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This was an excellent bit of history – well-written, clear, and faithful to the sources.

I came upon it when I saw the author – UC Berkeley history professor Margaret Chowning’s most recent book (published this month) mentioned in list of forthcoming historical works. The new one is Catholic Women and Mexican Politics, 1750–1940 – “How women preserved the power of the Catholic Church in Mexican political life.”

I thought – well, that’s interesting. I’ll have to read that. It’s too early for it to be available via interlibrary loan, so I wondered what else she’d written and found this. Let’s go.

Before I present the summary (which I am going to crib from another website) – let me tell you what I appreciated about the book, what it illuminated and the context it helps establish for thinking about religious life today. The summary I’m going to post is pretty long, and some of you might drift away before the end of that, so I’ll make my points first.

I say to you again and again that reading history – and by that I mean accounts relating small corners of the past, not sweeping general works – can be very helpful in keeping your bearings in the present. Of course, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of the past, especially if we’re talking Church, which we are in this space, most of the time. But beyond that, to read a monograph like this – or to even a summary of it – highlights a lot of plain truths, mainly this one:

Life in the church is always lived by complicated human beings in complicated times. Church structures are always impacted by their cultural, social and political context. They shift, change and develop. People argue. People fight. People in spiritual positions act out of non-spiritual reasons all the time. In fact, in this life on earth, in this incarnational existence, is there any other way?

So in this case, I was prompted, for one, to think a lot about the role of religious orders and their sustenance. Very often today, we look at the struggles and the general decline (with some exceptions) of women’s religious life, and we compare it to the apparent flourishing of the same in the past, and we can see nothing but a reason for condemnation of the present. Faithless, we say. Look what previous generations were able to support!

Well, let’s look at how those Mexican enclosed convents existed. The choir nuns – fully professed – were at the center of convent life. These choir nuns had to be of certain racial stock (not indigenous, not even a drop), and they entered with a dowry. The dowry was then generally invested and used as a lending source. In short, most of these convents were banks and mortgage institutions – that’s how they financially survived, and for a time, flourished. It wasn’t because of incredibly faithful donors who sacrificially made it all possible. It was because of canny financial activities. There was a time in which the convent at the heart of this book suffered financially, for several reasons, including an excess of expenditures, but also because the majordomo hired to collect rents and interest wasn’t doing his job well.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that system. I don’t know enough to judge that. It’s just the way it was. All I’m saying is that knowing this gives essential context when we attempt to compare the apparent strength of religious life in respective eras.

Before the summary, I’ll skip to the end of the story. The Mexican government suppressed all convents in 1863. Many enclosed nuns tried to stay together after the suppression, taking up residence in private homes, attempting to maintain some sort of common prayer life. The Purisma nuns were apparently not able to do so – Chowning can’t find any evidence. However, in a rather moving coda, when Chowning visits San Miguel in the writing of the book, a sister at the church tells her the story of more recent history. Four sisters attempted to return in thee 1920’s, but were driven out, of course, by yet another revolution. But then:

So here you go – this is from a review of the book, found here:

Before you read, however – something this reviewer omits is that the foundress was a (very) young woman from San Miguel named María Josepha Lina. An orphaned heiress, she very much wanted to continue her father’s wish for establishing a convent in the town. She was influenced to support the Conceptionists, despite the fact that she had reformed (austere) tendencies – and that had been her father’s intention – probably because of a spiritual advisor’s ties to the Conceptionists. The Conceptionists were not reformed – they followed the more worldly model of female religious life. So you can see that there are potential problems from the beginning. So:

The rebellion revolved around the issue of reform. La Purísima was established as a reformed convent, where nuns strictly observed their vows of poverty and enclosure and lived the vida común (common life), sharing meals and sleeping in communal dormitories. Donadas (lay sisters) and nuns did convent work, in place of personal servants.

The first abbess interpreted the convent’s mission narrowly, insisting on a taxing devotional schedule even though nuns had multiple responsibilities beyond spiritual duties. A rebellious faction emerged, led by Phelipa de San Antonio.

