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I contribute five devotions to each issue of Living Faith.  Yesterday’s – July 5:

I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

– 2 Corinthians 12:9

Late last fall, my two youngest sons and I gathered with dozens of others in a parking lot on the east side of town.

We were given mesh bags and placed in front of huge boxes of sweet potatoes. Our task? To bag up the tubers collected by the modern-day gleaning group for distribution to the needy.

One of my sons asked, “Why don’t they sell these in stores?” I pointed out that these were oddly shaped, they were too big, they were too small. They were imperfect and, in a way, “weak.”   More

Today’s devotion – July 3 – for example. 

But some doubt is indeed a response to mystery. Thomas witnessed Jesus’ suffering and his terrible, demeaning execution. But now he’s alive? And truly the Messiah? How?

"amy welborn"

Recently:

As a consequence of some ill-considered decisions by a nine-year-old, I recently spent five hours in a hospital’s emergency room.    More.

I have never climbed a real mountain and have no strong desire to. But I have ambled among hills, some of which might come close to being mountains and sometimes feel that way, depending on what kind of shape I’m in.  More

The webpage for Living Faith is here.

Living Faith is a print publication – available in Spanish and English – but a digital edition is available as well.

More information on the digital edition is here. 

Follow Living Faith on Facebook and Twitter.

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When we last spoke (about this, anyway), it was Saturday evening, and we were snug in our bunkhouses somewhere west of Fredonia,Arizona.

The next day we’d make our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but first things first: Mass.

Kanab, Utah was really our only choice in the area. Yes, there would be backtracking from our Saturday night space, but we would have to go almost all the way back to Kanab anyway to get to the road south, and it’s gorgeous country, so I won’t complain.

Mass was at 9.

Now, those of you who are familiar with the area are probably already thinking….uh-oh….

I’ll try to explain to the rest of you. And I may still get it wrong, so feel free to correct the details.  But I’m pretty sure this is what happened:

We were sleeping in Arizona. Arizona, like Utah, is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone, but does not observe Daylight Savings Time, so at the time we were there (late May), when we were in Arizona, we were in the same time zone as we had been in Las Vegas, the origin of our trip, and where the rental car was obtained. Vegas is in the Pacific Time Zone.

We would be going to Mass over the border in Utah, which is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone, but does observe Daylight Savings Time.

So, Mass was at 9am, but that would be 8 am according to where we were sleeping.

No problem.  I mean, going between time zones is a given when you’re traveling, and being that where we live (Alabama) is in a different time zone from places we go often on day trips (Georgia, South Carolina and Florida), this is not rocket science.

So.  Church was about 30 minutes away.  Just to be safe, I said, let’s leave at 7. Which would be 8 Church Standard Time and would get us there, if we drove at a leisurely pace, about 20 minutes early.

Yay.

So, I set my phone – which functions as my alarm clock, as I’m sure it does for many of you – for 6:30 am.

In the morning, it went off, I got up, got myself ready, then awakened the boys.  We packed up, I called the owner to check out, as instructed, we piled in the car, I turned the ignition, the dashboard lit up, and the clock – set to Las Vegas/Arizona time – blinked on.

6 AM.

(Translation: 7 AM Utah time. 2 hours before Mass. We could have slept another hour.)

So…..how did this happen?

It didn’t take me long to figure it out.

The day before, I had not used my phone from the time we drove out of Utah to the time we arrived at the bunkhouses.  Most of that drive was through an sparsely populated Native American reservation, and there, as here at the bunkhouse itself was….NO SERVICE.

My phone had never connected to Arizona cel service, so the clock was still on Utah time.

That time when your Mom apologizes a zillion times for getting us up at 5:30 for no reason? Yeah, that.

There was no sense in unloading and going back in the bunkhouses for just an hour.  I wasn’t tired, so I told them I was just going to drive around and see more of the country around Kanab.  Eating wasn’t an option because by the time we actually got to Kanab, we’d be hitting close to the 1-hour pre-Communion fast, and that cuts it close for me – I prefer the three-hour fast anyway.

So…I drove around.  The 14-year old fell back asleep pretty quickly, but the ten-year old stayed awake, and got to see a huge jackrabbit for his trouble.

Live, as they say, and learn.  Sheesh.

