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Archive for the ‘Cross’ Category

Reading: Well, I finished The Woman in White. It was..quite the read. Now, you know that if you don’t have a taste for dense Victorian melodrama, you wouldn’t even consider Mondaypicking this up. But if you do have an interest in such things – you might like this. Or you might tire of it, as I did. I liked Collins’ No Name much better. As absurd as it was at times, it was still more grounded in reality than The Woman in White – it explored a more varied landscape of English society and it expressed a more focused outrage – at the helplessness of women within the British legal system.

The Woman in White is fascinating, however, from the perspective of history and literature. For Collins is quite creative in constructing the tale and in the narrative. He uses many different points of view and is meticulous in building a very complex structure of events.

One of the key differences between the two books has to do with perspective. No Name is essentially told from the narrative perspective (in the third person) of the wronged woman, the woman who has been deprived of any rights – and it is told as she is amy-welbornrecouping what morality, if not the legal and social system owe her. The Woman in White‘s events are described in two stages: 1) what happened  and 2) one character’s attempts to discover what happened and bring the perpetrators to some sort of justice. I found the narrative stage of the No Name more compelling.

Both books are interesting for anyone – like me – who thinks about women’s issues as well as the nature of human freedom and action. When you read Victorian-era fiction – from Collins to Dickens to Trollope and the scores of others – you are struck at every turn by this question: human beings are born into structured environments. Of some sort. How do these legal and social structures restrict human freedom, how do they shape choices? Are they just or unjust? Would these characters be better off without them or do these structures reflect anything real about human nature – do they shape human activity in ways directed toward the good?

When you read fiction of this era, you might be tempted to take a condescending view: Oh, those Victorians, bound by complex legalities and oppressive social mores. We’re so much better off today!

Really?

Also read chunks of The Comedy of Errors  – alone and with boys. We’ll be seeing a production of it soon. Must prepare!

Also reading up on Spain. We’ll be heading there, not really soon – but before the end of the year.

Watching: I’ve been rewatching chunks of Mad Men this past week. I don’t really know why. I first rewatched much of the pilot and was struck – as I had been the first time around – how weak it was. Gorgeous to look at, of course, but the cultural stage-setting was so awkwardly obvious and condescending: Look at all the people smoking! The doctor is smoking! Much misogyny! 

I didn’t rewatch a lot more of that first season, which, as I recall, took time to get over that condescension toward the past (some critics claim it never did – I disagree). But I have been skipping through subsequent episodes – I fast forward through most of the domestic drama, and focus on the office material, which I always really enjoyed. I had problems with Mad Men – I always felt that the core of it was Matthew Weiner working out his negative feelings about his mother (Betty) – and there were a few weak casting choices (aka Weiner’s deeply untalented son) and, as I said, most of the domestic angst bored me, but there were so many great characters, it was a world I always enjoy settling into, the trajectory of the Peggy character was one of the most well-done I’ve ever seen on television, and there was that one episode where Roger made witty remarks – you remember that one?

Listening: Just found out that a drummer who played in my son’s jazz recital ensemble was part of a recording that won a Grammy last night! So I’ll be searching for that to listen to today.

Writing: Not enough. Never enough. Aargh.  Maybe look for another blog post coming up later.

Blog post on Lourdes – it’s Our Lady of Lourdes today. 

Well, I’ll be in Living Faith later this week. Wednesday, I think.

My son posted a review of Glass. 

One element of the film that’s received some derision is the buildup of the idea of the Osaka Tower and the great fight that will come. However, I think that buying into that premise is the audience missing the point of Glass’s philosophy. It’s not that comic books are real, but that they are born from events that then get blown up into something else. Superman couldn’t fly in the beginning Casey reminds Dr. Staple at one point. So, what we end up getting is the beginning of belief, the extraordinary feats of extraordinary people, far removed from the spotlight of a huge crowd. The final fight takes place in a parking lot in much the same way that, if Glass’s philosophy is correct, the inspiration for Superman lifting the car on the front of Action Comics #1 must have. It wouldn’t have been with millions of eyes on him, but with a small crowd.

And that’s the origins of belief. To take this in an explicitly religious direction for a quick moment, it wasn’t a multitude that witness Jesus’ transfiguration or resurrection, but a handful of believers who went on to spread the word from there. It’s an interesting idea, explored in an interesting fashion, and told well.

