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The 16th-century reforming Archbishop of Milan, remembered today, November 4.

The first point to draw to your attention is this book:

Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) should have been part of the problem. As nephew of a Medici Pope who made him a Cardinal at 22 years of age, Borromeo could have become just another corrupt Renaissance Bishop. Instead he became the driving force of reform within the Catholic Church in the wake of the Council of Trent following the Protestant Reformation and the primary reason Trent’s dramatic reforms were successful. His remarkable accomplishments in Milan as Archbishop became the model of reform for the rest of Western Europe. Change is never easy, but St. Charles’ approach – deeply biblical, personal, practical and centered on Christ – offers a road map of reform, even for today. Now for the first time in over 400 years a significant selection of his works appears in the English language.

I started reading it last night – I think in a time in which we’re constantly being told that the Church needs to reform and change and be attentive to the times (which is mostly always true, anyway) – this astonishing story merits far more attention than it gets.

The Church in Milan during this period was unbelievably lax and corrupt – and St. Charles Borromeo turned it around.

How he did that should be of at least mild interest to those super-hot about evangelization and such these days.

First, the text of Pius X’s encyclical on reform and St. Charles – Editae Saepe

Here’s Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, on the 400th anniversary of the canonization.  Very interesting insights on reform, something that we hear much about these days.  First, it begins with humility.

The time in which Charles Borromeo lived was very delicate for Christianity. In it the Archbishop of Milan gave a splendid example of what it means to work for the reform of the Church. There were many disorders to sanction, many errors to correct and many structures to renew; yet St Charles strove for a profound reform of the Church, starting with his own life. It was in himself, in fact, that the young Borromeo promoted the first and most radical work of renewal. His career had begun promisingly in accordance with the canons of that time: for the younger son of the noble family Borromeo, a future of prosperity and success lay in store, an ecclesiastical life full of honours but without any ministerial responsibilities; he also had the possibility of assuming the direction of the family after the unexpected death of his brother Federico.

Yet Charles Borromeo, illumined by Grace, was attentive to the call with which the Lord was attracting him and desiring him to dedicate the whole of himself to the service of his people. Thus he was capable of making a clear and heroic detachment from the lifestyle characterised by his worldly dignity and dedication without reserve to the service of God and of the Church. In times that were darkened by numerous trials for the Christian community, with divisions and confusions of doctrine, with the clouding of the purity of the faith and of morals and with the bad example of various sacred ministries, Charles Borromeo neither limited himself to deploring or condemning nor merely to hoping that others would change, but rather set about reforming his own life which, after he had abandoned wealth and ease, he filled with prayer, penance and loving dedication to his people. St Charles lived heroically the evangelical virtues of poverty, humility and chastity, in a continuous process of ascetic purification and Christian perfection.

And then it spreads…

The extraordinary reform that St Charles carried out in the structures of the Church in total fidelity to the mandate of the Council of Trent was also born from his holy life, ever more closely conformed to Christ. His work in guiding the People of God, as a meticulous legislator and a brilliant organizer was marvellous. All this, however, found strength and fruitfulness in his personal commitment to penance and holiness. Indeed this is the Church’s primary and most urgent need in every epoch: that each and every one of her members should be converted to God. Nor does the ecclesial community lack trials and suffering in our day and it shows that it stands in need of purification and reform. May St Charles’ example always spur us to start from a serious commitment of personal and community conversion to transform hearts, believing with steadfast certainty in the power of prayer and penance. I encourage sacred ministers, priests and deacons in particular to make their life a courageous journey of holiness, not to fear being drunk with that trusting love for Christ that made Bishop Charles ready to forget himself and to leave everything. Dear brothers in the ministry, may the Ambrogian Church always find in you a clear faith and a sober and pure life that can renew the apostolic zeal which St Ambrose, St Charles and many of your holy Pastors possessed!

Image result for st. charles borromeo poor

Charity:

St Charles, moreover, was recognized as a true and loving father of the poor. Love impelled him to empty his home and to give away his possessions in order to provide for the needy, to support the hungry, to clothe and relieve the sick. He set up institutions that aimed to provide social assistance and to rescue people in need; but his charity for the poor and the suffering shone out in an extraordinary way during the plague of 1576 when the holy Archbishop chose to stay in the midst of his people to encourage them, serve them and defend them with the weapons of prayer, penance and love.

Furthermore it was charity that spurred Borromeo to become an authentic and enterprising educator: for his people with schools of Christian doctrine; for the clergy with the establishment of seminaries; for children and young people with special initiatives for them and by encouraging the foundation of religious congregations and confraternities dedicated to the formation of children and young people.

Rooted in love of the Lord:

However it is impossible to understand the charity of St Charles Borromeo without knowing his relationship of passionate love with the Lord Jesus. He contemplated this love in the holy mysteries of the Eucharist and of the Cross, venerated in very close union with the mystery of the Church. The Eucharist and the Crucified One immersed St Charles in Christ’s love and this transfigured and kindled fervour in his entire life, filled his nights spent in prayer, motivated his every action, inspired the solemn Liturgies he celebrated with the people and touched his heart so deeply that he was often moved to tears.

His contemplative gaze at the holy Mystery of the Altar and at the Crucified one stirred within him feelings of compassion for the miseries of humankind and kindled in his heart the apostolic yearning to proclaim the Gospel to all. On the other hand we know well that there is no mission in the Church which does not stem from “abiding” in the love of the Lord Jesus, made present within us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Let us learn from this great Mystery! Let us make the Eucharist the true centre of our communities and allow ourselves to be educated and moulded by this abyss of love! Every apostolic and charitable deed will draw strength and fruitfulness from this source!