Like the abbess, Phelipa had come from an unreformed Conceptionist convent in Mexico City to help found La Purísima. She was the first to suffer an illness that later moved among her followers. Described as the salto (jumping sickness) or the mal, it was characterized by sufferers’ trancelike state and jerky movements. Afflicted nuns stayed in their cells, received extra food, and were released from many obligations. Contemporaries suspected fakery, although Chowning considers the possibility of somatic causes, at least in Phelipa’s case. Yet Phelipa and others may also have manipulated the symptoms in order to resist the vida común and undermine the authority of the abbess and bishop. The abbess and her like-minded successor were forced out after the first period of rebellion and, after six peaceful years, Phelipa became abbess. Reform-minded nuns complained to the bishop about Phelipa’s administration. Under her tenure nuns wore secular clothes, received male visitors, and mounted plays.

It was during this period that the salto spread. Although an episcopal investigation failed to remove Phelipa, she was not reelected, probably due to factors including rigged elections and the untimely death of the esteemed pro-reform foundress, possibly seen as a martyr.

In 1792, however, Phelipa’s wishes came true (although posthumously); the bishop imposed the vida particular (individual life) on La Purísima, with nuns receiving stipends for their individual needs. This was touted as a solution to ongoing financial problems, partially caused by the remarkable, and endowment-depleting, practice of letting dowryless donadas profess as white veil nuns after a decade of service.

However, the adoption of the vida particular was as much an ideological as a financial decision; Chowning argues that it was inspired by the belief of the bishop and his advisers in free market ideals such as rationalism and individualism. The convent, like the region, suffered economically during the war of independence, but recovered afterwards, although recruitment, a longstanding problem, decreased precipitously. This was due partially to anticlerical characterizations of nuns as prisoners and non-service convents as useless, and to laws making church property taxable, which affected finances. Both factors made convents less attractive to potential novices and their families. In addition, the bishop forced La Purísima to radically limit admissions—because it was not attracting elite, dowried women, new entrants added nothing to the endowment. Finally, with the Liberal government’s closure of convents in 1863, the nuns were turned out.

As I said, this was well-written history. The only thing missing was a timeline of major events. That would have been helpful. I’m looking forward to reading her newest book:

What accounts for the enduring power of the Catholic Church, which withstood widespread and sustained anticlerical opposition in Mexico? Margaret Chowning locates an answer in the untold story of how the Mexican Catholic church in the nineteenth century excluded, then accepted, and then came to depend on women as leaders in church organizations.

But much more than a study of women and the church or the feminization of piety, the book links new female lay associations beginning in the 1840s to the surprisingly early politicization of Catholic women in Mexico. Drawing on a wealth of archival materials spanning more than a century of Mexican political life, Chowning boldly argues that Catholic women played a vital role in the church’s resurrection as a political force in Mexico after liberal policies left it for dead.

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I watched this tonight on the Criterion Channel. If you’ve hung around here for a while, you know that noir is one of my favorite genres, both in print and on film. I just find it fascinating expression of existential tension, both in general and in the context of mid-century, primarily post-war America. You can always find social anxieties and concerns expressed in genre films, whether they be action, westerns, science fiction or what have you.)

This was interesting, but not great. It’s Raymond Chandler’s only original script and (you will be shocked to hear) that the studio forced a change of the ending because didn’t want a serviceman depicted in a negative light. That’s not too much of a spoiler because there are three servicemen characters, and people, this is an almost 80-year old movie. I mean, don’t be mad, but guess what? Rhett leaves Scarlett and Rick makes Ilsa get on that plane.

Something I read offered that this movie could be seen as a precursor, in a way, to The Best Years of Our Lives, which came out a few months later. Of course the latter film is much better – a classic everyone should watch, today, if you can. I can see it – three servicemen just returned from the war, dealing with trauma, injury and family tensions. But of course Best Years is a deep-diving classic, while The Blue Dahlia is a relatively light, convoluted piece highly dependent on coincidence (Veronica Lake just happens to pick up a stranger on the road – who happens to be the trudging-in-the-rain Alan Ladd miles away from where her husband – a fantastic Howard da Silva – has had an affair with his wife. Sure, Raymond.)

