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Archive for the ‘christmas’ Category

 

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..

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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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St. Ambrose, today.

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints, under “Saints are People Who Change Their Lives for God.” 

You can peek at the chapter here, at Google Books.

Almost six years ago, we did a spring break trip to Milan (freaky low airfare.  I’ll bet if you flew to Orlando that year for spring break and went to Disney, I spent less than you did on our trip.).  And of course, Milan=Ambrose.

(What you might not know is that Milan, as the center of Lombardy in northern Italy, has been the focus of so much attempted conquest and other warfare over the centures, has very little ancient, medieval or even Renaissance architecture or infrastructure.  The basilica of St. Ambrose is an anomaly in the city. Leonardo’s Last Supper barely survived the Allied bombing of WWII.)

But first, to the Duomo –
In the crypt of the Duomo – the baptistry where St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine:

The Metro stop is nearby, and an underground corridor passes the baptistry.  You can peek out at the passengers rushing by, and if you are on the other side you could peek in to the baptistry – if you knew it was there.

A different type of modern transport juxtaposed with the ancient.   Some wheels from the city’s bike-sharing service in front of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio –

one of the four churches built by Ambrose. (of course what we see is not the original – but is the result of building and rebuilding on the site.)

In other places you can find photos of the body of St. Ambrose in the crypt.  I  didn’t take his photo though. I probably could have – a little girl stuck her camera right through the grate and got a shot of the vested skeleton and no one stopped her. But it just didn’t feel right to me. Maybe because the boys were with me and I didn’t want to model “getting a good shot” as even Step Two (after “pray”) in “What To do in the Presence of Important Saints’ Relics.”

B16 at a General Audience, speaking about St. Ambrose:

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like further to propose to you a sort of “patristic icon”, which, interpreted in the light of what we have said, effectively represents “the heart” of Ambrosian doctrine. In the sixth book of the Confessions, Augustine tells of his meeting with Ambrose, an encounter that was indisputably of great importance in the history of the Church. He writes in his text that whenever he went to see the Bishop of Milan, he would regularly find him taken up with catervae of people full of problems for whose needs he did his utmost. There was always a long queue waiting to talk to Ambrose, seeking in him consolation and hope. When Ambrose was not with them, with the people (and this happened for the space of the briefest of moments), he was either restoring his body with the necessary food or nourishing his spirit with reading. Here Augustine marvels because Ambrose read the Scriptures with his mouth shut, only with his eyes (cf. Confessions, 6, 3). Indeed, in the early Christian centuries reading was conceived of strictly for proclamation, and reading aloud also facilitated the reader’s understanding. That Ambrose could scan the pages with his eyes alone suggested to the admiring Augustine a rare ability for reading and familiarity with the Scriptures. Well, in that “reading under one’s breath”, where the heart is committed to achieving knowledge of the Word of God – this is the “icon” to which we are referring -, one can glimpse the method of Ambrosian catechesis; it is Scripture itself, intimately assimilated, which suggests the content to proclaim that will lead to the conversion of hearts.

Thus, with regard to the magisterium of Ambrose and of Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from witness of life. What I wrote on the theologian in the Introduction to Christianity might also be useful to the catechist. An educator in the faith cannot risk appearing like a sort of clown who recites a part “by profession”. Rather – to use an image dear to Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose -, he must be like the beloved disciple who rested his head against his Master’s heart and there learned the way to think, speak and act. The true disciple is ultimately the one whose proclamation of the Gospel is the most credible and effective.

Like the Apostle John, Bishop Ambrose – who never tired of saying: “Omnia Christus est nobis! To us Christ is all!” – continues to be a genuine witness of the Lord. Let us thus conclude our Catechesis with his same words, full of love for Jesus: “Omnia Christus est nobis! If you have a wound to heal, he is the doctor; if you are parched by fever, he is the spring; if you are oppressed by injustice, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire Heaven, he is the way; if you are in the darkness, he is light…. Taste and see how good is the Lord:  blessed is the man who hopes in him!” (De Virginitate, 16, 99). Let us also hope in Christ. We shall thus be blessed and shall live in peace.

 

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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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I’m in Living Faith today, and if you are interested in the church I described in the devotional, go to this blog post for more information and photos – but only of the exterior, since they don’t allow photographs inside.

For that, go to this link – just a link to an image search for the church – Santa Maria Tonantzintila.

Here’s a sample:

Tonantzintla

 

Quick reminder – short on a family Advent devotional? Download one for .99 here!

 

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— 1 —

Happy feast of St. Andrew – more on him here. 

