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Archive for the ‘christmas’ Category

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

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And then….there’s this:

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

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

From the Hallmark site.

From Artsy:

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

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

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

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

 

 

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And here you go:

More images at all the links up there.

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

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Be sure to check out:

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


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

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Cullman, Alabama, about fifty miles north of here, was founded by Germans. A brief history: 

Cullman was founded by Col. Johann Gottfried Cullmann, a German refugee from Frankweiler (which was then Bavaria) who came to America in 1866. While working at a bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio, he began formulating ideas of a special colony of working people – specifically a place for immigrants from countries such as his native Germany. He read about the vast unsettled lands in the South, and bought passage on a boat to Florence, Alabama. There he met with Governor Patton and presented his idea. The Governor furnished men and horses for him to explore available lands in North Alabama.

He finally met with Lewis Fink, the land agent for the great South-North Railroad (later the L&N), which had just built a line through the wilderness from Decatur to Montgomery, After a careful survey, he contracted with the railroad for 349,000 acres with the stipulation that Col. Cullmann would pay for all advertising of the land and other expenses incurred in bringing the desired immigrants to the area. Col. Cullmann found the area to be perfect for his dream colony.

Cullmann then went back north and began to advertise for colonists. In April of 1873, the first five families came by train to the spot where Cullman now stands. Each was allotted a plot of ground. The colony quickly grew, with American citizens and German immigrants moving to the area.

Not long after, German Benedictines came and founded an abbey – St. Bernard’s. I’ve mentioned the famed “Ave Maria Grotto”several times – if you’ve traveled on I-65, you’ve seen the billboards. Trust me – it’s not a cheesy roadside attraction – it’s well worth your time!

The history of Saint Bernard Abbey is a rich one. In the 1840s monks from Metten Abbey in Germany, a monastery founded c. 700 A.D., came to America to plant the Benedictine monastic life in the United States and to minister to the growing German-speaking immigrant population. St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, became the first foundation, and in the 1870s monks from St. Vincent were sent to Alabama to serve the needs of German Catholics here. In 1891 those monks gathered to establish St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. One year later, 1892, a school was opened at the new abbey.

The town continues to celebrate its German heritage, although for most of its history, the county was bone-dry. I think the county still is, but a few years ago, the city of Cullman voted to allow alcohol sales, which meant for the first time in its history, the town’s Oktoberfest could serve…beer. 

There are other dry counties in Alabama (some with “wet” towns in them, making them “moist”), but I always wondered if the persistence of Cullman county’s anti-alcohol laws was rooted in anti-German/immigrant/Catholic/Lutheran sentiments….

Anyway.

As part of the town’s Christmas celebration this year, they brought in some Germans from Germany to construct an enormous Christmas pyramid! We dashed up there to see it on Saturday, and here are some images – note, if you can, the different themes for each level. It’s lovely! More (in German) on the construction here. 

Here’s the website of the company that constructed it – and makes them on a smaller scale!

And if you head to my Instagram page, you can see video. 

(Our humble not-really-a-pyramid from Germany presented for contrast)

 

 

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Every year I take a few minutes and collect links to some of the parishes around the world who are celebrating Bambinelli Sunday. This is just a quick survey, and it’s so very gratifying to see this traditional continue to grow in popularity. All kudos to Ann Engelhart for seeing the possibilities!

More on the book.

The group in Rome that sponsors the St. Peter’s event…has gone Lego this year. Ah, well:

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From B16 in 2008:

God, our Father
you so loved humankind
that you sent us your only Son Jesus,
born of the Virgin Mary,
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing
these images of Jesus,
who is about to come among us,
may be a sign of your presence and
love in our homes.

Good Father,
give your Blessing to us too,
to our parents, to our families and
to our friends.

Open our hearts,
so that we may be able to
receive Jesus in joy,
always do what he asks
and see him in all those
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus,
your beloved Son
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever.
Amen.