That said, there’s a bit of snappy dialogue here and there, Alan Ladd is nice looking and short, William Bendix is traumatized, the female actors, including Veronica Lake are, as most female actors of the time except for the top tier tend to be, stiff. Doris Dowling’s screeching confession that no, her and Ladd’s son didn’t die of diphtheria during his tour – he died in a car accident! caused by her! drunk! driving! was not so much sad as incredible, in the literal sense. I mean, that’s a hard secret to keep, even when your husband is in the Pacific theater. Da Silva was the best part of the movie for me. Casually, confidently unctuous and thoroughly natural in his affect, he made the film.

Oh, and there’s this uncomfortable element – the Bendix character, as I said, has been injured. He’s got a plate in his skull, gets headaches, hallucinates a bit and reacts pretty violently to loud, jazzy music, which he shouts is “Monkey music!” Errr…Mr. Chandler? Really? Maybe that could have used a re-write, instead.

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You know this is more for me than for you, right? It’s a convenient way to “file” these things. So here they are, all in one place. Click on the images to get to the page.

By Month:

2021 highlights here.

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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

Several post-V2-music related posts (in prep for the Substack, which will revive from winter dormancy this Friday), some pre-Advent thoughts, and, in travel, summing up the Mexico trip and a Thanksgiving trip to Colorado.

All November posts here.

In December? Lots of movie, book and gender-related posts, as well as saints, Advent and Christmas. Go here for all of them. A couple of highlights below.


Anyway, my point of disagreement with Douthat has to do with his core notion – in this column at least – that Vatican II was about making the practice of Catholicism easier. Okay, he does qualify this:

The idea was not simply to make Catholicism easier, of course; the hope was that a truer Christianity would flourish once rote obedience diminished.

But then proceeds to point out that the results are what matter, not the stated intentions. I disagree. I think it’s important to get the intentions right – as right as we can, given the fog of history.

And what were the intentions, if not just to “make it easier?” Too much for a mere blog post, but the core of it seemed to be a conviction that vibrant, authentic faith rooted in a free response to God’s invitation – was impeded by legalistic language and practice, as well as by the accretion of tradition and an “outdated” human anthropology and medieval Eurocentricism, blah, blah, blah. Yes, there’s even more – I would suggest the boredom, stupidity and loss of faith of religious professionals played more of a part than we like to admit – as well as other more complex, nuanced, factors, but when you read the documents and those that came afterwards, this is the clear, stated intention.

Secondly, if you go to these videos and read the comments, you will read many, may fond memories people have of this music.

I don’t necessarily have fond memories of this era’s music, but I certainly do have memories. Listening to the podcast, I was shocked by how much I could just join right in on after not having sung any of it for decades.

Of my hands, I give…to you….Oh Lord….

As several have pointed out in the comments, as simplistic and even annoying as some of this early music was, a great deal of it was at least Scripture based. That core was forgotten at certain points – as we see below – but then picked up again by the St. Louis Jesuits who, even their detractors admit, wrote music rooted in Scripture texts.

There are a number of striking, weird aspects to this corner of history, but one of the most pressing questions to me is why the course taken for the sake of lay “active participation” and the cause of restoring ancient forms completely ignored the Eastern liturgical tradition which involves a relatively high degree of possible lay participation, is musical (chanted) from beginning to end, and is, yes ancient.

Of course Latin churchmen still at that time undoubtedly harbored disdain for the East and since the agenda was centered on ModernNewProgressSignsoftheTimes I guess dudes in crowns chanting behind icon screens didn’t exactly fit that model, but still.

One more road – one more – not taken. Tragically.

Hence the Christian is not afraid of the clock, nor is he in cunning complicity with it. The Christian life is not really a “victory over time” because time is not and cannot be a real antagonist. Of course, the Christian life is a victory over death: but it is a victory which accepts death and accepts the lapse of time that inevitably leads to death. But it does this in a full consciousness that death is in no sense a “triumph of time.” For the Christian, time is no longer the devourer of all things. Christian worship is at peace with time because the lapse of time no longer concerns the Christian whose life is “hidden with Christ in God.”

That’s Thomas Merton, not me.

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

From a friend who was also at that Mass, I learned that a parish near me had added a 7am Sunday Spanish Mass to the lineup. Since, due to old age I suppose, early morning Masses are starting to be my jam, I decided to check it out, not expecting a big crowd since the Sunday afternoon Spanish Mass was still in place.

