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— 1 —

Very quick, mostly about what I’ve read recently.

Monday is Presidents’ Day – Kevin Williamson inveighs against it, and I resonate with his inveighing:

The president of the United States is the chief officer of the federal bureaucracy, the head of one branch of a government that has three co-equal branches. Strictly speaking, it is not given to him even to make law, but only to see to the enforcement of the laws passed by Congress (and maybe to veto one here and there) and to appoint appropriate people, like the former CEO of Carl’s Jr., to high federal offices. In the legislative branch, the House of Representatives is the accelerator and the Senate is the brake; the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are pretty much all brake; the presidency is a kind of hybrid, sometimes pressing for needful reform and action, sometimes standing in Congress’s way when it is rash or overly ambitious. The architecture of our constitutional order is a complicated and delicate balance.

 But the president is not the tribune of the plebs. He is not a sacred person or the holder of a sacred office. He is neither pontifex nor imperator. He is not the spiritual distillation of the republic or the personification of our national ideals and values. (Thank God Almighty.) He is not even primus inter pares like the chief justice of the Supreme Court or the Patriarch of Constantinople. He is the commander-in-chief in time of war (which, since we have abandoned the advice of Washington and Eisenhower, is all of the time, now) and the chief administrator of the federal bureaucracy. That is it.

He is not a ruler.

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Good stuff from the Federalist on Common Core. A primer, if you will:

As I detail in full footnoted glory in my book out soon, Common Core’s own founding documents specifically invite federal involvement. Its success as a national program is directly attributable to federal involvement in education, period. Common Core’s creators and funders worked hand-in-glove with the Obama administration, right down to transferring personnel and regular alignment phone calls, to impose it upon the nation and link it to every major federal and state education policy (data collection, teacher preparation and certification, school rating systems, curriculum, testing). The new law replacing No Child Left Behind codifies the federal government as the ultimate review board for state testing and curriculum policies, a Clinton-era policy that made Common Core possible.

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If you are interested in educational issues, and not necessarily from a religious perspective, the libertarian magazine/website Reason looks at the issue of school choice regularly and has a good library of articles, found here. 

My mantra, in case you’ve never heard it: more schools of all different types for all different kinds of students. 

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I have so many notes headed “PF” with many words attached, but since every day brings a new development, what I was sure was most important yesterday inevitably fades with the dawn of a new day, every day, without fail.

So I’ll be lazy and offer this excellent analysis of a bit of the current situation from First Things: 

It can be no surprise, then, that the sacraments are under renewed attack. For the sacraments are the means by which the Church is ordered and by which she distinguishes, on a practical level, between good and evil. (What is the point of forbidding the evil of divorce, if not to uphold the good of marriage and its witness to the covenant of our salvation? What is the point of forbidding suicide and euthanasia, if not to uphold the sanctity of life and the good of honoring the Lord and Giver of Life?) The sacraments, of course, are much more than that. They are instruments of grace by which God communicates to us his own life through participation in our Lord Jesus Christ. They are not rewards for goodness, but the means of sharing in the God who is good. That is why they are holy sacraments, and it is their very holiness that makes them the object of attack.

— 5 —.

Earlier this week, I finished La Dolce Vita Confidential – if you’re interested in Italian pop culture and the movies, you’ll enjoy this. The writing was excellent, and Levy does a great job of excavating a cultural moment and helping us see how these moments just don’t happen – there are streams that are flowing that join to make the river…and then disperse again. For just a few years, Italy was everything, and then it was England’s moment and so life goes on.

I will admit that I have never actually seen La Dolce Vita, and will probably remedy that soon. There were a few other films discussed in the book that picqued my interest – for example, this early Sophia Loren-Marcello Mastroianni collaboration called Too Bad She’s Bad. 

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There were a few more rabbit holes inspired by the text – various other movies, a purported, but false Marian apparition and this song:

 

Levy just mentions it offhand, as being inspired by the death/perhaps suicide of a Sicilian nobleman, who jumped/was pushed from a building on Via Veneto. I found it mesmerizing and haunting:

Who could it be,
that man in a tailcoat?
 
Bonne nuit, bonne nuit, goodnight,
he keeps telling everything,
the lighted lamps,
a cat in love
that goes by wandering.
 
Now dawn has finally come,
lamps are turned off,
and the whole city
wakes up little by little,
moon has got stuck,
suprised, pale,
it will disappear in the sky
fading away.
 
A window yawns
on the silent river
and in the white light
a top hat, a flower and a tailcoat
float away.
 
Gently floating,
cradled by the waves,
he slowly flows down
under bridges towards the sea,
towards the sea he goes.
 
Who could it be, who could it be,
that man in a tailcoat?
 
Adieu, adieu, farewell world,
farewell to memories of the past,
to a dream never dreamt,
to an instant of love
that will never come back.

