in one of my favorite activities: Dispel myths about the past.

In this case, the myths are: No one believed that women should be educated before 1970 or so. In particular, the Catholic Church was opposed to women’s intellectual development.

Not to mention that this contemporary critique adds to the discussion about Wharton. It may or may not be an accurate read of her character, but the fact is that in this case, her narrative was received as anti-woman’s education and moralistic. Interesting.

The severest blow dealt against the higher education of women has been delivered by one of themselves, the author of The Valley of Decision, a somewhat tedious two-volume novel of the spurious “historical” variety.

It has been claimed by the opponents of equal education for men and women that whatever the intellectual results of the attempt, the moral result would be injurious to the family and society. It has been specifically urged that the tendency of the higher education would be to draw women more and more toward the laxer social standards of men, and to make women impatient of those restraints which until now have constituted the bulwarks of the home.

The Valley of Decision supports this theory. The heroine around whom the sympathy of the story is concentrated enjoys from early youth the advantages which other women, at least in the United States, must acquire, if at all, by long years of labor through primary and secondary schools into colleges and universities. A name of evil omen, whether in Roman history or in Ben Jonson’s “Catiline,” Fulvia starts the heroine out on a path of aspiration, independence, erudition, and ruin.

Her learning fails to develop moral or spiritual growth. In full womanhood, having had abundant experience enabling her to see the evils of society in the fullest glare of their malignity, Fulvia voluntarily accepts an unlawful and immoral social status from which all right-minded women instinctively recoil. She becomes the willing victim of a profligate weakling on a petty ducal throne, and feels neither shame nor remorse in her degradation.

The malign influence of such a novel upon the aspirations of American women for university privileges is made by the author the more certain and the more emphatic because the scene of the sinister fiction is laid in the country which was the first to open university doors to women. The poet Alfieri is dragged into the story to heighten the proportions of its all-pervading moral squalor. Sneering at the idea of a woman taking the degree of doctor of philosophy, the poet is made to say: “Oh, she’s one of your prodigies of female learning, such as our topsy-turvy land produces; an incipient Laura Bassi or Gaetana Agnesi, to name the most distinguished of their tribe; though I believe that hitherto her father’s good sense or her own has kept her from aspiring to academic honors. The beautiful Fulvia is a good daughter and devotes herself, I am told, to helping Vivaldi in his work, a far more becoming employment for one of her age and sex than defending Latin theses before a crew of ribald students.”

But Fulvia’s father was a sympathizer with his daughter’s tastes, which he habitually promoted. To make the lesson of the moral failure of the higher education of women still more convincing, the author of The Valley of Decision reserves the bestowal of her final degree upon Fulvia until after the university and the whole town are familiar with her adoption of a shameless life and her open rejection of religious or conventional standards.

In Italy the universities were open to women soon after their foundation in the Middle Ages. At Bologna, which for centuries was one of the greatest universities in Europe, a number of women justly attained distinction as professors of the sciences, languages, and law. Laura Bassi was of a comparatively late time. So great was her reputation for learning, but also for virtue, that her doctorate was conferred under circumstances of civic and academic pomp. She married happily and became the mother of fourteen children.

Two sisters Agnesi were distinguished in Italian higher education. One, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, was an eminent professor and author in the exact sciences during the eighteenth century, and lived to be upward of eighty years of age. A younger sister was distinguished as a pianist and composer. Upon the entire array of the learned women of Italy whose careers have been historically noted there was never a breath of moral reproach.

The injury which The Valley of Decision inflicts upon the contemporary higher education of women is shrewdly designed in the contrast which this repulsive novel makes in its alienation of the higher education from religious and moral control.

The atmosphere which is created for the reader of The Valley of Decision is the most repulsive ever introduced into an American literary production. In the large company constituting the chief participants in a story projected along hackneyed guide-book information there is not from the first cover of the first volume to the last of the second one honest man or virtuous woman.

The moral squalor of J he Valley of Decision is the more surprising because the scene is laid in the land which has given to literature and life the paramount group of ideal womanhood, Dante’s Beatrice, Petrarch’s Laura, Michael Angelo’s Vittoria Colonna; and to Shakspere his two most engaging characters, blending in their mutual devotion of a noble womanhood erudition and chastity, Portia and Nerissa.