 

And then…preparing…I guess?

Next Sunday is Septuagesima Sunday, the first of the pre-Lent Sundays – the loss of pre-Lent is one of the most ridiculous changes that occurred in the wake of Vatican II.  When you read about it – say in this blog post I wrote – you see why. I always highlight this page from a 7th grade catechism – read the part to which the arrow leads. I love the lack of condescension towards young people. The assumption that they are simply part of the Body of Christ, with a mission. No catchy banners or t-shirts needed. Just the assumption, because they are baptized, that they are a part of this great journey.

 

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Well, since last we met (if you only come here once a week), I’ve been to Kansas and back – with a touchdown in Miami on the way, if that makes any sense (which it doesn’t), seen Fred Armisen, given a talk and attended an interesting meeting on Catholic classical education.

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Son #2 continues to publish film commentary on his blog:

Wild Strawberries

Shoeshine

Faster

Star Trek: The Motion Picture – a defense.

— 2 —

Do you need some good, short reading material? Here’s a Guardian article with fifty short stories recommended by contemporary writers. 

—3–

Interested in medieval history? Here’s a glance at some interesting sessions from the upcoming International Congress on Medieval Studies. 

 

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I thought this was interesting:

Serpent-handling churches are, for obvious reasons, perpetually fascinating to those outside them. They’ve been the subject of books, documentaries, songs, photography exhibits, and a reality show.
But opera?

Indeed, Taking Up Serpents, a new hour-long opera commissioned by the Washington National Opera as part of the American Opera Initiative (AOI) Festival, had its world premiere this month at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. To its creators, the fringe religious practice was a more natural fit with the art form than you might expect (though they did choose not to have actual snakes onstage).

“This story is operatic in that the characters’ faith imbues the world with meaning that is larger than life,” explains composer Kamala Sankaram in her program notes. Additionally, the musical format allowed her to incorporate the shape note singing integral to the kind of charismatic church featured in the opera, and rockabilly-infused tunes inspired by the Appalachian region around it. Certain scenes even feature people singing in tongues.

 

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Today is the memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita. If you don’t know her story, take a look at B16’s encyclical Spe Salvi – in which the pope uses St. Josephine as his very first example of “hope.” You really can’t find a better brief introduction:

Yet at this point a question arises: in what does this hope consist which, as hope, is “redemption”? The essence of the answer is given in the phrase from the Letter to the Ephesians quoted above: the Ephesians, before their encounter with Christ, were without hope because they were “without God in the world”. To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God.

The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life.

Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ.

bakhita5Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited.

What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”.

On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.

More.

 

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I’ve created a Lent page here.

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

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Today’s the feast of St. Blaise (yes, it’s a Sunday, but let’s talk about him anyway!)

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who help in ordinary ways.”

(Click on images for larger versions. I just grabbed these screenshots from whatever is available online. I don’t have any copies of the book at home at the moment!)

 

 

St. Blaise is the figure standing in the cave to the left.

It seems to me that this is such a vital point – saints are people who help in ordinary ways – to remember, especially in these days of empowerment and awesomeness.

Mass, instant communication, mobility and relative prosperity and political and social freedom have had an interesting impact on the way we think about and present spirituality. It’s something I think about a lot. It’s something I wonder about.

In short: even in spiritually-minded circles, the spiritually-fulfilled life is presented as one in which you are doing the amazing, world-changing things that God put you on earth to do and – although this part might go unsaid, it’s certainly implicit in the way this is hustled: in doing the amazing, world-changing things and not hiding your light under a bushel, you’ll find satisfaction, make a living and be known and affirmed. 

This isn’t the Gospel.

The Gospel, as concretely expressed in the crucifix hanging in front of you as you go to Mass this morning, and as you’ll hear articulated in the second reading from Paul is, Let God love others through you. They might kill you for it. It doesn’t matter. Keep loving.

Not “fulfillment.” Sacrifice.

As St. Francis of Assisi emphasizes over and over again – the Christian life is rooted in love that calls, bottom line, for sacrificing our own will to the will of God. That’s the poverty to which St. Francis aspired: a poverty of will. That’s why Philippians 2 was one of his primary Scriptural reference points.

We like to refashion the saints as model 21st century achievers and doers, but Christian virtue and the power of the Christian life isn’t about using the circumstances of your life to build yourself up or feel fulfilled. It’s about being in the midst of the circumstances of your life, surrounded by the people that God has put there, and trying to love them as Jesus loves us: sacrificially and obediently.