Wrong!

The place was packed!

This is a marvelous piece about the effect and importance of singing the Torah.

Although obviously from a Jewish context and perspective, it might be enlightening for any of us who think about prayer and liturgy, no matter what tradition.


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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

Lots more to share this month, with a big trip at the end – to Guanajuato, Mexico. Posts related to that trip here. All October posts here.


As has been noted by…everyone…the emphasis (and hope) was that by cracking things open, the core truths would be more accessible to a world that, to use a minor example, did not respond in the same way to, say, concepts of kingship that previous generations did, or could peak into galaxies that may not have been fashioned in seven literal days after all or examine the bones of ancestors who might not, after all, have had names.

Understanding how this concept – that there’s a core of faith that can be expressed in diverse culturally-formed ways – was used and abused is a key to tracking the path that leads up to this synod.

I suppose the point on which much of it turns is the small step from: the core of faith might be expressed in a culturally-bound way to —> the core of faith is, because of its essentially mystery and the way humans live and communicate, always and necessarily expressed in culturally-bound ways, so…let’s go for it.

What struck me, and not for the first time, was the sense in this liturgy that I was entering into something. That there was something present and real and solid in whose presence I had entered and was free to approach or not, from whatever place I was in. It was there yesterday, it would be there tomorrow. As a congregation, we responded to that presence in our own ways, speaking, chanting, silently. But it was always there, waiting.

Yeah, it’s broad (but startlingly knowing) satire, but it’s not a bad reminder, either: when someone has made the effort to ask you a question – even it’s how do I get him to use his magic powers to help me score? – take a moment and mind the gap, as we say, between what you’re hearing, what’s really being asked – and whatever comfortable nonsense you’re tempted to reflexively pull out of your answer bag first.

It just seems to me that whenever we suggest that our self-proclaimed weirdness, our quirkiness, our tattoos, our use of language, our family size, our role as employed outside the home or working within it, our pop culture choices, our political views, and even – yes – even our self-identified sinfulness – makes us “different” from those others, and worth some kind of special attention, no matter how “humbly” it’s articulated, what I hear, every time, is simply:

O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest….

Now, I love a good vintage travel account, so I thought I would take a look. One of the aspects I always dig into in these kinds of books is what the writer says about Catholic Things. I find that reading what contemporary travelers say about their encounters with Catholic popular traditions, liturgies, figures and cultures is illuminating, more helpful in regard to helping me understand Catholics of the past than many academic historical studies.

This author only mentions Catholic Things once, but it’s fascinating. He has landed in Malta, and, as are all the other travelers, is required to quarantine for time before entering the country. The place of quarantine in the harbor there – as well as around the world at the time, was called a lazaretto. There’s one, for example, outside of Philadelphia, built to protect the city from yellow fever.

Here’s what he sees on Sunday…

For decades I have thought, “Wow, I can’t believe that was my sophomore religion text in a Catholic high school, crazy times, right?” but last night I transitioned fully to: I CANNOT BELIEVE THEY USED THIS AS A TEXT IN A CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL. WHAT THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE.

Who were, I don’t hesitate to say, very nice, well-meaning people. Most of them.


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Hahaha. I have no highlights for July.

I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

Why no July highlights? I certainly posted – here are all the July posts, including those on books, movies, saints and gender issues – but beyond that most were travel related – the last chunk of the England/Scotland trip, then Nashville, then driving from Alabama to Wyoming, then at the end a couple of stops on the way to Charleston.

August saw travel as well – back to Charleston for a bit, and then a big solo driving trip to New Mexico and back.

But I did write about other matters in August. Here are all the August posts and then some highlights below.


A space opens up…what do you do?

Whether it be in terms of your career or personal life or just the day, what’s the question you ask?

Is it What do I want to do? How can I follow my dreams today? What are my dreams, anyway?

Or is it…

What is my duty right now? What does love invite, call or even require me to do in this moment?

And one of the points you hear being made about the current situation with the TLM is that it’s a return to the days right after the promulgation of the current Mass, even the days (it is feared) before the establishment of groups like the FSSP, before the indult. It’s an attempt to re-create a moment in time that occurred about forty years ago. It’s a desperate attempt to reclaim a hope and a dream rooted, not in the present with all of its nuances and developments, but in a nostalgic vision of that immediate post-Vatican II era , when all seemed so simple and clear.

