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It’s the 100th anniversary of her death today.

Such an amazing woman.  Do you feel tired?  Read her story.

This is one of the best online – it’s thorough, with lots of good quotes from her, and a good image that lays out the scope of her travels:

 

Here’s an excerpt from the chapter on St. Frances Cabrini from my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.  To reiterate – it’s an excerpt.  There’s more at the beginning at the end to relate her story to a younger child’s life.  It’s in a section called, “Saints are People who Travel Far From Home,” along with St. Boniface, St. Peter Claver, St. Francis Xavier and  St. Francis Solano. 

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By the late 1880s, Mother Cabrini became interested in a new problem. Hundreds of thousands of Italians moved to America, seeking a way out of the poverty of their new land. Very few of these immigrants were successful right away. Most lived in worse poverty than they’d endured back in Italy. They lived in crowded and dirty apartments, lived on scraps, and were unable to find work. Sad stories traveled back to the home country, right to Mother Cabrini. So Mother "frances cabrini"Cabrini set out on the long trip to America.

Over the next thirty-seven years, Mother Cabrini was constantly on the move, starting schools, orphanages, and hospitals for Italian immigrants, and others in need. In the first few years she traveled between New York, Nicaragua, and New Orleans. After having a dream in which she saw Mary tending to the sick lying in hospital beds, Mother Cabrini started Columbus Hospital in New York City.

After she founded the hospital, Mother Cabrini made trips back to Italy to organize more nuns for work in America. Between these trips, she and some sisters headed south to Argentina. The sisters went by way of Panama and then Lima, Peru. They made the journey by boat, train, mule, and on foot.

Back in the United State, Mother Cabrini traveled constantly taking her sisters to Chicago, Seattle, and Denver. It was in Chicago that Mother Cabrini, at the age of sixty-seven, passed away. She’d begun her work with just a handful of sisters. By the time she died, fifty houses of sisters were teaching, caring for orphans, and running hospitals. Her order had grown to almost a thousand sisters in all.

Image source

“I will go anywhere and do anything in order to communicate the love of Jesus to those who do not know Him or have forgotten Him.”

We visited the Cabrini shrine in NYC in 2003. That was when the high school to which the chapel where her relics rest was still open.

A pilgrimage group from a local Catholic school filled some of the pews, so Katie got the benefit of hearing the last part of the Shrine staffer’s very enthusiastic talk about Mother Cabrini, which she probably absorbed much more deeply than she would have if I were lecturing her. She caught the stories of the two miracles associated with Mother Cabrini’s beatification and canonization – a nun cured of cancer, and a baby whose retinas had been damaged by too intense of a solution of silver nitrate drops after birth. Eyesight restored, baby grew up to be ordained a priest at Mother Cabrini’s tomb, and, according to the staffer in her memorable (to Katie) accent, “He had the biggest blue eyes you ever saw!”

Of course, Mother Cabrini’s remains are there under the altar, and the staffer also said that for a time, the eyes on the face (a reconstruction) were open, so it was a very useful place to send misbehaving schoolkids for contemplation of their sins.

Here’s the story of that miracle:

Into infant Peter Smith’s eyes the rushed nurse has deftly dropped, carefully pulling back each lid to get it all in, not 1-percent silver-ni­trate solution, but 50-percent silver-nitrate solution. Even 5-percent to 25-percent solution is used only on unwanted human tissue — tumors, for instance — because it eats away flesh as effectively as electric cauter­izing tools. Fifty-percent solution will gradually bore a hole in a solid piece of wood. And it has already been at work on the soft human tissue of infant Peter’s eyes for two hours…

….

That afternoon and evening as the spiritual daughters of Frances Cabrini, foundress of the hospital and their religious order, go off duty, they gather one by one in the chapel. All the long night they remain there begging Mother Cabrini, dead only three years, to obtain from the bountiful heart of Jesus the healing of the Smiths’ whimpering infant. Mae is with them, praying her heart out too.

At nine o’clock the next morning, when Kearney and Horan arrive at the nursery, to their astonishment they find baby Peter’s eyelids much less swollen and pussy. Gently the eye specialist opens the eyelids, his stomach tightening as he prepares to see the ravages on the delicate eye tissue of the deadly acid.