…and then further rabbit holes led me to the fact that the singer/songwriter was Domenio Modugno whose main claim to fame was the Eurovision-competing (but not winning) Volare! which we all know from the car and the commercials,  (very funny to watch that commercial and see the boat that’s touted as a fabulous new “small car”) if not from the many covers of the song, including one by Dean Martin, but honestly, take a look at the video, read the borderline surreal lyrics and understand why the Internet is both the life and the death of me.

I think, such a dream
Will never return.
I painted hands and face in the blue
And then suddenly the wind kidnapped me
And I began to fly in an infinite sky.
To fly,
To sing
In the blue, painted in the blue,
I am happy to be above.

— 7 —

Forgive me for repeating this Take from last week…but..it still pertains, don’t you think?

amy-welborn66Lent is coming! Here’s a post from yesterday with links to all my Lent-related material.

The past two weeks, I’ve seen a spike in hits for  this post – and I’m glad to see it.

It’s a 2015 post on one of the most inexplicable post-Vatican II liturgical changes (and..there’s a lot of competition on that score) – the total obliteration of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays – the three Sundays preceding the First Sunday of Lent. So for those who celebrate the Extraordinary Form and some Anglicans, I understand, February 19 is Sexagesima Sunday. From a Dappled Things article I cite in the post:

In the chapter titled “The History of Septuagesima,” Dom Guéranger added, “The Church, therefore, has instituted a preparation for the holy time of Lent. She gives us the three weeks of Septuagesima, during which she withdraws us, as much as may be, from the noisy distractions of the world, in order that our hearts may be the more readily impressed by the solemn warning she is to give us, at the commencement of Lent, by marking our foreheads with ashes.”

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

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You all know how this sort of entry begins: I was poking around the Internet looking for a public domain book to read

..and I found the first few pages of The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. It grabbed my interest, but it was late at night, so I made a mental note to see if the library had it.

And yes, it did.

Last night I settled down with it, and revisited, for the first time in a long time, that wonderful – wonderful – feeling of having a real book in hand and thinking, I’m going to read this tonight.  As in: read from beginning to end, start and finish, and long after everyone has gone to sleep, I’ll be in dialogue with an intelligent companion, listening to her story.

It is not a long book, but even so, I almost didn’t finish it – I got quite tired at the end, but did manage it, although the next day (today) I did have to refresh my memory with the last "amy welborn"few pages as to how it all came out.

It’s a bit of an odd book. It seems a touch cobbled together, which, in a way, it was, considering one element of the story took shape in Cather’s mind long before the framing story. The description on the cover of the edition I got from the library says The story of a cloistered scholar’s discover of his own soul through contact with the world of reality.

Well, okay. Sort of.

I really hate summarizing plots, so I will let someone else do that part of it. From Goodreads:

On the eve of his move to a new, more desirable residence, Professor Godfrey St. Peter finds himself in the shabby study of his former home. Surrounded by the comforting, familiar sights of his past, he surveys his life and the people he has loved — his wife Lillian, his daughters, and Tom Outland, his most outstanding student and once, his son-in-law to be. Enigmatic and courageous—and a tragic victim of the Great War — Tom has remained a source of inspiration to the professor. But he has also left behind him a troubling legacy which has brought betrayal and fracture to the women he loves most.

I experienced this novel as a meditation – a meditation on the relationship between scientific understanding, technological development and the rest of life. A meditation on the purpose of our life’s activities. It has a touch of idealized romanticism that almost makes it veer off-course, but not quite. The characters do not quite work as one-hundred percent realized human beings – they all seem to stand for something more than exist in the real world, but I found Cather’s writing powerful enough, especially in descriptions of landscape and the tenacity with which she excavates the professor’s inner life  – to let it go.

What I saw here were characters who have lost touch with the spiritual, not in the sense that they have lost faith mediated by religious institutions, but simply in that they are materialists: they have forgotten that life on earth and the earth itself are more than what our senses tell us.  We know more about how it all works and we can manipulate it with great efficiency and profit from what we do with the things of the earth, but none of that connects us with what is most real.

And although Cather herself was not Catholic, it is, as it usually is for her, Catholicism that offers the alternative. The rather mysterious inspiration for much of what happens, whom we know died in the Great War before the events of the novel commence, is Tom Outland, orphaned as a young man in  the Southwest. He is taken care of by a kind family, works hard for a railroad company, then has a profound spiritual epiphany out in the wilderness, when he encounters the remnants of ancient civilizations in a fictional place that was inspired by the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. That initially inchoate sensibility is then helped along and given form by a Belgian missionary priests who takes Tom under his wing and teaches him, simply Latin, the knowledge of which – and the readings in Virgil and so on he has done – are all he takes with him when he shows up at the professor’s house.

Even more importantly, I think, is the character of Augusta. She is a German seamstress who shares the attic space in the professor’s old house. She sews for the family during the day, and her patterns and dress form keep the professor company at night while he works there, his preferred space to that more formal study down in the family home. She is a sensible, forthright woman, and a Catholic.