Advent is almost here – I draw your attention to a pre-preparation preparation post from yesterday, and a post on my own Advent resources here. 

In particular, there are several resources available for instant download – one family devotional and one individual devotional. Please check them out!

(And don’t forget the short story, she said very much like a broken record)

— 2 —

There is so much – justifiably – written about Church corruption, but one piece that does more than till the same familiar ground is this one in Dappled Things, reflecting on the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in this context. 

But the image of the triumphant outcasts wrapped in the consoling mantle of the church is not to last. The church is still Claude Frollo’s domain. He is the first to assault Esmeralda’s sanctuary, and Quasimodo cannot bring himself to kill his father in her defense; Esmeralda must wave a blade at Frollo herself. Her gypsy friends come next in an attempt to save her, which Quasimodo mistakenly foils because he cannot hear them speak their intentions. Then the King orders the sanctuary violated for the sake of ridding his kingdom of the supposed “sorceress.” The church’s ability to protect the powerless proves to be fleeting. As the king’s army closes in, Frollo alone has the power to save the girl, and he offers her a choice: life as his lover, or the gallows. Esmeralda replies, “I feel less horror of that than of you.” She goes to her death rather than submit to his lust.

I can only imagine how many real victims might see themselves reflected in Esmeralda. How many came to the Church looking for refuge, only to have their pastors, bishops, or archbishops issue fresh attacks by ignoring or disbelieving their accusations? How many faithful Catholics have felt like Quasimodo, carrying our wounded brothers and sisters into the bosom of the church for protection, only to be scolded and threatened by the very men we looked upon as fathers? How many predatory priests have used their power to issue ultimatums as appalling as the one given by Frollo to Esmeralda?

—3–

From the Catholic Herald: The Jesuit who photographed the First World War:

Alongside courage were modesty and devotion. 2,300 Irish Guards died in the war and the chaplain had to write many letters of condolence. Never merely a ritual expression of sympathy Browne always gave them a personal touch, writing to one mother that her son was “a dear good lad” with whom, a few days before his death, he had “had a chat about Galway…He still preserved the little bit of shamrock that came to him with your letter of 14th…” while to another, written shortly after the first, he wrote regretting that he could not give her any definite details of her son’s death: “From the nature of the fighting you will understand that that no matter how hard I tried, I could not reach all those who fell in time to administer the Last Sacraments.”

A close friend of the revered WWI chaplain, Fr Willie Doyle SJ, Browne wrote after his death on 16 August 1917 that in recent months “he was my greatest help and to his saintly advice and still more to his saintly example, I owe everything that I felt and did…May he rest in peace – it seems superfluous to pray for him.”

All this puts the photographs themselves into context. Already famous for taking the last photos of the Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1912 (Browne was ordered off the ship at Cork by the Jesuit Provincial, an order that saved his life), he showed a rare gift for composition, atmosphere and for seizing on the most resonant aspect of a scene, demonstrated in his “Interior of fortified hut, Flanders 1917”, the hut he and Fr Doyle used for Mass. Generally his photos were uncaptioned; they speak for themselves, such as one of the Front Line near Bethune (1916) showing a solitary soldier marching through a ruined landscape; soldiers attending to a dying comrade in the trenches; or the devastation of the beautiful medieval Cloth Hall in Ypres (1917).

It was also Fr Browne who took the photograph of Rudyard Kipling at the Irish Guards’ barracks in 1919, gazing straight at the camera, immobile in grief. His only son John was killed while fighting with the Irish Guards and his father was painfully aware that if he had not used his influence on John’s behalf, his son’s poor eyesight would have barred him from fighting. In Kipling’s History of the Irish Guards, written in memory of John, there are more than 20 references to Father Browne.

One image can convey more than innumerable words; with his eye, hand and heart in careful and sympathetic alignment, Browne’s memorable photos remain a permanent part of a sorrowful record.

–4–

Now for some local church-y news. There’s a lot going on down here.

First of all, this afternoon, Fr. Lambert Greenan, O.P. passed away at his home at the Casa Maria Convent and Retreat House.

Long-time readers know of our connection to Casa Maria. My high school friend and college roommate (from Knoxville) is a sister there, and ever since we moved here, we’ve attended Mass there at least once a month. For the past few years, the boys have served there.

If you’ve been to Mass there over the past few years, you couldn’t help but notice the concelebrant. Oh, when we first moved here, he was still able to preside. But time, as it does, moved on, and his physical capacities weakened, even as his mind was clearly still very sharp. He had most of the liturgy memorized – including Eucharist Prayer II – but by the time we arrived on the scene, the sisters were having to print out large-print versions of the Gospels and Ordinary for him – and even with that he eventually required a magnifying glass.