You know, those last decades of … the last century.

But I did see and hear for myself how contentious the question was among Catholics. I had one fascinating evening where I went from one parish-related event to another and heard two completely different takes on the situation – one set of conversations assuming that the parish in question was moving too fast towards “normality” and as a consequence, these people would be attending another parish where there were more restrictions in place – and then an hour later, another conversation among many people from the same parish who were happy with minimal restrictions and would prefer none at all.

I think my appreciation of it this time is directly due to other recent (as in over the past year or so) experiences I’ve had – recounted here – of super dramatic praying of the Eucharistic Prayer. I mean – just almost to the point of parody.

What are you doing? Why are you talking like that?

Well, I think the reason the presider in those cases is talking like that – which varied, but in general, amounted to drama – was because he knew he needed to communicate that this moment was special, and all of his formation and (importantly) the assumptions of the congregation in front of him led him to a point of assuming the burden of communicating that sacredness via his personal demeanor.

Kind of like….he’s trying to sell us something.

Huh.


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All April 2022 posts here.

Lots of history this month. The reason is that I’d been asked to do a presentation for our Cathedral adult education program on the Church in the Deep South, so why not share the wealth?

Here’s a link to the slide element of the presentation – I think it should be accessible, but I’m sure someone will let me know if it’s not.


So to live in the present, respectful of the past but not burdened by it? How?

That seems to me a key to spiritual wholeness, and how we treat the objects we inherit can be expressive of our inner disposition. The healthy place is neither casual dismissal or mournful clinging. The healthy place prioritizes the present, informed by, but not controlled by the past.

And when you shake loose, you might be surprised to find how faulty your understanding was all along.

I have a very hard time seeing how a persona-centered “outreach” can be squared with the Gospel call to humility.

The saints are a varied lot. They are extroverts. Introverts. rich, poor, young, old. artists, queens. beggars. scholars, and doorkeepers. But all of them, Catherine included, embody authentic humility. Their sense of a life well-lived challenges mine. Success? Achievement? Opportunity? Talents? I some-times wonder how to navigate all of those values, especially as a disciple of Jesus. I’m here on earth right now. I’m willing and able. What am I supposed to do and how am I supposed to figure it out? In Catherine. I get a glimpse of another landscape, one not that far away after all, one peopled by those who know the truth of who they are, how precious and yet how small; who know their own weaknesses; and who know that God’s infinite strength is as close as their own fiat.

Drawn from the Cathedral presentation:


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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

All February posts here.


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

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

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

This is conjecture on my part, and I’m generally not a fan of conjecture or scene-construction when it comes to Jesus words and activities in the Gospels, but this simple possibility – that Jesus could have told similar stories and made similar points in many different contexts  – might point to, for some of you, perhaps, a more helpful way to the presence of Jesus in the Gospels than the constant focus on intra-Gospel differences and authorial intention does.

The assumption of certain narratives as normative, deviations as heresy and honest discussion and exploration of data, evidence and experience as a threat is not what I call progress.

I’m thinking about this, not just because I happily stir-fried some asparagus the other day, but also because it’s time to start thinking again about the Gallery of Regrettable Lenten Food and how much even home cooking has changed over the years, mostly thanks to access to higher quality ingredients – and also because I made salmon cakes last night. I’ve never made salmon cakes or loaf or croquettes in my life, but it was also a regular part of our menus growing up (not with fresh salmon, but with canned, of course) – and also because as I was making the slaw to go with the salmon cakes, I pulled out some powdered mustard and some celery seeds, saw they were from Kroger’s, which meant they’d come from my parents’ house, looked at the sell-by dates, saw they were….. 2004 and 2009 – since my parents died in 2001 and 2011, that was not surprising, and well, I guess it’s time to toss them. Finally.

It’s worth a read, always, and perhaps especially as we live in a time in which government and corporate solutions are not only proposed and suggested but mandated by our betters who assert that the evidence is sound and settled and who present it all with the highest confidence in their own expertise and the deepest contempt for their skeptics’…skepticism.

