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Of the many saints we could celebrate today, she’s the one I’ll pick. I’ll start by highlighting a 10-year (ten!) old blog post of mine, written the day of her canonization.

(She is the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

I see the retreat master this past weekend was a Discalced Carmelite and the retreat was for Third-Order Carmelites (ah…that explains the big scapulars. Got it.) . He preached a very good homily tying together the Scriptures, the canonization of the saints that had taken place that day (he was quick enough to look up the Holy Father’s homily so he could quote from it at 11am Mass),  and, well, life.

What struck me about his homily was his description of three of the newly canonized – St. Damien, St. Jeanne Jugan, and St. Rafael Arnaiz Baron, as “outcasts” of a sort: St. Damien for his life among the lepers; St. Jeanne Jugan because of her removal as superior of the community she founded, and St. Rafael because of his health problems (diabetes), which prohibited him from joining the Trappists in the way he had hoped (he was able to become an Oblate, but not a brother or priest)

Sell all you have and give the money to the poor.

All of it.

Pope Benedict’s homily:

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the question that opens the brief dialogue we heard in the Gospel, between a man, identified elsewhere as the rich young man, and Jesus (cf Mk 10:17-30). We do not have very many details about this nameless character: all the same from the little we do have we are able to perceive his sincere desire to attain eternal life by living an honest and virtuous existence on earth. In fact he knows the commandments and has obeyed them since childhood. And yet all of this, while important, is not sufficient — says Jesus — there is one thing missing, but it is an essential thing. Seeing then that he is willing, the Divine Master looks at him with love and proposes the qualitative leap, he calls him to the heroism of sanctity, he asks him to abandon everything and follow him: “Sell what you own and give the money to the poor…then come, follow me!” (V. 21).

“Then come, follow me!” This is the Christian vocation that flows from a proposal of love by the Lord, and that can be realized only thanks to our loving reply. Jesus invites his disciples to the total giving of their lives, without calculation or personal gain, with unfailing trust in God. The saints welcome this demanding invitation and set about following the crucified and risen Christ with humble docility. Their perfection, in the logic of a faith that is humanly incomprehensible at times, consists in no longer placing themselves at the center, but choosing to go against the flow and live according to the Gospel.

And after Mass:

At the end of Mass, Benedict XVI made his way to the raised dias in front of the basilica, where tens of thousands of pilgrims were waiting gathered in the square, with whom he prayed the Angelus. In his reflection before the Marian prayer, he returned to the value of the witness of the saints canonized today. He asked French-speaking pilgrims to follow the example of St. Jeanne Jugan, “to take care of the poorest and smallest” to support with prayer and work “the generous people involved in the fight against leprosy and all other forms of leprosy due to the lack of love,  ignorance or meanness”. The pope also asked them to help the work of the Synod for Africa in progress this week in Rome. Benedict XVI also recalled the figure of St. Damian for Flemish pilgrims: “This holy priest was led by God to allow his vocation flourish into a total ‘yes’. May the intercession of Our Lady and the apostle of lepers free the world of leprosy, make us open to the love of God and give us joy and enthusiasm in service to our brothers and sisters. ”   Among the many pilgrims, the pope also greeted – in English – a group of survivors of nuclear attacks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “I pray – said the pontiff – that the world will never witness such a mass destruction of innocent lives again. May God bless you all, as well as your families and your loved ones at home”.

More on St. Jeanne Jugan, including the time Charles Dickens met her:

Jeanne chose the name Sister Mary of the Cross but was commonly known as Mother Marie of the Cross. She would often say, “the poor are Our Lord.” Locals began to call her humble sisters and their hospitality efforts, the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

In 1851 a small group of Little Sisters crossed the English Channel to establish the first home outside France, in a London suburb. Spain was next, followed by Belgium, Ireland, North Africa and North America. In just the last decade, new homes for the elderly have opened in India, Peru, and the Philippines. 

Like the grain of what that falls to the earth and dies, Jeanne’s life has produced great fruit that continues today—but she was not always honored or appreciated during her life.  One day a new priest who was put in charge of the young congregation decided to replace Jeanne as superior and place her in retirement without any say in the decision.  While others protested what was viewed as an injustice, Jeanne simply accepted it as the will of God, and went about begging for contributions to support the growing order. The priest was later removed by the Holy See in 1890. Jeanne told her sisters, “We are grafted into the cross and we must carry it joyfully unto death.” When she died 27 years later, few of the young Little Sisters even knew that she was the foundress.

Once after meeting Jeanne Jugan, Charles Dickens said, “there is in this woman something so calm, and so holy, that in seeing her I know myself to be in the presence of a superior being. Her words went straight to my heart, so that my eyes, I know not how, filled with tears.”  

 

 

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Sorting out St. Rose of Lima can be a challenge.  Perhaps you know the basics – what I knew for most of my life: mystic, extreme ascetic.  When I was a girl, I remember reading about how she drove her metal-spiked crown of thorns into her scalp. That was, not surprisingly, my main takeaway.