The two of them have an understanding. The novel begins with the two of them bantering, and ends with them in the same room, one having rescued the other. They have both done good work in that room, with all of its flaws, a room that was less than ideal for both of them. What happens in between the first chapter and the final is the end of one stage of life, a recognition of its goodness and its limitations and a hint of how to move forward. For the professor, the Catholic seamstress represents a way:

If he had thought of Augusta sooner, he would have got up from the couch sooner. Her image would have at once suggested the proper action.

It is a bit of a challenge to unpack that without revealing what incident precedes it, and I actually saw it coming from the beginning…call it Chekov’s gas heater…but I don’t want to spoil it too much, in case you are moved to read the novel. The point is that nothing else in his life, not his loving family, not his successful career, prompted him to dig down and keep living – except for Augusta, sitting there with her prayer book.

The professor has come to a point in his life in which nothing in the present really engages him. He’s done. But, that glimmer:

There was still Augusta, however; a world full of Augustas, with whom one was outward bound.

I hasten to add that this is not romantic – Augusta functions as a symbol of the spiritual reality of life, a reality that is not about dreams or phantasms, but about the spiritual dimension of life – any life, even one spent stitching drapes, tending to a home, and faithfully, quietly, going to Mass.

The professor is changed. He’s not in ecstasy, he’s not George in It’s a Wonderful Life. He just knows something, he knows something real, and “At least, he felt the ground under his feet.”

There are “plot points” that aren’t wrapped up. There’s not a lot of resolution here. But it’s a book that gave me quite a bit to think about as Cather roams through the professor’s consciousness, and then with him and the other characters through the upper Midwest, Europe and the Southwest. And there’s this, which you might appreciate – it’s from one of the professor’s lectures:

I don’t myself think much of science as a phase of human development. It has given us a lot of ingenious toys; they take our attention away from the real problems, of course, and since the problems are insoluble, I suppose we ought to be grateful for distraction. But the fact is, the human mind, the individual mind, has always been made more interesting by dwelling on the old riddles, even if it makes nothing of them. Science hasn’t given us any new amazements, except of the superficial kind we get from witnessing dexterity and sleight-of-hand. It hasn’t given us any richer pleasures, as the Renaissance did, nor any new sins-not one! Indeed, it takes our old ones away. It’s the laboratory, not the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world. You’ll agree there is not much thrill about a physiological sin. We were better off when even the prosaic matter of taking nourishment could have the magnificence of a sin. I don’t think you help people by making their conduct of no importance-you impoverish them. As long as every man and woman who crowded into the cathedrals on Easter Sunday was a principal in a gorgeous drama with God, glittering angels on one side and the shadows of evil coming and going on the other, life was a rich thing. The king and the beggar had the same chance at miracles and great temptations and revelations. And that’s what makes men happy, believing in the mystery and importance of their own little individual lives. It makes us happy to surround our creature needs and bodily instincts with as much pomp and circumstance as possible. Art and religion (they are the same thing, in the end, of course) have given man the only happiness he has ever had.

 

 

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The following will be rather mindless because I’ve just spend five hours at an academic competition (going on to nationals in June! Joy.) which stressed this introvert out, but I have work to finish up tomorrow morning, so I want to knock this out  tonight….

Yes, I’ve been doing some work this week, and it’s kind of odd and refreshing because the work isn’t a Big Project. It’s a small project that I should be able to knock off in a few days, and I will, but one that still stretches me just a bit because it is, indeed, small.

It’s more challenging to write succinctly and meaningfully than you might think. But it’s my favorite kind of challenge.

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The  other project I’m working on involves seeing if  a collection of talks from a conference can be shaped into a book. We’ll see….

Speaking of talks…I have one! Now that everyone is getting older, I’ve started accepting speaking invitations again..the next one will be an inservice/retreat thingy for Catholic school teachers a couple of hours away, and I’m looking forward to it. Also, Ann Engelhart and I will be speaking up on Long Island somewhere in early June…more on that when they finish up the PR materials.

— 3—

Recent reads:

Tuesday night, I read the novel The Risen by Ron Rash. It was the most interesting-looking book on the “fiction new releases” shelf at the library. It was short – really, probably novella-length, and it was a good way to spend a couple of hours. The plot involved two brothers, and an incident that had happened almost fifty years before with a teenaged girl. I kept thinking of Rectify as I read, since a long-ago crime involving a teenage female victim is at the heart of that, too.

The fundamental issue at hand was….how can we even try to compensate for the wrong that we have done? What is the relationship between the wrong things and the good that we do with our lives later? Does one cancel out the other – in either direction? A knotty problem, indeed. Artfully written, yes, and it certainly held my attention for a couple of hours and moved me a bit in the end, but at the same time there was a mannered aspect about it that ultimately left me cold. Well, not cold, but cooler than I feel I should have been left.

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Drifting about at the library the other day, I picked up a book of Maugham stories. Took it home, and read On the Internet that the one with the most startling titles, “The Hairless Mexican,” was considered one of Maugham’s best. So I read it, could see the “twist” about 2/3 of the way through, and then felt that the “twist” could have been handled much more subtly. As in…the hammer wasn’t necessary. So that was enough of that.

— 5 —.

This was on the “new releases” shelf, too,  so I had to grab it. As of this writing, I’m only about 60 pages in, but am thoroughly enjoying it, and not just Because Rome. I read a lot of social history and history of pop culture, and so far, this is one of the best. One of the flaws of modern writing on these matters is the authorial voice is usually way too intrusive, presuming that the reason we’re reading this book is that we’re super interested in the author’s relationship to the subject matter, when honestly guys, we’re not. This is free of that narcissism, and is quite enjoyable and briskly, yet solidly written. Full report next week.

— 6 —

Miss McKenzie! She found love! So exciting. Okay, not exciting. But a very satisfying read, even though none of her suitors, even the one she eventually accepted, were worthy of her. I’ve decided to immerse myself in Trollope for a time. What I find interesting and instructive is the forthrightness of the issues at hand – namely the restrictions and limitations in which the characters live, mostly financial in nature. We like to think that in our day, we make our choices freely, constrained only by our own lack of self-worth or society’s failure to accept us as we are. None of this in Trollope: your choices are limited, clearly, by how much money and property you have and by your gender. This is your life, as it is.  What will you make of it? Very thought-provoking.

— 7 —

Forgive me for repeating this Take from last week…but..it still pertains, don’t you think?

amy-welborn66Lent is coming! Here’s a post from yesterday with links to all my Lent-related material.

The past two weeks, I’ve seen a spike in hits for  this post – and I’m glad to see it.

It’s a 2015 post on one of the most inexplicable post-Vatican II liturgical changes (and..there’s a lot of competition on that score) – the total obliteration of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays – the three Sundays preceding the First Sunday of Lent. So for those who celebrate the Extraordinary Form and some Anglicans, I understand, February 12 is Septuagesima Sunday. From a Dappled Things article I cite in the post:

In the chapter titled “The History of Septuagesima,” Dom Guéranger added, “The Church, therefore, has instituted a preparation for the holy time of Lent. She gives us the three weeks of Septuagesima, during which she withdraws us, as much as may be, from the noisy distractions of the world, in order that our hearts may be the more readily impressed by the solemn warning she is to give us, at the commencement of Lent, by marking our foreheads with ashes.”

 Also: tomorrow (February 11) is the celebration of Our Lady of Lourdes. Want to read more about Mary? How about this free book – Mary and the Christian Life.  And St. Bernadette? She’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints. 
Oh and…did you get the mass email from EWTN tying into…the Feast of the Immaculate Conception? Oops.

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

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Today’s my day in Living Faith, so he’s mentioned.

Also, if you have seen Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series, you know that Aquinas is featured. Here’s a teaser:

I wrote the prayer book that accompanies the series, and so did several chapters on Thomas.  There are no excerpts available online, as far as I can tell, but here’s a couple of paragraphs from the first chapter:

Catholicism is not all theology. It is caritas . It is sacrament, communion, art, family life, religious life, the saints. It is all of this and more, but what we can’t help but notice is that even these seemingly uncomplicated aspects of the disciples’ lives lead to questions. What is “love” and what is it proper for me to love and in what way? How does Jesus come to meet me through the sacraments of his Body, the Church? How do I know the Scriptures that I’m supposed to be living by are God’s Word? God is all-good, why does evil and seemingly unjust suffering exist? How can I sense God’s movement and will in the world, in my own life? And what is the difference?  Theological questions, every one of them.

So our own spiritual lives, like Thomas’ call for balance. Emphasizing the intellect too much, I find a cave in which to hide, avoid relationship and communion with God and others.  But in disparaging theology, I reject the life of the mind, a mind created by God to seek and know him, just as much as my heart is. I may even avoid tough questions, not just because they are challenging, but because I’m just a little bit afraid of the answers.  Theological reflection from people with deep understanding helps me. It opens me to the truth that God is more than what I feel or personally experience, and this “more” matters a great deal.

He’s in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints not surprisingly,  under “Saints are People Who Help Us Understand God.” 

***********

As you know, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave several series of General Audiences on the great men and women of the Church, beginning with the apostles.  Thomas Aquinas, not surprisingly, takes up three sessions:

June 2, 2010 – an Introduction.

In addition to study and teaching, Thomas also dedicated himself to preaching to the people. And the people too came willingly to hear him. I would say that it is truly a great grace when theologians are able to speak to the faithful with simplicity and fervour. The ministry of preaching, moreover, helps theology scholars themselves to have a healthy pastoral realism and enriches their research with lively incentives.

The last months of Thomas’ earthly life remain surrounded by a particular, I would say, mysterious atmosphere. In December 1273, he summoned his friend and secretary Reginald to inform him of his decision to discontinue all work because he had realized, during the celebration of Mass subsequent to a supernatural revelation, that everything he had written until then “was worthless”. This is a mysterious episode that helps us to understand not only Thomas’ personal humility, but 220px-Thomas_Aquinas_by_Fra_Bartolommeoalso the fact that, however lofty and pure it may be, all we manage to think and say about the faith is infinitely exceeded by God’s greatness and beauty which will be fully revealed to us in Heaven. A few months later, more and more absorbed in thoughtful meditation, Thomas died while on his way to Lyons to take part in the Ecumenical Council convoked by Pope Gregory X. He died in the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova, after receiving the Viaticum with deeply devout sentiments.

The life and teaching of St Thomas Aquinas could be summed up in an episode passed down by his ancient biographers. While, as was his wont, the Saint was praying before the Crucifix in the early morning in the chapel of St Nicholas in Naples, Domenico da Caserta, the church sacristan, overheard a conversation. Thomas was anxiously asking whether what he had written on the mysteries of the Christian faith was correct. And the Crucified One answered him: “You have spoken well of me, Thomas. What is your reward to be?”. And the answer Thomas gave him was what we too, friends and disciples of Jesus, always want to tell him: “Nothing but Yourself, Lord!” (ibid., p. 320).

June 16, 2010- Thomas’ theology and philosophical insights

To conclude, Thomas presents to us a broad and confident concept of human reason: broadbecause it is not limited to the spaces of the so-called “empirical-scientific” reason, but open to the whole being and thus also to the fundamental and inalienable questions of human life; and confident because human reason, especially if it accepts the inspirations of Christian faith, is a promoter of a civilization that recognizes the dignity of the person, the intangibility of his rights and the cogency of his or her duties. It is not surprising that the doctrine on the dignity of the person, fundamental for the recognition of the inviolability of human rights, developed in schools of thought that accepted the legacy of St Thomas Aquinas, who had a very lofty conception of the human creature. He defined it, with his rigorously philosophical language, as “what is most perfect to be found in all nature – that is, a subsistent individual of a rational nature” (Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 29, a. 3).

The depth of St Thomas Aquinas’ thought let us never forget it flows from his living faith and fervent piety, which he expressed in inspired prayers such as this one in which he asks God: “Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you”

June 23, 2010 – what we can learn from Thomas

In presenting the prayer of the Our Father, St Thomas shows that it is perfect in itself, since it has all five of the characteristics that a well-made prayer must possess: trusting, calm abandonment; a fitting content because, St Thomas observes, “it is quite difficult to know exactly what it is appropriate and inappropriate to ask for, since choosing among our wishes puts us in difficulty”(ibid., p. 120); and then an appropriate order of requests, the fervour of love and the sincerity of humility.

Also – from Fr. Robert Barron, 10 of his own resources on St. Thomas Aquinas. 

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I am going to have another F de S post later, but not until tonight. Son had orthodontist appointment this morning, which put me behind. Must work on the book all afternoon until carline calls. 

First, in case you don’t make it to the end of this post, I’ll put this at the beginning: A page with a few of the many Lenten sermons he gave – the sermons themselves are on Word docs, which is annoying, but there you have it.

Bishop, evangelist, teacher, writer, spiritual director and friend.

Links to his works – start with the most familiar, Introduction to the Devout Life, and go on from there.  Don’t forget his correspondence with St. Jane de Chantal, either. 

From Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s General Audience presentation on Francis de Sales, back in 2011: 

In his harmonious youth, reflection on the thought of St Augustine and of St Thomas Aquinas led to a deep crisis. This prompted him to question his own eternal salvation and the predestination of God concerning himself; he suffered as a true spiritual drama the principal theological issues of his time. He prayed intensely but was so fiercely tormented by doubt that for a few weeks he could "amy welborn"barely eat or sleep.

At the climax of his trial, he went to the Dominicans’ church in Paris, opened his heart and prayed in these words: “Whatever happens, Lord, you who hold all things in your hand and whose ways are justice and truth; whatever you have ordained for me… you who are ever a just judge and a merciful Father, I will love you Lord…. I will love you here, O my God, and I will always hope in your mercy and will always repeat your praise…. O Lord Jesus you will always be my hope and my salvation in the land of the living” (I Proc. Canon., Vol. I, art. 4).

The 20-year-old Francis found peace in the radical and liberating love of God: loving him without asking anything in return and trusting in divine love; no longer asking what will God do with me: I simply love him, independently of all that he gives me or does not give me. Thus I find peace and the question of predestination — which was being discussed at that time — was resolved, because he no longer sought what he might receive from God; he simply loved God and abandoned himself to his goodness. And this was to be the secret of his life which would shine out in his main work: the The Treatise on the Love of God.

…..

As the Pastor of a poor and tormented diocese in a mountainous area whose harshness was as well known as its beauty, he wrote: “I found [God] sweet and gentle among our loftiest rugged mountains, where many simple souls love him and worship him in all truth and sincerity; and mountain goats and chamois leap here and there between the fearful frozen peaks to proclaim his praise” (Letter to Mother de Chantal, October 1606, in Oeuvres, éd. Mackey, t. XIII, p. 223).

Nevertheless the influence of his life and his teaching on Europe in that period and in the following centuries is immense. He was an apostle, preacher, writer, man of action and of prayer dedicated to implanting the ideals of the Council of Trent; he was involved in controversial issues dialogue with the Protestants, experiencing increasingly, over and above the necessary theological confrontation, the effectiveness of personal relationship and of charity; he was charged with diplomatic missions in Europe and with social duties of mediation and reconciliation.

….

In reading his book on the love of God and especially his many letters of spiritual direction and friendship one clearly perceives that St Francis was well acquainted with the human heart. He wrote to St Jane de Chantal: “… this is the rule of our obedience, which I write for you in capital letters: do all through love, nothing through constraint; love obedience more than you fear disobedience. I leave you the spirit of freedom, not that which excludes obedience, which is the freedom of the world, but that liberty that excludes violence, anxiety and scruples” (Letter of 14 October 1604).

It is not for nothing that we rediscover traces precisely of this teacher at the origin of many contemporary paths of pedagogy and spirituality; without him neither St John Bosco nor the heroic “Little Way” of St Thérèse of Lisieux would have have come into being.

Dear brothers and sisters, in an age such as ours that seeks freedom, even with violence and unrest, the timeliness of this great teacher of spirituality and peace who gave his followers the “spirit of freedom”, the true spirit.

St Francis de Sales is an exemplary witness of Christian humanism; with his familiar style, with words which at times have a poetic touch, he reminds us that human beings have planted in their innermost depths the longing for God and that in him alone can they find true joy and the most complete fulfilment.

MORE

One of the more interesting Francis de Sales-related books I have read over the past year are some of his letters “to persons in the world,” collected here in this book found at the Internet Archive. (I’m sure they are in more contemporary bound versions but this is online…and free).

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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— 1 —

Today’s one of my Living Faith days. Go here for that. 

Also – if you would like more of the same, don’t forget the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days.  Most Catholic womanish devotionals are mom-centered. This one isn’t. So check it out!

(Lent’s coming…Ash Wednesday is March 1. If your parish or school is looking for a devotional, consider the one I wrote for Liguori, available in Spanish, too.)

— 2 —

Work is going decently well. I wish, at some point in my life, I could get to the last weeks of a project deadline not in a state in which I must Adhere to A Strict Schedule or face failure, but it never seems to happen. I do think the lesson is to not work with big deadlines that fall so close after Christmas. I lose a lot of work time, no matter what my fantasies are about being able to work through it all, and it actually casts a shadow over the holidays for me, as I have it constantly on my mind and am borderline on edge about it all the time. So just remind me, next time, okay?

— 3—

I’m feeling rather posh at the moment because I just ordered a membership in the Historic Royal Palaces. It gets you entrance into several of the palaces, including the Tower of London and Hampton Court, the two I’m interested in visiting. There’s a few pounds in savings, plus skipping lines, plus the promise of “special membership events,” the last of which I am not counting on. I usually don’t do much planning or purchasing ahead for these trips, but I needed a bit of boost, to make that trip seem closer. So I did it. I will probably also buy some theater tickets ahead of time, another thing I never do, but it seems advisable this time.

If you would like to follow my random planning…I have a Pinterest board dedicated to the trip here and a Twitter list here.)

Speaking of travel, check out Mountain Bouterac, aka the Catholic Traveler’s blog post about three years in Rome. Three years ago, he and his family packed up and moved from Georgia to Rome. He’s got great reflections on the ups and downs of that time and that decision. Go read, and take a look at his tours!

That very first night, I went alone to Saint Peter’s Square. As I stood there, I prayed I’d never take for granted this opportunity, I prayed it was the right move for the family, and I prayed I’d be able to help others through my experience.

I arrived with hopes, dreams, and goals.

But Rome is not easy, it took nine months just to get wifi.

Still, some hopes were fulfilled, some dreams came true, and some goals were realized. Others evolved, a couple were crushed, a few are still in the works.

— 4 —

I love news like this. Really good news, and good for kids to read about to help them understand the intersection of basic knowledge, method and creativity.

THE LOOSE ASSEMBLAGE of paper and string Manu Prakash pulls from his pocket doesn’t look like much. And in a way, it’s not—just 20 cents’ worth of materials you can buy at an art supply store. But in another way, the Stanford bioengineer’s tangle of stuff is a minor miracle. Prakash calls it a Paperfuge, and like the piece of lab equipment it’s named for, the centrifuge, it can spin biological samples at thousands of revolutions per minute. That’s a critical step in the diagnosis of infections like malaria and HIV. But unlike a centrifuge, the Paperfuge doesn’t need electricity, complicated machinery, expensive replacement parts, or even much money to operate.

“There are a billion people on this planet who live with no electricity, no infrastructure, no roads, and they have the same kind of health care needs that you and I have,” Prakash says. His lab developed the Paperfuge with these people in mind.

Inspired by the design of a millennia-old toy, the Paperfuge is a hand-powered centrifuge made of paper, string, and plastic that can whip biological samples in circles at up to 125,000 rpm. That’s enough oomph to separate plasma from a blood sample (a standard diagnostic procedure) in 90 seconds.

— 5 —.

Here are ten great poems about churches.

— 6 —

Speaking of poets and poetry…sheesh. Read this. A poet found her poems being used on standardized tests. First, she can’t really understand why, and then when she tackles the questions themselves, she finds them to be massively missing the point, and giving the completely wrong lessons on poetic inspiration, process and interpretation.

This is what’s wrong with the testing culture of our schools. This is why it’s so tragic that the mainstream of Catholic education just floats along with this culture and even uses their participation in it as a selling point.

Oh, goody. I’m a benchmark. Only guess what? The test prep materials neglected to insert the stanza break. I texted him an image of how the poem appeared in the original publication. Problem one solved. But guess what else? I just put that stanza break in there because when I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet), I pause there. Note: that is not an option among the answers because no one ever asked me why I did it…..

…The only way to stop this nonsense is for parents to stand up and say, no more. No more will I let my kid be judged by random questions scored by slackers from Craigslist while I pay increased taxes for results that could just as easily have been predicted by an algorithm. That’s not education, that’s idiotic.

Melanie Bettinelli takes up the topic here. 

Here you can practically see the process of the death of poetry. You can peek between the lines to see those students in their classrooms faced with these bleak poems, these senseless choices: I must be dumb. This poetry stuff doesn’t make any sense. I don’t get it. I must be bad at poetry. I don’t like poetry. I HATE poetry. Well to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if poetry is the sort of thing that can fit onto a standardized test, then to hell with it. I don’t believe in that kind of poetry either. 



— 7 —

Here’s an article about the roots and branches of Birmingham’s Greek food culture. It’s fascinating, goes way back to the beginnings of the city, and there’s hardly a food category that’s not been touched by the Greeks, from groceries to barbecue to meat n’three.

(Do you have a Zoe’s Kitchen or Jim n Nick’s in your town? They are Greek in origin, and started in Birmingham.)

The story of Birmingham’s Greek restaurateurs has always been a complicated one, with as many chapters as a Greek epic. Greek immigrants adapted quickly, aided by civics lessons from the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. Patriotism and service are a point of pride within a family tree that’s filled also with doctors, educators, clergy, military, and other professionals.

The connection to Mother Greece remains strong. Millennials fluently speak their great-grandparents’ native tongue. George C. Sarris serves food from his homeland at The Fish Market’s weekly Greek Night. Back in Tsitalia, churches, schools, homes and infrastructure were built or fixed with money earned in Birmingham. Ex-pats return regularly; Sarris even took Frank Stitt for a visit to Tsitalia.

“Greek people assimilate, but always go back to Greece,” says Sarris. “We feel we have two mothers, with equal love for each one.”

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

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From a 2007 GA, B16 continuing to dig deeply into Catholic stuff and sharing it with the world:

Today, I would like to talk about a great Father of the Church of the West, St Hilary of Poitiers, one of the important Episcopal figures of the fourth century. In the controversy with the Arians, who considered Jesus the Son of God to be an excellent human creature but only human, Hilary devoted his whole life to defending faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God and God as the Father who generated him from eternity.

"hilary of poitiers"We have no reliable information on most of Hilary’s life. Ancient sources say that he was born in Poitiers, probably in about the year 310 A.D. From a wealthy family, he received a solid literary education, which is clearly recognizable in his writings. It does not seem that he grew up in a Christian environment. He himself tells us of a quest for the truth which led him little by little to recognize God the Creator and the incarnate God who died to give us eternal life. Baptized in about 345, he was elected Bishop of his native city around 353-354. In the years that followed, Hilary wrote his first work, Commentary on St Matthew’s Gospel. It is the oldest extant commentary in Latin on this Gospel. In 356, Hilary took part as a Bishop in the Synod of Béziers in the South of France, the “synod of false apostles”, as he himself called it since the assembly was in the control of Philo-Arian Bishops who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. “These false apostles” asked the Emperor Constantius to have the Bishop of Poitiers sentenced to exile. Thus, in the summer of 356, Hilary was forced to leave Gaul.