Instead, looking back at him with the vague, slightly unfocused gaze of the one-day-old are two perfect eyes.

And he did, indeed, become a priest, as did his brother:

On Friday, January 13th, Missionary Sisters along with many others, had the opportunity to join Fr. John Frances Xavier Smith at the St. Frances X. Cabrini Shrine in New York City as he shared the story of the miracle of his brother, Fr. Peter Smith. Fr. Peter Smith’s eye tissue and sight restoration was Mother Cabrini’s first miracle.

Fr. John took us back in time to old New York as he shared the story he had heard from his mother, Margaret Riley Smith. She would retell time and time again the particulars of this miracle that occurred on March14, 1921. He repeated several times how she commented on seeing Peter after his birth and how blue his eyes were. Peter was born healthy and normal but a nurse’s mistake of [administering] the [incorrect dosage of] silver nitrate solution [to baby Peter] ate through his corneas and some of his facial skin.

 

 

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Wow. Has it really been a week…and I’ve posted nothing ? Sorry about that. I am focused on finishing writing this book, which I hope will happen today (Friday). It’s a very solid first draft. I’ll let it sit for a couple of weeks then take a couple of days to go back through it. That’s the point at which I’ll sharpen the writing, strip out the verbiage and tighten the lines of thought.  That’s the enjoyable part of the process, to me. Much better than the “Sitting looking at the computer on the other side of the room knowing you need to work but you don’t want to” part.

Then it will be on to The Next Thingwhich will keep me very busy until March. Which is good.

(I do tend to post daily on Instagram Stories. Some of that finds its way here, but not all.)

 

 — 2 —

This is a fabulous story of faith and life, from the Catholic Spirit.   

The ultrasound technician squeezed gel onto Justina’s abdomen and positioned the wand, picking up a gestational sac and a heartbeat. The couple was elated. Then, a second sac and a second heartbeat. Twins! As the Kopps were wrapping their head around two at a time, the technician found a third sac and a third heartbeat. They were now outnumbered, and they started laughing.

Justina recalls teasing Matt, telling him that parents of triplets must automatically grow a third arm.

Then the technician came across a fourth sac. Empty, she said, suggesting that there had been a fourth baby, but he or she had never developed. Justina recalled feeling a sense of peace with that, trusting that he or she would join a sibling in heaven.

That’s when her doctor came into the room and grabbed her foot. As the technician was going over the three babies again for the doctor and to get more photos, she moved to show him the blighted ovum in the empty sac. This time, it didn’t look empty, and the technician found a heartbeat — the strongest of the four. The Kopps just continued to laugh in disbelief, they said.

“This is quite the shock, huh?” Justina recalled the doctor saying, obviously shocked himself. Even with Justina’s fertility treatments, the probability of quadruplets was so low that statistics didn’t exist.

Justina and Matt said they laughed about the news for two days, and then, overwhelmed, they panicked. Family and friends’ joy helped them have courage that they could handle the task, with God’s help.

 

— 3 —

Tonight, they’re filming a movie just a block from my house:

Bigger Movie

It’s called Bigger. Here’s the synopsis:

The inspirational tale of the grandfathers of the fitness movement as we now know it, Joe & Ben Weider. Battling anti-Semitism/racism as well as extreme poverty the brothers beat all odds to build an empire & inspire future generations.

 

The movie, which spans the 1920s to the 1970s, is adapted from the Weider brothers’ book “Brothers of Iron,” and it stars Tyler Hoechlin from Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” and MTV’s “Teen Wolf” as Joe Weider and Aneurin Barnard from Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic “Dunkirk” as Ben Weider.

“It’s the story of two poor, young immigrant boys who grew up in a Montreal ghetto, and they experienced anti-Semitism, they experienced extreme poverty, (and) they cobbled together eight dollars to launch what became a multibillion-dollar empire,” Jones said….

…The Weider brothers founded the International Federation of Body Builders, which sponsored the Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe competitions, and in the late 1960s, Joe Weider groomed a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had moved to America from his native Austria and began training under Weider in Los Angeles.

Why are they filming here?

“We originally were going to shoot this in Montreal because the Weider brothers are from Montreal,” Jones said. “We actually went up there and did location scouting, but we ended up choosing Birmingham because our director (Gallo) does not like to fly. It’s a quirky situation.