 

 

St. Robert Bellarmine, Bayside, NY

St. Benedict, Covington, LA

Divine Mercy, Hamden, CT

St. Aidan Cathedral, Ireland

Holy Family, Belfast

Incarnation, Bethlehem, PA

Elizabeth Ann Seton, Shrub Oak, NY

St. Leo’s, Elmwood Park, NJ

St. Mary Newhouse

Holy Redeemer Ellwood City, PA

Sacred Heart, Eldon, MO

St. Teresa of Calcutta, Mahanoy City, PA

Suggested by the Archdiocese of New Orleans (headline has an error – refers Lent, not Advent)

Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, Ankeny, IA

St. Francis of Assisi, St. Louis

St. Pius X, Loudonville, NY

St. Sebastian, Greenbrae, CA

Assumption, St. Louis

St. Thomas Aquinas, Zanesville, OH

St. John Bosco, Hatboro, PA

St. Bridget, Framingham, MA

Transfiguration, Marietta, GA

All Saints, Milville, NJ

St. Jude, Atlanta

Mentioned in “Equipping Catholic Families.”

St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catharines, ON, CA

Holy Ghost, Bethlehem, PA

Church of the Holy Family, Dunblane

St. Edith, Livonia, MI

Basilica of St. Mary, Alexandria, VA

St. Michael and All Angels, Diocese of Portsmouth, England

St. Michael’s Blackrock, Cork

St. Ignatius Loyola, NY, NY

St. Mark, Shoreham, NY

St. Thomas More, Somerset, MA

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Advent is coming – the first Sunday is less than a month away, December 1. That gives you plenty of time to order print copies of any of these, and many are available in digital formats as well.

(BTW – I don’t make any $$ from the sales of these booklets. The way it works is that these kinds of materials are, for the most part, written as works-for-hire. You write it, you get paid a flat fee, and that’s it. I just …think what I’ve written is not terrible and hope my words might be helpful to someone out there…so I continue to spread the word!)

First, and most current, is a brand-new devotional I wrote for Creative Communications for the Parish. Lots of supplementary materials are available – please take a look!

There’s a digital version available here.  So if you’d like it for your own use in that format – go for it! 

Wonders Of His Love

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More samples – pdf 

Also new this year, and not an Advent devotional, specifically – since it’s a daily devotional, it of course…contains Advent devotionals!

2020 – Grace Filled Days – begins on December 1, 2019 and continues through December 31, 2020. Two Advents!

Purchase through Loyola here.

(Bulk pricing available, if you’d like to purchase several for, say – a parish or school staff.)

Online here. 

Several years ago, I wrote another Advent family devotional. It’s no longer available in a print version, but the digital version can still be had here.  Only .99!

In 2016, Liguori published daily devotions I wrote for both Lent and Easter. They publish new booklets by different authors every year, but mine are still available, both through Liguori and Amazon.

Liguori – English

(pdf sample)

Liguori  – Spanish

(pdf sample)

Single used copies also available through Amazon. No Kindle version. 

A daily Advent meditation book I pulled together from reflections my late husband had posted on his blog:

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Nicholas of Myra

Samples of the St. Nicholas booklet here.

For more about St. Nicholas, visit the invaluable St. Nicholas Center.

 

Years ago, I wrote a few pamphlets for OSV, among them these two:

How to Celebrate Advent. Also available in Spanish. 

PDF review copy of English version here.

PDF review copy of Spanish version here. 

How to Celebrate Christmas as a Catholic. 

 

 

PDF available for review here. 

PDF of the Spanish version available for review here.

And then….Bambinelli Sunday!

(Also – if you would like to purchase books as Christmas gifts from me – here’s the link. I don’t have everything, but what I have…I have. The bookstore link is accurate and kept up to date. I will be out of town for much of November, so keep that in mind when you order)

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"amy welborn"

Happy All Saints!

I’m in Living Faith today. 

Before we get rolling here with some Thoughts, I’ll just mention, since it is obligatory on Social Media, our Halloween experience.