Digging deeper,  I read through most of this 19th century biography – a translation into English from French. I read what chapters I could (the first two) of this reassessment and psychological unpacking, and finally settled in a more comfortable place than either of those with a chapter from Quartet in Heaven (1962) by British author Sheila Kaye-Smith.

What to make of her, the first saint of the Americas, this young woman who engaged in such extreme mortifications that even some of her contemporary confessors and other observers, including her mother,  thought she was going too far?

It might be tempting for us moderns to dismiss figures such as Rose. She was, we might gently suggest, mentally ill.  She was a victim and product of a guilt-ridden Catholic culture who could not simply accept the grace of God, but thought she had to abnegate herself in order to merit it.

But we shouldn’t do that. It is not helpful or right, in a Catholic context, to be so dismissive. Nor is it necessary to uncritically embrace all the hagiography. We must also always remember that in the Catholic view of saints, we bring two perspectives: to imitate st. rose of limaand to admire. We are not called to imitation of every action of every saint, because we live in different cultures, with various personalities. So not feeling the pull to jam a crown of metal thorns into our scalps should not cause anxiety. It’s okay.

In thinking this over, this struck me: it seems to me that even the saints who pursued extreme ways of personal asceticism did not indicate that everyone do the same.

St. Catherine, in her many letters, does not advise her correspondents that the solution to their spiritual problems was to live as she did, on a single grain of rice a day and sleeping on a board (when she slept). There might be a call to change, to repent, and perhaps to embrace some small mortification, but mostly what we read in her writings, at least, is an urgent invitation to realize how deeply Christ loves us and to live in that light, not the darkness the world offers.

They seem quite aware of the uniqueness of their own path, and do not suggest that theirs is the standard by which all others should be judged. In fact, the saints seem to take the opposite tack: as stubborn as they are about their own mortifications, they tend to keep them secret as much as they are able and are uncomfortable with “followers” who are following them rather than following Christ.

In trying to understand St. Rose, these thoughts come to mind.

She sensed a call to belong to Christ alone. In her culture and her family circumstance, she had to go to extremes to make sure that was clear to everyone and she would not be forced into marriage. Perhaps you can see this as manipulation, or you can see it as a strong rejection of the world in a most personal way.

It is interesting and important to note that hardly anyone knew of these mortifications during her life. The people of Lima who flocked to her funeral by the thousands certainly did not – they came because this young woman radiated the love of Christ.

St. Rose would say that her mortifications were in fidelity to her call to conform herself completely to Christ. Christ sacrificed himself. Christ’s supreme act of love was his Passion and death.  Many of us think of this call differently today: to accept what sufferings happen to come our way in a sacrificial spirit, in imitation of Christ, rather than to create them ourselves. Perhaps the experience of St. Rose can expand our own approach by helping us understand that living as a disciple does, indeed mean conforming ourselves to the Crucified Christ, accepting that the Cross will be a part of whatever path we follow, but that if we do find ourselves conforming to the world instead, it is time to take action and be more intentional – to make sacrifices in addition to accepting them as they come.

I also wondered, based on the minimal reading I did on this, if perhaps Rose knew herself and we should trust her. Perhaps she knew that she had a tendency to vanity. Perhaps she knew that even if she gave up marriage and lived as sort of anchorite, intensely focused on Christ, that she would still draw attention and that attention, even if it is directed at spiritual rather than physical beauty, would be a temptation to her. Perhaps her extreme mortifications were directed at keeping herself conformed to the humble Christ in the most radical way, a way that she knew, for herself, would be at risk as people were drawn to her. Perhaps she wanted to keep herself radically open to Christ in her physical weakness so that she would always remember it was Jesus, not her, that the people of Lima desired and sought.

I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

It comes down to this. Different culture, but same Jesus, same faith. We are tempted to dismiss it, but that’s not Catholic. Instead, we dig deeper, realize our own cultural limitations, and listen. Because, you know, she’s not wrong.

It’s a mystery, but suffering can be beneficial and bear tremendous fruit. She’s not wrong.

Christian discipleship is about conforming ourselves to Christ. She’s not wrong. 

The world is beautiful (Rose grew flowers!) but can stand between us and God if we don’t know how to love properly.  She’s not wrong.

“Success”  in the spiritual life can lead to an inflated sense of self and hubris.

She’s not wrong.

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First, from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

(What is below is the end of the story. The structure of every story is the same – a retelling, then an specifically Catholic application, Scriptural references, a reflection prompt and a prayer.)

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Bellini Transfiguration
It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honour could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?
  Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into his divine image, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here – here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: Today salvation has come to this house. With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come.
Sermon of Anastasius of Sinai. Office of Readings

 

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Don’t be put off by the wall of text!

Take some time, scroll down, poke around. I’m offering you all the words with the hope that you can see – as is my constant mission – how the past can illuminate the present.