Birmingham locations will double for Montreal, New Jersey and Los Angeles, Jones said. Near the end of the filming, the “Bigger” crew will film in the Mobile area, which will double for the beaches of California, he said.

Among the Birmingham locations will be the Alabama Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, Temple Emanu-El and serveral others, he said.

 

— 4

I do think that if a person is convinced they want to work In The Movies, all that’s needed to cure that bug is take them to a film location. I suppose it has its charms and attractions but it’s really a whole lot of waiting….and waiting…

 

Speaking of lurking around movie sets, some of you may recall that I spent an evening watching the filming of a little tiny scene of a movie in London in the spring. That was The Phantom Thread  – the trailer was released this past week and my post about the little I saw is here.  The very first shot in the trailer (it’s quick) is of Fitzroy Square, which was right around the corner from our apartment and through which we walked every day to get places.

— 5 —

This is good news and perhaps the backstory is news to many of us as well:

Pence delivered the keynote address at the JW Marriott hotel for the annual In Defense of Christians conference’s Solidarity Dinner and told the hundreds of attendees that President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. State Department “from this day forward” to stop funding the United Nations’ ineffective relief efforts. Instead, he said the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would also funnel support to the churches, agencies and organizations working directly with persecuted communities victimized by the Islamic State (ISIS) and other terror groups.

“Christians in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly,” Pence stated.

“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” he added. “The United States will work hand in hand with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith. This is the moment, now is the time, and America will support these people in their hour of need.”  …

…Andrew Doran, IDC vice president and senior policy adviser, told the Register that Pence’s announcement is “a game changer” for the survival of Christians and other minorities in Iraq.

“All organizations doing aid for the victims of genocide and crimes against humanity, who were working with religious institutions, Christians in particular, have to be feeling enormously encouraged following the vice president’s speech tonight,” he said.

Throughout the past three years, Iraq’s displaced Christians, consisting mostly of Assyrians, Syriacs and Chaldeans living in their ancestral homeland of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, were completely supported and sustained by the region’s churches and other forms of private support — not the United Nations. Christians considered U.N. camps too dangerous to enter and consequently did not receive direct humanitarian aid through U.N. agencies.

— 6 —

Of course, there’s going to be a lot of Reformation talk over the next few days. I’m with the Cardinal on this one:

German cardinal Gerhard Müller has said the Protestant Reformation was not a “reform” but a “total change of the foundations of the Catholic faith”.

Writing for Italian website La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said modern-day Catholics often discuss Martin Luther “too enthusiastically”, mainly due to an ignorance of theology…

…Cardinal Müller strongly contradicted this view, however, saying it is wrong to think Luther’s intent was simply to fight abuses in indulgences or the sins of the Renaissance Church, the Cardinal said.

“Abuses and bad actions have always existed in the Church. We are the Holy Church because of the grace of God and the sacraments, but all Church men are sinners, all need forgiveness, contrition, and penance.”

Instead, Luther abandoned “all the principles of the Catholic faith, Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, the Magisterium of the Popes and Councils, the episcopate.”

It is therefore unacceptable to say that Luther’s reform was “an event of the Holy Spirit” because “the Holy Spirit helps the Church to maintain its continuity through the Church’s magisterium”.

— 7 —

Here’s art historian Elizabeth Lev on another aspect:

Against the Catholic claim of the rootlessness of Protestant thought, Luther said his teaching was “not a novel invention of ours but the very ancient, approved teaching of the apostles brought to light again.” The Protestants sought not “to have anything new in Christendom” but instead struggled “to hold to the ancient: that which Christ and the apostles have left behind them and have given to us.” They claimed that this teaching had been “obscured by the pope with human doctrine, aye, decked out in dust and spider webs and all sorts of vermin, and flung and trodden into the mud besides, we have by God’s grace brought it out again … to the light of day.”

So, who had the claim to tradition? Which teaching had the martyrs died for? What role did relics play — testimony to ancient history, or were they, as John Calvin wrote in his Treatise on Relics, an “abomination”?

An astonishing find on the Via Salaria on May 31, 1578, gave the Church a potent response. The entrance to one of the Christian catacombs was accidently discovered by some workmen, leading to the underground burial sites with thousands of tombs. These mass graves, lost since the 9th century, were decorated with hundreds of paintings, witnesses to the early Christian Church and its beliefs.

Antonio Bosio, a young lawyer-turned-archaeologist who was close to Philip Neri’s new congregation of the Oratorians, took it upon himself to explore these underground sites. Dubbed the “Columbus of Underground Rome,” his lifetime of work was crowned with the publication, three years after his death, of Roma Sotterranea Cristiana: a guide to the catacombs, complete with illustrations.

 

 

And maybe, in “honor” of the anniversary, take a look back at this article I wrote last year on women and the Reformation.
For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Although you probably won’t hear him mentioned at daily Mass, Hermanus Contractus, or, less sensitively,  Blessed”Herman the Cripple,” has a place on today’s liturgical calendar.

I wrote about Herman and one of the prayers attributed to him, the Salve Regina, in The Words We Pray. Here’s that chapter.

I have copies of the book here if you’d like to order.

Or get it online almost anywhere, I think. Or request it from your local Catholic bookstore.

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If you don’t know about St. Jane de Chantal by herself or in conjunction with St. Francis de Sales….here’s an excellent introduction. 

That page includes many quotes from the saint:

“My dear daughters, let us not have illusions; it is necessary that for our affection, to be blessed by God, it has to be equal and uniform for all, for our Savior has not ordered us to love some more than others, but He has said: Love your neighbor as yourself.

“Sometimes we think our affections are very pure; but before God it is very different; the affection that is all pure looks only at God, only aspires to God and does not pretend anything but God. I love my sisters because I see God in them and because God wants it this way . . . your charity is false if it is not equal, general and complete with all the sisters, this way your are to be gentle with one sister as well as with the other.

“The motive behind the love you profess for your sisters should only come from the womb of God; if it is outside of it, then it is worth nothing . . . . When this union with our sisters is more pure, more general and more complete, only then will our union with God be greater.”

Her letters have been collected in various formats. Public domain versions – aka free – can be found at archive.org – like here. 

Practical and down to earth:

 You have done well to discontinue your retreat.
I assure you I never undertake mine in the very hot
weather on account of the great drowsiness which it
causes. Well, if God wishes us to walk like one
who is blind and groping in the dark, what does it
matter ? We know that He is with us.

One of the things I appreciate most about Jane de Chantal is her insistence on spiritual simplicity.  She is forever reminding her sisters not to fall into the trap of spiritual self-absorption and solipsism, forever wondering what things mean. 

Vive ^ Jesus !

PARIS, 1619.

I want you to know, my dear little daughter, what
a great consolation your letter has been to me. You
have portrayed your interior state with much
simplicity, and believe me, little one, I tenderly love
that heart of yours and would willingly undergo
much for its perfection. May God hear my prayer,
and give you the grace to cut short these perpetual
reflections on everything that you do. They dissi
pate your spirit. May He enable you instead to use
all your powers and thoughts in the practice of such

virtues as come in your way. How happy would
you then be, and I how consoled ! Make a fresh
start in good earnest, my darling, I beg of you. For
faults of inadvertence and suchlike, humble yourself
in spirit before God, and after that do not give them
another thought. You will do this, will you not,
my love ? Ah, do ! I ask it through the love you
bear to your poor mother. For the rest, say out
boldly eve^thing in your letters; they always con
sole me. Let nothing worry you. Always yours
in sincerity. Pray much for me. May the sweet
Jesus accomplish in you His holy will !

Vive ^ Jesus !

ANNECY, 1616.

Who can doubt, little one, but that a thousand
imperfections are mingled with all our actions. We
must humble ourselves and own to it, but never be
surprised nor worry about it. Neither is it well to

play with the thought, but having made an interior
act of holy humility, turn from it at once and pay no
further attention to your feelings. Now let me hear
no more about them, but use them all as a means of
humbling yourself and of abasing yourself before
circa-1800-ecclesiastical-reliquary-of-saint-jane-frances-de-chantal-28-E2God. Behave yourself in His presence as being
truly nothing, and if you do, these feelings about
which you talk will not do you any harm though
they will make you suffer. Indeed, as much may
be said of this fault of over-sensitiveness. Pray
what does it matter whether you are dense and
stolid or over-sensitive ? Any one can see that all
this is simply self-love seeking its satisfaction. For
the love of God let me hear no more of it: love
your own insignificance and the most holy will of
God which has allotted it to you, then whether you
are liked or disliked, reserved or ready-tongued, it
should be one and the same thing to you. Do not
pose as an ignorant person, but try to speak to each
one as being in the presence of God and in the way
He inspires you. If you are content with what you
have said your self-love will be satisfied, if not
content, then you have an opportunity of practising
holy humility. In a word aim at indifference and

cut short absolutely this introspection and all these

reflections you make on yourself. This I have told
you over and over again.

