Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Catholicsim’ Category

— 1 —

Today’s the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

Last year, I was in Living Faith on that day. Here’s the devotion I wrote:

Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock.

– 1 Peter 5:3

When I think about each of the important older people in my life (all deceased because I’m one of the older ones now), all are associated with a chair.

My father’s preferred spot was his desk chair in his study. My mother spent her days in her comfortable chair in the corner, surrounded by books. My great-aunt was not to be disturbed as she watched afternoon soap operas from her wingback chair. My grandfather had his leather-covered lounger, its arms dotted with holes burned by cigars.

From their chairs, they observed, they gathered, they taught and they provided a focus for the life around them. There was wisdom in those chairs.

I’m grateful for the gift of Peter, our rock. From his chair–the sign of a teacher–he and his successors gather and unify us in our focus on the One who called him–and all of us.

— 2 —

Tomorrow’s the feast of St. Polycarp:
He is in my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.  

—3–

Here’s Terry Teachout on Accessibility and its Discontents

I feel the same way, which is why I don’t have a smartphone. What’s more, I know that my ability to concentrate—to cut myself free from what I once called in this space the tentacles of dailiness—has been diminished by my use of Twitter and Facebook. Josef Pieper said it: “Leisure is a form of that stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear.” To be on line is the opposite of being still.

–4–

What does a conductor listen to as his country falls apart?

Here’s an interview with our Alabama Symphony conductor, Carlos Izcaray, who is Venezuelan:

At the top of his playlist? The turbulent “Symphony No. 10,” by Soviet-era composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

“This is a piece that was written just after the death of one of the worst tyrants in history, Stalin, and of course, Shostakovich had to endure many, many years under this regime,” Izcaray (@izcaray) tells Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd. “The movement … the second one, it’s got this militaristic, highly volcanic energy to it, that is very much attuned to the frustration that many of us Venezuelans feel. And if you listen to the end of the piece, there is hope at the end of the storm.”

That storm is a personal one for Izcaray. In 2004, he was kidnapped, detained and tortured by the Hugo Chávez regime.

“I went through very bad mistreatment of all sorts, physical and psychological, [I was] threatened to death,” says Izcaray, who also now conducts the American Youth Symphony in Los Angeles. “And what I went through is what many people are going through now in Venezuela. We’re talking about students who are leading the marches, we’re talking about political prisoners.”

Izcaray’s detention caused him to spiral into a “depressive state.” But through music, he was slowly able to rebuild his life.

“I was going to have my big debut with the National Symphony Orchestra as a conductor. Everything was shattered,” Izcaray says. “But after a brief period of just darkness, my friends and my family, my father especially, brought music back to the equation for me. It was a way to heal — both literally and physically, because I had nerve damage in my arm. Playing the cello — I’m a cellist — so by playing music, I got better.

“I think that since then I’ve understood many of the layers that were, until then, not discovered by me — the power of music.”

Interview Highlights

On the Francis Poulenc composition “Four Motets on a Christmas Theme”

“This is a piece that, to me, every time I listen to it, I just — it’s like rediscovering the miracle that is music. It’s a spiritual peace, it’s just sheer beauty. I just think this piece elevates me to a different frequency. [It’s] hard to describe it, and it’s just a couple of minutes long. But I really think that Francis Poulenc captured the most intimate and profound elements of what it is to be a human being and this relationship with music.”

–5 —

Don’t forget Weird Catholic!

–6-

Son #2 continues to post film reviews several times a week.

Summer Interlude (Bergman)

1776

The Homeseman

Follow him on Twitter

 

–7–

Sexagesima Sunday this week:

 

amy-welborn

I’ve created a Lent page here.

 

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

Read Full Post »

Want to know more? The old Catholic Encyclopedia entry is a good place to start.  Another good intro at the EWTN site.

I wrote about him in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

 

 

(You can click on individual images to get a clearer view.)

Read Full Post »

Huh. I’m in Living Faith again this year on this day. 

As I was in 2017: 

Who is he? Who is this man–this Lord, friend, teacher–full of power but hanging powerless on a cross?

Our faith is marked by questions. We seek, trusting that there must be a source to satisfy the hungers we have been born with. St. Thomas Aquinas was a man of questions and answers, all born of deep hunger and love for God. Balanced, he prayed the Mass with intense devotion, wrote beautiful hymns, sacrificed much to give himself wholly to God and share with the world the fruit of his search.

