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Well, hello there. It’s been busy, hasn’t it? Click back for posts on various other subjects, including my tour of some different kind of Triduum moments here in Birmingham.  I’m Thursdayjust going to digest today. Maybe more later, but probably not.

Watching: We’ll get the negatives out of the way first. Against my better judgment and probably in violation of some moral code, I watched Veep again this week, and man, it just gets worse and worse. I don’t mean in terms of language and such – it’s always “bad” in that respect, but rather in terms of plotting and character and just the whole “humor” department, which is a problem when you’re a “comedy.” This was a total, uncomfortable mess, even more forced than usual. Bah.

Then, also against my better judgment, I finished off season 1 and the first three episodes of season 2 of Killing Eve, the trendy Show of the Moment. Why did I pick it up again after being not impressed the first time around? Well, probably because I didn’t have a book to grab me and after six days of Being With People I needed down time with fake people whose lives did not involve piano or organ lessons, thinking about exams, graduations or me preparing meals.

Verdict? No change. Well – maybe a change, since I like it even less than I did after the first viewing chunk. I continue to like all of the actors very much, but the whole thing strikes me as a shallow exercise in (feeble) wit and style. In that way, it reminds me of House of Cards which I stopped watching after season 2 because in all of the conniving, there was never anything of moral consequence at stake.  How odd that this show – which revolves around the quest to find a professional assassin, for heaven’s sake Image result for killing eve– leaves me with the same feeling. In this case, it’s not that no one is trying to stop the evil (as was the case with House of Cards – everyone was a bad guy), it’s that the reasons they’re in pursuit of this killer are so ambiguous and weird, it becomes all just no more than a psycho-sexual game. Which perhaps is the point, and not something I have an inherent objection to. No, my problem is that the motives of the primary pursuer – Eve, played by Sandra Oh – have been, since the beginning, opaque. We know little about her past, why she’s in this line of work, what’s motivated her in the past, or even what her expertise is. Here she is, for some reason, fixated on this killer. I would imagine that the conceit of a cat-and-mouse game between killer and the law could be legitimately framed in a way to bring out themes of mutual obsession and a twisted sense of desire that in some way echoes a romantic pursuit, but my problem with Eve is that whatever is there seems to come from nowhere and is, as I said, all style and no substance.

If there’s nothing human at stake, it’s hard for humans to be truly interested, and not just entertained. 

Listening:

Finally got back into In Our Time after a winter’s hiatus. Yesterday was this episode on the Great Famine with lots of interesting and balanced discussion on how to deal with humanitarian crises and the complex causes of same.

Musically, a bunch of pieces tossed out by M’s piano teacher to consider for a next piece to work on, including this, this and this. He’s settled on this Prokofiev, which is pretty crazy, but I say that at the beginning of every new piece: No way he can play that. And somehow, every time, thanks to talent, (some) hard work and an excellent teacher,  he does.

Should I write a heartfelt Instagram microblog with a photo of him at the piano to inspire you to believe in yourself, overcome challenges and achieve your goals?

Nah. 

Also, as I’ve mentioned before, this organist. We listened to several of his performances, including this 1812 Overture, this very fun Pirates of the Caribbean and this duet with a pianist of Shostakovich’s Waltz #2, which we play on the piano together.

This evening, I listened to some John Fields Piano Sonatas, which I liked very much, and then a couple of Schubert lieder, including this – why? (Since I usually don’t listen to vocal music while I’m reading – can’t concentrate) – because it was part of the book I was reading, and I wanted to fill out the atmosphere. And the book?

Reading: Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather

The only other Cather books I’ve read are the obligatory-for-Catholic-literary-types Death Comes for the Archbishop a few times and then, a couple of years ago, The Professor’s House. You can read my post about it here. Re-reading it, I can see some of the same concerns in Lucy. It’s interesting.

So first, my denseness. I saw references to this as a “novella” and so knew it wouldn’t be very long. I read it on my Kindle , but not on an actual Kindle app – from this website, with continual scrolling. No pages, and no progress bar. So I’d been reading for a while, a lot had happened, and I got to the end of the current webpage. No more scrolling. Okay. It seemed like an abrupt ending, but perhaps that was the point? I shrugged. That was interesting,  I thought.