A few years ago, he was not able to preside any longer both because of his sight, I’m assuming, and also because he could not stand unassisted.

But when his health permitted – which was most of the time – he concelebrated either with that weekend’s retreat master or one of the friars. Over the past year, they brought in a health worker to work with the sisters. This young woman would help Father come into the chapel – with the Sisters helping him with his walker when that was possible, but over the past months, pushing him in a wheelchair. I was also so touched by the fact that this health worker coordinated the color of her scrubs with the liturgical season – at first I thought it was just a coincidence, but as the year wore on, I could see that it clearly was intentional – even, sometimes, extending to the color of her hairband.

img_20170312_111553So, Father Lambert would come in, assisted by the Sisters and by the healthcare worker, and be helped into place next to the celebrant’s chair, with  – when we were there – my sons on either side of him. Once in a while, the son on his left would have to help him reach his glass of water or box of tissues. No matter what, if Father Lambert was concelebrating, Eucharistic Prayer II had to be used because, as I said, it was the one he had memorized – at least once when we were there, the celebrant forgot or didn’t know this and started in on one of the others – to be stopped by Father Lambert from the side and reminded.

It never failed to move me, seeing this ancient priest praying the Mass to the best of the ability in whatever time God was giving him. To see him  up there – a century old – yes – with young people more than eighty years younger at his side, praying together in the presence of the Crucified One – is a bracing sight. A sight deep in mystery.

Father Lambert was 101 years old.

From our Cathedral rector’s blog:

Fr. Lambert, né Lawrence, was born on January 11, 1917 in Northern Ireland. He came from a devout family and both he and one of his brothers entered the Dominicans and were ordained priests. (His brother, Fr. Clement, died a few years ago, if memory serves.) He had other siblings but I don’t remember much about them. Fr. Lambert excelled in his studies and was ordained at age 23 — they would have had to obtain a dispensation to ordain him so young at that time, though it was not an uncommon occurrence.

Fr. Lambert was a canon lawyer and taught canon law at the Angelicum University in Rome for many years. He was also the founder of the English language edition of L’Osservatore Romano — the daily newspaper of the Holy See. In fact, he told many impressive stories from that chapter of his personal history, and how he, as editor, had the task of upholding Church teaching during the turbulent 1960s, when some were trying insidiously to air erroneous teachings through media. Fr. Lambert was a stalwart priest, a real legend. He was what the Italians call a “uomo di Chiesa” — a churchman in the fullest sense.

–5 —

Other local doings:

The incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney will be here next week.

Sunday Advent Vespers begin this weekend at the Cathedral, with a visit from the monks of St. Bernard’s Abbey.

The Fraternity Poor of Jesus Christ have settled in and are out on the streets, ministering – including a “Thanksgiving under the Bridge” – serving a meal under one of the interstate overpasses, a place where transients and others gather.

–6–

Huh. Someone caught someone practicing organ in the Cathedral the other night. 

–7–

And I’ll be in Living Faith tomorrow. 

Insanely busy week next week.

 

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

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Repost from last year, but Newman is always worth revisiting. 

The first Sunday is Advent is coming, so let’s prepare for the preparation.

The Scripture readings speak to us of what God promises his faithful ones, and of the need to prepare, for that is what we do during this season: prepare for his coming.

There is no lack of resources for keeping ourselves spiritually grounded during this season, even if we are having to battle all sorts of distractions, ranging from early-onset-Christmas settling in all around us to  the temptation to obsessively follow the news, which seems to never stop, never leave us alone.

Begin with the Church. Begin and end with the Church, if you like. Starting and ending your day with what Catholics around the world are praying during this season: the Scripture readings from Mass, and whatever aspects of daily prayer you can manage – that’s the best place to begin and is sufficient.

I found this wonderful, even moving homily from Newman, centered on worship as preparation for the Advent of God. The spiritual and concrete landscape that is his setting is particular to England in the early winter and might not resonate with those of us living, say, in the Sun Belt or in Australia, but nonetheless, perhaps the end-of-the-year weariness he describes might seem familiar, even if the dreary weather does not. I’ll quote from it copiously here, but it deserves a slow, meditative read. 