The Catholic church in Kanab is called St. Christopher’s, and I was very impressed with how they welcomed visitors.  Friendly greeters were at the door, and they had this as well:

St. Christopher medals and a prayer card for travelers.  It’s a great idea for any parish in a heavily-touristed area.

They did do the “raise your hand and tell us where you’re from” thing at the beginning of Mass, but I will say that it was actually before Mass started, so I guess I can accept that.  (I didn’t raise my hand, though, and the boys knew better…not that they’d want to enter that fray, either.)  They had donuts, etc., after Mass, but we didn’t go because, hey, I wanted to drive even more before noon.

So… today’s lesson: welcome your travelers. And don’t assume your phone is always telling you the truth. That’s trouble.

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From Be Saints!

I also have a chapter of St. Thomas More in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.

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I’m not sure how to present this, but let’s give it a shot.

Many, me included, have said for years to not depend on media reports – especially secular media – when it comes to understanding Church matters. This is especially true, and easy to fix, when it comes to statements by Church officials, since the vast majority of the time, their words  – in their homilies or speeches – are available for any of us to read.  Translation issues complicate matters, but the point remains.  We can access this stuff for ourselves, most of the time.

So we come to Pope Francis. (Not the encyclical, which is for later consideration)  Every day, it seems, there’s a new sound byte coming at us, a sound byte that is pounced on, debated, held up for scrutiny.

Today the contested quote regards something the Pope said about weapons manufacturers, a statement, as reported, which has pleased some people and distressed others.

I went to the only source I could find at this point – a transcript at Asia News.  I would encourage you to read it. I don’t know what you will take away from the transcript of this talk or the transcript of the talk he gave to Salesians, but I’m thinking it might clarify things.  Sort of.

It won’t necessarily clarify what the Pope meant by bringing up this subject or Marian devotion or youth unemployment or the Freemasons. But reading the entirety of these talks (not long – just a few paragraphs each), might clarify for you the nature of the discourse being offered in these settings and give you a way to think about..thinking about them.

Perhaps you would disagree, but consider:

  • In these talks, one of which even the National Catholic Reporter described as “rambling,” the Pope is essentially offering his own personal opinions and impressions.  Compare this discourse to the act of teaching, especially in the context of a Catholic pastoral paradigm, which pulls deeply from Scripture and tradition, applying revealed truth to new situations in a systematic way. The teacher’s gifts and opinions naturally impact this act of teaching, but in the Catholic tradition, the teacher, preacher, and yes, pastor, knows that he is subject to something greater, and attempts to communicates that  in the act of teaching.  A pope or bishop’s authority is a teaching authority.
  • If you have ever attempted to teach religion, in any form, even within your own family, you have experienced this and understood this delicate dynamic which requires the continual challenge to teach out of a place of humility. Anyone who has ever attempted this understands that “what I think” is irrelevant to the responsibility at hand.
  • In these talks, Pope Francis talks about weapons manufacturers, wonders why the Allies didn’t bomb Nazi train lines, muses on the reasons for teen suicides, wonders if the Salesians could be teaching kids how to be plumbers, his family background, and Freemasons.
  • He has views on all of it. Everyone can pick and choose pleasing phrases or points of view and then spend the rest of the day arguing about them on Facebook or Twitter.
  • I am not sure that’s a great use of time.
  • Memes like “The Pope’s Five Tips for Happy Family Life” or “Three Ways Pope Francis wants you to start helping the Planet” don’t help, especially when offered by Catholic media.  Because you know what? Pope Francis’ or Pope Benedict’s or Pope Pius’ “tips” for anything …don’t matter.  
  • My small point here is that the details of what he says in these remarks don’t matter as much as the bigger questions they raise about the nature of papal teaching authority, how the office is used, what it means to actually teach the Faith – a good question for all of us engaged in catechesis, yes?

Let us now turn to the wars. I sometimes said that we are in the middle of World War Three, but piecemeal. There is war in Europe. There is war in Africa. There is war in the Orient. There is war in other countries. Can I trust such a world? Can I trust world leaders? When I vote for a candidate, can I trust that he or she will not lead my country to war?

If you trust only people, you have lost. [Laughter and applause] One thought comes to mind: people, CEOs, business people who call themselves Christian and [yet] manufacture weapons. [Applause] This leads to a loss in trust. They call themselves Christian! “As a matter of fact, Father, I don’t make weapons. I just have investments in companies that manufacture weapons. Right! Why? Because of higher earnings.” Being two-faced is so conventional. Doing one thing and saying another. [Applause]. What hypocrisy! Let us see what happened the last century.

There was a great tragedy in Armenia in 1914 and 1915. [Applause] Many, millions died. Where were the great powers of that time? They turned the other way, and were interested in their war, and in those deaths. They [the Armenians] were third class human beings [Applause]. Later, in the 1930s and 1940s [came] the tragedy of the Holocaust. The great powers had photographs of the railway routes that brought the trains to the concentration camps, to Auschwitz, to kill Jews, Christians, Roma, homosexuals . . . Tell me then, why did they not bomb them? [Out of] interests, eh? [Applause]. A little later, in almost the same period, there were concentration camps in Russia. Stalin! How many Christians suffered and were killed? The great powers divided up Europe, like a pie. It took many years before we got some freedom.

It is hypocritical to talk about peace and make weapons, or sell them to the two warring sides. [Applause] I understand when you talk about the loss of trust in life. Even today, I like to say that we are living in a culture of exclusion, because what is not economically useful is excluded; children because either they are not born or are killed before they are born; seniors because they are no longer useful and are left to die, a sort of hidden euthanasia; and now young people when considering that 40 per cent is jobless. This is true exclusion! [Applause]

But why? Because, contrary to God’s will, men and women are not at the centre of the world’s economic system. The mighty buck is. Everything is done for money. [Applause] In Spanish there is a saying, “The little monkey will dance for money.” [Applause]. In this culture of exclusion, can we trust life or does the loss of trust grow? Young people who cannot study, who do not work, who feel ashamed and unworthy because they have no job and earn no living . . . How often do they become addicts or commit suicide? We don’t have clear statistics about suicide among young people. How many times do they go to fight with the terrorists, at least to do something for an ideal? I understand this challenge.  Source

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— 1 —

A decent, different sort of week here.  The boys being otherwise occupied, I’ve had every day, all day, free.  To work.  To some, that might seem like a sad plight, but honestly, this is the first truly alone time since….last summer, I guess.  I used to be able to write at night, even after teaching all day, but those days are long gone, especially since I hit fifty, and especially since we started homeschooling.  I just can’t focus, and my creative energies are spent by the end of the day.  So this week has been exactly what I needed in order to hammer out a first draft of a project that isn’t actually due until next February, but there’s other stuff in the hopper that I will need to be working on this fall (somehow), so it will be good to get a solid draft done early.  I can revise and edit on the fly, just fine, but the initial writing takes a kind of focus I can only achieve when I’m alone for several hours at a time.

— 2 —

Since piano camp has left the camper exhausted every day, and every day has been a full day for him, there were no extra travels this week.  Last weekend, however, we did go to Sweetwater Creek State Park in Georgia, which was very nice and which you can read about here.  What I didn’t know when I initially wrote the post was that the Hunger Games movies were filmed in part there.  (They were filmed all over Atlanta, of course.  I guess.)

— 3 —

And what of the rest of the summer?  I’m not sure.

What’s weird is that I’m already thinking that summer is almost over, while some of my Facebook friends are just this week posting “last day of school” photos.  What?? We’ve been out for a month!

Of course, school (for the high schooler) also starts a month earlier than those northerners will be returning – orientation is August 6, classes start August 10.  Blah.

There’s only one other *obligation* owed during that time – a scout rafting trip – so we’re contemplating options.  Probably some combination of some local wandering and perhaps one bigger road trip.

— 4 —

Speaking of high school, you might read this very sad local story.  There are some ambiguities in the narrative, and some unanswered questions, but here’s the bottom line for the mother grieving the loss of her 14-year old daughter:

“If I had known then what I know now, one, she wouldn’t have had a smart phone,” Seller said. “She would have had a phone that could make a call, get a call, send a text, get a text. And all of her internet activity would have been in the living room.”

As far as I can tell, we are one of the last holdouts in this regard.  My 14-year old does not have a smart phone and only uses the internet in my presence. I just last week purchased a basic flip phone for them to use when they’re out and need to contact me. I wish more parents were holding firm on this. It makes it very, very difficult to hold the line. I don’t understand why 8-year olds have Instagram accounts.  I wish schools would be proactive, and along with all the other crap they send out on a constant basis, send out a weekly report to parents on the latest internet fads, from Kik to Snapchat to all those apps (which exist) which enable the other apps to remain hidden.

— 5 —

The good thing about not feeling an obligation to follow and comment on Every Catholic Story coming over the Interwebs is that you actually have time to read.

So this week I finished: Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians

It’s the story of a small group of mostly writers and performers who were gathered at a Manhattan bar called Pfaff’s by a man named Henry Clapp, the son of New England Congregationalists who found himself in Paris, was besotted with cafe life and returned to the United States, determined to recreate it.  Walt Whitman was the most well-known of the regulars, although he tended to stay on the margins.

It’s a good tale, if padded a bit – without Whitman, the book would probably be half as long, which would make it more of an Atlantiic Monthly article, which would then be bad, since the Boston-based Atlantic was Clapp’s bete noire. There are a slew of vivid, interesting characters whose lives show very vividly that excess and self-indulgence, as well as delusions of grandeur and relentless self-promotion are not unique to the 21st century would-be artiste. 

I was probably most taken by the story of Hugh Ludlow, who became very famous as a very young man because of his drug experimentation and the book he wrote about it called The Hasheesh Eater.  Ludlow couldn’t follow up on that book’s success, took various writing and office jobs, then in 1863, got the opportunity to accompany painter Albert Bierstadt out west.  Bierstadt was going to sketch and paint, and Ludlow would write about their travels, in articles that would be published in the New York Post, and then in a book.

This interested me, not just because of the fact that we’ve just been out West, nor just because of the interesting paths that were crossed on that trip, but because one of Bierstadt’s paintings of Yosemite – one of the fruits of that trip –  is one of the most treasured pieces of our Birmingham Museum of Art’s collection.  

The trip, however, did not end well.  They returned and Ludlow’s wife left him for Bierstadt, the book’s publication was delayed to the point that when it finally did make it to print, reviewers mocked it for being out of date, since by that time, the Transcontinental Railroad was finished, and going out West was not nearly as exotic a quest as it had been.

If you want a good introduction to the group, head to this comprehensive website – the Vault at Pfaff’s – from Lehigh University.  It’s a treasure trove, and will keep you busy for a while. 

— 6 —

I also finished The Wapshot Chronicle. I had begun it a month or two ago, so I was a little confused at first and required a refresher, but it didn’t take long to get into the swing of it.  It’s a strange book, and I suppose everyone is correct about Cheever being a stronger short story writer, but there’s some gorgeous writing, nonetheless.  There’s something unreal about the whole thing – it doesn’t feel as anchored in reality as do, say, Updike or Walker Percy – to take two male writers Wapshot Cheeverfrom around the same time – and everyone is fairly miserable and stumbling into things and life choices in the most haphazard way. I never could really picture either Moses or Coverly, the two brothers, in my mind.  They seemed more like two dimensions of the same person, which they probably are.

Just as quick sample, from near the end:

[Leander – the Wapshot father] went to early communion, happily, not convinced of the worth of his prayers but pleased with the fact that on his knees in Christ Church he was, more than in any other place in the world, face to face with the bare facts of his humanity.….Even as the service rose to the climax of bread and wine he noticed that the acolytes’ plush cushion was nailed to the floor of the chancel and that the altar cloth was embroidered with tulips but he also noticed, kneeling at the rail, that on the ecclesiastical and malodorous carpet were a few pine or fir needles that must have lain there all the months since Advent, and these cheered him as if this handful of sere needles had been shake from the Tree of Life and reminded him of its fragrance and vitality.

To no good end, unfortunately, but that’s the way it goes.  I’ve never read Cheever but for a few of the stories, and while reading the novel, I also read up on his famously sad and fractured life, and was confronted once more with the paradox of such a mess of a human being producing art that really does, in some admittedly imperfect way, reflect truth. Not that a mess of a human being wouldn’t be able to see truth – we are a mess, and we all have the capacity – but it’s the discipline required to express it in an artful way in the midst of the mess, which for Cheever included being drunk much of the time, that confounds me.

And what of all these lost, post-war, mid-century men?

— 7 —

Mill ruins, Sweetwater Creek State Park, west of Atlanta.

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

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"amy welborn"

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Today is his feastday!

First, a General Audience from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from 2011:

It is only the prayerful soul that can progress in spiritual life: this is the privileged object of St Anthony’s preaching. He is thoroughly familiar with the shortcomings of human nature, with our tendency to lapse into sin, which is why he continuously urges us to fight the inclination to avidity, pride and impurity; instead of practising the virtues of poverty and generosity, of humility and obedience, of chastity and of purity. At the beginning of the 13th century, in the context of the rebirth of the city and the flourishing of trade, the number of people who were insensitive to the needs of the poor increased. This is why on various occasions Anthony invites the faithful to think of the true riches, those of the heart, which make people good and merciful and permit them to lay up treasure in Heaven. “O rich people”, he urged them, “befriend… the poor, welcome them into your homes: it will subsequently be they who receive you in the eternal tabernacles in which is the beauty of peace, the confidence of security and the opulent tranquillity of eternal satiety” (ibid., p. 29).

Is not this, dear friends, perhaps a very important teaching today too, when the financial crisis and serious economic inequalities impoverish many people and create conditions of poverty? In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate I recall: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred” (n. 45).

Anthony, in the school of Francis, always put Christ at the centre of his life and thinking, of his action and of his preaching. This is another characteristic feature of Franciscan theology: Christocentrism. Franciscan theology willingly contemplates and invites others to contemplate the mysteries of the Lord’s humanity, the man Jesus, and in a special way the mystery of the Nativity: God who made himself a Child and gave himself into our hands, a mystery that gives rise to sentiments of love and gratitude for divine goodness.

Not only the Nativity, a central point of Christ’s love for humanity, but also the vision of the Crucified One inspired in Anthony thoughts of gratitude to God and esteem for the dignity of the human person, so that all believers and non-believers might find in the Crucified One and in his image a life-enriching meaning. St Anthony writes: “Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are…. Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).

In meditating on these words we are better able to understand the importance of the image of the Crucified One for our culture, for our humanity that is born from the Christian faith. Precisely by looking at the Crucified One we see, as St Anthony says, how great are the dignity and worth of the human being. At no other point can we understand how much the human person is worth, precisely because God makes us so important, considers us so important that, in his opinion, we are worthy of his suffering; thus all human dignity appears in the mirror of the Crucified One and our gazing upon him is ever a source of acknowledgement of human dignity.

Dear friends, may Anthony of Padua, so widely venerated by the faithful, intercede for the whole Church and especially for those who are dedicated to preaching; let us pray the Lord that he will help us learn a little of this art from St Anthony. May preachers, drawing inspiration from his example, be effective in their communication by taking pains to combine solid and sound doctrine with sincere and fervent devotion. In this Year for Priests, let us pray that priests and deacons will carry out with concern this ministry of the proclamation of the word of God, making it timely for the faithful, especially through liturgical homilies. May they effectively present the eternal beauty of Christ, just as Anthony recommended: “If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if you read of him he will satifsfy your intellect” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, p. 59).

Secondly, for children, an excerpt from my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

Then one day something happened that was almost as strange as the ship wandering off course. There was a large meeting of Franciscans and Dominicans, but oddly enough, the plans for who would give the sermon at the meeting fell through. There were plenty of fine preachers present, but none of them were prepared.

"amy welborn"Those in charge of the meeting went down the line of friars. “Would you care to give the sermon, Brother? No? What about you, Father? No? Well, what about you, Fr. Anthony—is that your name?”

Slowly, Anthony rose, and just as slowly, he began to speak. The other friars sat up to listen. There was something very special about Anthony. He didn’t use complicated language, but his holiness and love for God shone through his words. He was one of the best preachers they had ever heard!

From that point on, Anthony’s quiet life in the hospital kitchen was over. For the rest of his life, he traveled around Italy and France, preaching sermons in churches and town squares to people who came from miles around.

His listeners heard Anthony speak about how important it is for us to live every day in God’s presence. As a result of his words, hundreds of people changed their lives and bad habits, bringing Jesus back into their hearts.

Next, some photos of the huge Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua from our trip in 2012.

(I’m guessing there were no photos allowed inside…since I don’t have any of the interior)

(Sigh. I loved Padua -it is one of those mid-sized Italian cities that I find tremendously appealing – a vibrant, sophisticated interesting buzz around the carefully, but not fussily maintained medieval core. I could live there. Maybe, someday, I will!)

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