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Yeah, nada this year. I don’t think we had any trick-or-treaters last year (our house is in a neighborhood, yes, but the street is kind off enough to take it away from main Halloween traffic), so this year, I didn’t even purchase any candy – we had a few Gansito on hand, so I decided that if anyone showed up, that’s what they’d get.

Well, it was also in the 30’s here in Alabama, so add that to the situation, and you have, again, no trick-or-treaters, and an almost 15-year old who’s been over the holiday for a couple of years, so it was indeed, a quiet night here.

Which is fine. There might be some aspects of Parenting Young Children in America I miss at this point, but not many. My stance is more of walking past various aisles in the store – baby needs, feminine hygiene products, Halloween gear and (especially) Valentines  – and thinking Thank God that part of my life is in the past. What next?

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I am convicted of the truth of the Christian – Catholic faith by odd things. Yes, the traditional arguments and proofs have their power and make sense, but in the end, it is manifestations of paradox and a certain kind of skewing that gives me confidence of the truth. I am not as enamored of Chesterton as some are, but where he does appeal to me is his grasp of the paradox at the heart of reality, reflected and clarified in the Incarnation and the faith that flows from it.

The role of the saints in Catholic life makes a similar argument for me, if you will. There are many things to be said about saints, many ways in which they are used to argue for the Faith: they gave up so much for this…it must  be true. And so on. But I come at the saints from a slightly different angle.

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For when I look at the role of saints within Catholic life and spirituality, I see nothing like it any other institution, culture or subculture in human history. Yes, all cultures honor other human beings, some even have their miracle-workers. They have their wise men and founders, they have their holy fools and mystics.

But in what other human context are rulers and managers and the wealthy told that their life – their real life  – depends on honoring, emulating and humbly seeking the prayers of a beggar?

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Or a young woman who died in her early 20’s, almost completely unknown?

 

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Or a young African woman?

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When I consider the Communion of Saints, I see a great deal. I see the Body of Christ, visible and invisible, militant and triumphant. But I also see the breadth and depth of human experience in a way that no other aspect of life affords me and which, in fact, some aspects of life – parochialism, pride, secularism – hide from me. In touch with the saints, I stay in touch with real history in a more complete way, with human experience and with the presence of the Word made Flesh, encountered and embodied in the lives of his saints. Every single day, in the calendar of memorials and feasts, I meet them. I can’t rest easy and pretend that my corner of experience affords me all I need to know.

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Here with the saints, we are taught that grace can dwell in every life, from any corner or level that the world erects. We can’t sit easily, proud and blind and dismissive of the other. The peacemaker is invited to beg the soldier’s prayers. The professor turns to the untutored child martyr. The merchant busily engaged with the world encounters the intense bearded figure, alone in the desert.

 

"amy welborn"

On today’s Solemnity of All Saints, our hearts are dilated to the dimensions of Heaven, exceeding the limits of time and space.

-B16

"amy welborn"

 

 

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And yes, I like to read and write about saints:

 

 

More on my books related to saints here. 

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

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In case you missed it, I have some thoughts on the post-Vatican II era, riffing off the novels of David Lodge, here at Church Life Journal from Notre Dame. 

Please to read and share.

Writer/Film Guy Son has been working through Kubrick, as he did through Bergman and Marvel. Go here to see what he thinks.

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Canonization of Cardinal Newman coming on Sunday – more on him from me here. 

amy welborn

amy welborn

Images from Praying with the Pivotal Players and Be Saints! 

 

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Yah, by the time you read this, El Camino will either be ready for viewing on Netflix, or close to it. I’m staying away from SpoilerLand all day and seeing it Friday night in the theater (unless I look at the traffic in the afternoon and it’s a mess around Talladega – it’s the big racing weekend, and I-20 goes right by the track. A couple of times over the past few years, I’ve forgotten that it was race weekend, and gone either to or from Atlanta, and gotten stuck. )

So, in any case, if you are interested, come back here late Friday night for my thoughts. I’ll have them, I’m sure.