YEAR after year, as it passes, brings us the same warnings again and again, and none perhaps more impressive than those with which it comes to us at this season. The very frost and cold, rain and gloom, which now befall us, forebode the last dreary days of the world, and in religious hearts raise the thought of them. The year is worn out: spring, summer, autumn, each in turn, have brought their gifts and done their utmost; but they are over, and the end is come. All is past and gone, all has failed, all has sated; we are tired of the past; we would not have the seasons longer; and the austere weather which succeeds, though ungrateful to the body, is in tone with our feelings, and acceptable. Such is the frame of mind which befits the end of the year; and such the frame of mind which comes alike on good and bad at the end of life. The days have {2} come in which they have no pleasure; yet they would hardly be young again, could they be so by wishing it. Life is well enough in its way; but it does not satisfy. Thus the soul is cast forward upon the future, and in proportion as its conscience is clear and its perception keen and true, does it rejoice solemnly that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand,” that there are “new heavens and a new earth” to come, though the former are failing; nay, rather that, because they are failing, it will “soon see the King in His beauty,” and “behold the land which is very far off.” These are feelings for holy men in winter and in age, waiting, in some dejection perhaps, but with comfort on the whole, and calmly though earnestly, for the Advent of Christ.

And such, too, are the feelings with which we now come before Him in prayer day by day. The season is chill and dark, and the breath of the morning is damp, and worshippers are few, but all this befits those who are by profession penitents and mourners, watchers and pilgrims. More dear to them that loneliness, more cheerful that severity, and more bright that gloom, than all those aids and appliances of luxury by which men nowadays attempt to make prayer less disagreeable to them. True faith does not covet comforts. It only complains when it is forbidden to kneel, when it reclines upon cushions, is protected by curtains, and encompassed by warmth. Its only hardship is to be hindered, or to be ridiculed, when it would place itself as a sinner before its Judge. They who realize that awful Day when they shall see Him face to face, whose {3} eyes are as a flame of fire, will as little bargain to pray pleasantly now, as they will think of doing so then….

….We cannot have fitter reflections at this Season than those which I have entered upon. What may be the destiny of other orders of beings we know not;—but this we know to be our own fearful lot, that before us lies a time when we must have the sight of our Maker and Lord face to face. We know not what is reserved for other beings; there may be some, which, knowing nothing of their Maker, are never to be brought before Him. For what we can tell, this may be the case with the brute creation. It may be the law of their nature that they should live and die, or live on an indefinite period, upon the very outskirts of His government, sustained by Him, but never permitted to know or approach Him. But this is not our case. We are destined to come before Him; nay, and to come before Him in judgment; and that on our first meeting; and that suddenly. We are not merely to be rewarded or {4} punished, we are to be judged. Recompense is to come upon our actions, not by a mere general provision or course of nature, as it does at present, but from the Lawgiver Himself in person. We have to stand before His righteous Presence, and that one by one. One by one we shall have to endure His holy and searching eye. At present we are in a world of shadows. What we see is not substantial. Suddenly it will be rent in twain and vanish away, and our Maker will appear. And then, I say, that first appearance will be nothing less than a personal intercourse between the Creator and every creature. He will look on us, while we look on Him.

….Men sometimes ask, Why need they profess religion? Why need they go to church? Why need they observe certain rites and ceremonies? Why need they watch, pray, fast, and meditate? Why is it not enough to be just, honest, sober, benevolent, and otherwise virtuous? Is not this the true and real worship of God? Is not activity in mind and conduct the most acceptable way of approaching Him? How can they please Him by submitting to certain religious forms, and taking part in certain religious acts? Or if they must do so, why may they not choose their own? Why must they come to church for them? Why must they be partakers in what the Church calls Sacraments? I answer, they must do so, first of all and especially, because God tells them so to do. But besides this, I observe that we see this plain reason {8} why, that they are one day to change their state of being. They are not to be here for ever. Direct intercourse with God on their part now, prayer and the like, may be necessary to their meeting Him suitably hereafter: and direct intercourse on His part with them, or what we call sacramental communion, may be necessary in some incomprehensible way, even for preparing their very nature to bear the sight of Him.

Let us then take this view of religious service; it is “going out to meet the Bridegroom,” who, if not seen “in His beauty,” will appear in consuming fire. Besides its other momentous reasons, it is a preparation for an awful event, which shall one day be. What it would be to meet Christ at once without preparation, we may learn from what happened even to the Apostles when His glory was suddenly manifested to them. St. Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And St. John, “when he saw Him, fell at His feet as dead.” [Luke v. 8. Rev. i. 17.]….