Can this speak to young people?  All this old stuff, deep in history?  Of course…

The splendid figure of St Charles suggests to me a final reflection which I address to young people in particular. The history of this great Bishop was in fact totally determined by some courageous “yeses”, spoken when he was still very young. When he was only 24 years old he decided to give up being head of the family to respond generously to the Lord’s call; the following year he accepted priestly and episcopal Ordination. At the age of 27 he took possession of the Ambrogian Diocese and gave himself entirely to pastoral ministry. In the years of his youth St Charles realized that holiness was possible and that the conversion of his life could overcome every bad habit. Thus he made his whole youth a gift of love to Christ and to the Church, becoming an all-time giant of holiness.

Dear young people, let yourselves be renewed by this appeal that I have very much at heart: God wants you to be holy, for he knows you in your depths and loves you with a love that exceeds all human understanding. God knows what is in your hearts and is waiting to see the marvellous gift he has planted within you blossom and bear fruit. Like St Charles, you too can make your youth an offering to Christ and to your brethren. Like him you can decide, in this season of life, “to put your stakes” on God and on the Gospel. Dear young people, you are not only the hope of the Church; you are already part of her present! And if you dare to believe in holiness you will be the greatest treasure of your Ambrogian Church which is founded on Saints.

The whole thing. 


We went to Milan back in 2011 – I have no complaints about any of our travels, but I have to say, that was a great trip.  Partly because it was The Fare Deal of the Century, which always helps. Not kidding when I tell you that our airfare from NYC to Milan was $250 apiece. That has never happened since and will never happen again, I’m sure.

At the time, people were like, You’re taking your kids to Europe for Spring Break? How extravagant! And I was like, I pretty much guarantee that I am spending less on this trip than you are with your week at Disney or Universal. 

But anyway, in Milan, we did see St. Charles Borromeo’s relics in his duomo. No photos of that, but I here’s the roof.

And this post is about our daytrip to Stresa on Lago Maggiore, which was the site of the Borromeo family estates and, even now, the Borromean Islands in the lake – they were not “open” for the season when we were there (in March), but it was a great day, nonetheless. 

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A final chapter from Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies (full text available here for .99).  I have skipped a few – this is chapter 10, which describes the role of Mary Magdalene in the lives of late medieval and counter-reformation mystics and spiritual writers.

For excerpts from other  chapters:

Chapter one: Introducing Mary Magdalene in the Bible

Chapter two: Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection

Chapter three: Mary Magdalene in Gnostic writings

Chapter four: Mary Magdalene in Patristic writings

MARY AND THE MYSTICS

The heart of the Christian life is prayer, and throughout our history Mary Magdalene has often been found in that heart, pointing the way to Christ. Like any saint, Christians have looked to her as a model, and have prayed for her intercession.

In this chapter, we’ll look at some important figures in the Christian spiritual tradition, mostly women, and how they have been inspired and nourished by the example of Mary Magdalene. Some found parallels between their lives and hers. Others found strength in her identity as a repentant sinner, or in the model of solitary con-templation offered by the legends they knew. The lives of all of these prayerful people help us see the tremendous positive power the figure of Mary Magdalene has held in the lives of many Christians.

Like a Sister

Margery Kempe is one of the more vivid figures to emerge from the medieval period, partly because she left extensive autobiographical writings (dictated to a priest), but also because her experiences are so extreme to the point that today we might indeed diagnose her as mentally ill.

She was an Englishwoman, born in the late thirteenth century, married, and the mother of fourteen children. She eventually convinced her husband to live with her as a brother, and from that point embarked on a number of pilgrimages — to the Holy Land, Rome, Santiago de Compostela, Norway, and Germany. Her Book of Margery Kempe is an invaluable record of the period in general, and of religious life and sensibilities in particular.

The Book records visionary experiences, most of which involve Margery, who refers to herself as “said creature,” in the midst of a biblical scene, observing and interacting with the other participants, often weeping copiously. Her visions reflect a knowledge of some of the medieval religious plays featuring Mary Magdalene, as well as a work called Meditations on the Life of Christ, a very popular devotional believed to have been written by St. Bonaventure, but now ascribed to a figure known as “Pseudo-Bonaventure.”

Margery joins Mary Magdalene and others at the cross. She mourns with them. For ten years, on every Good Friday, she weeps for five or six hours. After the Resurrection, she displaces Mary Magdalene, and converses with Christ herself, receiving his assurance that if Mary Magdalene could be forgiven of her sins, so should Margery. She, along with the Virgin, expresses sorrow at the imminent physical departure of Jesus, and is comforted by him.

Margery draws strength from Mary Magdalene, then, as a model of a sinner who loved Christ and was devoted to him. The imagery she offers, of herself mourning over the dead Christ, kissing his feet and caring for his body, is evocative of spiritual writing and art of the period in which Mary Magdalene is playing that same role:

[Jesus to Margery Kempe:] “Also, daughter, I know . . . how you call Mary Magdalene into your soul to welcome me for, daugh-ter,I know well enough what you are thinking.You think that she is the worthiest, in your soul, and you trust most in her prayers next to my mother, and so you may indeed, daughter, for she is a very great mediator to me for you in the bliss of heaven.” (Book of Margery Kempe, chapter 86, in Medieval Writings on Female Spiritualityedited by Elizabeth Spearing [Penguin Books, 2002], p. 251)

The Second Mary Magdalene

Similar comfort was found by St. Margaret Cortona (1247-1297), who is actually called the “Second Mary Magdalene.” She was born in Tuscany, and as a young adult woman she became lovers with a nobleman, bore him a child, and lived with him for nine years. The man File:Giovanni Lanfranco - Ecstasy of St Margaret of Cortona - WGA12453.jpgwas murdered, at which point Margaret took her child and fled, first to her family’s home, where she was rejected, and then to a Franciscan friary. Her subsequent life as a Franciscan tertiary was marked by continued battles with temptations of the flesh (she is a patron saint of those battling temptation), repentance, and service to the poor.