Also, if you have seen Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series, you know that Aquinas is featured in the first set. Here’s a teaser:

I wrote the prayer book that accompanies the first series, and so did several chapters on Thomas.  There are no excerpts available online, as far as I can tell, but here’s a couple of paragraphs from the first chapter:

Catholicism is not all theology. It is caritas . It is sacrament, communion, art, family life, religious life, the saints. It is all of this and more, but what we can’t help but notice is that even these seemingly uncomplicated aspects of the disciples’ lives lead to questions. What is “love” and what is it proper for me to love and in what way? How does Jesus come to meet me through the sacraments of his Body, the Church? How do I know the Scriptures that I’m supposed to be living by are God’s Word? God is all-good, why does evil and seemingly unjust suffering exist? How can I sense God’s movement and will in the world, in my own life? And what is the difference?  Theological questions, every one of them.

So our own spiritual lives, like Thomas’ call for balance. Emphasizing the intellect too much, I find a cave in which to hide, avoid relationship and communion with God and others.  But in disparaging theology, I reject the life of the mind, a mind created by God to seek and know him, just as much as my heart is. I may even avoid tough questions, not just because they are challenging, but because I’m just a little bit afraid of the answers.  Theological reflection from people with deep understanding helps me. It opens me to the truth that God is more than what I feel or personally experience, and this “more” matters a great deal.

He’s in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints not surprisingly,  under “Saints are People Who Help Us Understand God.”  Here’s a page:

amy_welborn_books

Read Full Post »

Wish not to do all, but only something, and without doubt, you will do much. 

-St. Francis de Sales, letter, 7/20/1607.

Today’s the feastday of St. Francis de Sales. Which of course you know because all the bloggers and writers are posting: Francis de Sales…my patron saint! 

And really, yes. You should read St. Francis de Sales. But as you do,  try to catch, not simply the ways that he confirms your expectations, but perhaps the way he challenges them.

Over the years – decades– I have been interested in the ways that we modern, post-Conciliar Catholics approach, use and well, perhaps appropriate great spiritual figures of the past. Well, you ask – how can we appropriate them if they are ours? If we share the same faith?

Well, that’s the conundrum, isn’t it?

For we can pick bits and pieces of Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi, and we can collect their sayings that comfort us, we can tack attractively calligraphied sayings of theirs on our walls and make pillows and mugs out of them, but really –

-do we believe everything they believe?

Do we buy it?

So take St. Francis de Sales. We like him, we celebrate him because he’s the patron saint of writers and journalists – yay us – and because he wrote specifically for the laity – YAY us – but what happens when you actually read him? What happens when you try to reach beyond what comforts you?

For the truth is, most of us reading St. Francis de Sales today have been formed to believe that belief and conversion is essentially coming to believe that I am important, and I am loved by God, that I have a place in the universe. God loves me, God accepts me as I am. 

The essence of the spiritual life seems to be: Rest in God’s love. You’re doing your best. Don’t worry.  Be assured. Come as you are. 

Well, when you read Francis de Sales – and, of course, other spiritual teachers of the past – you might pick up on some differences. Yes (as we’ll see) Francis de Sales advises against scrupulosity all the time, and both he and Jane de Chantal warn against excessive interiority and obsession with one’s spiritual state.

But this moderation is advised, not because they’re communicating that where ever you are, you’re fine and embrace your imperfections and mess. It’s a little different than that. It’s more: You’re a person, so yes you’re an imperfect mess. But God calls you to shed that mess and move towards perfection, and he gives you the tools and the grace to do so. 

And further, if you recognize this, you have an obligation to do so. A duty.

So, although I am spiritually slothful myself, I have mused about this distinction for a long time and critiqued it in various ways, but last night, I was re-reading some Francis de Sales, a bit of clarity came to me, clarity about the world we’ve lived in since the Enlightenment. And with that clarity, came, I think, some understanding, and yes, acceptance.

Modern people – that means you and me – live in a world without God. Even if we are churchgoers and say we believe in God, we actually live in a world without God, because, we admit, everyone believes what they like and who are we to judge?

That’s a world without God.

Just admit it.

And living in a world without God means living in a world of anxiety. It means living on this world that exits – why? – not knowing why or how you came to be, not having any firm, objective sense of your own value or purpose, and certainly  not knowing if your life is any more meaningful than the weed you just pulled from your garden.

So in that radically non-transcendent universe, what is “salvation?”

It is, simply, the revelation that yes, you matter. Yes, you are here, not accidentally, but because Someone wants you to be, which means that you are loved.

And so that is the core of the meaning of conversion in 2019: Accepting your own value.

I’ve spent a lot of time puzzling over that persistent theme and critiquing it, but this evening, after reading St. Francis de Sales for a while, and trying to figure out the distinctions between his message and most of what I hear today – I think that’s it, and I get it.