I then turned to an article I’d skimmed earlier – this one about Joanne Woodward (sorry, NYTimes, so yes, paywall..sometimes. I find that reading things on different devices can sometimes work around those limitations), who adored this book and always hoped to make a film about it. I got to the end of the article, which described the last sentence of the novel, and I thought, Wait, what? That wasn’t the end *I* read! 

So I returned to the book and sure enough, down there on the bottom was a “next” button. The book has three “books”  – and I’d only read the first!

But by that time, I was tired, so there we have this evening’s read. Which is good, because I wasn’t ready to leave that world quite yet.

Lucy Gayheart is a young woman from a small Nebraska town who is a music student, teacher and accompanist in Chicago. The book opens with Lucy on break back home and then we quickly hop on the train with her an travel back to Chicago. I’ll write a full post on it when I finish, but for now, I’ll mention a few things:

Yes, Willa Cather was a woman, a female writer, but even so, reading a book like this is a useful corrective to the narrow-mindedness of the present, a constrained and ignorant vision of the past in which we imagine a world peopled with gender stereotypes all happily lived and perpetuated by stock male and female characters, waiting for Betty and Gloria to liberate them.

No. Lucy is a person  – fully drawn, person who has an independent life there in the early 20th century, living on her own in the big city, earning her keep – and it’s fine. Yes, there is a sense, hovering here and there, that after this little adventure, she’ll end up back home, domesticated, giving lessons to children in the front parlor – but that’s of a piece, really, with the life trajectories of all the characters, male and female. I don’t know how the book ends yet (I keep reading “sad” in reviews, so….) but I’m going to guess that many of the characters are going to be bumping up against disappointment and constraints – not just the women.

Secondly, a few passages that were striking and beautiful. This one took my breath away, as Cather describes an experience in which Lucy catches a hint of the transcendent on one cold, crisp night:

Lucy felt drowsy and dreamy, glad to be warm. The sleigh was such a tiny moving spot on that still white country settling into shadow and silence. Suddenly Lucy started and struggled under the tight blankets. In the darkening sky she had seen the first star come out; it brought her heart into her throat. That point of silver light spoke to her like a signal, released another kind of life and feeling which did not belong here. It overpowered her. With a mere thought she had reached that star and it had answered, recognition had flashed between. Something knew, then, in the unknowing waste: something had always known, forever! That joy of saluting what is far above one was an eternal thing, not merely something that had happened to her ignorance and her foolish heart.

The flash of understanding lasted but a moment. Then everything was confused again. Lucy shut her eyes and leaned on Harry’s shoulder to escape from what she had gone so far to snatch. It was too bright and too sharp. It hurt, and made one feel small and lost.

On the train, on the way to Chicago:

Lucy undressed quickly, got into her berth, and turned off the lights. At last she was alone, lying still in the dark, and could give herself up to the vibration of the train, — a rhythm that had to do with escape, change, chance, with life hurrying forward. That sense of release and surrender went all over her body; she seemed to lie in it as in a warm bath. Tomorrow night at this time she would be coming home from Clement Sebastian’s recital. In a few hours one could cover that incalculable distance; from the winter country and homely neighbours, to the city where the air trembled like a tuning-fork with unimaginable possibilities.

Finally, this – a passage in which, to use the current lingo, I felt seen. I mean – that feeling of having one’s own life, of being able to set things right without being bothered. That’s everyone’s notion of paradise, right? Right? 

The next morning Lucy was in Chicago, in her own room, unpacking and putting her things to rights. She lived in a somewhat unusual manner; had a room two flights up over a bakery, in one of the grimy streets off the river.

When she first came to Chicago she had stayed at a students’ boarding-house, but she didn’t like the pervasive informality of the place, nor the Southern gentlewoman of fallen fortunes who conducted it. She told her teacher, Professor Auerbach, that she would never get on unless she could live alone with her piano, where there would be no gay voices in the hall or friendly taps at her door. Auerbach took her out to his house, and they consulted with his wife. Mrs. Auerbach knew exactly what to do. She and Lucy went to see Mrs. Schneff and her bakery.