Banished to Phrygia in present-day Turkey, Hilary found himself in contact with a religious context totally dominated by Arianism. Here too, his concern as a Pastor impelled him to work strenuously to re-establish the unity of the Church on the basis of right faith as formulated by the Council of Nicea. To this end he began to draft his own best-known and most important dogmatic work:De Trinitate (On the Trinity). Hilary explained in it his personal journey towards knowledge of God and took pains to show that not only in the New Testament but also in many Old Testament passages, in which Christ’s mystery already appears, Scripture clearly testifies to the divinity of the Son and his equality with the Father. To the Arians he insisted on the truth of the names of Father and Son, and developed his entire Trinitarian theology based on the formula of Baptism given to us by the Lord himself: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

The Father and the Son are of the same nature. And although several passages in the New Testament might make one think that the Son was inferior to the Father, Hilary offers precise rules to avoid misleading interpretations: some Scriptural texts speak of Jesus as God, others highlight instead his humanity. Some refer to him in his pre-existence with the Father; others take into consideration his state of emptying of self (kenosis), his descent to death; others, finally, contemplate him in the glory of the Resurrection. In the years of his exile, Hilary also wrote the Book of Synods in which, for his brother Bishops of Gaul, he reproduced confessions of faith and commented on them and on other documents of synods which met in the East in about the middle of the fourth century. Ever adamant in opposing the radical Arians, St Hilary showed a conciliatory spirit to those who agreed to confess that the Son was essentially similar to the Father, seeking of course to lead them to the true faith, according to which there is not only a likeness but a true equality of the Father and of the Son in divinity. This too seems to me to be characteristic: the spirit of reconciliation that seeks to understand those who have not yet arrived and helps them with great theological intelligence to reach full faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return home from exile and immediately resumed pastoral activity in his Church, but the influence of his magisterium extended in fact far beyond its boundaries. A synod celebrated in Paris in 360 or 361 borrows the language of the Council of Nicea. Several ancient authors believe that this anti-Arian turning point of the Gaul episcopate was largely due to the fortitude and docility of the Bishop of Poitiers. This was precisely his gift: to "hilary of poitiers"combine strength in the faith and docility in interpersonal relations. In the last years of his life he also composed the Treatises on the Psalms, a commentary on 58 Psalms interpreted according to the principle highlighted in the introduction to the work: “There is no doubt that all the things that are said in the Psalms should be understood in accordance with Gospel proclamation, so that, whatever the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, all may be referred nevertheless to the knowledge of the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, Passion and Kingdom, and to the power and glory of our resurrection” (Instructio Psalmorum, 5). He saw in all the Psalms this transparency of the mystery of Christ and of his Body which is the Church. Hilary met St Martin on various occasions: the future Bishop of Tours founded a monastery right by Poitiers, which still exists today. Hilary died in 367. His liturgical Memorial is celebrated on 13 January. In 1851 Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the universal Church.

To sum up the essentials of his doctrine, I would like to say that Hilary found the starting point for his theological reflection in baptismal faith. In De Trinitate, Hilary writes: Jesus “has commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 28: 19), that is, in the confession of the Author, of the Only-Begotten One and of the Gift. The Author of all things is one alone, for one alone is God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist (cf. I Cor 8: 6), and one alone is the Spirit (cf. Eph 4: 4), a gift in all…. In nothing can be found to be lacking so great a fullness, in which the immensity in the Eternal One, the revelation in the Image, joy in the Gift, converge in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit” (De Trinitate 2, 1). God the Father, being wholly love, is able to communicate his divinity to his Son in its fullness. I find particularly beautiful the following formula of St Hilary: “God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. Those who love are not envious and the one who is the Father is so in his totality. This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others” (ibid., 9, 61).

For this reason the Son is fully God without any gaps or diminishment. “The One who comes from the perfect is perfect because he has all, he has given all” (ibid., 2, 8). Humanity finds salvation in Christ alone, Son of God and Son of man. In assuming our human nature, he has united himself with every man, “he has become the flesh of us all” (Tractatus super Psalmos 54, 9); “he took on himself the nature of all flesh and through it became true life, he has in himself the root of every vine shoot” (ibid., 51, 16). For this very reason the way to Christ is open to all – because he has drawn all into his being as a man -, even if personal conversion is always required: “Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to all, on condition that they divest themselves of their former self (cf. Eph 4: 22), nailing it to the Cross (cf. Col 2: 14); provided we give up our former way of life and convert in order to be buried with him in his baptism, in view of life (cf. Col 1: 12; Rom 6: 4)” (ibid., 91, 9).

"hilary of poitiers"Fidelity to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore, St Hilary asks, at the end of his Treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain ever faithful to the baptismal faith. It is a feature of this book: reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer returns to reflection. The whole book is a dialogue with God.

I would like to end today’s Catechesis with one of these prayers, which thus becomes our prayer:

“Obtain, O Lord”, St Hilary recites with inspiration, “that I may keep ever faithful to what I have professed in the symbol of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. That I may worship you, our Father, and with you, your Son; that I may deserve your Holy Spirit, who proceeds from you through your Only Begotten Son… Amen” (De Trinitate12, 57).

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