The womanhood of the United States may justly deplore that such a volume as The Valley of Decision should have its origin in the United States, in which the experiment of the higher education of women has thus far been courageously carried to an advancement which few of the universities have been able to withstand.

 

And if you’re interested, go to p. 596 in the same volume of the 1902 Catholic World and read an article about Bologna called “A City of Learned Women.”

The universal spread of knowledge and literary culture among women is no doubt one of the boasts of modern civilization. We point to it with pride as emphasizing the superiority of this age over its predecessors; exemplified by the thorough training of mind and body considered equally necessary nowadays for girls as well as boys. Nevertheless, if we go a little more deeply into the matter, we shall find once more at the bottom of all our researches the most discouraging but true old adage embodying the world-weariness of the wisest king of old: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

It is a shock at first to realize that our progress is not so wonderful as we imagined; and that, instead of inventors, we are only “revivalists”; perfecting perhaps what has gone before, with the help of added centuries of experience and science; but still only reviving things dormant, or at best forgotten. In an atmosphere of self-congratulation upon Women’s Colleges and Universities and the Higher Education of Women, can it come as anything but a revelation to find one’s self face to face with a city of learned women of long centuries past, who spread the light of their knowledge through a land which bowed before their intellect while reverencing their true womanhood?

Such was the revelation which disturbed my new-world complacency one bright morning in the ancient city of Bologna, in this year of the twentieth century; wandering through stately halls of learning where for centuries women had held intellectual sway. No fair girl-graduates were these, drinking their first draught at the fountain of mighty knowledge; but women whose powers of intellect had placed them in the professorial chair, instructing on equal terms with the men-professors the students who flocked around them.

I keep saying it, in one way or another: My Hot Take on 20th century feminism is that it happened because the Protestant Reformation, secular intellectual currents and the industrial revolution pushed Western women into the confined, defining space of a domestic sphere that didn’t exist in a holistic Catholic context.

There. 

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The 16th-century reforming Archbishop of Milan, remembered today, November 4.

The first point to draw to your attention is this book:

Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) should have been part of the problem. As nephew of a Medici Pope who made him a Cardinal at 22 years of age, Borromeo could have become just another corrupt Renaissance Bishop. Instead he became the driving force of reform within the Catholic Church in the wake of the Council of Trent following the Protestant Reformation and the primary reason Trent’s dramatic reforms were successful. His remarkable accomplishments in Milan as Archbishop became the model of reform for the rest of Western Europe. Change is never easy, but St. Charles’ approach – deeply biblical, personal, practical and centered on Christ – offers a road map of reform, even for today. Now for the first time in over 400 years a significant selection of his works appears in the English language.

I started reading it last night – I think in a time in which we’re constantly being told that the Church needs to reform and change and be attentive to the times (which is mostly always true, anyway) – this astonishing story merits far more attention than it gets.

The Church in Milan during this period was unbelievably lax and corrupt – and St. Charles Borromeo turned it around.

How he did that should be of at least mild interest to those super-hot about evangelization and such these days.

First, the text of Pius X’s encyclical on reform and St. Charles – Editae Saepe

Here’s Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, on the 400th anniversary of the canonization.  Very interesting insights on reform, something that we hear much about these days.  First, it begins with humility.

The time in which Charles Borromeo lived was very delicate for Christianity. In it the Archbishop of Milan gave a splendid example of what it means to work for the reform of the Church. There were many disorders to sanction, many errors to correct and many structures to renew; yet St Charles strove for a profound reform of the Church, starting with his own life. It was in himself, in fact, that the young Borromeo promoted the first and most radical work of renewal. His career had begun promisingly in accordance with the canons of that time: for the younger son of the noble family Borromeo, a future of prosperity and success lay in store, an ecclesiastical life full of honours but without any ministerial responsibilities; he also had the possibility of assuming the direction of the family after the unexpected death of his brother Federico.