…. It is my desire and hope one day to take possession of my inheritance: and I come to make myself ready for it, and I would not see heaven yet, for I could not bear to see it. I am allowed to be in it without seeing it, that I may learn to see it. And by psalm and sacred song, by confession and by praise, I learn my part.

And what is true of the ordinary services of religion, public and private, holds in a still higher or rather in a special way, as regards the sacramental ordinances of the Church. In these is manifested in greater or less degree, according to the measure of each, that Incarnate Saviour, who is one day to be our Judge, and who is enabling us to bear His presence then, by imparting it to us in measure now. A thick black veil is spread between this world and the next. We mortal men range up and down it, to and fro, and see nothing. There is no access through it into the next world. In the Gospel this veil is not removed; it remains, but every now and then marvellous disclosures are made to us of what is behind it. At times we seem to catch a glimpse of a Form which we shall hereafter see face to face. We approach, and in spite of the darkness, our hands, or our head, or our brow, or our lips become, as it were, sensible of the contact of something more than earthly. We know not where we are, but we have been bathing in water, and a voice tells us that it is blood. {11} Or we have a mark signed upon our foreheads, and it spake of Calvary. Or we recollect a hand laid upon our heads, and surely it had the print of nails in it, and resembled His who with a touch gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Or we have been eating and drinking; and it was not a dream surely, that One fed us from His wounded side, and renewed our nature by the heavenly meat He gave. Thus in many ways He, who is Judge to us, prepares us to be judged,—He, who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified, that He may not take us unawares; but that when the voice of the Archangel sounds, and we are called to meet the Bridegroom, we may be ready….

…And what I have said concerning Ordinances, applies still more fully to Holy Seasons, which include in them the celebration of many Ordinances. They are times {12} when we may humbly expect a larger grace, because they invite us especially to the means of grace. This in particular is a time for purification of every kind. When Almighty God was to descend upon Mount Sinai, Moses was told to “sanctify the people,” and bid them “wash their clothes,” and to “set bounds to them round about:” much more is this a season for “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God;” [Exod. xix. 10-12. 2 Cor. xii. 1.] a season for chastened hearts and religious eyes; for severe thoughts, and austere resolves, and charitable deeds; a season for remembering what we are and what we shall be. Let us go out to meet Him with contrite and expectant hearts; and though He delays His coming, let us watch for Him in the cold and dreariness which must one day have an end. Attend His summons we must, at any rate, when He strips us of the body; let us anticipate, by a voluntary act, what will one day come on us of necessity. Let us wait for Him solemnly, fearfully, hopefully, patiently, obediently; let us be resigned to His will, while active in good works. Let us pray Him ever, to “remember us when He cometh in His kingdom;” to remember all our friends; to remember our enemies; and to visit us according to His mercy here, that He may reward us according to His righteousness hereafter.

From a 1945 9th grade religion textbook, Our Quest for Happiness: the Story of Divine Love

 

Expectation or waiting is a dimension that flows through our whole personal, family and social existence. Expectation is present in thousands of situations, from the smallest and most banal to the most important that involve us completely and in our depths. Among these, let us think of waiting for a child, on the part of a husband and wife; of waiting for a relative or friend who is coming from far away to visit us; let us think, for a young person, of waiting to know his results in a crucially important examination or of the outcome of a job interview; in emotional relationships, of waiting to meet the beloved, of waiting for the answer to a letter, or for the acceptance of forgiveness…. One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself: our moral and spiritual “stature” can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.           -B16, 2010

 

 

 

Expectans Expectavi

The candid freezing season again:
Candle and cracker, needles of fir and frost;
Carols that through the night air pass, piercing
The glassy husk of heart and heaven;
Children’s faces white in the pane, bright in the tree-light.

And the waiting season again,
That begs a crust and suffers joy vicariously:
In bodily starvation now, in the spirit’s exile always.
O might the hilarious reign of love begin, let in
Like carols from the cold
The lost who crowd the pane, numb outcasts into welcome.

-Anne Ridler (1912-2001) , who introduces the poem: 

This poem, ‘Expectans Expectavi’, which is the title of a psalm, “I waited patiently for the Lord”, is about waiting, written at the end of the last war when the whole world, really, seemed to be holding its breath for the return of ordinary life, and all the soldiers from overseas, and I thought of it in the wintertime, at Christmas, with the carols and the children’s faces, recalling the refugees of the time. The poem happened to be chosen to be posted up on the underground, so although I never saw it myself, several of my friends have been surprised by it in the middle of a crowd of people standing up in the tube train.

Links to good commentaries on the readings of Advent are at the blog called The Dim Bulb. Excellent. 

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