Obviously, her past life led to her identification with the popular memory of St. Mary Magdalene, repentant sinner — and like Margery Kempe, Margaret found solace in Mary’s penitent life. The following was related by one of her early biographers:

“Shortly before her death, she had a vision of St. Mary Magdalene, ‘most faithful of Christ’s apostles, clothed in a robe as it were of silver, and crowned with a crown of precious gems, and surrounded by the holy angels.’ And whilst she was in this ecstasy Christ spoke to Margaret, saying:‘My Eternal Father said of Me to the Baptist:This is My beloved Son;so do I say to thee of Magdalene:This is my beloved daughter.’ On
another occasion we are told that ‘she was taken in spirit to the feet of Christ, which she washed with her tears as did Magdalene of old;and as she wiped His feet she desired greatly to behold His face,and prayed to the Lord to grant her this favor.’ Thus to the end we see she was the same; and yet the difference.” (
Saints for Sinners, by Alban Goodier, S.J. [Ignatius Press, 1993], p. 46)

Bathed in Blood

St. Catherine of Siena is one of the most fascinating women of the medieval period, and considering the competition, that is saying quite a bit.

Born in 1347, the youngest of twenty-five children, Catherine was intensely devout, but uninterested in taking the usual route for young women like herself, which would have been joining a reli-gious community. She became associated with the Dominicans — whose patron was Mary Magdalene, remember — as a tertiary, but operated with a startling degree of independence for a woman of her era. We remember her today for her letters, her spiritual writ-ings (dictated to her confessor, Blessed Raymond of Capua), and her determination to play a role in reforming the papacy, at that time in exile in Avignon, France, and corrupted by luxury.

Catherine saw Mary Magdalene as a second mother, having dedicated herself to her in a special way upon the death in child-birth of her sister, Bonaventura, an incident that seems to have been an important motivator in Catherine’s spiritual life. When Bonaventura died, Catherine envisioned herself at the feet of Christ, with Mary Magdalene, begging for mercy. Her biographer noted Catherine “doing everything she could to imitate her to obtain forgiveness” (quoted in Haskins, p. 179). Blessed Raymond summarizes Catherine’s devotion in the following passage:

“‘Sweetest daughter, for your greater comfort I give you Mary Magdalen for your mother.Turn to her in absolute confidence; I entrust her with a special care of you.’ The virgin gratefully accepted this offer. . . . From that moment the virgin felt entirely at one with the Magdalen and always referred to her as her mother.” (Quoted in Jansen, p. 303)

In terms of her personal spirituality, Catherine looked to Mary Magdalene as a model of repentance and faithfulness, never leaving Jesus at the cross. Nor, she determined, would she, faithfully persevering in fidelity despite the extraordinary risks she faced in confronting the most powerful figure of the day — the pope — with evidence of his own sins.

[Catherine of Siena on Mary Magdalene, the “loving disciple”:] “Wracked with love, she runs and embraces the cross.There is no doubt that to see her master, she becomes inundated with blood.” (Quoted in Haskins, p. 188)

St.Teresa of Ávila

The sixteenth century was a period of conflict and reform for the Catholic Church. At the beginning of the century, there was only one Christian Church in the West, but by the end there were scores of different churches and movements emanating from the Protestant Reformation.

The Catholic Church, faced with the consequences of, in part, its own weakness and corruption, responded to the Reformation with its own inner purification, commonly called the Counter-Reformation, or the Catholic Reformation. The Council of Trent, meeting over several years mid-century, standardized prayer and liturgical texts, mandated seminary training for priests, and confidently restated traditional Catholic teaching on justification, Scripture, Tradition, and the life of the Church.

Change doesn’t come only from the top, though. When a reforming spirit is in the Catholic air, inevitably groups rise up to meet the challenge and undertake the work. It happened, for example, in the thirteenth century with the rise of the mendicant orders.

Some argue it is happening today with the rising popularity of groups like Communion and Liberation, Opus Dei, and the Neo-Catechumenal Way.

The sixteenth century was no different. It was the era that saw the establishment of the Jesuits, who evangelized with vigor and focus, under the direct supervision of the pope. It was also the era that saw the reformation of many religious orders. One of the most important leaders on this score was St. Teresa of Ávila, who worked tirelessly to reform the Carmelites in Spain.

Not that she started out life as a reformer. Teresa entered religious life at an early age, but did not pursue holiness with much vigor. Many convents in that period had devolved to essentially groups of well-off women dwelling together, living only nominally religious lives.

Teresa lived this way until her forties, when illness prompted a change of heart. In the wake of her conversion, Teresa was inspired to reform existing houses of her order and establish new ones that would be expressions of a sacrificial road to holiness. Teresa was also a great mystic and teacher of prayer. Her works — including her Life, the Way of Perfection, and The Interior Castle — are still widely read today.