In an empty, meaningless universe, if we can start there – you matter – well, that’s where we have to start. It may strike me as solipsistic and goopy, but if you have been formed to believe that your life means whatever you want  which means, in essence your life means nothing –  to learn that: your life has happened because the Creator of the Universe wants  it to…

….is, indeed, transformative.

But here we are, back with St. Francis de Sales. And he won’t let you rest there. He won’t let you rest with I’m okay, I’m loved, I’m here for a reason, I have amazing gifts and talents. 

Nope.

Traditional Catholic spirituality – as expressed by today’s saint – is not about resting on our laurels and delighting in our unique gifts and talents. It’s about honestly looking at ourselves, seeing what trash we’ve allowed in, and sucking it up, embracing hard discipline, and moving forward.

We post-Vatican II babies were raised to look back at this type of spirituality and shudder: Scrupulosity! God loves you just as you are!

The basic difference has been:

Salvation = understanding and accepting that God made you and loves you as you are

Salvation = cooperating with the grace of God to restore the you he made. 

And this is why St. Francis de Sales is so wonderful. He bridges this gap, he is realistic on every score, reminding us that we are not perfect and that we should be striving for perfection, but warning us against unrealistic expectations as well:

 My God ! dear daughter, do not examine whether
what you do is little or much, good or ill, provided it is
not sin, and that in good faith you will to do it for God.
As much as you can, do perfectly what you do, but when
it is done, think of it no more ; rather think of what
is to be done quite simply in the way of God, and do
not torment your spirit. We must hate our faults,
but with a tranquil and quiet hate, not with an angry
and restless hate ; and so we must have patience when
we see them, and draw from them a profit of a holy-
abasement of ourselves. Without this, my child,
your imperfections which you see subtly, trouble you
by getting still more subtle, and by this means sustain
themselves, as there is nothing which more preserves
our weeds than disquietude and eagerness in removing
them.

To be dissatisfied and fret about the world, when we
must of necessity be in it, is a great temptation. The
Providence of God is wiser than we. We fancy that
by changing our ships, we shall get on better; yes, if
we change ourselves. My God, I am sworn enemy of
these useless, dangerous, and bad desires : for though
what we desire is good, the desire is bad, because God
does not will us this sort of good, but another, in
which he wants us to exercise ourselves. God wishes
to speak to us in the thorns and the bush, as he did to
Moses; and we want him to speak in the small wind,
gentle and fresh, as he did to Elias. May his good-
ness preserve you, my daughter ; but be constant
courageous, and rejoice that he gives you the will to
be all his. I am, in this goodness, very completely
your, &c.

That’s from his letters “to persons in the world,” collected here in this book found at the Internet Archive. (I’m sure they are in more contemporary bound versions but this is online…and free).

It is well worth downloading and keeping on hand. So much pertinent, valuable, wise advice and insight. Perhaps begin with his 10/14/1604 letter to Jane de Chantal. It’s long and rich and contains, among other bits, tremendous insight on true liberty in Christ.

The effects of this liberty are a great suavity of
soul, a great gentleness and condescension in all that
is not sin or danger of sin ; a temper sweetly pliable to
the acts of every virtue and charity.

For example : interrupt a soul which is attached to
the exercise of meditation ; you will see it leave with
annoyance, worried and surprised. A soul which has
true liberty will leave its exercise with an equal coun-
tenance, and a heart gracious towards the importunate
person who has inconvenienced her. For it is all one
to her whether she serve God by meditating, or serve
him by bearing with her neighbour : both are the will
of God, but the bearing with her neighbour is necessary
at that time.

The occasions of this liberty are all the things which
happen against our inclination ; for whoever is not
attached to his inclinations, is not impatient when they
are contradicted.

This liberty has two opposite vices, instability and
constraint, or dissolution and slavery. Instability, or
dissolution of spirit, is a certain excess of liberty, by
which we change our exercises, our state of life, with-
out proof or knowledge that such change is God’s
will. On the smallest occasion practices, plan, rule
are changed; for every little occurrence we leave our
rule and laudable custom : and thus the heart is dissi-
pated and ruined, and is like an orchard open on all
sides, whose fruits are not for its owners, but for all
passers by.

Constraint or slavery is a certain want of liberty by
which the soul is overwhelmed with either disgust or
anger, when it cannot do what it has planned, though
still able to do better.

For example : I design to make my meditation every
day in the morning. If I have the spirit of insta-
bility, or dissolution, on the least occasion in the
world I shall put it off till the evening for a dog
which kept me from sleeping, for a letter I have to
write, of no urgency whatever. On the other hand,
if I have the spirit of constraint or servitude, I
shall not leave my meditation at that hour, even
if a sick person have great need of my help at the
time, even if I have a dispatch which is of great
importance, and which cannot well be put off, and
so on.