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Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a play I would very much like to see – and if I did, indeed live in Atlanta and could hop Spirit Airlines to NYC for a hundred bucks, I’d probably do it. But since I don’t and life is fairly busy here, I’ll have to pass and read about it instead. From Chad Pecknold:

The play often works around internal conservative disputes — Bannonist, Benedict Option, Traditionalist — but the deeper undercurrents are those ‘dark and complicated’ mysteries of Catholicism. It is a strength of the play that the conservative and Catholic themes intermingle but never merge into one.

Theologically, the play is ambitious, covering everything from the nature of evil — inexplicable and meaningless disruptions which deprive us of goodness — to the Virgin Mary, to the Eucharist, to pulling human suffering into Christ’s sacrifice. Emily, a character racked by the pain of Lyme Disease, speaks about how each of us is a gift, akin to Christ himself who was “begotten not made.” And in a very important monologue in the play Teresa the young Bannonist tells her friend Kevin that he doesn’t understand the Virgin Mary because he’s “afraid of the scandal of particularity.”

“This is the thing about God. He makes us work out our salvation through other people.”

“We’re not meant to structure our society according to every freakish chosen ‘right.’ We’re supposed to strive for the good,” Teresa fervently implores in her Marian speech, “The particular, written, incarnate, natural Christian good. Otherwise, what are we? A throbbing mass of genderless narcissists. There’s no ‘thisness’ in the liberal future. There’s no there there. It’s empty. What’s really radical is sacrifice.”

Teresa’s political speeches are always theological, and her speech about the scandal of particularity above is precisely in the place of the deer’s blood, which Justin occasionally wipes down throughout the play to remind the audience of the presence of a sacrifice. For Teresa, however, “thisness” seems to keep her on the surface of things. It takes Emily, the Lyme Disease suffering woman whose body she describes as a “prairie of pain,” who breaks into the substance of things, who near the end of the play drags herself across a figure of Christ’s sacrifice, brings her suffering into contact with something real.

The play is remarkable for managing to make progressives and conservatives think about the parts we are playing in history – less Plato’s historical determinism and more Augustine’s “we are the times”. Fundamentally it’s a play which asks about the moral thinness of our present crisis, our “fourth turning,” and asks the audience to break into a bigger conversation about a “terrible beauty which sustains us.”

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One of the long blog posts I have up my sleeve is, of course, about gender. Yes, another one. To tide you over, here’s a philosophical primer from Public Discourse. 

Notwithstanding all the talk of people being “born that way,” the gender construct means to release us precisely from the way we were born. This is particularly evident in the most prominent representative of gender theory, Judith Butler, who adamantly rejects the need for any justification for being at variance with one’s bodily sex. For Butler, “gender” is not something we observe in ourselves, whether in our bodies or in our “deep-seated feelings.” It is something we do to ourselves. It is a groundless deed “performed” on ourselves, a sort of self-creation ex nihilo.

Indeed, it is noteworthy that despite the many “naturalistic” references to the lifelong deep-seated feelings of the respondent in the Harris Homes case, they are not used in the Sixth Circuit decision in his favor. On the contrary, there, only the most voluntarist definition of “gender” is used: something “fluid, variable, and difficult to define . . . [having] . . . a deeply personal, internal genesis that lacks a fixed external referent.” What in the end does it matter if someone has a “deep-seated feeling”? Why can it not be just a choice? It is enough that the employee has declared himself to be a woman for him to be one and to be treated as such. “Gender” has effectively vaporized the “fixed external referent,” all the evidence of our birth.

Benedict XVI summed up this final stage of the new philosophy of sex, saying:

Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be.

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This might interest you. I’m just tossing it out here and will do a deeper dive later.

The Experience of Worship Project – an fascinating project to recreate various medieval liturgies in situ. 