Even with the post-Conciliar anxiety about “participation,” I have always felt that one of the great strengths of the Catholic Mass has been the sense that we do, indeed, come as we are to this place, and that’s okay. We are joyful and mourning, curious, doubtful, restless, fearful and content. God has gathered us here, and we trust that in the liturgy, in this point in space and time, he will meet us where we are, as we are. The liturgy – in its objective nature, its traditional formality and even its silence – gives us all room to celebrate, to grieve, to wonder, to praise, to drift.

This entertains me because all three takes are very expressive of our respective personalities: Careful and usually accurate assessment of the landscape, then making a decision based on that; A willful determination not to be wrong, ever; and, er…hope something works, be glad when it does, but you know, whatever happens happens, so let’s move on.

Back to music. We’ve never been on the High Performance Road. But we’ve also been blessed because from the beginning, his excellent teacher has understood this kid, accepted his goals, made sure that if he changed his mind he had the tools to take those steps, but if he doesn’t – well, even if you don’t want to practice three hours a day and try for Julliard, you can still go deep into the music, play it beautifully, grow from the experience, and bring some of that beauty with whoever happens to be listening at the moment, whether it’s the fifty parents and grandparents at the recital, or if it’s the elderly woman and her daughter, walking quiet, steady laps around the church after their rosary while you practice in there.

I think I made her cry again.

And hopefully, all of this will bear fruit in that no matter where he goes, he’ll always find a keyboard when his fingers start itching, and maybe even find others to jam with, not because there’s a big audience to please or a scholarship on the line, and to certainly use his gifts for God’s glory and the service of others when called to, but in the end, to sit at the piano, most of all, for the pure, absolute joy, in communion with that mystery in your own soul, expressed in musical language gifted to you by a riot of brilliant, quirky friends across time.


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Movies and Television of 2022

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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here. Book and movie takes at the end of this post.

All January posts here.

I’ll knock off 2 or 3 a day until we’re done. So let’s go:


How radical.

To respect other people’s time.

To understand the addictive nature of activities like this and just online life in general and not exploit it.

None of us are saints. None of our movements are pure. None of our “progress” comes without someone else, somewhere, paying a price.

I appreciated Jones-Rogers’ work here – and am interested that her next project focuses on women’s involvement in the slave trade – because I am up for anything that shakes the mythos that women are inherently kinder and more fair than men, and that “if women ran the world…..”

Yeah.

Watch Yellowjackets and contemplate its popularity to see how much people actually buy that claptrap.

I first encountered Illich early, as we like to say, in my homeschool journey. Reading Deschooling Society was an exhilarating confirmation of all of my intuitions about the mess that is modern education.

I later encountered more via the technology-contemplating newsletter of L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society – also deeply inspired by Illich.

Last week, I read Medical Nemesis – available in pdf form here. It had a similar effect.

If I could summarize both works, I’d say Illich’s theme is: Institutional forces take over these needs – education and health care – in the name of justice, efficiency and the common good of society. What ends up happening, not surprisingly, is that the institutional definitions and processes become determinative and definitive with an ultimate net loss to human freedom and, paradoxically, the needs they claimed to address.

There are a lot of ways we can say that the Second Vatican Council “failed,” but it’s always seemed to me that the greatest failure was that, unintentionally, the move to reform, which was offered as a way of equipping the Church to go into the world with more power and credibility, ended up severely handicapping that effort as “reform” became, unsurprisingly, decades of internal, inward-looking conversations and infighting.

Instead of the go out that’s packed into every word of the Gospel, every breath of even just this Sunday’s readings, we end up with: talk and fight about territory, role, organization and process.

I am always writing about today, this moment, the present. For the truth is that yes, Jesus has arrived in your district. At this moment. He’s here. Healing, calling, inviting, challenging, sending.

The townspeople are watching, fearful. What are they afraid of? Why do they want Jesus to just depart?

What does this mean practically?

It will mean different things to different people, depending on where you are. Your temptations, the voices discouraging and fearful, will vary.

It can come from nothing more than life’s responsibilities, distracting us from the goodness and grace of the present moment.

It might come from the walls we’ve put up ourselves – I’m undeserving, I’m too far gone, no way I can be changed, no way things can be different. These are the tombs, and this is where I live, chained.