And go ahead – get a head start on Lent with What St. Francis de Sales wants you to know about fasting. 

Oh, and check out Bearing Blog’s many posts on Introduction to the Devout Life. 

Read Full Post »

 

I’ll start with the easy stuff and work my way up (or down)

Watching: I ended up watching most of Mission Impossible: Fallout with Son #2 on MondaySunday evening. Yes, he has school on Monday, but he did some good work (more below on that) this afternoon, so he merited a treat. He and brother had seen it this past summer, but he spied it at Redbox and decided he’d like to watch it again.

I hadn’t seen it with them, but I walked into the room when the Paris part started, and since it was, well, Paris, I was interested, and ended up watching the rest of the whole gripping, silly thing. Very well done with entertaining supporting characters and (it should go without saying) fantastic action.

And now someone who’s exempt from most of his exams and only has to go into school on Wednesday for Calculus is in there watching The Princess Bride. 

(Exam exemption? Best incentive ever.)

Listening: My youngest, playing the postlude at Vespers at the Cathedral Sunday evening. His teacher asked him to turn pages for him at the pre-Vespers organ concert and then do the postlude. If you to my Instagram page, you can hear an excerpt – it’s the last image in this post. 

I’ll stick this in here, because it also involved listening: it was a busy weekend at the Cathedral of St. Paul here in Birmingham. It began very early Saturday morning with a Rorate Mass

The Rorate Caeli Mass is a traditional Advent devotion wherein the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Advent is offered just before dawn. In many instances families and individuals travel an hour or more, rising and arriving very early for this stunningly beautiful Mass. The interplay of light and darkness speak to the meaning of Advent and the coming of the Light of the world.

The Mass takes its title, Rorate Caeli, from the first words of the Introit, which are from Isaiah 45:8:

“Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.”

“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour.”

The Rorate Mass is lit only by candlelight. Because it is a votive Mass in Mary’s honor, white vestments are worn instead of Advent violet. In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illumined by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ.

As was indicated on the Cathedral’s Facebook page, they planned for 100 attendees. There were at least 200 present. I took some photos, but far better are those taken by Mary Dillard of the diocesan One Voice and Ryan Penny from the choir loft (more on the Cathedral’s Facebook page.)

amy_welborn101

amy_welborn102

What a lovely, deeply meaningful tradition. One more profound way to enter into the spirit of waiting and expectation, of journeying from darkness to light: by joining the God-created natural rhythm of a day in the life to the spirituality reality at hand and making space for one to inform the other.

You begin in the dark..

IMG_20181215_061339

…and walk out into the light.

IMG_20181215_073938

More on our rector’s blog here. 

Then, Sunday morning, some Bambinelli Sunday coming your way:

IMG_20181216_095614

The Pope’s not the only one with a balcony!

And then, Vespers:

 

 

Wonderful listening in that pre-Vespers concert there. We’re very grateful for the music here at the Cathedral. Read more about it here. 

Reading: I had written quite a bit on this earlier today, but it somehow did not get saved during a computer restart. That’ll show me. I am going to try to recreate this in fifteen minutes, no more, and then move on with life.

Late last week I read Andre Dubus III’s Gone So LongDubus is a widely admired writer in his own right, but is also known as the son of Andre Dubus, fiction writer (mostly short stories) and essayist and Catholic. Dubus died in 1999, and I wrote a piece on him for, I believe, OSV. You can read it here. I often refer to Dubus’ story “A Father’s Story” and his essays in Broken Vessels and Meditations from a Moveable Chair are fine pieces of spiritual reflection.

Not that Dubus was a saint. Nor would he ever claim to be. He left Dubus III’s mother when his son was ten, and the son examined the subsequent struggles in his memoir Townie. Father and son came to a reconciliation of sorts before the father’s death. This past fall, America ran an interview with Dubus which offers insight.

FF: Your father was a devout Catholic. How did he live his faith day to day? Did he read the Bible, religious books, say the rosary?

AD: Because I did not live with my father after the age of 10, I can only answer this question from that kind of distance. I do believe, however, that for years my father kept a copy of the New Testament beside his bed that he read from, though I’m pretty certain he read far more of the fiction stacked there. As I said above, until my father was run over and then spent the last 12 and a half years of his life in a wheelchair, he tried to attend Mass seven mornings a week. After he was crippled, he would have various lay people come by his house to administer Communion. I know, too, that my father said the rosary daily, something I don’t know how to do and know little about…

 …I’m no authority on forgiveness, but I do believe that my father, who was very young when he became a husband and a father, in his early 20s, did the best that he knew how to do at the time, which, of course, is not the same as doing the best he could do. This is true for all of us, though, isn’t it? And that’s where the potential for growth comes in. None of us are exempt from screwing up. I believe strongly, and I have a hunch my father would agree with me on this, that in his 62 years on the planet, my father put the very best part of himself into his writing. Everything else, including his wife and children, came after that. A close second I would add. But after that.