In these works, we see the influence of Mary Magdalene on Teresa, primarily, as she has been for the other women we’ve looked at, as a model of fidelity and repentance:

“I had a very great devotion to the glorious Magdalene,and very frequently used to think of her conversion — especially when I went to Communion. As I knew for certain that our Lord was then within me, I used to place myself at His feet, thinking that my tears would not be despised. I did not know what I was saying; only He did great things for me, in that He was pleased I should shed those tears,seeing that I so soon forgot that impression. I used to recommend myself to that glorious saint,that she might obtain my pardon.” (Life, 9:2)

The story of Mary Magdalene’s contemplative years in the wilderness and her association with the quiet, listening Mary (in contrast to the busy Martha) also Teresa_de_Jesúsappealed to Teresa, unsurprisingly:

“Let us, then, pray Him always to show His mercy upon us, with a submissive spirit,yet trusting in the goodness of God. And now that the soul is permitted to sit at the feet of Christ, let it con-trive not to quit its place, but keep it anyhow. Let it follow the example of the Magdalene; and when it shall be strong enough, God will lead it into the wilderness.” (Life, 21:9)

Asceticism, an important part of Teresa’s spirituality (although never to extremes, she firmly taught), was understood by her and others in this period as a means of penance for one’s own sins, as well as the sins of others. Here, again, Mary Magdalene was a model:

“Indeed the body suffers much while alive, for whatever work it does, the soul has energy for far greater tasks and goads it on to more, for all it can perform appears as nothing.This must be the reason of the severe penances performed by many of the saints, especially the glorious Magdalene, who had always spent her life in luxury.This caused the zeal felt by our Father Elias for the honor of God, and the desires of St. Dominic and St. Fran-cis to draw souls to praise the Almighty. I assure you that, for-getful of themselves, they must have passed through no small trials.” (Interior Castle, 4:16)

Teresa, like many other women, saw in Mary Magdalene a model for faithful discipleship through difficulty, an ideal penitent, and an inspiring contemplative.

Practical Advice

During this same era, another kind of Catholic reformer was working in another part of Europe. St. Francis de Sales — a gifted writer, preacher, and spiritual director — was the bishop of Geneva, although throughout most of his career, because of the Calvinist control of that city, he could not openly lead his flock. He wrote, unusually for this period, specifically for the laity, very aware of the particular challenges of living in the world.

His Introduction to the Devout Life is a lovely, practical, and charming classic, and it is still indispensable. His letters of spiritual direction, many of them written to his close friend and fellow reformer St. Jane Frances de Chantal, are carefully crafted to answer the specific needs of their recipients. In one of his letters of spiritual direction, written to one Rose Bourgeois, an abbess who, much like Teresa of Ávila, was attempting to reform her own life and that of her convent in a way more faithful to the demands of the Gospel, Francis draws on the image of the contemplative Magdalene in a lovely way:

“Dear daughter,what a good way of praying,and what a fine way of staying in God’s presence: doing what He wants and accept-ing what pleases Him! It seems to me that Mary Magdalene was a statue in her niche when,without saying a word,without mov-ing, and perhaps even without looking at Him, she sat at our Lord’s feet and listened to what He was saying.When He spoke, she listened; whenever He paused, she stopped listening; but always, she was right there.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, by Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal [Paulist Press, 1988], p. 152)

Silent Witness

Mary Magdalene’s place in medieval and early modern Catholic spirituality was firm and clear. Her example encouraged Christians to see their own sins clearly and honestly, and hopefully approach the Lord for forgiveness. Her faithfulness to Jesus, an important part of the Passion narratives in the Gospels, was an accessible expression of fidelity. Her identity as a contemplative, fueled by the legend of her time in the wilderness, as well as her identification with Mary, sister of Martha, provided a model for women who sought to pursue a life of deep prayer, singularly devoted to Christ.

Questions for Reflection

  1. In what ways did these medieval spiritual writers find Mary Magdalene inspiring?
  1. How did they respond to her identity as “Apostle to the Apos-tles,” within the context of their times?
  2. Does the image of Mary Magdalene inspire you in similar ways?

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By far the dumbest thing in my life this past year – in a life full of fairly dumb things – has been my aggravation about  stupid Trini Salgado and her stupid camiseta. 

(Waits for readers to do a search….and return, scratching heads.)

As you might remember, I have a 13-year old who homeschools off and on, and if we were going to pin him down to a grade, we’d say he’s in 7th grade. He’s very interested in Central and South American history and culture, so this year, we’ve gotten more intentional about Spanish.

I spent some time last summer searching for a curriculum. I knew he would probably be going back to brick and mortar school for 8th grade, and I knew that the school he’d be going to teaches high school Spanish 1 over the course of 7th and 8th grade – so if we got through half of a Spanish I curriculum, we’d be good.

But what to pick? I do not, for the life of me, know why I didn’t just wait for the Spanish avencemos4teacher to tell me what she would be doing for the year (I knew they were changing) and then track with that. But I didn’t. I went ahead and splurged for a curriculum that is school-oriented, but used by homeschoolers as well. It’s called Avencamos! (Let’s keep going!) and it’s published by Holt.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting  about the curriculum itself and thoughts prompted by it as well as some other recent curriculum adventures, but even without that, this post will make some sense.

One of the many, many many elements of this curriculum are videos. Each unit is centered on a particular Spanish-speaking area – it begins with Miami, then moves to Puerto Rico, Mexico (Puebla! – where we just were!), Spain (Madrid! Where we’ve been!) , Ecuador, etc.

Each video features a different teenaged boy and girl, going about their community, using the unit’s vocabulary and grammar lessons. They are what you expect – mostly wooden acting and a little weirdness that can be, at times, highly entertaining. Mi mochila! And ¿DONDE ESTA MI CUADERNO? have already become standard elements of household conversation.  Oh, as well as a harsh, “No. Gracias,” uttered through gritted teeth which the very rude girl in the Madrid saga says repeatedly to a shopkeeper who’s only trying to show her las ropas, for pete’s sake! That’s my favorite. Maribel = me.

avencemos2

Some verge on the surreal. Come to think of it, wouldn’t that be a good idea? To produce totally surreal, bizarre language instructional videos?

avencemos

Okay. So here’s the dumb, ingenious thread that runs through all of these videos that has obsessed me these past months – for some reason, all of these kids in these different countries around the globe are trying to see or get an autograph from a female soccer player named Trini Salgado. Some of them are connected – I think they’re trying to get Trini’s autograph for Alicia, who lives in Miami. I think. But they’re always thwarted in the quest – they get the wrong time that Trini’s appearing, they lose the jersey they want autographed, they get the autograph and Papa throws it in the laundry and it washes off.