 

First: Who is he? From B16:

Belonging to a rich noble family of Naples, Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori [known in English as Alphonsus Liguori] was born in 1696. Endowed with outstanding intellectual qualities, when he was only 16 years old he obtained a degree in civil and canon law. He was the most brilliant lawyer in the tribunal of Naples: for eight years he won all the cases he defended. However, in his soul thirsting for God and desirous of perfection, the Lord led Alphonsus to understand that he was calling him to a different vocation. In fact, in 1723, indignant at the corruption and injustice that was ruining the legal milieu, he abandoned his profession — and with it riches and success — and decided to become a priest despite the opposition of his father.

He had excellent teachers who introduced him to the study of Sacred Scripture, of the Church history and of mysticism. He acquired a vast theological culture which he put to good use when, after a few years, he embarked on his work as a writer.

He was ordained a priest in 1726 and, for the exercise of his ministry entered the diocesan Congregation of Apostolic Missions. Alphonsus began an activity of evangelization and catechesis among the humblest classes of Neapolitan society, to whom he liked preaching, and whom he instructed in the basic truths of the faith. Many of these people, poor and modest, to whom he addressed himself, were very often prone to vice and involved in crime. He patiently taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of life.

Alphonsus obtained excellent results: in the most wretched districts of the city there were an increasing number of groups that would meet in the evenings in private houses and workshops to pray and meditate on the word of God, under the guidance of several catechists trained by Alphonsus and by other priests, who regularly visited these groups of the faithful. When at the wish of the Archbishop of Naples, these meetings were held in the chapels of the city, they came to be known as “evening chapels”. They were a true and proper source of moral education, of social improvement and of reciprocal help among the poor: thefts, duels, prostitution ended by almost disappearing.

Even though the social and religious context of the time of St Alphonsus was very different from our own, the “evening chapels” appear as a model of missionary action from which we may draw inspiration today too, for a “new evangelization”, particularly of the poorest people, and for building a more just, fraternal and supportive coexistence. Priests were entrusted with a task of spiritual ministry, while well-trained lay people could be effective Christian animators, an authentic Gospel leaven in the midst of society.

Another talk on the saint from B16. 

Next some insights from his letters.  You can find his writings all over the place, but for some old-school reading time, head to archive.org. His letters are particularly interesting. I always like reading the letters and journals of saintly figures. They tend to be a little more revelatory than carefully written, re-written and edited works made for public consumption, approved by authorities.

What I’m hoping that you might see through a bit of poking around in these readings is the value – as Adam DeVille has pointed out – of being familiar with history. It teaches us many things, but I think in this present moment, two points in particular, both reflecting the theme “nothing new under the sun.”

  • The Church has always been a messy place in a messy world, full of human beings who are, at best, weak reflections of the faith they (we) claim to profess.
  • The Church, in obedience to Christ, has always reached out to the “peripheries” and margins, has always offered the mercy of Christ as the core of its mission. Always. This is nothing that was just discovered in 2013. Really.

So three areas of interest from the letters:  missions/preaching, liturgy and, yes…publishing.

I was interested in two lengthy letters – almost pamphlet-length, really – one about preaching and the "amy welborn"other about the usefulness of missions. (Remember Alphonsus Liguori founded the Redemptorists, an order originally dedicated to the preaching of parish missions.)

The letter on preaching begins on page 359, and might be of interest to..preachers, of course.  He is making the case for simplicity and directness of language in preaching, in opposition to those who would preach in flowery, self-indulgent or abstruse ways.

I was really interested in his letter to a bishop about the preaching of missions.  The bishop was supportive of missions being preached in his diocese, but had apparently written to St. Alphonsus seeking answers to the objections that others had voiced.  It begins on page 404.

A modern reader (like me) might read this as a reflection on evangelization, period.

 

But, it will be asked, are there not over the poor in the villages pastors who preach every Sunday? Yes, there are pastors who preach ; but we must consider that all pastors do not, or cannot break the bread of the divine word to the illiterate in the manner prescribed by the Council of Trent. ” They shall feed the people committed to them with whole some words, according to their own capacity, and that of their people, by teaching them the things which it is necessary for all to know unto salvation, and by announcing to them, with briefness and plainness of discourse, the vices which they must avoid, and the virtues which they must practise.”

2 Hence it often happens that the people draw but little fruit from the sermon of the pastor, either because he has but little talent for preaching, or because his style is too high or his discourse too long. Besides, many of those who stand in the greatest need of instruction do not go to the sermon of the parish priest. Moreover, Jesus Christ tells us that No prophet is accepted in his own country  And when the people always hear the same voice, the sermon makes but little impression upon them.

But the sermons of the missionaries who devote their lives to the missions are well arranged, and are all adapted to the capacity of the ignorant as well as of the learned. In their sermons, as well as in their instructions, the word of God is broken. Hence, in the mission, the poor are made to understand the mysteries of faith and the precepts of the Decalogue, the manner of receiving the sacraments with fruit, and the means of persevering in the grace of God : they are inflamed with fervor, and are excited to correspond with the divine love, and to attend to the affair of salvation.

Hence we see such a concourse of the people at the missions, where they hear strange voices and simple and popular discourses.

Besides, in the missions, the eternal truths which are best calculated to move the heart, such as the importance of salvation, the malice of sin, death, judgment, hell, eternity, etc., are proposed in a connected manner, so that it would be a greater wonder that a dissolute sinner should persevere in his wickedness, than that he should be converted. Hence, in the missions, many sinners give up their evil habits, remove proximate occasions of sin, restore ill-gotten goods, and repair injuries. Many radically extirpate all sentiments of hatred, and forgive their enemies from their hearts; and many who had not approached the sacraments for years, or who received them unworthily, make good confessions during the missions

His concern, over and over, is for the poor, the illiterate, particularly those in rural areas and villages.

Speaking of the missions given by the venerable priests of the Congregation of St. Vincent de Paul, the author of his Life says that, during a mission in the diocese of Palestrina in 1657, a young man whose arm had been cut off by an enemy, having met his enemy in a public street after a sermon, cast himself at his feet, asked pardon for the hatred he had borne him, and, rising up, embraced him with so much affection that all who were present wept through joy, and many, moved by his example, pardoned all the injuries that they had received from their enemies.

In the same diocese there were two widows who had been earnestly entreated but constantly refused to pardon certain persons who had killed their husbands. During the mission they were perfectly reconciled with the murderers, in spite of the remonstrance of a certain person who endeavored to persuade them to the contrary, saying that the murders were but recent, and that the blood of their husbands was still warm.

The following fact is still more wonderful: In a certain town, which I shall not mention,* vindictiveness prevailed to such an extent that parents taught their children how to take revenge for every offence, however small : this vice was so deeply rooted that it appeared impossible to persuade the people to pardon injuries. The people came to the exercises of the mission with sword and musket, and many with other weapons. For some time the sermons did not produce a single reconciliation; but on a certain day, the preacher, through a divine inspiration, presented the crucifix to the audience, saying: ” Now let every one who hears malice to his enemies come and show that for the love of his Saviour he wishes to pardon them : let him embrace them in Jesus Christ.” After these words a parish priest whose nephew had been lately killed came up to the preacher and kissed the crucifix, and calling the murderer, who was present, embraced him cordially.

By this example and by the words of the preacher the people were so much moved that for an hour and a half they were employed in the church in making peace with their enemies and embracing those whom they had before hated. The hour being late, they continued to do the same on the following day, so that parents pardoned the murder of their children, wives of their husbands, and children of their fathers and brothers. These reconciliations were made with so many tears and so much consolation that the inhabitants long continued to bless God for the signal favor bestowed on the town. It is also related that many notorious robbers and assassins, being moved by the sermon, or by what they heard from others of it, gave up their arms and began to lead a Christian life. Nearly forty of these public malefactors were converted in a single mission.

 I have said enough ; I only entreat your Lordship to continue with your wonted zeal to procure every three years a mission for every village in your diocese. Do not attend to the objections of those who speak against the missions through interested motives or through ignorance of the great advantages of the missions. I also pray you to oblige the pastors and priests of the villages to continue the exercises recommended to them by the missionaries, such as common mental prayer in the church, visit to the Blessed Sacrament, familiar sermons every week, the Rosary, and other similiar devotions. For it frequently happens that, through the neglect of the priests of the place, the greater part of the fruit produced by the mission is lost. I recommend myself to your prayers and remain,

From this section, I could only conclude…my. That’s a lot of violence happening….

Creativity. Zeal. Compassion. Inclusivity. Reaching to the margins and the peripheries.  Mercy.

Now, to liturgy:

This is from letter 345, to the clergy of Frasso, after a visitation:

 In the first place, we learn with deep sorrow, that there is not in the collegiate church of this place the proper distribution of the Masses on Sundays and feasts of obligation, as also on days of devotion when there is usually a great concourse of people. All the Masses, we are informed, are said, so to speak, at once, and in the early hours of the morning. In consequence, the people have, no opportunity of hearing Mass in the later hours, and particularly during summer when not only the choral service, but every other ecclesiastical function, also, is over at eight o clock.

We, therefore, ordain that, on all those days, Sundays and festivals, the Masses shall be celebrated two at a time and not more, and for this purpose the chief sacristan shall see that on those days only two chalices and two sets of vestments are prepared for the Masses. Moreover, the members of the collegiate body shall go to the choir on those days one hour later than usual, so that all the people who wish may be able to go to confession ; for experience teaches that the confessors, as well as the rest, leave the church after the Office is finished, even though they are wanted in the confessionals.

So basically, what it seems was going on was that all the Masses and confessions got it all done and over with super early so they could get out of there.

From 346:

  As there is nothing which so effectually hinders the reformation of manners and the correction of abuses that have been introduced among the people, as the bad ex ample of the clergy, “whose manner of living,” says the Council of Sardis, ” being exposed to the eyes of all, be comes the model of either good or wicked lives”, we take very much to heart the gravity of the obligation incumbent upon us of removing from our clergy and keeping at a distance from them, as far as lies in our power, whatever might be an occasion of scandal or bad example to the faithful. We are, likewise, solicitous that we should not have to render an account to Almighty God for the offences of ecclesiastics connived at or uncorrected by us.

Considering, therefore, the innumerable evils and sins that arise from certain classes of games, which have been prohibited with good reason by the sacred canons, we desire to apply a prompt and efficacious remedy to these abuses. Accordingly, we forbid all the ecclesiastics of this our city and diocese, under pain of suspension a divinis, reserved to ourselves, and to be incurred ipso facto, and other punishment at our discretion, to play at any game of chance whatever, be it with cards or dice, and in particular, basset, primero, Ouanto inviti, paraspinto, or by whatever names such games may be called. At the same time, we warn all that we shall be most diligent in pursuing those who dis obey this ordinance, and unrelenting in punishing them with necessary severity.

We desire, therefore, that the present regulation be made public and put up in the usual places, so that no one may be able to excuse himself on the plea of ignorance.

From letter 334 – this admonition that saying Mass in less than fifteen minutes is…a problem… reoccurs many times in the letters.

Everyone knows the great reverence which the holy sacrifice of the Mass demands. We, therefore, earnestly recommend to our priests attention in celebrating- this august sacrifice with all the ceremonies prescribed by the rubrics, and with the gravity befitting this sublime mystery, as well on account of the reverence due to God, as for the edification that may thence derive to the faithful. It was to secure this end that the Council of Trent imposed upon bishops the express obligation of preventing by every means all irreverence in the celebration of this sacred function ; irreverence which can scarcely be distinguished from impiety,….

Now , as grave irreverence must be understood any notable omission of the ceremonies prescribed in the missal, which in so far as they pertain to the celebration of holy Mass, are of precept, also the saying of Mass in a hurried manner. The common opinion of theologians is, that he is guilty of grievous sin who says Mass in less than a quarter of an hour; because to celebrate with becoming reverence not only must the prayers of the missal be pronounced distinctly, and the prescribed rubrics duly observed, but all this must be done with that gravity which is befitting, a thing that cannot be done in less than a quarter of an hour, even in Masses of requiem or in the votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin.

This is really interesting to me, and is an admonition that occurs regularly in the letters. From 343

 To afford perfect freedom of conscience, pastors are exhorted to procure a strange confessor for their people once a month, and to abstain from hearing confessions themselves on those day

There’s a lot more, but I’ll end this post with this. As best I can work out, it’s a description of how to add instruction to the Mass, particularly for children.  It seems to call for a reader to read aloud certain meditations at various points of the Mass.  Take a look at letter 339 for the whole thing, and share your observations:

The subjects of these meditations shall be, for the most part, the eternal truths and sin. On Fridays, however, the Passion of Jesus Christ, and on Saturdays, the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, shall form the topics of the medita ion. The children shall be taught to keep their eyes cast down, or to cover them with their hands, so as to pay attention to what has been read. The second point of the meditation shall be read after the Sanctus.

2. As soon as the reading of the first point is finished, the Mass shall begin. At the Offertory the reader shall say: ” Let us make an act of love: O my God, how good Thou art ! I wish to love Thee as much as all the saints love Thee ; as much as Thy dear Mother Mary loves Thee. But if I cannot love Thee so much, my God, my all, my only good, because Thou art worthy of all our love, I love Thee above all things, I love Thee with my whole heart, with my whole soul, with all my mind, with all my strength. I love Thee more than myself, and could I do so, I would make Thee known and loved by all men even at the price of my blood.” During the meditation, one or the other priest who is present may go around suggesting some brief reflections on what has been read.

3. After the Sanctus, the second point shall be read. It shall be on the same subject as the first, and read in the same manner.

4. After the elevation of the chalice, the reader shall say: “Let us make an act of love to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and also an act of contrition : My Jesus, who for love of me art present in this Sacrament, I thank Thee for so great love, and I love Thee with my whole heart. Eternal Father, for the love of Mary, for the love of Thy dear Son Jesus dead upon the cross, and present in this Sacrament for love of us, pardon me all my sins, and all the displeasure I have caused Thee. I am heartily sorry for them, O my God, because I love Thee with my whole heart.”

5. After the Pater noster, the reader shall say: “Let us renew our resolution of never more offending Jesus Christ My Jesus, with the help of Thy grace, I desire to die rather than offend Thee again. As the fruit of this me ditation, let us make some particular resolution that will give pleasure to Jesus Christ, especially to rid ourselves of the fault we most frequently commit.” After a brief pause : ” Let us ask Almighty God for the love of Jesus Christ to give us the grace to fulfil the promise we have made.”

6. When the celebrant has said Domine non sum dignus or after the Communion of the people, if there are any com municants, the reader shall say: “Let us have recourse to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and ask her for some special grace: O Mary, my hope, I love thee with my whole heart. I would wish to die for thy love. My dearest Mother, take me under thy mantle, and there let me live and die. For the love of Jesus Christ, my dear Lady, obtain for me the grace which I now ask of thee.” Here each one shall ask of Mary with the utmost confidence the grace desired. After Mass, all shall recite the Hail, holy Queen, with the proper pauses, and add the prayer “Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord”.

And while the content of what follows might bore some seeking out more elevated conversations, I was delighted, for it involves correspondence from the saint to his publishers, as well as others with an interest in the books he was writing and publishing.

There’s some theological material, as he explains why he is deleting this or that portion of a manuscript, but it’s mostly (so far) totally prosaic, and focused on practical matters of communication, orders and pricing.

The letters reflect quite a bit on his concern to get this books out there to people who will read them – Naples is always out of copies, but that’s one of the few places he has an interested audience, and the priests, well….

I am glad that the History of the Heresies is finished. Once more, I remind you not to send me any copies for sale, as the priests of my diocese are not eager for such books; indeed, they have very little love for any reading whatsoever.

Besides, I am a poor cripple, who am Hearing my grave, and I do not know what I should do with these copies.

Rest assured, that I regard all your interests as though they were my own. If I could only visit Naples, I might be able to do something personally. But confined here in this poverty-stricken Arienzo, I write letters innumerable to people in Naples about the sale, but with very little result. I am much afflicted at this, but affliction seems to be all that I am to reap from these negotiations.

So, writers….you’re not alone!

 

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August  – starting tomorrow!  – is devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is an entry in my book, The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

For more on the book, go to the Loyola site here. 

Ask you local Catholic bookstore to order it!

I have copies here – you can get them and some of my other titles here. 

For more on the series, go here. 

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St. Ignatius was in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints, and you can read the entire chapter here:

Because he had spent all those months in his sickbed, Ignatius got bored. He asked for something to read. He was hoping for adventure books, tales that were popular back then: knights fighting for the hands of beautiful ladies, traveling to distant lands, and battling strange creatures.

But for some reason, two completely different books were brought to Ignatius. One was a book about the life of Christ, and the other was a collection of saints’ stories.

Ignatius read these books. He thought about them. He was struck by the great sacrifices that the saints had made for God. He was overwhelmed by their love of Jesus.

And Ignatius thought, “Why am I using my life just for myself? These people did so much good during their time on earth. Why can’t I?”

Ignatius decided that he would use the talents God had given him—his strength, his leadership ability, his bravery, and his intelligence—to serve God and God’s people.

While Ignatius continued to heal, he started praying very seriously. God’s peace filled his heart and assured him that he was on the right path.

When Ignatius was all healed and ready to walk and travel again, he left his home to prepare for his new life. It wasn’t easy. He was 30, which was considered old in those days, and he was getting a late start in his studies for the priesthood. In those days, the Mass was said only in Latin, and Latin was the language all educated people used to communicate with each other. Ignatius didn’t know a bit of Latin. So for his first Latin lessons, big, rough Ignatius had to sit in a classroom with a bunch of 10-year-old boys who were learning Latin for the first time too!

That takes a different kind of strength, doesn’t it?

saints

 

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

In The Words We Pray, I wrote about the Suscipe Prayer. That chapter is excerpted here:

The more you roll this prayer around in your soul, and the more you think about it, the more radical it is revealed to be.

One of the primary themes of the Spiritual Exercises is that of attachments and affections. Ignatius offers the account of “three classes of men” who have been given a sum of money, and who all want to rid themselves of it because they know their attachment to this worldly good impedes their salvation.

The first class would really like to rid themselves of the attachment, but the hour of death comes, and they haven’t even tried. The second class would also like to give up the attachment, but do so, conveniently, without actually giving anything up.

Is this sounding familiar at all?

The third class wants to get rid of the attachment to the money, which they, like the others, know is a burden standing in the way. But they make no stipulations as to how this attachment is relinquished; they are indifferent about the method. Whatever God wants, they want. In a word, they are the free ones.

The prayer “Take Lord, receive” is possible only because the retreatant has opened himself to the reality of who God is, what God’s purpose is for humanity, and what God has done for him in a particularly intense way.

A Response to God’s Love

The retreatant has seen that there is really no other response to life that does God justice. What love the Father has for us in letting us be called children of God, John says (1 John 3:1). What gift does our love prompt us to give?

In ages past, and probably in the minds of some of us still, that gift of self to God, putting oneself totally at God’s disposal, is possible only for people called to a vowed religious life. Well, God didn’t institute religious life in the second chapter of Genesis. He instituted marriage and family. I’m not a nun, but the Scriptures tell us repeatedly that all creation is groaning and being reborn and moving toward completion in God. Every speck of creation, everything that happens, every kid kicking a soccer ball down a road in Guatemala, each office worker in New Delhi, every ancient great-grandmother in a rest home in Boynton Beach, every baby swimming in utero at this moment around the world—all are beloved by God and are being constantly invited by him to love. And all can respond.

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Earlier this month, the National Catholic Reporter ran a series of article on EWTN, written by Heidi Schlumpf. It made a blip, generated some commentary and then was gone, like almost everything else that’s written and published these days. Truth be told, despite being three lengthy articles long, there was nothing new in it, mostly because Schlumpf didn’t actually come down here to poke around and do research, but simply pulled from the public record, watched TV, collated things everyone already knows, and packaged it a la Catholic Left – which is decorated with pearls for the reader to clutch in horror as she reads, which of course happen to be the same pearls a writer from the Catholic Right would flourish with pride.

It was, in a way, typical 21st century “reporting” – which less to do with ideology, and more to do with the ease of accessing a certain level of information through the internet, a level which gives the impression of depth, but really isn’t. In other words – anyone with a computer and a keyboard could have written these stories from anywhere. 

A far more interesting story could be told from actually venturing down here to Scary Alabama, staying awhile, poking around, talking to employees and (probably more importantly) ex-employees and some of the hundred of Catholics living down here with connections of one sort or another to “the Network” as it’s referred to- or even reaching out across the country to people who’ve been involved with programming.

I’m not saying I “know anything” worth scooping on, because I don’t. I know a few people associated with EWTN, the chairman’s daughter was in my son’s high school graduating class, but honestly, I wouldn’t know the man if he crashed into me on the street. I just know that the history of EWTN is complex and more than a little fraught – because it’s a human organization, and that’s what human organizations are like. Fraught.

No, what I want to speak briefly to – besides the shallow reporting ironically enabled by the internet –  is the issue of what we miss when we’re blinkered by ideology. Just two points.

Far more interesting than the whole SCARY RIGHT WING angle of Mother Angelica’s development is how it reflects the bigger picture of American Catholicism, particularly that post-Vatican II trajectory. One small point that Schlumpf misses or ignores in her piece was that Mother Angelica was, at the beginning of her public ministry (so to speak), charismatic. I Image result for mother angelica mini booksdon’t know if she was personally involved in charismatic movements, but the first place I encountered her little pamphlets was via a guy I knew in college (this would be early 80’s) who was heavily into the charismatic movement – they were all passing around her pamphlets and other writings. They loved her. They were her first fan base. Many of the early adherents of her work were – and some still are – charismatic (there’s a regional charismatic conference here in town this weekend, and one of the main speakers is EWTN personality Johnette Benkovic Williams).  Even ten years ago, when we first moved here, one of the people we knew who worked at EWTN (but no longer does), was charismatic – but, this is what I’m talking about – was also involved in a newly formed Communion and Liberation group here – and had their new baby baptized in the Traditional (Extraordinary Form) Rite.

Complex, isn’t it?

Of course, to some, all of that (except the C &L part) is of a piece – all Right Wing or what have you. But of course, it’s not. It’s a big story, it’s the story, of an important part of American Catholicism that takes in the post-Vatican II world of the charismatic movement, the apologetics movement, the struggle for Catholic higher education, liturgy wars, unending scandal, power shifts between laity and the ordained, Y2K fears (yes), politics and money.

A lot of that story is reflected in EWTN’s story – not all of it – but much of it. And it’s complex and interesting. But you might have to do more than peer at a screen, read Guidestar reports and Arroyo’s book to figure it out.

The second point I wanted to bring up is related, yes, to someone I do know, but the reason I bring it up is not because I want to defend him – he requires no defending – but because it might help you develop your media-criticism skills.

For as we all know, contemporary media is mostly ideologically rooted and identified, and depends for its power on getting you – the consumer – to root for the good guys and against the bad guys and then keep coming back to the source for more fodder to energize your loyalty and contempt. To this end, hardly anyone has serious discussions rooted in reality any more and almost everyone seems to have given up trying, depending instead on simply on whatever supports your preferred narrative: labels, stereotypes, strawmen,dog-whistles and guilt-by association.

Schlumpf does this in her article with our bishop, Bishop Robert Baker. Here’s what she says about him:

Of course, the bishop with the closest relationship to EWTN is the one who oversees the diocese where the network’s headquarters are located. Bishop Robert Baker, who has headed the Birmingham diocese since 2007, serves on the network’s board of governors.

In 2009, Baker called Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Obama to speak at graduation “a travesty to the legacy of Catholic education,” and has called for politicians who support abortion to be denied Communion.

He has been a supporter of the Latin Mass; shortly after being assigned to Birmingham in 2007, he lifted the ban by previous Bishop David Foley on ad orientem Masses (in which the priest’s back is to the congregation). He requires chastity education for all Confirmation candidates and recommends Family Honor Inc., a chastity program using the controversial Theology of the Body view of human sexuality.

After the Pennsylvania grand jury report in August 2018, Baker attributed clergy sexual abuse to lust and a lack of chastity, especially the accusations of “predominately homosexual behavior and abuse.”

The diocese is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but another important date may be even more meaningful for the diocese — and EWTN. On June 4, Baker turned 75, the age at which bishops submit their resignations to the Holy See. There has not yet been news of its acceptance, but he told local news a replacement bishop would be expected in six months to a year.

Got it?

You know what to think now, right? Spoke against Obama-denied Communion-ad orientem-chastity-blamed gays. 

Because that’s what’s important – we signal you with certain specifics torn from context – and now you’ve made the connections and you know what box this person belongs in.

I’m going to broaden that picture in a moment, but I want to emphasize again – I’m not doing this because I am feeling defensive – I think it’s just a very useful example of how a picture can be painted and planted in your consciousness by presenting information selectively  – and to be aware that almost everything you read is characterized by the same process – and to trust nothing. That is to say, be cautious about deciding, “This Person is Like X because this article told me these bits of information.” Even – I have to say, in the social-media defined world – when This Person is telling you these bits of information about themselves. 

And this happens to be a useful way to make this point, because, well, I live here, and I know Bishop Baker. He’s the reason we’re down here – he brought my late husband down here to work – and he baptized my youngest. I don’t keep in close contact, but, as I said, I do live here and am fairly aware of what’s going on.

So that NCR-approved list above tells you what to think and what box Bishop Baker belongs in. Well how about this:

  • The harshest anti-immigrant bill ever passed by a state legislature was signed into law by the governor of Alabama on June 9. Soon after, the U.S. Justice Department, civil rights groups, and four Alabama bishops filed lawsuits to prevent its enforcement. The bishops argued that sections of HB 56 that criminalize transporting or harboring an undocumented immigrant and prohibit any actions that “encourage or induce” undocumented immigrants to live in the state interfere with Alabama citizens’ First Amendment right to freely express their Christian faith, especially the performance of the sacraments and church ministries that serve the poor. The bishops were forceful in their condemnation of HB 56, calling it “the nation’s most merciless anti-immigration legislation.” …. The historic lawsuit filed by Archbishop Rodi, Bishop Robert Baker of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, Episcopal Bishop Henry Parsley, Jr., and Methodist Bishop William Willimon is the first time that a group of bishops have filed suit to stop an anti-immigrant law at the state level.

 

  • “Exactly. The life issues are a continuum and they go across the board. I think these issues are right now, to the pivotal bullet, and most important ones, [inaudible 00:24:04] this little hot-button issue, and that’s capital punishment. I have myself served as a priest, as a chaplain to Catholics on death row when I was a priest in Florida. Pope John Paul II had said while in the past the Catholic church did not take a strong position of opposition to capital punishment because it invoked it itself in the past, now he said we should move away from that, and he puts it in a continuum of the life issues, respect for human life. So I just throw that out for conversation. I know it’s a hot-button issue here in Alabama, and politically it’s one that’s not gone too far, but we as Catholics still talk about that to … And I have witnessed myself two executions, I had been with the inmates, and I’ve seen them face it…”

 

  • Through Bishop Baker’s efforts, the diocese has developed good, healthy ties with the moderate Baptist divinity school in town – Beeson, part of Samford University. They have co-sponsored some conferences, including, in 2016 , one on racism, called Black and White in America – How Deep the Divide? 

 

 

Holy Family’s president is a diocesan priest – former Anglican, married. Wait – but – how can I label that box? So confused!

 

  • Bishop Baker oversees a diocese that’s geographically large, spread-out and diverse, including many rural communities where Hispanic populations have exploded over the past few years, as well as cities with historic roots in older immigration groups and patterns (Italians, Greeks and Lebanese), and African-American Catholics. The ministries of the diocese reflect all of that. We have very “conservative” groups, we have the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in several places, we have charismatics, we have middle-of-the-road religious orders, we have sisters in full, traditional habit, we have sisters in no habits.

 

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End of Eucharistic Procession at this summer’s Eucharistic Congress. 

In 1983, Mother Elvira, a Sister of Charity, opened the first Comunità Cenacolo home in Italy. A decade later, Our Lady of Hope residence for men was established in St. Augustine, and there are now four U.S. homes — three in St. Augustine, Florida, and one in Hanceville, Alabama.

“Mother Elvira’s emphasis was on the Eucharist and devotion to the Blessed Mother as a source of healing,” said Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Alabama, the Church leader who has led the effort to bring Comunità Cenacolo to the United States, after witnessing the desperate struggles of drug addicts as a priest in St. Augustine.

“I have always felt the Catholic Church was weak in responding to the problem of drug addiction and could do more to use its [spiritual] strengths” to help people, Bishop Baker told the Register….“There is a value to counseling and psychotherapy,” he agreed, but the sacraments and prayer are also important for people dealing with addiction. After he was named the bishop of Birmingham, Bishop Baker helped found a Comunità Cenacolo home for men in Blountsville, close to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament established by Poor Clare Mother Mary Angelica, EWTN’s foundress, in Hanceville.

Reflecting Bishop Baker’s concern, the diocese is hosting this in a few weeks:

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I just want to especially point out that the NAC [the National Advisory Council to the USCCB] did strongly emphasize “cultivating an ever-deepening spirituality of chastity and virtue,” and I hope we can find ways to really articulate that further. Just a general observation: I notice the name Jesus Christ hasn’t been mentioned in the course of this. . . . It might not hurt to throw that in there somewhere. . . . Hopefully, somewhere, his name could be mentioned.

You’d think.

*****

Our information lives are completely characterized by this sort of incomplete information offered to signal, label, draw lines and define friends and enemies. Anyone who has a life offline knows how false this is. How absolutely false. How about this?  Don’t live in that world. Try the messy real world of blurred lines and surprising, real people instead.

 

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