This way of being led to a masterful body of work, led to the kind of art that can change lives, art that will continue to live on for years and years. But there were costs to this. To him. To us, his six children (and ex-wives). On some level, I think my father knew he wouldn’t have a very long life, and he needed to get to that desk. Well, I’m grateful that he did just that.

Gone So Long is a novel about a shattered family: what happened, why, the life-long consequences and the possibility and question of reconciliation and forgiveness.

It’s told from three perspectives: Daniel, the father, 60-ish in the present day, Susan, the now adult daughter, and Lois, Susan’s grandmother who raised her after the loss of her daughter, Susan’s mother and Daniel’s wife Linda when Susan was three years old.

It is not really a secret what happened to Linda and that Daniel was responsible, but because the details are doled out only gradually over the course of the novel, to just lay it all out here would be spoilerish – and part of the building tension in the novel lies in the shadows around that foundational incident in the past, as well as the contemporary question of how this damage is playing out in the present and whether or not healing is possible.

It’s a serious, painful read so is it proper to say that I “enjoyed” reading it? Doesn’t seem right. But it was an interesting, engaging world to be involved in for a few hours over a few days: the shabby beach amusement park setting of the character’s early lives, the Florida of the present and more recent past, including – and this was surprising – those days in 1990 when the University of Florida campus was terrorized by serial killer Danny Rolling – interesting because I was living in Gainesville at the time.

Dubus is known for his deeply empathetic excavation of character, and that’s in evidence here. You get to know almost every character well, which means seeing their choices from their perspective and, if not agreeing with them, understanding them. This happens, though, because Dubus takes a great deal of time and space to explore these characters – and perhaps it’s just a bit too much. I felt the book was a little longer than it needed to be, with points being made several times in several different ways.

I have a couple of other critiques.

First, there’s an exception to the nuanced characterization: it’s Bobby, Susan’s jazz musicologist husband. If we had a photograph, he just might have a halo hovering over his head. In reflection, it seems to me that Bobby functions as an authorial substitute: he clearly seems to be that compassionate, all-understanding creator and manager of this little universe we’re living in. Even the quote he has painted on his wall from his favorite jazz musician about his fellow musicians expresses this:

I don’t want them to follow me. I want them to follow themself, but to be with me. 

While I found some of the other characters irritating in their bad choices, Bobby was irritating in his magnanimous perfection.

And then, this. Two points as introduction:

  1. Look, a character is a character created by a writer. That writer has the right to do whatever they want and create whatever they would like – what these people do in their fictional universe is up to the author, and that’s that.
  2. It’s absolutely true that the way we live out our sexuality and relationships are linked, in mysterious ways, to family dynamics and history. That’s not news. It’s absolutely true, and as we grow and come to understand ourselves, we see this. It can be a key to unpacking and unlearning destructive behaviors.

But I think it’s also true that explaining the impact of damaging family histories by drawing a line from that to sexual behavior is…kind of the easiest choice a creator can make to explain that history. I thought about this a lot (to pivot rather wildly) during Mad Men, which was a show I really liked a lot, but which also got tiresome in the way that the only way characters expressed tension in interpersonal dynamics was through falling into bed (or more often..on to a desk or office couch..). Okay, I would think – it’s quick and easy, and shorthand in a way, but honestly, there’s a lot more that happens in human life when people are uneasy or torn or broken – beyond sex.

What I’m getting at here is that Susan, deeply traumatized and torn from her parents for terrible reasons and raised in a less than optimal home, always yearning and wondering, acts out that pain through sexual promiscuity. Which would not be unheard of, of course – as one searches, vainly, for warmth and connection and love, to do so in a string of short-term relationships – it’s the story of modern life, isn’t it?

But something about this storyline irritated me, and I think it’s because of St. Bobby. If Susan had been dealing with all of this without a Perfect Older Man managing things, if she’d found inner strength and a way to deal with the unimaginable strangeness of her situation more on her own terms, I probably wouldn’t have reacted as negatively as I did.

In the end, I experienced Susan’s story as an expression – to use a popular critical term – of the male gaze at work – not, as it’s usually understood, in an objectifying sense, but in a paternalistic one.

Which perhaps makes sense in this world, since a father’s massive failure and sin is at the core  of her pain. But in the end, I suppose I was dissatisfied and irritated because I wanted Susan to find what she needed without being rescued, in part, by a saintly middle-aged man.