In ordinary ways, here in Ordinary Time.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Well, that’s the conundrum, isn’t it?

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

-do we believe everything they believe?

Do we buy it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a world without God.

Just admit it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

….is, indeed, transformative.

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

Nope.

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

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

The basic difference has been:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hey, guys, I think you’re going to spare obscure academic articles this week.

But you will not be spared…..

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Brochure 2019

PUY DU FOU!

Long, long time readers will know that in the fall of 2012, I took my two youngest to Europe. It was, as I have written here, a way of forcing myself to homeschool them. I reasoned – if I actually left the country – I couldn’t go racing back to the school principal a week in,  begging her to take us back.

Anyway, one of the highlights and grand surprises of the trip was Puy du Fou. I will bet money you’ve never heard of it.   When I first started researching the trip, I happened upon information about Puy du Fou, and was immediately intrigued. What is this??  It’s the most popular attraction of its type in France – more so than EuroDisney – and I’d never even heard of it.  Then I went to the website, watched the over-the-top amazing videos about knights and vikings and such, and I was determined.

 

We had to go. 

So we did – as far as I could tell, one of the few non-French speakers in the park that day, which also happened to be the last day of the season they perform the massive, (literally) cast of thousands evening show.

It’s an “amusement park” but there are no rides.  The main attractions are recreations of medieval and renaissance villages with artisans and shops, a small collection of animals, a few animantronic features – de la Fontaine’s fairy tales, for example, and then these spectacular – I mean spectacular shows featuring French history, starting with the Romans – in a full-blown Roman coliseum with chariots and so on.

So, quickly – when we went, the shows were:

  1. The Romans
  2. A recreation of a Viking raid story with a variation of a saint/miracle story
  3. A Joan of Arc type story (although not quite)
  4. Richilieu’s Musketeer, which I didn’t understand at all – involving musketeers, Spanish type dancers and horses prancing on a water-flooded stage.
  5. Birds of Prey show
  6. The evening show, Cinescine 

You have to watch the videos to understand why, once I saw them, there was no way I was going to France and not going to Puy du Fou.

I see that for 2019, they’re promoting a new show – it looks to be about Clovis and….hmmm…

That said, I didn’t know anything about the place beyond the fact that it was popular and looked kind of trippy and totally French.

As we moved through the day, I started to notice a couple of things:

  1. The explicit religious content of every show (except the musketeer one, but it may have been there, and I just didn’t grasp it.)   The Roman show began with two Christian men running onto the sandy floor of the coliseum and drawing an ichthys, and being arrested for that.  The Viking show featured a miracle (based, I think on a particular miracle story but I don’t remember which at the time) about a saint raising a child from the dead.
  2. At some point it dawned on me…there’s nothing about the French Revolution here.  Nothing. Not a word, not an image. Wait. Aren’t all the French all about the French Revolution?

I knew that the evening show was about the Vendee resistance to the Revolution, but before I went, I didn’t know anything about the founder of the park, his politics and how the park expresses that vision.

As I keep saying, it was simply fascinating and really helped broaden my understanding of French history and the French people and the complexity of contemporary France.

Cinescine is really unlike anything you have ever seen. You’re seated on this huge grandstand, and the show happens around this lake – lights, hundreds and hundreds of people in costume tracing the history of the area, including the resistance to the Revolution, animals, music….wow.

Loved it, and would absolutely go back if I had the chance.

(If you read TripAdvisor reviews, you will see almost 100% agreement with that sentiment. “Wow” “Amazing” “Hidden Gem” – etc. )

ANYWAY.

The reason I’m bringing this up is that the news came that the empire is expanding – Puy du Fou Espana will begin a soft open late this summer, to be completed in 2021.

I’m absolutely intrigued by this, considering how the French Puy du Fou is expressive of, if not anti-Revolutionary ideals, a more traditional nationalistic view of France that includes, you know, faith. I am wondering what the thinking behind this is – I did see mentioned that one of the historical areas in the park will be a “Muslim camp” and there’s a couple of Arab-looking/dressed fellows in the imagery. Fascinating.

This is the video advertising the “Grand Spectacle” -“El Sueño de Toledo”  – “The Dream of Toledo.”