I can well believe that you are at a loss how to
answer these young persons who want to know,
forsooth, the difference between contemplation
and meditation. How can it be, Sister (The
Superior) puts up with them, or that you do in
her absence? Sweet Jesus, what has become of
humility ? Stop it all, and give them books and
conferences treating of the virtues, and tell them
that they must set about practising them. Later
on they can talk about high things for by the
exercise of true and solid virtue light comes from
Him who is the Master of the humble, and whose
delight it is to be with souls that are simple and
innocent. At the end of all, when they have become
Angels, they may talk as the Angels do. As to
prayer, be at peace and do not attempt anything
beyond keeping yourself tranquilly near Our Lord.
This too I have often told you. In a word you are
not to move any more than a statue can do. Your
one wish ha- to be to give pleasure to God; now if
He in His goodness shows you what you have to do,
is it right for you to turn from this to do something
else because this, His will, has no interest for you ?
You must take care not to fall into this fault, but be
simple; don t think much about yourself and just do
the best you can.

Here’s an interesting archived article from a 1911 edition of The Tablet describing the ceremony of the translation of thee two saints’ relics to a new convent.

During the festival, cannon had been fired and bells rung frequently all through the town, to testify to the universal joy, and at night it was brilliantly illuminated. But it was scarcely to be hoped that so religious a demonstration could be allowed to pass unnoticed by the Anticlerical party. The Superior of the Visitation and some of the town authorities had received anonymous letters threatening bombs during the procession, if it took place. After prayer and deliberation it was decided that no changes should be made in the programme, all trust being placed in the intercession of the two Saints with God. This confidence was not misplaced ; all went off without the least attempt at molestation.

I wrote about St. Jane de Chantal in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes.  The entry isn’t online, but here’s the first page….

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(By the way, we celebrate her feast in the US on August 12.  It is not so throughout the rest of the word and has not been so even in the US for that long…the confusing tale is told at Fr. Z’s blog here…)

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I want to draw your attention to some posts from a couple of years ago, in which I shared with you some passages from the letters of St. Alphonsus Liguori, whose feast is today.

Here

Here

and here

 

Liguori

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We never refused kindness which might lead to acquaintanceship….

As travel is a topic I’m interested in, as well as being an activity which prompts not a little soul-searching on my part, I found the end of Martineau’s account of her years-long journey in America quite fascinating and even rather moving. I’m going to just reprint the whole passage here – it’s long, but it will save you a click or two.

For previous entries on Martineau see here and here.)

Her way to these final considerations of the value of travel has begun in the graveyard – comparing the American graveyard to European cemeteries, which then leads her to reflect on journeys – mind you, when she speaks of “travel” she is not speaking of If This Is Tuesday It Must Be Belgium – Bucket List Travel. She is speaking of long, slow journeys – slow because that is how one traveled in those days – during which one had ample time to experience new places with new friends.

While writing I have been struck by the strong resemblance between the
retrospect of travel from home and that of life from the cemetery. In
each contemplation the hosts of human beings who have been seen acting,
suffering, and meditating, rise up before the mind’s eye as in a kind of
judgment scene, except that they rise up, not to be judged, but to
instruct. The profit of travel is realized at home in the solitude of
the study, and the true meaning of human life (as far as its meaning can
become known to us here) is best made out from its place of rest. While
martineau retrosepct western travel2busy among strangers, one is carried away by sympathy and by prejudice
from the point whence foreign society can be viewed with anything like
impartiality; one cannot but hear the mutual criminations of parties;
one cannot but be perplexed by the mutual misrepresentations of
fellow-citizens; one cannot but sympathize largely with all in turn,
since there is a large mixture of truth in all views about which people
are strongly persuaded. It is only after sitting down alone at home that
the traveller can separate the universal truth from the partial error
with which he has sympathized, and can make some approximation towards
assurance as to what he has learned and what he believes. So it is in
the turmoil of life. While engaged in it, we are ignorantly persuaded,
and liable, therefore, to be shaken from our certainty; we are
disproportionately moved, and we sympathize with incompatibilities, so
as to be sure of disappointment and humiliation inflicted through our
best sensibilities. In the place of retrospect we may find our repose
again in contemplating our ignorance and weakness, and ascertaining the
conviction and strength which they have wrought out for us.