The Schneff bakery was an old German landmark in that part of the city. On the ground floor was the bake shop, and a homely restaurant specializing in German dishes, conducted by Mrs. Schneff. On the top floor was a glove factory. The three floors between, the Schneffs rented to people who did not want to take long leases; travelling salesmen, clerks, railroad men who must be near the station. The food in the bakery downstairs was good enough, and there were no table companions or table jokes. Everyone had his own little table, attended to his own business, and read his paper. Lucy had taken a room here at once, and for the first time in her life she could come and go like a boy; no one fussing about, no one hovering over her. There were inconveniences, to be sure. The lodgers came and went by an open stairway which led up from the street beside the front door of the restaurant; the winter winds blew up through the halls — burglars might come, too, but so far they never had. There was no parlour in which Lucy could receive callers. When she went anywhere with one of Auerbach’s students, the young man waited for her on the stairway, or met her in the restaurant below.

This morning Lucy was glad as never before to be back with her own things and her own will. After she had unpacked, she arranged and rearranged; nothing was too much trouble. The moment she had shut the door upon the baggage man, she seemed to find herself again. Out there in Haverford she had scarcely been herself at all; she had been trying to feel and behave like someone she no longer was; as children go on playing the old games to please their elders, after they have ceased to be children at heart.

Oh, yes, the Melville – The Confidence-Man.  I read two or three chapters and then put it down. I read a few articles about the book and decided that was good enough. I could see that if my interests were slightly different, it would be worth my time, but as such – it’s not right now. 

 

Writing: Not very productive, other than blog posts. Unfortunately. Well, writing-related – it’s my Black Friday season, the time in which my author sales ranking reaches its peak for the year – between Easter and Mother’s Day, essentially. 

 

I did start collating book-related posts on this page. 

Also writing: Movie and fiction-writing son. Lots of posts here, including thoughts on silent comedies, as well as the French film Jean de Florette. 

Today’s the feast of St. Mark. We’re obviously still within the Easter Octave, so we don’t commemorate in liturgically, but here’s the page on the symbols for the four evangelists from The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols anyway:

EPSON MFP image

 

Cooking! 

No big Easter dinner here. I didn’t cook – we went to Buffalo Wild Wings. Yup! No shame.

img_20190421_113842-1But I did contribute to the cause by spending a lot of time making a pound cake on Saturday, for post-Vigil celebration. It was a great pound cake – I followed the recipe exactly and it worked well. 

Also did some Chicken Tinga from this recipe – I think last Thursday. 

Monday night: Flank steak using this rub (and steak just a bit more expensive, from Fresh Market rather than the regular grocery story. So much more flavor) and these potatoes, which are a favorite around here. 

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The introvert is recovering from over a week of not-solitude. I’ll get there.

MondayLast week was spring break in these parts, and we stuck around. Our one adventure was a day trip to Cheaha State Park, chronicled here. It was fine. Older son worked, younger son got a lot of music in, we had some family visitors. Nothing wrong with staying home and not spending a lot of money.

We have a great deal of travel coming up – still trying to figure out the parameters of Spain in June – and of course, there’s next year Roadschooling, so yeah.

Anyway, to a digest.

Watching: Lots of basketball, of course. People around here are ecstatic about Auburn, but the Vol and Gator in this house keep their distance.

We did watch the film Inception – which I’d never seen. I hadn’t intended to watch it, either, partly because I don’t like Leo, but also because I was convinced that I would end up simply letting confusing images wash over me for two hours. But I ended up sitting there, anyway, and mostly understood it, but it also left me mostly indifferent to the characters’ fates – I mean…they were in mental spaces, right?  

It was mildly thought-provoking on the subject of the power of ideas, which was, I suppose, the intention. The youngest came into my room some time after the movie was over, puzzling over one aspect of it, and said, I just can’t stop thinking about it…

To which, of course, I had to respond…So..it’s like someone implanted it in your brain???