The weirdest thing about it to me is that each little unit of videos ends in a absolutely unresolved way. In the Mexican set, the boy and girl go to his cousin’s house to retrieve the damn jersey and they’re scared off by a perro grande. They run off – and let’s go to Puerto Rico now!

What? Are you kidding me? You’re really going to leave me hanging like this?

You’d think – you’d think – that the whole situation would eventually get resolved. I thought they’d have some big global gathering feting Trini, everyone speaking Spanish in their various dialects and eating their varied foods.

But no.

Spoiler alert (I checked) – the last unit ends in just as unsatisfying a way as the others.

No one ever gets Trini’s autograph!

Those are some dark-hearted textbook writers there.

If you poke around, you find that kids have had some fun with this – there are a couple of Trini Salgado Twitter accounts, an Avencemos Memes account,  many mentions of are you kidding me, do they ever meet Trini – wait is Trini Salgado not a real person? and some class-made videos that play with eternally-frustrated yearning to get Trini’s autograph.

But here’s why I’m writing about this:

Once more, we run into the power of the story. Each set of videos runs about 6 minutes total, the acting is mostly terrible, and they’re mostly silly, but dang it if they didn’t leave me mad as heck that I wasn’t going to see what happened??

What is it? Isn’t it one of the most fascinating aspects of human life – that we can get so caught up in the the travails of imaginary characters, of situations that aren’t really happening in the real world? We can be wrecked by Lost, so content to settle into the world of Mad Men once a week, root for someone in the world of The Sopranos or Breaking Bad to follow the moral compass we know is buried deep inside there.

These aren’t real people. This is not really happening. I should not care. 

But I do.

It’s a promise of something good and true – and a warning. First the warning, which is about how easily it is for us to be caught up and manipulated simply by an engaging, compelling narrative. Authoritarians and abusers sense this and use it in varied ways: by constructing an epic narrative of identity, revolution, progress or restoration that flatters us, engages us and pulls us in or by simply weaving a tale that justifies and excuses and sounds good but is really just a lie. Marketers – whether they’re marketing products or themselves as personalities – know this and work hard to try to make us feel connected to their personal stories and daily adventures. Another self-serving lie.

Now the good part: The power of the story – even the insanely dumb story – tells us that our lives have a structure, meaning, purpose and direction. We’re pulled into the story because we know we are in the midst of a story ourselves. The challenge is to find and live in the true story – which, by the way – actually has an ending. And, I’m told, a pretty good one.

The only reason i took spanish 2 was to find out if they ever get the jersey signed by Trini Salgado

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— 1 —

It’s that time of year…

…the time of year in which spring starts really spring, and the outdoor events and festivals start popping…

…and we can’t go to any of them because of Activities.

And we don’t even do that much. No spring sports – it’s just that with piano-related events and serving Mass and my older son’s work – we get kind of stuck on the weekends. Not that the youngest and I can’t go on our own – and we do – but still, it’s not the same. And I walk around in a continual state of low-grade irritation because of it.

Well, after this weekend, things should wind down. The last major piano thing will happen on a Friday, then the older kids’ exams begin and end..and then…freedom!

— 2 —

In case you missed it earlier in the week, I had a post on the present lackadaisical status of homeschooling around here. Nothing’s changed since Monday. In fact, it might have gotten worse.

Well, “worse” in terms of “academics” – but the reason is music: three lessons of three different types, plus extra practice with the teacher for that Friday event. If he were in regular school, he couldn’t do this – which is why we’re loading up on it now and trying to lay solid groundwork before he returns in the fall.

(Also earlier – a rambling Monday morning post.)

— 3 —

For some reason, in that Monday post, I neglected to talk about the one jaunt we were able to squeeze in between serving and something else on Saturday, which was a festival at St. Symeon Orthodox Church, located just down the road from us. We’ve lived here for five years, and it’s been interesting to watch it grow, as they’ve gone from meeting in a multipurpose building to constructing their church. The parish is part of the Orthodox Church in America (in its origins, associated with the Russian Orthodox, but now separate and rather oriented towards converts, and any more than that I will not venture because while there is nothing more confusing in contemporary Christianity than the Anglican communion, the Orthodox come mighty close.)

Anyway, they had a festival last Saturday, which means that we finally had a chance to see the interior of the church – it’s absolutely lovely.

 

 

— 4 —

Much has been written about the terrible case of Alfie Evans. I found these two to be particularly worth the read:

Carter Snead of Notre Dame wrote a piece for the CNN site that, I would imagine, introduced the fundamental issues in an accessible way:

Is this some fictional, dystopian, totalitarian nightmare? Sadly and shamefully, no. It is the reality of the modern-day United Kingdom — a nightmare from which the parents of toddler Alfie Evans cannot awaken.
Little Alfie Evans has recently passed away, but the struggle over his treatment provoked a worldwide conflict over parental rights, how to care properly for the seriously disabled, and the appropriate role of the state in such intimate and vexed matters. What it revealed is that the law of the UK is in desperate need of revision to make room for the profoundly disabled and their loved ones who wish to care for them, despite the judgment of others that such lives of radical dependence and frailty are not worth living.

— 5 —

And then, more strongly, Stephen White at The Catholic Thing:

Margaret Thatcher famously said, “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.” That was always a rather anemic view of social life, but the way the Alfie Evans case played out, one wonders if she may have overstated the case. Are there just individuals and their interests – and the state employing experts to instruct the former in regard to the latter?

Catholics know better, or we ought to. Pope Francis grasped what was at stake in the Alfie Evans case – meeting Alfie’s father, Tom, and tweeting his steadfast support. Statements from the bishops of England and Wales were mostly of the pastoral-by-way-of-not-taking-sides; in other words, flaccid and perfunctory. Some Catholics – British writer and papal biographer, Austen Ivereigh, for example – were indignant, insisting that protests against the abrogation of parental rights were somehow evidence of libertarian contagion coming from the American Church.

“The contention,” wrote Pope Leo XIII in Rerum novarum, “that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error.” Pope Leo, it should be noted, was neither American nor libertarian.

When the ministers of the law, purporting to act in the interest of an individual, isolate that individual from the bonds of family, which are the very foundation of human society and which the law exists primarily to protect, they do violence to the individual, to the family, and to society. Again, Pope Leo put it well, “If the citizens, if the families on entering into association and fellowship, were to experience hindrance in a commonwealth instead of help, and were to find their rights attacked instead of being upheld, society would rightly be an object of detestation rather than of desire.”

Alfie Evans was treated – not as a person in full, the son of a father and mother – but as a naked individual whose dignity consists in his “interests,” and who was subject to the ministrations of impersonal forces of the state. The state made itself an object of detestation.

— 6 —

Ascension Thursday is next week. And yes, it’s still Ascension Thursday even though our episcopal betters believe us incapable of celebrating it then.


ascension_papyrus

Click on graphic or here for more on Daniel Mitsui and this piece.

Speaking of art – my friend and collaborator Ann Engelhart is on Instagram now – follow her here! 

— 7 —

Mother’s Day is a week from Sunday – have you considered this? I have loads here if you’d like a personalized copy – just go to the bookstore or email me at amywelborn60 AT gmail.com

amy-welborn-days

 

First Communion

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In New Orleans, studying Mayans. 

Today was a full day of glyph-chasing at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

And the 13-year old wasn’t even completely out of place today, since there was a high school group present for the morning session.

The workshop began with 2 hours of presentation on Mayan glyphs. Then in the

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afternoon, the workshop leaders facilitated some large-group translation.

Turns out that you can’t rest on your laurels of knowing the Mayan number system and month glyphs when playing this game….

#humilityonaLentenFriday

During lunch, we walked around City Park a bit.

We’d been there before – a couple of years ago, both boys and I came down to New Orleans for a couple of days – recounted here – and one of our favorite things was renting bikes and riding through the park.

No bikes today, but we did see a sweet little turtle in the reeds…

and a snake….

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always a good day when you see a snake. Mayans and snakes in a single day? Choice!

What we later identified as apple snail eggs.

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We wandered back inside and took in some art.

 

Here’s a Madonna and Child and Goldfinch painting. The goldfinch is often present with Madonna and Child because of its association with the Passion. The legend was that as Christ suffered with his crown of thorns, a goldfinch came and attempted to ease his suffering by plucking thorns from his brow – hence the touch of red in the bird’s plumage.

What interests me in this painting is that the goldfinch is not in the Child’s hands or even that nearby – it’s flying away.

(You probably can’t even see it – it’s on the upper left.)

I was also intrigued by this 17th century painting by one van Schreick. Called Serpents and Insects, the artist painted from his own collection of living creatures. It has a rather contemporary sensibility about it.


(My main memory of a former visit to the museum – two trips ago – was leaving my camera there. Somehow. And somehow, it was retrieved.)

The day ended with a close look at the some of the museum’s Mayan holdings, and then a not-very-penitential Lenten meal of a shrimp po-boy at the Parkway Bakery and Tavern. 

For more, and to keep up, check out Instagram

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See what I meant when I described this as a rather crazy learner-led unschooling activity?

To be honest, it’s not as if he himself did a search for “MesoAmerican history and archaeology conferences Near Me.” No, I did that part – last fall some time, not knowing until that search that Tulane has this well-established institute and a long-running conference, and that the theme of this year’s conference would be Mayan warfare (bonus points).

I presented it to him, we looked through the program and he agreed, that yes, he’d like to go.

My justification has (not surprisingly) several parts.

(Not that you are arguing with me, necessarily. Rather, I’m arguing with myself, as I always do.)

  • Parents take their kids on multi-day soccer/volleyball/baseball/gymnastics trips. They accompany their kids on the traveling sports teams journeys. This is our version of that.
  • He’s really, really interested in this stuff. This gives him exposure to the actual academic world of this discipline, and he can get a better grasp on whether or not this is something he actually wants to pursue as part of a career.
  • He’s going back to school for the 8th grade year. We must do many, many homeschooly-things before this year ends! They must be spectacularly home-schooly!
  • He probably won’t go to traditional high school. This is a trial run for that kind of life.

And now you’re thinking…what about you, Amy? What about your interests? 

Well, no I don’t have a deep interest in ancient Meso-American history. Here’s what I do have though:

  • An interest in history in general. Actually, I have such a wide net of a brain that I can manage to find something of interest and a way to connect with almost any subject matter (within reason). And if I can’t find compelling points of interest in the subject, you know, there’s always people-watching which never fails.
  • (And do remember that having a wide net of a brain means that the same brain that enjoys taking in a lot from every direction as it sweeps through the Ocean of Life also has …holes. Lots of them. As the Flannery O’Connor quote I have framed says: Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me. 
  • Even more than historical events and narrative, I’m intrigued by the fashioning of historical narrative and historiography. The Mayans are okay and all that, but what really interests me and what I have actually purchased books about of my own free will are accounts of the “rediscovery” of ancient MesoAmerican cultures, their structures and past. That whole journey of the decline of Mayan civilizations (intriguing in and of itself), the encroachment of the jungle and the the rediscoveries that began in the 19th century and continue today is just fascinating to me.
  • That thread is reflected in this conference (at least from the abstracts…we’ll see), mostly because there are constant new discoveries and the accepted wisdom of the past is being continually reevaluated. Everything you thought was true was wrong is always  going to get my attention, and there’s a lot of that in this field.

And then on a more personal level, there’s: I’m 57. He’s 13. This is what I can give him now.

Yes, my eyes glazed over at certain points today and my attention wandered and  I checked the time but it’s no different than you waiting outside of softball practice or dance lessons or taking on that extra project that you’re not crazy about so you can pay their tuition. It’s what you do, it’s what you can give now, and so, trying to balance your interests and theirs, your resources and their dreams and the good of the family, you do what you do and pray it’s the right thing for everyone, and if you discern it’s too much, you put on the brakes, you say no,  and everyone learns another kind of lesson.

Who knows what I’ll be able to give him in 5 or 10 years? But here we are now, kid. Go for it. And sure, I’ll come along. Well, I guess I have to. I am the driver, after all. 

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— 1 —

(Just had a chat with Matt Swain on the Sonrise Morning Show, centered on this post on St. Robert Bellarmine on fasting.)

This week’s work: moving closer to the finish line on one project – it has all kinds of moving targets, so there’s always something going on there. It’s interesting and it’s $$, but I’ll be glad when it’s over in a couple of weeks. As will the hard-working project managers, I’m sure.

Also this week: doing edits on the copyedited manuscript of my next book, due out in the fall from Loyola. And making some incremental progress on that other thing for which I got massively organized on Sunday. But because of a couple of early-ish appointments (dentist/orthodontist, then piano lesson moved earlier and then Friday morning a radio interview) – that early-morning work time I’ve been counting on hasn’t seen much…work.

— 2 —

I hope this coming week will be better, but considering there’s some travel coming up at the end of the week, I’m not hopeful. Okay. I’m realistic.

—3–

And where and when is that trip? Check back here and on Instagram for that. Just say…it’s probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done in the name of Learner-Led Unschooling, but because it sort of – kind of – almost falls within my own collection of interests, I don’t mind at all. Life is short, and life with your kids around is (probably) even shorter. So don’t be stingy.

–4–

You know how we always associate flamingos with Florida? How they’re on all the ashtrays and retro tablecloths and signs? Now consider this – have you ever actually seen a flamingo in Florida outside of a zoo?

Huh.

Me neither.

That’s a very good question!

So here, from – not surprisingly, Atlas Obscura – is the answer to that excellent question.

“Living in Florida, you see flamingos everywhere—in advertising, in place names, even on the logo for the state lottery—but as an actual organism, as a species, there was essentially no information available on the biology of flamingos,” said Steven Whitfield, a conservation ecologist at Zoo Miami. The birds are iconic, Whitfield says, but there’s been little information about their past and present in the state. When and how did they get to the region? What happened to them once they arrived?

The murky history spans centuries. While some 19th-century naturalists recounted dense clusters of flamingos around Florida, others were less certain about the birds’ primary strutting grounds. In the 1881 edition of his encyclopedic book, The Birds of Eastern North America, Charles Johnson Maynard notes that flamingos were rare in the Florida Keys. In fact, he wasn’t sure how plentiful they’d ever been there. Word had it that they clustered in the Keys in the summer months, while they molted—but he’d never seen one there himself.

–5 —

Recent reads: The 13-year old is taking a break from a big “school” novel this week – I’ve had him read several poems as well as Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.”

It’s a perceptive, wild story. Perhaps it will strike you as it did me: a prescient account of the logical, if unintended consequences of a social emphasis on “equality” as well as a startling reflection on the powers and uses of distraction.

— 6 —

I also read The Great Gatsby over the past couple of weeks in concert with my high schooler. I admit: I’d never actually read it (as I have emphasized to you before, I grew up in an era in which we read tomes like Jonathan Livingston Seagull in school.). I enjoyed it, and found it rather different than I expected. Less a portrait of the Jazz Age than a tragic meditation on the folly of striving after idols of all kinds. My son reports that the class (not an honors class, by the way) responded well to the novel and was consistently engaged. So that’s a sign of hope.

I’ve never seen either of the Gatsby films, although I do have strong memories of when the Redford version came out – it must have been quite the cultural event. I watched a lot of clips online, though, and it seems to me that no one has gotten it right yet, if they ever can. The leads (especially Redford, but even DiCaprio) are too old, and there’s a heaviness about both (at least in the clips) that fails to reflect the sense of the ephemeral – ephemeral possessions, ephemeral attachments, ephemeral achievements, ephemeral lives – that the novel communicates.

Also The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I’ve had a copy hanging about for years, and finally read it. It was a decent way to spend a couple of hours, although not what I expected, which was a straight-up haunting tale (I have memories of seeing the 60’s version on television when I was young – I believe at my grandparents’ house in Oklahoma – and being petrified) and more of a psychological study of the need to feel alive and real – written at the same time as Walker Percy’s Moviegoer, a novel also centered on the matter of what it means to feel real and alive in the world, it strikes me as an interesting, if odd potential pairing. Hmmm.

— 7 —

Tomorrow’s the memorial of St. Katharine Drexel. She’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

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When I feel the need to write something in this space, but can’t quite focus or mentally manage one of ideas on my huge list, I fall back into homeschooling reporting. I find that it exercises the writing reflex, but in not in a stressful way, and it has the added benefit of providing me with reassurance that yes, I am accomplishing things.

Not that I’m not writing other things. I have a Living Faith set due on Thursday – which I finished earlier today (I was in today, by the way), and work on the book continues apace. I’m not going to meet my first personal goal of having it done by 11/1, but I will get it done before Thanksgiving, which was my second-best goal. (Contract says 12/15, by the way, but I want to get it done before then.)

And no, I’ve not forgotten that objective of getting an e-book out of the Guatemala trip. I hope that after this week, I can return to that.

Anyway…about that homeschooling:

  • The unschooling goal is sort of working. Any holdup is due to the fact that there’s been so many extra activities happening since the beginning of September: Boxing and piano lessons every week – which won’t end – and then 2-hour science center classes on Tuesday and 2-hour photography classes on Thursdays. So that means that any sort-of-formal structured learning gets crammed into Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and usually just Monday and Wednesday, since Friday is turning out to be “Hey mom, can we go somewhere today?” day.
  • But we’ve had the last of the science center classes, so that frees up more time on Tuesdays. Photography class runs for the rest of October.
  • Math: Prealgebra with the Art of Problem Solving continues apace. He’s on chapter 3, working on number theory – first prime factorization, now least common multiples.
  • He wanted to learn Spanish this year, so he’s doing so. I hunted around for a decent curriculum, found what I thought was one, but I HATE IT.  Specifically, I HATE the “whole language” pedagogy. I am going to blog about this one, because it deserves a post, but wow, this is challenging. Especially since, you know, I don’t speak Spanish. I’m pretty good with languages though – I can manage French and did Latin up through two years of college, and I did take 8th grade Spanish! And helped one of my older sons learn middle-school Spanish in preparation for 8th grade, but still. This program I picked out it a hot mess, confusing and not at all intuitive, even though that is supposed to be the point – it’s supposed to be “intuitive.” It’s not. Or at least it just makes no sense.
  • Do you wonder what I’m talking about? Here’s a small example from today: introducing a construction that requires use of indirect object pronouns without ever mentioning what these new words are, defining them, or translating them. “What are those words?” “Um…I’m guessing they’re indirect object pronouns, but let’s go on the internet and see” Five minutes later, after we both read through an excellent, clear explanation on a web page – “Why can’t the book be that clear?”
  • No lo sé. Sorry.
  • He does listen to one of the local Spanish-language radio stations all the time, though, and we went to the local FIESTA last weekend, so there’s that.

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  • If he ends up not going back to brick-and-mortar school, though, this is going to have to be outsourced. He has a strong interest in Central America (for some reason) – the culture, the history and the nature – and so Spanish fits.
  • He’s read Animal Farm and Of Mice and Men. Yes, the latter is rough with a lot of cursing, and it’s definitely not a cozy readaloud, but it was a good choice for him to read. Short, but meaty. It was an easy entry to discussions about expressing themes in fiction, as well as discussions about history (the Great Depression) and geography (Steinbeck’s California).
  • I knew it was a good choice when we were discussing the first chapter and, without being prompted or asked, he started going back over Steinbeck’s descriptions of the river bed in those early scenes – the rabbits coming down to the sandy bank in the early evening, the snake’s head emerging like a periscope from the water. Those and other images stuck with him to the point he wanted to share them. It was a good opportunity to discuss what makes evocative description.
  • He’s got his own reading going on, always, but the next “school” book will be The Old Man and the Sea. We’re doing short works right now – it offers more of a sense of accomplishment. For everyone.
  • Read and discussed “To a Mouse” by Burns before he read Of Mice and Men. 
  • He memorized the poem “Bird of Night” by Randall Jarrell. 
  • History/Geography reading has been of his own choosing from our books and library books. Topics he’s read about this week have included Assyrians, the Aztecs, Indus River civilization, the origins of the Vietnam war, and short biographical entries on a few presidents..
  • Watched a few videos from The Kids Should See This and other sources, mostly on science topics: whether or not jellyfish sleep, birth of a kangaroo joey, etc.
  • Read this article and did a bit more research on whistled languages.
  • He did some quizzes of his choice from this website, and then some presidents’ quizzes that I found. Continued working on memorizing the list of presidents.
  • Religion: focus is, as per usual, on saint of the day and Mass readings of the day and the discussions that flow from that. He served at a convent retreat Mass this past Saturday and heard an excellent homily from Fr. Wade Menezes. 
  • Monday, we discussed the Nobel Prize that had been announced that day – Physiology. We haven’t had time to discuss the others, but will try to knock of that teachable moment on Friday, I guess.
  • Talked a little bit about John Cage, for some reason. I think he was on a playlist I was listening to on Spotify, and it prompted a memory and a question from music camp.
  • Going to see the symphony do Brahms Symphony 1 on Friday.
  • He did a homeschool session on clay  at the Birmingham Museum of Art today.
  • Today in his “go read some nonfiction something anything for a while” he came out and said he’d been reading about Siberian reindeer herders in, I think, National Geographic. He asked what Anthrax was. (Because the reindeer had contracted it and infected their keepers, who ate their meat raw). So he researched that for a while.
  • If you’re following along, you know that aside from his own interests, which are considerable,  his history work – such as it is – is focused on participating in the history bee again. The qualification test for that is in January. He qualified last year without much preparation, so he’s not super intense about it, but I am using it    hoping that it inspires a little more formal/disciplined study. To that end, I’ve purchased a couple of outlines of US history and he’ll be going through those with a highlighter, making sure he knows the basics.
  • Music: He’s going to be playing Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# minor at a recital in a couple of weeks. He’s learning the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Sonata #1 and starting to review the 3rd movement of Kabalevsky’s Youth Concerto, which he sort of learned last year but never well enough to perform. It’s a goal for this year. We’re contemplating the organ. Sort of.
  • He and I working on this piece, just for fun: Satie’s “Three pieces in the shape of a pear.”  Most of it is easy enough for me. We both enjoy playing it – it’s different.
  • I blew his mind when I showed him this article about John Tyler’s two living grandsons. Imagine being alive in 2017, and your grandfather had been born in 1790 and was the 10th president of the United States. Crazy. He kept bringing it up all day.
  • One trip to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for photography practice, then a jaunt to a short but interesting and varied walking trail, one which I knew existed but could never figure out how to access until I finally just asked someone. There. Done.
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