Writing: Still working on the manuscript due in January.

I’m in the Catholic World Report “Best Books I Read in 2018.” 

 

 

Read Full Post »

As I mentioned yesterday, this week, in anticipation of the July 22 feast,  I’ll be posting excerpts from my book Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies, published by OSV a few years ago under another title, but now available, published by moi, via Amazon Kindle for .99.

Chapter 2:

‘WHY ARE YOU WEEPING?’

Luke is the only evangelist to mention Mary Magdalene before the Passion narratives, but once those events are set in motion, Mary is a constant presence in all of the Gospels, without exception. For the first few centuries of Christian life, it is her role in these narratives that inspired the most interest and produced the earliest ways of describing Mary Magdalene: “Myrrh-bearer” and “Equal-to-the-Apostles.”

At the Cross

In both Matthew (27:55) and Mark (15:40-41), Mary Magdalene is named first in the list of women watching Jesus’ execution.

Luke doesn’t name the women at the cross, but he does identify them as those who had “followed him from Galilee.” John also mentions her presence (19:25), but his account highlights the presence of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ words commending her to John’s care.

After Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, Mary and the other women are still there. Matthew (27:61) and Mark (15:47) both specifically mention her as seeing where Jesus’ body was laid, and Luke again refers to the “women . . . from Galilee” (23:55), whose identity we are expected to understand from Luke’s early mention of their names in chapter 8.

Finally, as the Sabbath passes and the first day of the week dawns, the women still remain, and the Twelve are still nowhere in sight. Matthew describes Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (not the mother of Jesus, but probably the Mary, mother of James and Joseph, whom he had mentioned in 27:56) coming to “see” the tomb. Mark and Luke get more specific, saying that the women have come to anoint Jesus’ body. John, interestingly enough, in chapter 20, ignores any other women, and focuses on Mary Magdalene. She comes to see the tomb, finds the stone moved and the tomb empty, and runs to tell Peter.

At least one early critic of Christianity seized on Mary Magdalene’s witness as discrediting. As quoted by the Christian writer Origen,the second-century philosopher Celsus called her a “half-frantic woman” (Contra Celsus, Book II: 59), thereby calling into doubt the truth of her testimony of the empty tomb.

What is striking about John’s account is that even though Peter and others do indeed run to the tomb at Mary’s news and see it empty, that is all they see. They return, and after they have gone away, Mary remains, alone at the tomb, weeping. It is at this point that, finally, the risen Jesus appears.

Of course, Jesus appears to Mary and other women in the Synoptic Gospels as well. In Matthew (chapter 28), an angel first gives them the news that Jesus has risen from the dead. The women then depart to tell the Twelve, and on the way they meet Jesus, they worship him, and he instructs them to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

In Mark (chapter 16), they meet the angel first as well, and receive the same message as Matthew describes, and are, unlike the joy described by Matthew, “afraid.” (Fear and lack of understanding on the part of disciples is a strong theme in Mark’s Gospel, by the way.)

Mark presents us with a bit of a problem, because the oldest full manuscripts of Mark, dating from the fourth century, end at 16:8, with the women afraid, and with no appearance of the risen

Mark presents us with a bit of a problem, because the oldest full manuscripts of Mark, dating from the fourth century, end at 16:8, with the women afraid, and with no appearance of the risen Jesus described. Manuscripts of a century later do contain the rest of the Gospel as we know it, continuing the story, emphasizing Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene, and identifying her as the one from whom he had exorcised seven demons. She sees him, she reports to the others, and they don’t believe it. Jesus then appears to “two of them” (perhaps an allusion to the encounter on the road to Emmaus we read about in Luke 24) who then, again, report the news to the Twelve who, again, do not believe it. Finally, Jesus appears to the disciples when they are at table, and as is normal in the Gospel of Mark, their faithlessness is remarked upon.

Some modern scholars suggest that Mark 16:8 is the “real” ending of this Gospel, which would mean that it contains no Resurrection account. Others, including the Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright, a preeminent scholar of the New Testament, argue that when one looks at Mark as a whole, it is obviously building up to the Resurrection,including prophecies from Jesus himself. Wright theorizes that the original ending was perhaps lost (the ends of scrolls were particularly susceptible to damage), and that what we have now is an attempt by a later editor to patch up that lost ending, but not in a way inconsistent with Mark’s intentions.

The theme of disbelief also runs through Luke. Interestingly enough, this Gospel doesn’t recount an encounter between the women (who are finally again specifically identified) and Jesus, but only the appearance of “two men” in “dazzling apparel,” who remind them of Jesus’ prophecies of his death and resurrection. The women, no longer afraid, go to the apostles, who, of course, dismiss their tale as idle chatter.