One of the great puzzles to me about the past now almost seventy years is how those who make the biggest noise about a church from the ground up and sensus fidelium are not willing to critique an event that transformed the Church and was engineered from beginning to end, from the top down, and reflected the concerns of clerics and academics.

Certainly, the argument can be made that these clerics were acting on concerns emerging from engagement with the lived experience of the Church as a whole – that is obviously the stance we see in the motivation for the Council and its documents. Modernity, post-war crises, concerns about a detachment between professed faith, practice and everyday life among the laity were all real concerns.

But the jump from there to we know what’s best rooted mainly in contemporary philosophical and theological trends and a total disregard for the psychological and spiritual impact of dramatic, rapid change is huge. And worth examining and critiquing.

One can argue – and probably correctly – that these religious cultures that developed these devotions were actually heavily clerical – that is, cultures in which the word of the ordained was law, wielded often with an authoritarian hand. Well, yes – and devotional life was the space in which the laity could operate, relatively free of that. My point: it’s no different now. And in fact, the focus on the Mass (legitimately, yes) and the loss of popular devotional life intensifies that clerical focus. It may not be with such a heavy hand these days, but it’s still there.

So yeah, fight clericalism: Throw yourself into those Works of Mercy,  celebrate the feasts, make things for God’s glory and then build a shrine, process to it with your friends, and keep the candles burning.


January 2022 Highlights

February 2022 Highlights

March 2022 Highlights

April 2022 Highlights

May 2022 Highlights

June 2022 Highlights

July/August 2022 Highlights

September 2022 Highlights

October 2022 Highlights

November and December 2022 Highlights

Books of 2022

Movies and Television of 2022

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First, on this Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas, we encounter Simeon again.

Back in 2020, this was a Living Faith day for me and I wrote this – written and turned in during the spring when “just two weeks to stop the spread” was still being hopefully and trustingly bandied about, btw

Another calendar year is drawing to an end. When I look back, what do I see? What emotions do the events of this year’s journey around the sun bring? Perhaps the year has been dominated by sadness or discord, and we won’t be sorry at all to see it go.

Perhaps 2020 will stand out in our memories for unexpected and surprising moments of joy. Maybe we’ll be glad for what we learned, even if that schooling was difficult and unwelcome.

In that moment in the Temple, Simeon knew he was in the presence of someone special. He knew God was at work. My challenge, as I reflect back and look forward, is to remember that this child who Simeon welcomed was with me every moment of this past year. And because of that, no matter what, because of him, I can move on the journey—in peace.

Remember Art & Theology? This link takes you to posts tagged “Simeon” – at which you will find some wonderful art, including the piece below from a Bolivian artist and what the blogger says is the painting that was on Rembrandt’s easel when he died.

Simeon in the Temple by Rembrandt

And a poem by Richard Bauckham, on waiting:

…Two aged lives incarnate
century on century
of waiting for God, their waiting-room
his temple, waiting on his presence,
marking time by practicing

the cycle of the sacrifices,
ferial and festival,
circling onward, spiralling
towards a centre out ahead,
seasons of revolving hope.

Holding out for God who cannot
be given up for dead, holding
him to his promises—not now,
not just yet, but soon, surely,
eyes will see what hearts await.


It’s also the optional memorial of St. Thomas Becket.

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It is from a small book by Anglo-Catholic Enid Chadwick called My Book of the Church’s Year.  Reprint edition available here but can be viewed online here.

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints in the section “Saints are people who tell the truth.”

Here’s the last page of the entry, so you have a sense of the content.


A couple of years ago, the British Museum had a special exhibit on Becket. Here’s the website for the exhibit and here’s a playlist of associated videos.

And here’s an episode of a BBC series called Pilgrimage centered on the Canterbury pilgrim path. It’s quite good – charming.


Of course, we read The Canterbury Tales in the homschool. Here’s my take – well, really quoting someone else’s take – on why everyone in the Church should read it right now.

He is the great poetic ecclesiologist of a Church marked by sin and so repentance. He is a voice for our times because he can act as a guide to living together, confessing our sins, telling our tales, and sometimes laughing on our way through the vale of tears towards Jerusalem.

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