In this category, I suppose I’ll put the two minutes it took to watch the trailer to the new Mary Magdalene movie. Here it is.

Just FYI, this movie has been out for a year in other countries, so reviews are easy to find. Here’s one from the Australian Catholic Conference and here’s one from an independent Catholic website.

My take, just from the trailer? I’m up for Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, but I’d also probably watch Joaquin Phoenix as  Queen Elizabeth, so take that into consideration. But of course, from the trailer and the reviews, the movie seems to get a zillion things wrong or weirdly interpreted. The effect of this seems to be, as it so often is, the ironic outcome of trying to be more contemporary, less traditional and straying from the narrative as we have it is a flattening of the story that buries the truly radical nature of both Jesus’ treatment of women and his message in general.

It’s an interesting take – Luke tells us that MM was possessed by seven demons (the number seven being, in part, symbolic of completeness). Jesus freed her from those demons and in response, she followed him – but not alone. In Luke 8, she’s described as being a part of a group of women who became disciples. The movie renders this “possession” as a social construct: MM doesn’t want to follow traditional female norms, so, of course, everyone thinks she’s crazy.

As I said – sticking with the Scriptures would seem to me to be far more compelling.

Hey! Here’s a book on Mary Magdalene!

Cooking: Since we didn’t travel for spring break, we traveled through area restaurants. I didn’t cook much, but the kitchen is seeing life again today.  For some reason, I keep thinking I’m out of celery when I go to the grocery store, but I never am, so one of the goals for today is Use All the Celery.

A thrilling prospect for my customers, I’m sure.

Reading: 

My son on some weird movie. 

It’s almost like there is a lesson, and that there is evil in the world that can’t be accommodated. Invite the evil in, treat it kindly, and it will still have no objective other than to destroy you. The only thing to do is to prevent evil from coming into your house.

Over the weekend, I read the novel Talk to Me by John Kenney. Why this? The usual – I was in the “new books” section of the library, read the description and the blurbs, and felt it might be worth a look. It was – a very quick read that I finished in the space of twenty-four hours and enjoyed quite a bit.

The plot: A nationally-known and beloved television news anchorman is recorded doing something bad just before a broadcast. Nothing sexual, just – very abusive and hurtful. Of course, it goes viral, and the book is about contemporary internet culture and society through the prism of that fallout. It’s complicated and enriched by family matters – the anchor’s adult daughter works for a Buzzfeed – type outfit and has her own deep issues with her father. If the plot only existed on the level of viral video, memes and comments sections, we wouldn’t have much here. But the family and relational elements give it a necessary and even moving depth and raise questions quite fundamental to this whole wretched scene – as in: why can’t we just live in privacy and peace….well…why don’t we live like this? Why do we choose to subject ourselves to the online life and how does it change us?

The book is easy and amusing and, as I said, even moving at points. What interested me, as it would, is that ONCE AGAIN, a fictional protagonist accesses hints of a way forward in this terrible situation via the sounds, symbols and just simple existence of Catholic things. It’s not ham-handed or painfully direct, but it’s definitely there. His thoughts about seeking forgiveness coalesce as he stumbles into a church, and then a sense of his unity with struggling, weak humanity comes to him as he’s walking around the city, observing people…with Gregorian chant playing in his earbuds.

Trust it. Trust that faith we’ve been given, try to live it and let it live in the world. People are looking for it.

Writing: 

Back to work. I have Living Faith stuff due this week. 

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— 1 —

In case you only visit here on Fridays, or this is your first time, do click back through the past few days. I’ve been posting almost every day (well…except yesterday…)

IMG_20190105_111123We are at the tail end of a marathon of piano lessons. Over the past eight days, he’ll have had his two regularly scheduled jazz lessons and four regular piano lessons. The reason is that his regular teacher is in grad school now, out of state, and has been back home for the break – so we’re trying to get as much in-person lesson time in as we can before we have to return to the adequate, but not optimal video lessons.

Phew. And at some point we need to get back to the pipe organ – hopefully in the next couple of weeks.

Other than that we are all about basketball, bagging groceries, one of us prepping to go to DC for the March for Life and two last semesters commencing: one last semester of high school, and one last semester of eighth grade – possibly, probably and hopefully the last semester of traditional school in these parts, period.

Please, God.

— 2 —

Last week, I noted the flood of new works entering the public domain in 2019. Well, here’s a list of a few medieval-related books in the group. Maybe you’ll find something interesting? 

—3–

Also medieval-related, and from the same site: A Medieval Man’s New Year’s Resolutions:

In the diary of Gregorio Dati, an Italian merchant born in the fourteenth century, we can see resolutions tied to this urge to face a new year as a better man in an entry dated January 1, 1404.

While modern people’s resolutions – at least those we voice aloud – tend to target our shortcomings around food and exercise, Dati’s resolutions aim at how he wishes to be a better Christian. He writes, “since my birth forty years ago, I have given little heed to God’s commandments,” and his three resolutions are aimed at rectifying this. First, Dati says,

I resolve from this day forward to refrain from going to the shop or conducting business on solemn Church holidays, or from permitting others to work for me or seek temporal gain on such days.

Next,

I resolve from this very day and in perpetuity to keep Friday as a day of total chastity – with Friday I include the following night – when I must abstain from the enjoyment of all carnal pleasures.

And finally,

I resolve this day to do a third thing while I am in health and able to, remembering that each day we need Almighty God to provide for us. Each day I wish to honour God by some giving of alms or by the recitation of prayers or some other pious act.

These are all things that Dati knows should already be a regular part of his life, but that he hasn’t had much success with. His everyday struggle to do what he should is a familiar one in a world in which we continue to make and break our own New Year’s resolutions.

 

–4–

Peter Hitchens has an excellent, balanced look at Francisco Franco in the pages of First Things. 

This was a promise he fulfilled: Death alone could remove him. A man who had been the contemporary of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Churchill, and Roosevelt held doggedly on to power into the age of Gerald R. Ford and Leonid Brezhnev. When he went, everything he stood for turned to dust, like a mummy exposed to fresh air after thousands of years sealed beneath a pyramid. The Spanish Christian civilization that Solzhenitsyn admired had been preserved but not saved. It crumbled into a heap of dust and spiders’ webs immediately after the caudillo made his final journey from his stuffy palace to his gigantic, hubristic tomb at the Valley of the Fallen. If Franco had been the preserver of Christian Spain, it is interesting to go there now and see how completely it has disappeared. Every element of the 1960s, from sexual liberation to ­marijuana, swept across Spain and, above all, Madrid, not long after ­Franco’s last breath. If he had truly been the preserver of faith and restraint, would they not have survived him in better condition?

What should Christians do about politics? How do we defend what we love without making false alliances with cynical powers? Civil wars are generally disastrous for law, legitimacy, and religion. Elaborate formulas must be devised to forget or bury the recent past. In England, the restored King Charles II passed the marvelously named Act of Indemnity and Oblivion in 1660, in which the whole lawless period of Oliver Cromwell’s republic was legally forgotten. The U.S. must often wish it could come up with a similar formula to spread soft oblivion over the unending resentments of the defeated Confederacy. In Spain, they turned to the monarchy.

But that restoration, Christian in form if not in outcome, only underlined the origins of Franco’s “monarchy without royalty.” The caudillo had been careful to keep Spanish monarchists at a distance, or under his thumb. His rule was not Christian or lawful and could not possibly draw its authority from God, however much Franco might have liked it to. Its origins lay in violent rebellion against the legitimate government, always hard to square with scriptural views of authority. Franco’s state rested on a foundation of bayonets. The caudillo himself may have been inseparable from the relic of the incorruptible hand of Santa Teresa de Jesús, which accompanied him everywhere. But his government, in his own words to his tame parliament in 1961, was built on what he called “an armed plebiscite.” He explained that “a nation on a war footing is a final referendum, a vote that cannot be bought, a membership that is sealed with the offering of one’s life. So I believe that never in the history of Spain was a state more legitimate, more popular and most representative than that we began to forge almost a quarter of a century ago.” Surely, this strange formula, in which the shedding of blood is deemed superior to the casting of a peaceful ballot, shows how much Franco the Catholic was troubled by his lack of real legitimacy, and the impossibility of his obtaining it as long as he ruled.

–5 —

Yes, I am going to write about St. Denis. I just need a bit of mental space. It’s a topic that will quickly spin in all kinds of directions, and I want to keep it simple.

Well, here’s a link to some scholarly writing on a different topic: “What the People Want: Popular Support for Catholic Reform in the Veneto”

The abstract:

Through examination of the unusually rich sources produced by a late seventeenth-century bishop of Padua, the author argues that investigating voluntary devotional practices can demonstrate the spiritual priorities of early-modern laypeople. Seventeenth-century rural Paduan parishes experienced both an increase in interest in various devotions and a shift in their focus that reflect the priorities of Catholic
Reform. Parishioners eagerly participated in the catechism schools promoted by the Council of Trent (1545–63) and enthusiastically adopted
saints promoted by the post-Tridentine Church, demonstrated by their
pious bequests, dedication of altars, and membership in confraternities.
At the same time, traditional devotions also flourished. Although gauging lay interest in reforms in general is difficult and contentious, the author demonstrates that at least when it came to their voluntary practices, rural Paduans were engaged in Catholic Reform and supported a vibrant Catholic culture.

Obscure? Perhaps. Irrelevant? Not at all.

If you are even a bit of a regular reader, you know that I frequently nag you to read some history when you can. It’s an invaluable tonic for despair in the present situation, and it helps inoculate us against unrealistic senses of the past.

So you know how we’re always hearing about “reform” and how important it is, as a church to be open to reform and change? Well, duh. The church’s history is one of reform and response to changing conditions, so in order to understanding how to properly engage in a reform in the present day in a way that’s faithful and effective – it helps to look at the past. This look at a rather narrow slice of history – how reports of episcopal visitations reflect Paduan’s acceptance of post-Tridentine reforms – tells us a great deal about that. I admit that I skimmed through most of the quantitative data, but it’s aptly summarized in the text.

This activity and enthusiasm for participating in parish life is seen
across rural Padua, and both the prevalence and specifics of lay participation demonstrate the areas within the parochial sphere that captured the
hearts of rural laypeople. Rural laity evinced enthusiasm for devotions to
the Holy Sacrament, the rosary, and a variety of other devotions connected
to reform—particularly those of a Marian or Christocentric nature. They
were also eager to support the spread of catechism and the Catholic education of village children. At the same time, they maintained their interest
in time-honored traditions, continuing to support local devotions and their
parish church itself. Lay spirituality in rural parishes, the same kind of
places often bemoaned by reformers as “our Indies,” was vibrant, active,
and orthodox rather than repressed, lackluster, or tinged with heterodoxy.
Some of this was simply continuity from the pre-Reformation era, but as
the comparison between Ormaneto’s and Barbarigo’s records demonstrates, the seventeenth century saw not only a shift in devotions but also a
general flourishing of both reformed and traditional spiritual practices.

So maybe reform can happen?

Oh, and maybe it was possible for the laity to have an informed, vibrant faith before the Second Vatican Council? Perhaps?

–6–

I was very gratified to read Emily Nussbaum’s dissenting view on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel I’m right there with her. 

So I tried to open my heart to Season 2. People grow, people change—even critics, even shows. But the season begins with a tooth-rottingly twee trip to Paris, followed by a cloying trip to the Catskills, a setting far better served by “Dirty Dancing.” It veers from one inconsistent family plot to another, with a baffling focus on Joel, who screws around but finds no one who lives up to his ex. (Despite its feminist theme, “Mrs. Maisel” has more one-line bimbos than “Entourage.”) There’s loads of ethnic shtick, from chain-smoking Frenchies to an Italian family singing “Funiculì, Funiculà.” Things perk up whenever the focus shifts to the salty, bruised Susie, a scrapper from the Rockaways—but even her plots are marred by dese-and-dose mobsters.

 

–7–

All right. 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!

Oh, and look for me in Living Faith on Sunday. You’ll be able to find it here. 

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

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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!

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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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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.

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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?

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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.


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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

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

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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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