Yet Charles Borromeo, illumined by Grace, was attentive to the call with which the Lord was attracting him and desiring him to dedicate the whole of himself to the service of his people. Thus he was capable of making a clear and heroic detachment from the lifestyle characterised by his worldly dignity and dedication without reserve to the service of God and of the Church. In times that were darkened by numerous trials for the Christian community, with divisions and confusions of doctrine, with the clouding of the purity of the faith and of morals and with the bad example of various sacred ministries, Charles Borromeo neither limited himself to deploring or condemning nor merely to hoping that others would change, but rather set about reforming his own life which, after he had abandoned wealth and ease, he filled with prayer, penance and loving dedication to his people. St Charles lived heroically the evangelical virtues of poverty, humility and chastity, in a continuous process of ascetic purification and Christian perfection.

And then it spreads…

The extraordinary reform that St Charles carried out in the structures of the Church in total fidelity to the mandate of the Council of Trent was also born from his holy life, ever more closely conformed to Christ. His work in guiding the People of God, as a meticulous legislator and a brilliant organizer was marvellous. All this, however, found strength and fruitfulness in his personal commitment to penance and holiness. Indeed this is the Church’s primary and most urgent need in every epoch: that each and every one of her members should be converted to God. Nor does the ecclesial community lack trials and suffering in our day and it shows that it stands in need of purification and reform. May St Charles’ example always spur us to start from a serious commitment of personal and community conversion to transform hearts, believing with steadfast certainty in the power of prayer and penance. I encourage sacred ministers, priests and deacons in particular to make their life a courageous journey of holiness, not to fear being drunk with that trusting love for Christ that made Bishop Charles ready to forget himself and to leave everything. Dear brothers in the ministry, may the Ambrogian Church always find in you a clear faith and a sober and pure life that can renew the apostolic zeal which St Ambrose, St Charles and many of your holy Pastors possessed!

Image result for st. charles borromeo poor

Charity:

St Charles, moreover, was recognized as a true and loving father of the poor. Love impelled him to empty his home and to give away his possessions in order to provide for the needy, to support the hungry, to clothe and relieve the sick. He set up institutions that aimed to provide social assistance and to rescue people in need; but his charity for the poor and the suffering shone out in an extraordinary way during the plague of 1576 when the holy Archbishop chose to stay in the midst of his people to encourage them, serve them and defend them with the weapons of prayer, penance and love.

Furthermore it was charity that spurred Borromeo to become an authentic and enterprising educator: for his people with schools of Christian doctrine; for the clergy with the establishment of seminaries; for children and young people with special initiatives for them and by encouraging the foundation of religious congregations and confraternities dedicated to the formation of children and young people.

Rooted in love of the Lord:

However it is impossible to understand the charity of St Charles Borromeo without knowing his relationship of passionate love with the Lord Jesus. He contemplated this love in the holy mysteries of the Eucharist and of the Cross, venerated in very close union with the mystery of the Church. The Eucharist and the Crucified One immersed St Charles in Christ’s love and this transfigured and kindled fervour in his entire life, filled his nights spent in prayer, motivated his every action, inspired the solemn Liturgies he celebrated with the people and touched his heart so deeply that he was often moved to tears.

His contemplative gaze at the holy Mystery of the Altar and at the Crucified one stirred within him feelings of compassion for the miseries of humankind and kindled in his heart the apostolic yearning to proclaim the Gospel to all. On the other hand we know well that there is no mission in the Church which does not stem from “abiding” in the love of the Lord Jesus, made present within us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Let us learn from this great Mystery! Let us make the Eucharist the true centre of our communities and allow ourselves to be educated and moulded by this abyss of love! Every apostolic and charitable deed will draw strength and fruitfulness from this source!

Can this speak to young people?  All this old stuff, deep in history?  Of course…

The splendid figure of St Charles suggests to me a final reflection which I address to young people in particular. The history of this great Bishop was in fact totally determined by some courageous “yeses”, spoken when he was still very young. When he was only 24 years old he decided to give up being head of the family to respond generously to the Lord’s call; the following year he accepted priestly and episcopal Ordination. At the age of 27 he took possession of the Ambrogian Diocese and gave himself entirely to pastoral ministry. In the years of his youth St Charles realized that holiness was possible and that the conversion of his life could overcome every bad habit. Thus he made his whole youth a gift of love to Christ and to the Church, becoming an all-time giant of holiness.