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What was it like to be in a church in the Middle Ages? What did you see around you? What did you hear, sense and feel? At one level at least, these are unanswerable questions, because the lost past is irrecoverable. But imagination has always been a crucial tool for historians seeking to understand the past – imagination combined with the evidence that can be garnered from what does survive. That is what this research project is about. But in asking these questions, and in combining imagination with evidence in seeking to answer them, it goes beyond the written narrative of historical study: it seeks to address the questions directly by active participation in the processes of making and enacting: enriching a medieval space with the furnishings, artefacts, vestments and books; filling it with the sights, sounds and sensory experience of medieval worship; and populating it by being the people performing and attending medieval liturgies.

A thorough exploration, complete with video, glossaries and explanations of artifacts. As I said – meriting a deeper look.

An article about the project:

Pragmatism and practicality had inevitably to be exercised. This was particularly true in the preparation of texts and ritual directions for both clergy and singers. Apart from limited time for rehearsal, there was no hope of achieving the accumulated memory, mores, habits and conventions that medieval clergy and singers took for granted in their recitation of 60 or more liturgies each week. Recitation and singing in Latin may have been attainable, but rubrics had to be adapted and in English. In the Mass, a medieval priest or singer was used to turning to at least three parts of the Missal or Gradual to find the necessary texts; these needed to be placed in sequence. Even so, the three clergy, the four assisting servers, and the singers all have their own ritual narrative to follow; and only the priest and the singers have constant access to a text. Furthermore, up to five different actions may be taking place simultaneously.

In all, three liturgies took place in Salisbury Cathedral, including a major procession around the cathedral and cloisters; and nine in St Teilo’s Church at St Fagans. The audio-visual recordings provide a record not of polished performances but of a fluent working through of these rituals. The procession and two Masses were enacted in both buildings, and revealed some of the challenges faced by local parish clergy, who lacked both the space and human resources of Salisbury Cathedral. The ritual of Salisbury (the so-called Use of Sarum) was used in over 7,000 churches by the end of the Middle Ages, all varying from the cathedral and from one another to a greater or lesser extent in configuration and resources. St Teilo’s is about an eighth of the length of Salisbury Cathedral, yet the same texts and ritual directions were to be followed in both buildings. Where did the priest of St Teilo’s go in procession in a church without the choir aisles and cloisters that are part of the directed route on great feast days? Where, on days when the Gospel was to be recited from the pulpitum above the choir screen, did the two clergy and three servers specified undertake this ritual when the only access to the top of the screen was a ladder – bearing in mind that they were processing formally, wearing vestments and carrying either book, candlestick or thurible? The texts recited and the chants sung may have been identical, but, notwithstanding the directions of the rubrics, the ritual had to be adapted.

Clergy, singers and the furniture, vestments and artefacts they required, formed one dimension of medieval worship at the east end of the church. The people formed the other dimension, unspecified in number, and largely unscripted, in the nave. Most of the participants in the enactments were either engaged in master’s or higher degrees or were research-active staff, and most were practising Christians, Newly constructed great lectern in use, with the 15th-century Ranworth Antiphonal. Photo: Mark Cator. 65 British Academy Review Spring 2019 though from a variety of denominations, traditions and spiritualities. Freed from expectations to follow a book text or to participate actively, they found themselves alert to a richer mix of the sensory, emotional, spiritual and intellectual qualities of worship, including long periods of silence during the Canon of the Mass; to use images or memorised devotional text as a focus, and to be enveloped by the whole experience of worship, thereby discovering new means of participation. Certain moments of engagement proved especially significant, like the kissing of the Pax Board by each person present, often the nearest that medieval laity came to contact with the consecrated bread and wine of the priest’s sacrifice. These were experiences of 21st-century individuals, but they have offered new insights on the artefacts, decorative elements, and devotional texts of late medieval religion

 

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Are you in parish/school or diocesan ministry? Advent is coming! Consider these resources – for Advent 2019, a family devotional I wrote for Creative Communications

Wonders Of His Love

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More samples – pdf 

Also this pamphlet on St. Nicholas, from Creative Communications as well:

Nicholas Of Myra

pdf sample

And this 2020 daily devotional – useful (I hope) for anyone, but, as I understand it from the publisher, a popular choice for Catholic institutions to share with employees and volunteers. It goes from the beginning of Advent 2019 to the December 31, 2020. 