What’s clear in these Synoptic Gospels is, first, the strong sense of historical truth about the accounts. Rationalist skeptics would like to dismiss the Resurrection as a fabrication, but if it is, then the storytellers did a terrible job, didn’t they?

After all, if you were creating a myth that would be the origins of your new religion, would you write something in which the central characters — the first leaders of this same religion — were so filled with fear and doubt that they appeared weak?

If you were making up the story of the Resurrection from scratch, you would, as a person living in the first century, in the Roman Empire, and presumably as a Jew, only be able to think about this resurrection business in the terms and concepts available to you. And, as N. T. Wright has so ably demonstrated in The Resurrection of the Son of God (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003), even the first-century Jewish world, which did believe in a resurrection of the body, saw it in completely different terms — that it would eventually happen to everyone, at once, at the end of time (Wright, pp. 200-206).

And in general, when you read over the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, you are immersed in an account in which people are afraid, confused, in awe, and eventually profoundly overjoyed. There is a veil drawn over the core event — the Resurrection itself is never described because, of course, none of the witnesses saw it.

They saw the empty tomb, and they saw the risen Jesus. A clever fabricator and mythmaker would not have woven his account with such nuance, and would probably have offered a direct account of the event itself, perhaps even with a clear explanation of what it all meant. But that’s not what we read, and somehow, ironically, all of the confusion and human frailty is powerful evidence for the truth of the account.

Most importantly for us, a first-century mythmaker would not have featured women as the initial witnesses of these formative events. It is inaccurate to say that first-century Jews did not accept women as reliable witnesses at all. There was, of course, no unified system of law within Judaism, and what was practiced was dependent upon which rabbi’s interpretation of the Law was used. Some rabbis did, indeed, hold the opinion that women were not reliable witnesses, but others disagreed and counted a woman’s witness equal to a man’s.

However, the fact that a woman’s reliability as a witness was disputed, unclear, and not consistently accepted, would, it seems, discourage a fabricator from using women as his source of information that the tomb was indeed empty. It certainly wouldn’t be the first choice to come to mind if your aim was to present a story that was easily credible, would it?

“[And] so that the apostles [the women] did not doubt the angels,Christ himself appeared to them,so that the women are Christ’s apostles and compensate through their obedience for the sin of the first Eve. . . . Eve has become apostle. . . . So that the women did not appear liars but bringers of truth, Christ appeared to the [male] apostles and said to them: It is truly I who appeared to these women and who desired to send them to you as apostles.” (Hippolytus, third century, quoted in Mary Magdalene: Myth and Metaphor, by Susan Haskins [Berkley, 1997], pp. 62-63)

496px-noli_me_tangere_-_poussin_-_museo_del_prado

Noli Me Tangere

John’s account of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance to Mary in chapter 20 adds more detail than the Synoptics. She comes to the tomb while it is still dark — recall how John’s Gospel begins, with the wonderful hymn describing the Word bringing light into the darkness — and she sees that it is empty, and then runs to get the disciples. Peter and another disciple come to the tomb, see it for themselves, but leave, since, as John says, they didn’t yet understand “the scripture” — perhaps the Hebrew Scriptures as they would be later understood by Christians.

Mary stays, though, weeping ( John 20:11). She peers into the tomb (the level of detail in this account is fascinating) and sees two “angels in white” who ask her why she is crying. She says, sadly, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” ( John 20:13). She then turns and sees another figure; we are told it’s Jesus, but she doesn’t know until he speaks her name ( John 20:16)

One of the more well-known moments in this account comes in John 20:17, when Jesus says to Mary, in the famous Latin rendering of the words, “Noli me tangere,” which has commonly been translated, “Do not touch me.”This, however, is not the most accurate translation — either in Latin or English — of the Greek, which really means something like, “Do not cling to me” or “Do not retain me.”

So, no, Jesus is not engaging in misogynistic behavior here. Nor is he (as some modern commentators suggest) alluding to a supposed former intimate relationship between him and Mary. This is not about touching; it is about understanding who Jesus is and what his mission is. After all, Thomas is invited to touch the wounds of Jesus in John 20:27. No, Jesus tells Mary to let go of him, to look beyond the moment, to the future. After all, his very next words direct her to go to the apostles and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” ( John 20:17). Knowing Jesus for who he is, we cannot stand still. We have to move, get out, and share the marvelous news that in Jesus the barriers between humanity and God are dissolved.

Which, of course, Mary Magdalene does. All of the evangelists agree that she was the first to announce this Good News to the apostles, who, more often than not, responded with skepticism.