Dear young people, let yourselves be renewed by this appeal that I have very much at heart: God wants you to be holy, for he knows you in your depths and loves you with a love that exceeds all human understanding. God knows what is in your hearts and is waiting to see the marvellous gift he has planted within you blossom and bear fruit. Like St Charles, you too can make your youth an offering to Christ and to your brethren. Like him you can decide, in this season of life, “to put your stakes” on God and on the Gospel. Dear young people, you are not only the hope of the Church; you are already part of her present! And if you dare to believe in holiness you will be the greatest treasure of your Ambrogian Church which is founded on Saints.

The whole thing. 


We went to Milan back in 2011 – I have no complaints about any of our travels, but I have to say, that was a great trip.  Partly because it was The Fare Deal of the Century, which always helps. Not kidding when I tell you that our airfare from NYC to Milan was $250 apiece. That has never happened since and will never happen again, I’m sure.

At the time, people were like, You’re taking your kids to Europe for Spring Break? How extravagant! And I was like, I pretty much guarantee that I am spending less on this trip than you are with your week at Disney or Universal. 

But anyway, in Milan, we did see St. Charles Borromeo’s relics in his duomo. No photos of that, but I here’s the roof.

And this post is about our daytrip to Stresa on Lago Maggiore, which was the site of the Borromeo family estates and, even now, the Borromean Islands in the lake – they were not “open” for the season when we were there (in March), but it was a great day, nonetheless. 

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— 1 —

The big news down here was of course, Hurricane Michael. We were well out of the way of anything except some clouds, but of course the Gulf shore is “the beach” for this part of the country. We’ve never actually been to Mexico Beach, but many people do spend time in that area – and of course many live down there and have seen their lives turned completely upside down in this devastation. I can’t see how an area recovers from this.

Before and after photos here.

 

— 2 —

Reading: A couple of days ago, I read the novel The Last Cruise by Kate Christensen. I had read her The Great Man and thought it was just okay – but this was on the new books shelf at the library, it vaguely appealed to me, and I wanted to have a real book on hand to read one evening as a prophylatic against the temptation of screens, so there you go.

Like the other – it was okay. It kept my interest, and I enjoyed reading about food – from one of the ship’s chef’s perspective – and music, from the perspective of an aging Israeli musician on board. In fact, both of those subplots – about the Hungarian sous-chef trying to figure out his path – and the string quartet composed of one woman and three men, all elderly and all veterans of life in Israel during its formative years, including military service – were absorbing enough. But the rest of the characters were too lightly sketched or too (surprisingly) stereotypical representatives of ethnic groups. I thought she could have done a lot more with the setting and bigger theme – this “last cruise” is on a smaller cruise ship being retired after this voyage, a ship that enjoyed its heyday in the 50’s and 60’s , and the voyage was themed to be a retro celebration of all of that. There was also just a bit too much busy-ness in the plot and honestly, the main female character (not the musician) wasn’t interesting at all.

A lot of readers on both Amazon and Goodreads hate the ending – and so I was prepared to hate it, too, but…I didn’t. When you have a book set on a ship, you’ve got a ready-made metaphor for Life right there, and it just seemed to me that the ending was, if not emotionally satisfying, true to the way that life goes, all of us knocking about on this ship, subject to uncontrollable forces, doing what we can, be surprised by each other along the way.

Some reader-reviewers say that the end is too much like the climax of The Perfect Storm, but since I’ve neither read nor seen it, I can’t speak to that.

— 3 —

Well, we’ve got some canonizations this weekend, don’t we? Romero I get of course, but Paul VI? Really? Well, I take that back. Since I have no illusions about ecclesiastical politics and ideological agendas, sure, I get the push to canonize Paul VI. But…yeah. Tell me about all the popular devotion to Paul VI out there. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

/cynicism.

Well, that’s not honest because my cynicism is never off. Sorry.

Anyway, more important than my snide remarks are the lives of the five other saints being canonized today. Here’s a report.

Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio was born in Pescosansonesco (Italy) on 13 April 1817 and died in Naples (Italy) on 5 May 1836. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI on 1 December 1963.