—3–

Speaking of travel, one of the things I noticed in Japan last summer was the mannered, constant patter from the convenience store clerks. It was weird and awkward – was I supposed to respond in some way or just let it flow over me as I bought my Coca-Cola Light? I thought at the time that it struck me as mannered simply because I don’t speak Japanese. No – it is mannered and practiced and rote – although there are moves afoot to de-emphasize its importance in customer service, mostly because of the greater numbers of non-native Japanese speakers working in that sector. 

Within the framework of Japanese speech exists the somewhat controversial practice of employing formulaic honorific speech by those in the service industry. Manual keigo—so named for the training manuals of phrases that clerks and employees are expected to memorize and use in interactions with the public—creates artificial, repetitious, or otherwise grammatically questionable honorific expressions as companies strive to outdo themselves in terms of reverentially addressing their customers.

Customers can expect to hear generous use of the honorific prefixes “o-” and “go-”, which are appended to words as a sign of respect. “Tsugi no o-kyaku-sama,” or “the next honorable customer,” for instance, becomes “O-tsugi no o-kyaku-sama”—“the honorable next honorable customer.” Similarly redundant compound greetings—irasshaimase konnichiwa, or “Welcome hello”—are also common.

 

–4–

Good stuff from Tom Hoopes on how his family is dealing with tech issues. 

–5 —

Some years ago, I edited an edition of Myles Connelly’s novel Mr. Blue for Loyola Classics. That edition is out of print, but Cluny Media picked it up – and you should to. It’s a powerful parable, much better than the execrable Joshua (which seems to have diminished in popularity, thank goodness) and in a way, an interesting response – not retort, but response – to The Great Gatsby. 

If I were teaching high school religion or literature in a Catholic high school – it just might be my summer reading pick.

Well, here’s an interesting review article about new editions of two other Connelly novels, these new editions edited (as was their Mr. Blue)  by Steve Mirarchi of Benedictine College – who happens to married to one of my former students!

Dan England and the Noonday Devil is somewhat darker. Similar to Blue, Dan England employs a narrator who, conventional in the ways of the world, is initially skeptical of the eccentric ways of the protagonist and yet comes to admire him. Having tried a newspaper career, and having been in his own telling converted in an improbable manner from a conformist lifestyle, Dan England now ekes out a living as a hack writer of detective stories. His real talent and great joy, however, is gathering his motley group of friends and acquaintances nightly at his ample dinner table where he holds court. His home “was a veritable hotel” for his friends, and those friends “were parasites of the most genuine and enduring sort,” including artists, ex-fighters, derelicts, “refugees from Communism and White Supremacy,”—“all having in common a love of Dan’s hospitality and generosity and a few having a love of Dan himself.”

A romantic, an eclectic reader, a storyteller, and an ardent Catholic, Dan indulges in wide-ranging talk that includes paeans to the beauty of the Church and the heroics of the saints and the martyrs. He maintains the “belief that Scripture and the saints should be a natural part of the common small talk and banter of each and every day.” The narrator, a newspaper man, is drawn into Dan’s circle after witnessing Dan’s humanizing effect on a colleague. Betrayed by one of his hangers-on, Dan exhibits a Christ-like forgiveness despite the personal cost: “What mattered to him was not serenity or success but what he so often called ‘the plain but nonetheless terrible necessity’ of saving his soul,” the narrator muses.

True to his cinematic training, Connolly’s novels often consist of a series of brief set pieces or vignettes. His characteristic theme is that of the man who eschews a conventional, conformist way of life in pursuit of human freedom. One is reminded of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” which similarly tells a parable-like tale of the ultimate “drop-out” from mercenary society and that also employs an initially skeptical narrator. The great difference is, of course, that Connolly’s fools are holy fools. While O’Connor’s original Catholic readers would no doubt enthuse over these novels as decidedly positive expositions of the Catholic faith, Connolly acknowledges the suffering and sacrifice that comes with such belief.

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You probably know about Doctors Without Borders. Well, how about The Mission Doctors Association? This month marks an important anniversary for them:

2019 marks a special anniversary for Mission Doctors Association; our 60th Anniversary.  We have many things planned to celebrate this year as we also look to the future.  Yet, we also know that without the vision of our founder, Msgr. Anthony Brouwers, none of the lifesaving work of the past 60 years would have been possible.