But such is the way it has always been. God always chooses the least in the world’s eyes, the unexpected and the despised, to do his most important work. To see this event only through the prism of politics, and to be inspired by it to think only about gender roles and such, is to be willfully blinded to the greater reality: Jesus lives, Jesus saves, and as we are touched by this truth, we are, at the same time, called to go out and share it.

Mary of the Bible

Mary Magdalene’s future in Christian spirituality and iconography is rich, evocative, and even confusing, as we’ll see in subsequent chapters. But it all begins here, with powerful simplicity and themes that will resonate through the centuries.

Mary Magdalene, healed of possession, responds to Jesus with a life of faithful discipleship. As spiritual writers and theologians will point out, she’s like the Bride in the Song of Songs. She’s like the Church itself, called by Christ out of bondage to the evils that pervade our world, giving ourselves over to him in gratitude, waiting with hope by the tomb, even when all seems lost, and rewarded, in a small, grace-filled moment, when, in the midst of darkness, we hear him call our name.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What does Mary’s desire to hold on to Jesus symbolize to you? How do you experience this in your own life?
  2. Why is Mary referred to as “Apostle to the Apostles?”
  3. What can Mary’s fidelity teach you about your own relationship to Jesus?

Read Full Post »

— 1 —

Well, hey there – we are indeed here. We were in Tokyo from Friday (finally!) to Tuesday, then took the bullet train down here to Kyoto, which is pretty wonderful. Tokyo was nifty and interesting and important, but Kyoto is far more manageable (I’m not saying it’s tiny – but it’s manageable and is definitely life at a more human scale). If you want to know what we’ve been doing before this – just push backwards on the entries up there.

img_2083

— 2 —

Yesterday we  ventured out of Kyoto to Nara – about a 45 minute train ride away. Nara was the capital of Japan for a time before Kyoto – which was the capital for centuries, up until the restoration in the late 19th century, when Edo/Tokyo took over. Kyoto is the cultural heart of Japan, with hundreds and hundreds of temples and shrines. Nara has its fair share too, as well as…

img_2032

— 3 —

Yup, deer. It’s Theh Other thing Nara is known for – semi-tame deer that roam the huge central park. “Deer crackers” are sold to feed them, but do so at your own risk – once the critters know that you’ve got food, they are all in your business.

— 4 —

We made the super-brilliant decision to rent bikes for touring – everything we were going to see (deer/giant Buddha) was in the park, and we probably saved ourselves about 90 minutes walking time by whizzing around on bikes, weaving through groups of school children and flocks of deer.

— 5 —

The giant Buddha is in the Todaiji Temple – supposedly the largest wooden structure in the world (or one of – everything I read says something different) – and is quite impressive. Also featured is a pillar with a hole in the bottom. The hole is supposedly the same size as the hole in the Buddha’s nostril, and if you can crawl through it,  it’s  a sign you’ll reach enlightenment.

This little fellow went back and forth three times, so he’s nailed it.

img_20180628_125129

— 6 —

We got back to the apartment about three, and decided to take a break – oh, lunch was img_20180628_141806fantastic ramen in a place near the Nara station – and after that break we went up a few train stops to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, probably one of the most famed visuals from Kyoto.

(Educational note: a temple is Buddhist. A shrine is Shinto. Occasionally you will find them in very close proximity, and my impression is that the Japanese use each as their call for something specific.)

As it turned out, I am very glad that we went to Fushimi Inari when we did – late in the day. It wasn’t as crowded as I’m sure it is during the day, and it wasn’t that hot. Unfortunately, two of our party (including me) just didn’t have the energy or interest ind doing the entire hike up the mountain – it would have probably taken close to 2 1/2 hours total, and the shrines hours say “from dawn to dusk” and by the time we reached a midpoint at which the map said we had 40 minutes from that point to get to the top and back to where we were – it was already dusk. But what we experienced was special enough: hiking through the brilliantly-colored torii  – the gates, each donated by a person or company that had prayers answered – and then the jumble of shrines on the hillside, as well as numerous cats. The fox is important to the shrine because foxes are messengers of the gods, and these foxes protect rice granaries – the keys to which they often carry in their mouths.

— 7 —

I’m please to let you all know that The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories was awarded second place in the Children’s book category by the Association of Catholic Publishers. And huge congratulations to Heather King for her so-deeply deserved award!

So much credit for my book’s success – in fact all the Loyola Kids’ titles – goes to the Loyola editorial and design team as well as the artists they’ve contracted to work on each of the books. It’s a complete package, and my words are just one part of it.
https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FLoyolaPress%2Fposts%2F10156587741810891&width=500

Coming in July:

amy_welborn9

amy-welborn3

Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

More book reminders (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page.  

He’s released his second set of stories, which are science fiction-y in nature. 

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: