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Today is “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and what many of us might not realize, as we hear homilies about 1st century sheep herders and Old Testament imagery, is that Jesus’ words about being a shepherd in today’s Gospel are part of a larger narrative. Jesus alludes to sheep and shepherds in other contexts throughout the Gospels, but it’s important to realize that today’s passage, from John 10, doesn’t just exist as a collection of quotable sayings that Jesus is standing around tossing out. It’s actually the second part of another event – the healing of the man born blind, described in John 9. Go back and read it for yourself!

Jesus’ words about being a shepherd to whom the sheep respond and who gathers and protects, rather than abandons his sheep, is, in fact, not a general illustration, but a continuation of his attack on the Pharisees who had excommunicated the man born blind. This is a case in which the useful, but of course not original division of Scripture into chapters can actually hamper our understanding.

When I wrote about Jesus as the Good Shepherd in the the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, I focused on this passage and did be sure to place it in context. I took a slightly different angle, though – appropriate to the audience of children, of course – and focused on listening to the voice of Jesus who cares for us and rescues us – and being able to recognize that voice in the midst of all the other voices that call to us.

The excerpts below are just the first and last pages of the section – the first so you can see how they are introduced, and the last, so you can see how each chapter ends – with a tie-back into Catholic-specific stuff and then questions for review and reflection.

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Then, the first page of the entry on “Shepherd” from The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. Remember how the book is organized – this first page has a basic explanation, and then the facing page has a more in-depth exploration of the symbol.

EPSON MFP image

 

Finally, the chapter on the Second Sunday of Easter (which was traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday until You-Know-What) from the 1947 7th grade textbook which I often share with you. 

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Moving through the Acts of the Apostles as we are doing in the Mass readings right now, yesterday and today, we reach the narrative of Stephen and his martyrdom.

Here are pages about Stephen from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories – from the “Easter Season” section and including the first and the last pages. From the last page, you can get a sense of the structure – telling the story,  tying it into bigger Catholic themes, and then with reflection questions.

 

Stephen is also in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes – a book that’s been out of stock at both Amazon and the Loyola site itself for over a week now.  They must have miscalculated and not had enough in the current print run for this season. Well, that’s….annoying.

Here’s the table of contents, so you can see where he falls.

 

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I’ve been highlighting elements of my books related to Mary – here are a few images from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

 

More:

Mary and the Christian Life

Salve Regina

Ave Maria and Memorare

Mary in Catholic Signs and Symbols

 

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Since May is Mary’s month, over the next few days, I’ll be highlighting aspects of my books related to Mary. Let’s start with something free. 

When you publish on Amazon Kindle, you have a certain number of days during each quarter in which you can offer promotions of free books. I have one more day in this quarter for Mary and the Christian Life and so just for 5/2 (starting and ending at midnight), it’s free! (And it’s usually only .99 so….if you miss it, you can certainly swing a dollar, right?)

An excerpt to get you going:

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Mother’s Day is still over a week away, but I thought I’d toss this out there, especially for any priests who might wander by. It’s a repeat of an old post, but still, I think, worth considering:

My mother & a friend in Nogales, 1950’s.

The question of how to “recognize” mothers at a Mother’s Day Mass is a fraught one.

There is, of course, the view (mine) that everything that happens at Mass should relate only to the liturgical year. Stop doing all the other stupid things, thanks. As a community, we’re free to celebrate whatever in whatever way we choose outside of Mass, but when it comes to Very Special Mass in Honor of Very Special Groups of any sort – scouts, moms, dads, youth, ‘Muricans….I’m against it.

But of course, over the years, American sentimental pop culture creeps into the peripheries of liturgical observance, and quite often, here we are at Mass on the second Sunday of May, with the expectation that the Moms present must be honored.

I mean…I went to the trouble to go to Mass for the first time in four months to make her happy…you’d better honor her….

This is problematic, however, and it’s also one of those situations in which the celebrant often feels that he just can’t win. No matter what he does, someone will be angry with him, be hurt, or feel excluded.

Because behind the flowers and sentiment, Mother’s Day is very hard for a lot of people – perhaps it’s the most difficult holiday out there for people in pain.

So when Father invites all the moms present to stand for their blessing at the end of Mass and the congregation applauds….who is hurting?

  • Infertile couples
  • Post-abortive women
  • Post-miscarriage women
  • Women whose children have died
  • People who have been abused by their mothers
  • People with terrible mothers, even short of outright abuse
  • Women have placed children for adoption
  • People who’ve recently lost their mothers. Or not so recently.
  • Women who are not now and might never be biological or adoptive mothers and who wonder about that and are not sure about how they feel about it.

And then there are those of us who value our role as mothers, but who really think Mother’s Day is lame and would just really prefer that you TRY TO GET ALONG FOR ONE STUPID DAY instead of giving me some flowers and politely clapping at Mass.

So awkward.

Nope. Making Mothers stand up, be blessed and applauding them (the worst) at Mass is a bad idea for a lot of reasons.

It’s not that people should expect to be sheltered from the consequences of their choices and all that life has handed them when the enter the church doorway.

The Catholic way is the opposite of that – after all, the fundamental question every one of us carries is that of death, and every time we enter a Catholic church we are hit with that truth, sometimes more than life-sized.

No, the question is more: Catholic life and tradition has a lot to say and do when it comes to parenthood – in ways, if you think about it, that aren’t sentimental and take into account the limitations of human parenthood and root us, no matter how messed-up our families are or how distant we feel from contemporary ideals of motherhood – in the parenthood of God. Live in that hope, share it, and be formed by that, not by commercially-driven American pop culture.

So here’s a good idea. It happened at my parish a couple of years ago, and is the standard way of recognizing the day.

Because we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it.  So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.

So, quite simply, at the end of Mass as we were standing for the final blessing, the celebrant mentioned that it was Mother’s Day (it hadn’t been mentioned before this), and said that as such, it was an appropriate day to pray for our mothers, living and deceased, and to ask our Blessed Mother for her intercession for them and for us. Hail Mary…

Done.

And done in a way that, just in its focus, implicitly acknowledges and respects the diversity of experiences of motherhood that will be present in any congregation, and, without sentiment or awkward overreach, does that Catholic thing, rooted in tradition  – offers the whole mess up, in trust.

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A few years ago (several…more than ten….), I wrote a few back-of-the-book one page pieces on Franciscan-related saints for Steubenville’s Franciscan Way magazine. Here’s one on today’s saint, Benedict the Black. You can see that all those years ago, I looked askance at the self-fulfillment- passions-n-dreams bandwagon. It just ain’t the Gospel, folks.

 

 


 

 

In the modern world, we make much of personal initiative. The praiseworthy person, we’re told, is one who goes out there, sees what he wants, and grabs it. Our drive for action, our motivating center is supposed to  be  all about expressing   our personal vision.

Have we forgotten how to listen? For it seems to me that a really complete life isn’t about us charging through, imposing our lovely selves on a breathlessly waiting world. No, isn’t it more about watching the world, listening  to  it,  sensing  needs,  and  responding  in kind?

The saints seem to tell us  this is so, among them, St. Benedict the Black.

St. Benedict has been called “the Moor” at times, but while his parents were indeed African, they  were not, in fact, Moors (an ethnic group from western Africa). Over time,  he came to be called “the Moor” as a mistranslation of the nickname he earned during his life, “il moro santo ,”which means  “the  black saint.”

stbenedictblackBenedict’s parents converted to Christianity after they were brought from Africa to Sicily as slaves. Their owner promised to free their oldest son when he reached manhood, so on his eighteenth birthday, Benedict was released from slavery.

He took work as a day laborer,  and working in the fields one day, he was subjected to mockery from a passer- by, who insulted his race and the fact that his parents were slaves. Benedict responded  to  the  taunts,  not  out   of revenge or anger, but in the spirit of Christ who calls us to love our enemies.

Benedict’s  response  drew  the attention of a hermit named Lanzi, who was living in loose association with others nearby in the spirit of St. Francis. He told those who had spoken the harsh words, “You ridicule a poor black now; before long you will hear great things of him.” He invited Benedict to join him and his associates. Benedict listened and responded. He sold what possessions he had, gave the money to the poor, and joined the hermits.

The group of hermits moved several times over the years. When Lanzi, the group’s superior died, they elected Benedict to replace him. In 1564, however, Pope Pius IV ordered all groups of hermits to either associate themselves with an established religious order or disband. Benedict joined the Friars Minor of the Observance and became a lay brother at a friary in Palermo, where he was given the  role  of cook.

The  mid-sixteenth  century  was a time of great upheaval in the Church. The Franciscans had, of course, engaged in many reforms and realignments already over the course of the order’s 300-year life. Benedict’s convent was already part of the stricter element of the order—the Observants, and in 1578, it voted to participate in more reforms to bring it even  closer to the Franciscan ideal. Benedict was elected guardian of the convent—the one who would oversee the   reforms.

Since he could neither read nor write, and was not even a priest, Benedict was initially unhappy with his election, but in the end, bound by obedience, had no choice but to  listen and accept. He might not have seen his own gifts as particularly suited to this office, but his brothers obviously did, and their call to Benedict proved a wise one. Benedict led the reform with wisdom and prudence. He responded in the same way to the next call—to be novice master—saying yes to God’s call through the needs of his community. His reputation for holiness spread beyond the convent walls as well, as he directed his energy towards helping the poor.

At last, his administrative duties at an end, Benedict requested and was granted a return to the friary kitchen. There he spent the rest of his days, not only helping to nourish his brothers, but also sharing the love of Christ with all who came to him for help. The poor and the sick flocked to the friary kitchen, knowing that there they would meet the compassion of Jesus, working through the hands and heart of Benedict, a holy man who would listen to them speak of their needs and would always respond.

We all have our plans, it  is true. We can’t help but make them. But when we listen to God’s voice as he speaks through a world in need, we might hear hints that God has some- thing else in mind. Something even better.

 

 

 

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Today, we remember St. Francis of  Paola, an interesting saint. Here’s a good post from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert:

The immensely popular saint of Paola, Francis, born Francesco Martolilla, lived from 1416 to 1507. He was the founder of the Order of Minims (think here, “minimal” or “little” brothers) and was never ordained a priest. The name of the Order, Minims, refers to the members’ role as “the least of all the faithful,” as their founder expressed it. Humility was and is to be a hallmark of the Minims of Francis of Paola.

The Minim friars profess the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as a fourth vow of abstinence from meat and other animal products, which includes eggs, butter, cheese and milk. In addition to friars, who are either priests or brothers, Francis of Paola also founded monasteries of contemplative nuns and a third order for people living in the world. One of the most famous members of the third order was the great French bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales. Just above the Paola sanctuary is a monastery of Minim nuns, eight in number. I was able to join them for Mass one morning during my visit to Paola.

Francis of Paola was canonized in 1519 by Pope Leo X and his feast day is April 2nd, the date of his death. Francis of Paola is patron of Calabria, as well as of boatmen, mariners and naval officers. He is much loved and venerated throughout Italy, but most especially, of course, in his birthplace of Paola.

Already a devout Catholic, in his adolescence Francis spent some time with Franciscan friars, partly in fulfillment of a vow made by his parents when he was cured of an eye ailment as a baby. After his year-long Franciscan experience, he made a pilgrimage with his parents to Assisi, passing through Rome, Loreto and a few hermitages along the way. This experience convinced Francis to become a hermit himself, which he did on his father’s estate and eventually at a small grotto on the hillside above the town of Paola next to the Isca waterfall and river that flows down to the ocean.

After several years alone in the cave by the waterfall and stream, in 1435 disciples began to come asking to share in the life Francis was living, desiring to dedicate themselves to prayer, fasting, work and contemplation, like Brother Francis of Paola. Eventually Francis and his followers founded a religious Order of hermits, at first called the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, but later renamed the Order of Minims. The initials of the Order of Minims are O.M.

In 1483, when sixty-five years old, and with a reputation as a holy wonder-worker, Francis was called to the court of King Louis XI of France. The king was suffering from grave illness and hoped the holy hermit of Paola could bring about a cure. Instead, Francis was able to bring about the conversion of the king to a genuine Christian life. Francis of Paola remained in France for the next twenty-four years and died at Tours, on April 2nd, 1507, when he was ninety-one years old. He was buried in France. In 1562 the tomb of Francis of Paola was vandalized by Protestant Huguenots, who burned and scattered his bones. These were recovered by Catholic faithful and the relics distributed to various churches of Saint Francis of Paolo’s Order of Minims.

Now, one of the reasons I want to write about this St. Francis today is his connection with someone else very much on my mind right now – the great composer Franz Liszt.

Liszt being on my mind because the youngest son has been working on the piece Sposalizio for months and it’s my bones at this point. 

Liszt, of course, was a fascinating character who had deep and fraught ties to his Catholic faith.

Sposalizio, in fact, was inspired by a Raphael painting of the Wedding of the Virgin. 

Late in life, Liszt attempted to center his life more intentionally on faith (very complicated), moving to Rome and even taking minor orders. You can read about his spiritual journey here, in a piece by pianist Stephen HoughAlso, there is a great deal from a biography of Liszt available on Google Books here. He wrote a piano piece inspired by a legend of St. Francis of Paola:

amy_welborn3

 

More on Liszt’s religious works here.

 

Here’s a performance of the piece:

 

And for a change of pace and a scene that I, for one, can’t take my eyes off of – here’s a Finnish organist playing a organ transcription at St. Sulpice in Paris. The work of the Console Crew is fascinating, and given the fact that in playing in that space, all the audience can hear is the music and they don’t see anything, that Yamm! (or whatever) at 6.27 is entertaining:

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