Blessed Francesco Spinelli, diocesan priest and Founder of the Institute of the Sister Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament, who born in Milan (Italy) on 14 April 1853 and died at Rivolta d’Adda (Italy) on 6 February 1913.

Blessed Vincenzo Romano, diocesan priest, who was born at Torre del Greco (Italy) on 3 June 1751 and died there on 20 December 1831.

Blessed Maria Caterina Kasper, Foundress of the Institute of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ who was born on 26 May 1820 in Dernbach (Germany) and died there on 2 February 1898.

Blessed Nazaria Ignazia March Mesa (in religion: Nazaria Ignazia di Santa Teresa di Gesù), Foundress of the Congregation of the Misioneras Cruzadas de la Iglesia Sisters who was born in Madrid (Spain) on 10 January 1889 and died in Buenos Aires (Argentina) on 6 July 1943.

— 4 —

Samford University, a local Baptist institution, is hosting a conference at the end of the month – on teaching Dante. 

In a 1921 encyclical marking the 600th anniversary of Dante’s death, Pope Benedict XV praised the great Florentine poet as “that noble figure, pride and glory of humanity.” Few writers have shaped the Christian intellectual tradition and imagination more than Dante, this noble figure whose work stands between two worlds, embodying the creative genius of the Middle Ages while anticipating and shaping the Renaissance to come. “Teaching Dante” will bring together more than thirty scholars from across the disciplines to explore effective strategies for introducing a new generation of students to Dante’s achievement and influence.

Hopefully, we’ll get to the free lecture, by Notre Dame’s Theodore Cachey, called “Mapping Hell.”

— 5 —

Next Monday is the feast of St. Teresa of Avila. She’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints, and Loyola has a very readable excerpt here 

(If you would like to read a pdf version, click here.) 

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St. Ignatius of Antioch coming up, too – October 17. Go here to prep for that!

— 6 —

If you don’t come here regularly during the week, check back a few days to the big post I did on our long weekend trip to the Kansas City area. 

 

More travel coming fairly soon: to NYC this time, so stay tuned here and to Instagram for that.

Just a reminder: if you cast your eyes up the screen a bit, you see a couple of tabs up there – and they will take to pages with blog posts focused on those topics: homeschooling and travel. The travel page isn’t complete, but I’m getting there.

Also – I’ve posted some more general interest posts of old to the Medium site. 

 

— 7 —

Coming soon: Posts on Better Call Saul and Ross Douthat’s To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, which I read on the plane to Kansas City.

Hopefully, early next week.

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

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Is it Thursday already? Well, well. A busy weekend is coming, and it involves travel. You Thursdaymight want to follow on Instagram for a taste. It’s not an exotic or novel destination, but hopefully, we’ll see new things.

Today’s the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, of course. Go here for a mega post with links to some of the many things I’ve written about St. Francis over the years. Bottom line takeaway? Read Francis for yourself. He didn’t write much. It’s all available, free. You might be surprised. 

So, on to the digest routine. Today it will be just reading:

Reading: I finished 1808: The Flight of the Emperor. How a Weak Prince, a Mad Queen, and the British Navy Tricked Napoleon and Changed the New World.  It was a decent, popular introduction to the events, but left me with many questions – there are works out there that go into more depth, but, as  I said, this serves as a good, easy-to read introduction.

(Reminder: I knew nothing about this before a couple of weeks ago, when I listened to a BBC 4 radio program on the creation of the nation of Brazil.)

Short version: Brazil was, of course, a Portuguese colony. In 1807, Napoleon was about to invade Portugal, and in order to save, if not that slip of the Iberian peninsula, perhaps the core and economic engine of the empire, the Royal Court hopped on boats and sailed across the Atlantic to Rio. All of them. Plus thousands of retainers and lesser nobility.1808 brazil They just….left.

It was certainly interesting to read about the stark contrast between aristocratic life in Portugal and the roughness of life in Rio. What’s most interesting though, as it usually is, is the inevitability of the Law of Unintended Consequences – for the ironic result of the decampment was, ironically, the independence of the colony, which came sooner than anyone could have predicted, and probably much more peaceably, because of the presence of the royal family in the land for more than a decade and the continued presence, even after everyone else had returned, of regent Pedro I.

And…then…there are the rabbit trails. My ‘satiable curiosity leads me down many, which is why sometimes it takes me longer to read a book like this than it should. Today’s rabbit trails were all about slavery – specifically slavery and religious orders in Brazil.

Ahem. [Clears throat for rant.]

History. It’s a wonderful thing. Really. What do they say? To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant? Well, not they, but Cardinal Newman, of course.

And I do agree with that. But that doesn’t mean that I also agree with the way that most religious history is presented most of the time by most well-meaning Catholics.

For the truth is, the triumphalist narrative, while not as overt as it was, perhaps before Vatican II, still reigns. That narrative which drains history of complexity and ambiguity and which lives in fear, most of all, of a secularist or (just as bad!) Prog Catholic being able to chortle See! The Church does change! 

And I get it. I taught high school, for pete’s sake.

So what passes for passing on our Church’s history is really a lot of  intense apologetics – much of which is truly quite legit – and parsing to make sure that we all understand that it wasn’t, strictly speaking and properly defined, the actual Church that was responsible for this bad thing or seemed to have maybe perhaps changed. A little bit.

But guess what? That smooth narrative isn’t real, isn’t honest, and, in the end – as we see in the present moment – makes the sins and inadequacies of the Church even more of a shock to the system and harder to deal with and understand – and, I might add – fix. 

So, take slavery. If you have only the most cursory understanding of the Church and slavery – from the sympathetic side – all you have probably heard is Bartolomo de las Casas – Church always taught slavery was intrinsically wrong – everything else anti-Catholic Black Legend Stuff. 

Well, this brief blog post isn’t about theology or ethics, but just history. And to be honest about history demands that we admit that for most of history, the Church did not present a 100% counter-cultural face when it came to the institution of slavery – although one can argue that the Catholic view of the humanity of enslaved persons was counter-cultural, yes. In a way.

I’ll just limit this to sharing what I read related to this very narrow slice of history, a couple of articles digging a little more deeply into various aspects of this issue.

“The Plantations of St. Benedict: The Benedictine Sugar Mills of Colonial Brazil.” 

-Sugar plantations which provided the economic foundation of Benedictine presence in Brazil and which were worked primarily by enslaved persons, as was the the case with most religious foundations in the New World, with the exception of those run by the Franciscans.

The author examines the economics of the system, but also makes some observations about treatment, arguing that the Benedictine plantations treated slaves more humanely than did most others, encouraging marriage and some independent economic activity.

“Slave Confraternities in Brazil: Their Role in Colonial Society.”

This article interested me because I’m particularly curious about how the official Church explained and co-existed with very official slavery. If you care to create a JSTOR account and log in, this article offers another, fascinating layer to the story.

“One of the most important colonial institutions which joined church and society in the Brazilian cities were the lay confraternities which were attached to churches, convents and monasteries. These voluntary associations of laymen and women joined people of all classes and races in common religious activities and social works of mercy. In colonial Brazil there were separate lay associations for different races, although these racially suggested societies might parade together during religious festivals and share side altars in a common church. Free blacks, mulattoes and slaves joined separate religious associations since the white confraternities were very exclusive and discriminatory towards the poorer non-white population. The slave confraternities of the cities of 18th century Brazil were the only lay religious associations in that society which were open to all people regardless of class, race, sex or ethnic background. However as the century wore on some of the black brotherhoods tended to differentiate among themselves according to tribal distinctions, language, social condition and the extent of assimilation in Portuguese America. The larger slave confraternities like the Rosary brotherhood usually had a more diverse membership of free and slave brothers, mulattoes, Creoles and tribal Africans, blacks and whites.”

And finally, some chunks of a book on Jesuit economic activity – chunks because I read it on Google Books, and I only had about 75% of the pertinent pages available to me that way. If you’d like to take a shot at it, go here, and start on page 502. The author lays out – I think fairly – the conflicts within the order about slavery. There were voices opposed to it – powerful ones – but in the end, practical exigencies won out.

(Click for larger version – also go to above link.)

 

 

 

(Some of you might be aware that, of course, North American Jesuits were no strangers to slavery either – a couple of years ago, Georgetown University acknowledged the role that slavery had played in its beginnings – specifically, the 272 slaves that were sold by Maryland Jesuits to get then Georgetown College out of debt.) 

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Jesuits: Rationalizing capitulation to the culture since the 17th century!

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It’s a serious question, and an intriguing one. This isn’t the first time I’ve made this observation. I have no answer – just an observation.

If we critique the contemporary Church for capitulating to culture and powers and principalities – do we bring the same critique to the past? Or do we say, “Well, we have to understand the context – what else could the Church have done? Hindsight is 20/20, you know.”

If we’re super comfortable with the Church integrating certain novel aspects of contemporary culture into belief and practice – do we bring the same approach to the Church’s actions in the past? Or do we say, “The Church was wrong and sinful and should obviously apologize.”

Just something to think about.

 

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MondayGood morning, all. What a weekend. What a week on the horizon. And it’s only going to intensify over the next month before midterm elections hit us, and then we’ll have weeks of sorting through that….

My survival technique? Keep with what you want to follow, but prioritize real life in encountering people face-to-face.  Read old books. Look up and around and out the window. Say your prayers.

Anyway:

Reading:

The Burglar is one of the more astonishing books I’ve read in recent years. Not because it was magnificent, but because it the overall impact was so unexpected. What Goodis was trying to do was so unusual. It’s a book that I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about for a while, nor do I want to put it out of my head, either. It’s giving me much to think about –  mostly about how existential questions get filtered through pop culture in surprising ways.

I wrote about author David Goodis here. The Burglar is also in the Library of America collection, along with Dark Passage. This time, the protagonist is not innocent or unjustly accused – he’s a professional thief – but the novel is really not about his thieving. It’s about why he’s a thief, the sense of honor that binds him to the people he’s with and shapes his life, and ultimately it’s about the source and potential price of being faithful to one’s code of honor.

And because it’s mid-century, and because it’s noir, it’s a bleak, tight work in which we’re pondering a man who’s pondering the cold reality of being, in the end, alone. And dead.

What I can’t stop thinking about is that The Burglar has some fairly Deep Thoughts coursing through it and some evocative writing, all bound up in this package:

amy-welborn

The last two chapters are quite astonishing, really, and I keep imagining the reaction of the reader who picked up this paperback at the five-and-dime, settled down for a pulpy scorcher of a read, and ends up with our protagonist and the young woman he’s bound by honor to protect out in the inky-dark ocean off Atlantic City in an extended scene that is really a metaphor for life’s forces and our choices combining and pulling us down, down, down.

The plot is: Nat Harbin is a professional thief in his early 30’s. He’d gotten into the business when, as a starving teen orphan, he’d been picked up hitchhiking by a pro who had a young daughter. Eventually the pro is killed during a job and Harbin, the girl and two other men gradually form a family of sorts, a family in which each individual has a burglaring specialty. We meet them in the midst of a huge heist of a stash of emeralds from a Philadelphia mansion. What ends up happening is that a dirty cop decides to take advantage of the situation, enlists a woman named Della to ensnare Harbin, all with the end of getting the emeralds themselves.

Along the way, there are encounters that escalate the way they do only in noir and in the movies, life compressed into meaningful gazes across restaurants, quick cab rides and blunt statements of desire. Every time I read a noir novel, I can’t help but hear the male protagonist speak in Humphrey Bogart’s voice. Typical of Goodis, there is also this intense deep-dive into the protagonist’s consciousness, a commitment to show us what it’s like to see, feel and think.

The thing was purely a matter of timing. To know just when to walk out. And he knew as sure as he was sitting here, this was the time to walk out. Right now. To tell the driver to stop the cab. To open the door and slide out, and walk away, and keep walking.

She held him there. He didn’t know how she was doing it, but she held him there as though she had him tied hand and foot. She had him trapped there in the cab, and he looked at her with hate.

“Why?” she said. “Why the look?”

He couldn’t answer.

She said, “You frightened?” Without moving, she seemed to lean toward him. “Do I frighten you, Nat?”

“You antagonize me.”

“Listen, Nat—”

“Shut up,” he said. “Let me think about this.”