 

Note: None of those links go to Amazon. Also, these were each written for a stipend, paid and delivered, in some cases (the Nicholas pamphlet), years ago. No royalties come to me from their sales. I’m just happy to share them and hope they help. 

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

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I’ve been highlighting elements of my books that are related to Mary. Today it’s The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 

Of course, the wealth of Marian imagery in Catholic tradition is…beyond one book. Especially one relatively short, basic children’s book. But here’s some of what we have.

Remember the structure of the book. Each entry has three parts – an illustration, a brief definition/explanation under that illustration, and then on the facing page, a more detailed explanation suitable for older children.

What I’m sharing is by no means complete – just a few samples!

EPSON MFP image

 

For more information.

Mary and the Christian Life

Salve Regina

Ave Maria and Memorare

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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.)

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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..

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…and walk out into the light.

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More on our rector’s blog here. 

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

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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.” 

 

 

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Yes, it’s a thing. I’m amazed and gratified to report this: it’s a thing.

No, we didn’t start the blessing of the Bambinelli – I still am not sure who did, but it’s currently sponsored in Rome by a group called the Centro Oratori Romani. Here’s their poster for this year’s event:

Bambinelli Sunday

And somewhere along the line, Ann Engelhart heard about it, connected the practice with her own childhood appreciation of the Neapolitan presipi, particularly as experienced through the Christmas displays at the Met -and suggested a book.

More about how the book came to be. 

So here we are!

 

 

 

Every year, I try to note some of the places doing Bambinelli Sunday – here’s this year’s partial list – which starts, right here, with the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham. The only order in this list is the order of search results. So here we go:

The Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis 

Divine Mercy, Hamden CT

St. Joseph, Mechanicsburg, PA

Liverpool Cathedral

Holy Spirit, Lubbock TX

St. Jude, Sandy Springs, GA

St. Gabriel School, Ontario, CA

Quinn Clooney Maghera Parish, Ireland

St. Francis of Assisi, St. Louis

Sacred Heart, Coronado, CO

Middleton Parish, Ireland

St. Catherine of Siena, Clearwater, FL

All Saints, Diocese of Plymouth, England

St. Senan’s, Diocese of Killaloe, Ireland

St. Augustine, Spokane

St. Bernadette, Westlake, OH

Ennis Cathedral Parish, Ireland

Nativity, Cincinnati

Killbritain Parish, Ireland

St. Edith, Livonia, MI

St. Brendan, Avalon, NJ

St. Brigid, Westbury, NY

St. Ferdinand, PA

St. Ignatius Loyola, NYC

St. Anne’s, Peterborough ON

Our Lady of Perpetual Succor, somewhere in Scotland

…And that’s all I have time to link.

Do a search for “Benedizione dei bambinelli” as well – you’ll come up with a slew. 

The point is that Advent and Christmas are about welcoming the Word of God into our lives – which means our homes. The blessing of the Bambinelli – which we bring from our homes and return there – is an embodiment of this.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict said in his 2008 prayer for the event:

God, our Father 
you so loved humankind 
that you sent us your only Son Jesus, 
born of the Virgin Mary, 
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing 
these images of Jesus, 
who is about to come among us, 
may be a sign of your presence and 
love in our homes.

Good Father, 
give your Blessing to us too, 
to our parents, to our families and 
to our friends.

Open our hearts, 
so that we may be able to 
receive Jesus in joy, 
always do what he asks 
and see him in all those 
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus, 
your beloved Son 
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever. 
Amen.

 

 

 

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If you didn’t get a chance to order a copy of my Nicholas of Myra pamphlet from Creative Communications,here’s a pdf sample. You can at least read over it and perhaps use it in some form with the children in your life today. And order copies for next year!

 

Nicholas-Of-Myra

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints – under “Saints are people who love children.” Makes sense, right?

A lengthy excerpt is here. 

 

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