January 14th marks the anniversary of our founder’s passing at only 51 years old, in 1964. This story is a familiar one for anyone who is close to MDA, or who has ever heard me speak!  As the Director of the Propagation of the Faith in Los Angeles, Msgr. Brouwers traveled to Legos Nigeria to attend the Marian Congress. Once it was over he traveled all over Africa – he said later that he wanted to find ways to help the people of Los Angeles know more about the needs so they could be help.  While he expected to hear requests for money, overwhelming he heard “We need help” He met with priests doing construction, sisters (with no training) pulling teeth and bishops who were so involved in the administration and secular tasks that they had little time to be shepherds.

So, Msgr. returned with a very focused vision.  He wanted to make it possible for Catholic professionals, (not the priests, sisters or brothers, just lay people – single, married, families) to find a way to share their gifts as they lived their faith.   In the 10 years that followed, Msgr. founded the Lay Mission-Helpers Association to send teachers, nurses, accountants and others, and then working with the Catholic Physicians Guild, Mission Doctors Association to send physicians and dentists and their families.

 

–7–

 As I noted the other day, I’ve put up Michael’s How to Get the Most Out of the amy-welbornEucharist on Kindle. 

I’ve created a Lent page here.

The page of the articles I’ve published on Medium here. 

And don’t forget my story!

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

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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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Another great saint.  B16 spoke about him at a General Audience in 2009. It’s very appropriate that John’s feast falls during Advent, during our preparation for the Feast of the Incarnation.

(I have re-paragraphed it for ease of reading. Also bolded some key points.)

John, born into a wealthy Christian family, at an early age assumed the role, perhaps already held by his father, of Treasurer of the Caliphate. Very soon, however, dissatisfied with life at court, he decided on a monastic life, and entered the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem. This was around the year 700.

He never again left the monastery, but dedicated all his energy to ascesis and literary work, not disdaining a certain amount of pastoral activity, as is shown by his numerous homilies. His liturgical commemoration is on the 4 December. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him Doctor of the Universal Church in 1890.

In the East, his best remembered works are the three Discourses against those who calumniate the Holy Images, which were condemned after his death by the iconoclastic Council of Hieria (754). These discourses, however, were also the fundamental grounds for his rehabilitation and canonization on the part of the Orthodox Fathers summoned to the Council of Nicaea (787), the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In these texts it is possible to trace the first important theological attempts to legitimise the veneration of sacred images, relating them to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

John Damascene was also among the first to distinguish, in the cult, both public and private, of the Christians, between worship (latreia), and veneration (proskynesis): the first can only be offered to God, spiritual above all else, the second, on the other hand, can make use of an image to address the one whom the image represents. Obviously the Saint can in no way be identified with the material of which the icon is composed. This distinction was immediately seen to be very important in finding an answer in Christian terms to those who considered universal and eternal the strict Old Testament prohibition against the use of cult images. This was also a matter of great debate in the Islamic world, which accepts the Jewish tradition of the total exclusion of cult images. Christians, on the other hand, in this context, have discussed the problem and found a justification for the veneration of images. John Damascene writes, “In other ages God had not been represented in images, being incorporate and faceless. But since God has now been seen in the flesh, and lived among men, I represent that part of God which is visible. I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate that matter through which my salvation was achieved. But I do not venerate it in absolute terms as God! How could that which, from non-existence, has been given existence, be God?… But I also venerate and respect all the rest of matter which has brought me salvation, since it is full of energy and Holy graces. Is not the wood of the Cross, three times blessed, matter?… And the ink, and the most Holy Book of the Gospels, are they not matter? The redeeming altar which dispenses the Bread of life, is it not matter?… And, before all else, are not the flesh and blood of Our Lord matter? Either we must suppress the sacred nature of all these things, or we must concede to the tradition of the Church the veneration of the images of God and that of the friends of God who are sanctified by the name they bear, and for this reason are possessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not, therefore, offend matter: it is not contemptible, because nothing that God has made is contemptible” (cf. Contra imaginum calumniatores, I, 16, ed. Kotter, pp. 89-90).