She nodded slowly, exaggerating the nod. He saw her profile, the quiet line of her brow and nose and chin, the semi-delicate line of her jaw, the cigarette an inch or two away from her lips, and the smoke of the cigarette. Then he took his eyes and pulled them away from Della, and then without looking at Della, he was seeing her. The ride to the library took up a little more than twenty minutes, and they weren’t saying a word to each other, yet it was as though they talked to each other constantly
through the ride. The cab pulled up in front of the library and neither of them moved. The driver said they were at the library, and neither of them moved. The driver shrugged and let the motor idle and sat there, waiting.

After a while, the driver said, “Well, what’s it gonna be?”

“The way it’s got to be,” she said. As she floated her body toward Harbin, she gave the driver an address.

What’s it gonna be? The way it’s got to be. 

Well.

What are we doing all of this for, this life business? These choices? Ever wonder? Harbin tries to convince Gladden to pursue a plan, even though it might take months:

She stared at the backboard behind Harbin’s head. “Emeralds,” she said. “Chunks of green glass.”

In a desperate situation, Harbin’s dealing with an antagonist who is probably going to kill him if he gets a chance. I was struck by this simple metaphor that succinctly captures an internal dynamic:

There was a sudden hysteria in Hacket’s tone and Harbin grabbed at it as though it were a rope dangling toward him with quicksand the only other thing around.

The dialogue in this moment – actually a dreadful moment – made me laugh out loud. Someone has a clear sense of reality:

As Della walked in, her eyes were pulled to the red on the floor and Baylock’s dead face resting against the shiny red. She turned away quickly from that. She waited until Hacket had closed the door and then she stared at him. Her voice was low and quivered just a little. “What are you, a lunatic?”

Hacket stood looking at the door. “I couldn’t help it.”

“That means you’re a lunatic.” 

And then this, in which our protagonist expresses his essential solitude and the power of the crowd:

“One thing for certain. We didn’t do it. I wanted those three cops to live. I wanted Dohmer to live. I wanted Baylock to live. For Christ’s sake,” he said, and he saw her gesture, telling him to talk lower, “I never wanted anyone to die.” He stared ahead, at the people seated in the pavilion, the people on the boardwalk, and indicating them, he said, “I swear I have nothing against them. Not a thing. Look at them. All of them. I like them. I really like them, even though they hate my guts.” His voice went very low. “Yours too.”

“They don’t know we’re alive.”

“They’ll know it if we’re caught. That’s when it starts. When we get grabbed. When we’re locked up. That’s when they know. It tells them how good they are and how bad we are.”

If you check out other reviews of this book at Goodreads, you’ll find similar reactions.

On the boardwalk, he approached the hotel, he saw the sun hitting the silvery rail that separated the raised boards from the beach. There were a lot of people on the beach and most of them wore bathing suits. The beach was white-yellow under the sun. He looked at the ocean and it was flat and passive, with the heavy heat coming down on it, giving it the look of hot green metal. The waves were small and seemed to lack enthusiasm as they came up against the beach. In the water the bathers moved slowly, without much enjoyment, getting wet but not cool. He knew the water was warm and sticky and probably very dirty from the storm of Saturday night. Even so, he told himself, he would like to be in there in the ocean with the bathers, and maybe he and Gladden would have themselves a swim before leaving Atlantic City. The thought was an extreme sort of optimism but he repeated the thought and kept repeating it as he moved toward the entrance of the hotel.

I was going to take a break from all of this, but then I started Nightfall last night and was reeled in, both by the initial mystery, but also by the very real, affectionate relationship between a police detective and his wife – which warms my heart, but also fills me with dread because I’m thinking this can’t end well, because nothing ends well in this world.

Writing: I worked on the short story all weekend, pulled together some of the travel posts (see the page above) and tried to unravel All the Problems. Strangely, they remain knotted. I’ll be in Living Faith on Wednesday. Go here for that. 

Listening: My son’s jazz teacher gave him “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” to work on, with the Dave Brubeck variations on the same to listen to. It’s a beautiful thing, this Brubeck – he winds through some standard jazz stylings, then works out an invention/fugue type thing and then something that sounds a little like Liszt. So we’ve been listening a lot to that.

 

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