We see that as a result of the Incarnation, matter is seen to have become divine, is seen as the habitation of God. It is a new vision of the world and of material reality. God became flesh and flesh became truly the habitation of God, whose glory shines in the human Face of Christ. Thus the arguments of the Doctor of the East are still extremely relevant today, considering the very great dignity that matter has acquired through the Incarnation, capable of becoming, through faith, a sign and a sacrament, efficacious in the meeting of man with God. John Damascene remains, therefore, a privileged witness of the cult of icons, which would come to be one of the most distinctive aspects of Eastern spirituality up to the present day. It is, however, a form of cult which belongs simply to the Christian faith, to the faith in that God who became flesh and was made visible. The teaching of Saint John Damascene thus finds its place in the tradition of the universal Church, whose sacramental doctrine foresees that material elements taken from nature can become vehicles of grace by virtue of the invocation (epiclesis) of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by the confession of the true faith.

John Damascene extends these fundamental ideas to the veneration of the relics of Saints, on the basis of the conviction that the Christian Saints, having become partakers of the Resurrection of Christ, cannot be considered simply “dead”. Numbering, for example, those "amy welborn"whose relics or images are worthy of veneration, John states in his third discourse in defence of images: “First of all (let us venerate) those among whom God reposed, he alone Holy, who reposes among the Saints (cf. Is 57: 15), such as the Mother of God and all the Saints. These are those who, as far as possible, have made themselves similar to God by their own will; and by God’s presence in them, and his help, they are really called gods (cf. Ps 82[81]: 6), not by their nature, but by contingency, just as the red-hot iron is called fire, not by its nature, but by contingency and its participation in the fire. He says in fact : you shall be holy, because I am Holy (cf. Lv 19: 2)” (III, 33, col. 1352 a).

After a series of references of this kind, John Damascene was able serenely to deduce: “God, who is good, and greater than any goodness, was not content with the contemplation of himself, but desired that there should be beings benefited by him, who might share in his goodness: therefore he created from nothing all things, visible and invisible, including man, a reality visible and invisible. And he created him envisaging him and creating him as a being capable of thought (ennoema ergon), enriched with the word (logo[i] sympleroumenon), and orientated towards the spirit (pneumati teleioumenon)” (II, 2, pg 94, col. 865a). And to clarify this thought further, he adds: “We must allow ourselves to be filled with wonder (thaumazein) at all the works of Providence (tes pronoias erga), to accept and praise them all, overcoming any temptation to identify in them aspects which to many may seem unjust or iniquitous, (adika), and admitting instead that the project of God (pronoia) goes beyond man’s capacity to know or to understand (agnoston kai akatalepton), while on the contrary only he may know our thoughts, our actions, and even our future” (ii, 29, pg 94, col. 964c).

Plato had in fact already said that all philosophy begins with wonder. Our faith, too, begins with wonder at the very fact of the Creation, and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible.

The optimism of the contemplation of nature (physike theoria), of seeing in the visible creation the good, the beautiful, the true, this Christian optimism, is not ingenuous: it takes account of the wound inflicted on human nature by the freedom of choice desired by God and misused by man, with all the consequences of widespread discord which have derived from it. From this derives the need, clearly perceived by John Damascene, that nature, in which the goodness and beauty of God are reflected, wounded by our fault, “should be strengthened and renewed” by the descent of the Son of God in the flesh, after God had tried in many ways and on many occasions, to show that he had created man so that he might exist not only in “being”, but also in “well-being” (cf. The Orthodox Faith, II, 1, pg 94, col. 981).

With passionate eagerness John explains: “It was necessary for nature to be strengthened and renewed, and for the path of virtue to be indicated and effectively taught (didachthenai aretes hodòn), the path that leads away from corruption and towards eternal life…. So there appeared on the horizon of history the great sea of love that God bears towards man (philanthropias pelagos)”…. It is a fine expression. We see on one side the beauty of Creation, and on the other the destruction wrought by the fault of man. But we see in the Son of God, who descends to renew nature, the sea of love that God has for man. John Damascene continues: “he himself, the Creator and the Lord, fought for his Creation, transmitting to it his teaching by example…. And so the Son of God, while still remaining in the form of God, lowered the skies and descended… to his servants… achieving the newest thing of all, the only thing really new under the sun, through which he manifested the infinite power of God” (III, 1, pg 94, col. 981c-984b).

We may imagine the comfort and joy which these words, so rich in fascinating images, poured into the hearts of the faithful. We listen to them today, sharing the same feelings with the Christians of those far-off days: God desires to repose in us, he wishes to renew nature through our conversion, he wants to allow us to share in his divinity. May the Lord help us to make these words the substance of our lives.

More from Ellyn von Huben at Word on Fire

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