What is gained by living and travelling?

One of the most striking and even amusing results is the perception of
the transient nature of troubles. The thoughtful traveller feels
something like wonder and amusement at himself for being so depressed by
evils as he finds himself in the midst of long-idealized objects. He is
surprised at his own sufferings from hunger, cold, heat, and weariness;
and at his being only prevented by shame from passing some great object
unseen, if he has to rouse himself from sleep to look at it, or to
forego a meal for its sake. The next time he is refreshed, he wonders
how his troubles could ever so affect him; and, when at home, he looks
through the picture-gallery of his memory, the afflictions of past hours
would have vanished, their very occurrence would be denied but for the
record in the journal. The contemptible entries about cold, hunger, and
sleepiness stand, ludicrously enough, among notices of cataracts and
mountains, and of moral conflicts in the senates of nations. And so with
life. We look back upon our pangs about objects of desire, as if it were
the object and not the temper of pursuit which was of importance. We
look back on our sufferings from disease, from disappointment, from
suspense, in times when the great moral events of our lives, or even of
the age, were impending, and we disregarded them. We were mourning over
some petty loss or injury while a new region of the moral universe was
about to be disclosed to us; or fretting about our “roast chicken and
our little game at cards,” while the liberties of an empire were being
lost or won.

Worse than our own little troubles, probably, has been the fear and
sorrow of hurting others. One of the greatest of a traveller’s hardships
is the being aware that he must be perpetually treading on somebody’s
toes. Passing from city to city, from one group of families to another,
where the divisions of party and of sect, the contrariety of interests,
and the world of domestic circumstance are all unknown to him, he can
hardly open his lips without wounding somebody; and it makes him all the
more anxious if, through the generosity of his entertainers, he never
hears of it. No care of his own can save him from his function of
torturer. He cannot speak of religion, morals, and politics; he cannot
speak of insanity, intemperance, or gaming, or even of health, riches,
fair fame, and good children, without danger of rousing feelings of
personal remorse or family shame in some, or the bitter sense of
bereavement in others. Little or nothing has been said of this as one of
the woes of travelling; but, in my own opinion, this is the direction in
which the fortitude of the traveller is the most severely tried. Yet, in
the retrospect, it seems even good that we should have been obliged thus
to call the generosity and forbearance of our hosts into exercise. They
are, doubtless, benefited by the effort; and we may perhaps be gainers,
the direct operation of forbearance and forgiveness being to enhance
affection. The regard of those whom we have wounded may perhaps be
warmer than if we had never hurt them. It is much the same with men’s
mutual inflictions in life. None of us, especially none who are frank
and honest, can speak what we think, and act according to what we
believe, without giving pain in many directions. It is very painful, but
quite unavoidable. In the retrospect, however, we are able to smile on
the necessity, and to conclude that, as we have been willing to bear our
share of the wounding from others, and should, perhaps, have been sorry
if it had not happened, it is probable that others may have regarded us
and our inflictions in the same way.

Nothing is more conspicuous in the traveller’s retrospect than the fact
how little external possession has to do with happiness. As he wanders
back over city and village, plantation and prairie, he sees again care
on the brow of the merchant and mirth in the eyes of the labourer; the
soulless faces of the rich Shakers rise up before him, side by side with
the gladsome countenance of the ruined abolitionist. Each class kindly
pities the one below it in power and wealth; the traveller pities none
but those who are wasting their energies in the exclusive pursuit of
either. Generally speaking, they have all an equal endowment of the
things from which happiness is really derived. They have, in pretty
equal distribution, health, senses, and their pleasures, homes,
children, pursuits, and successes. With all these things in common, the
one point of difference in their respective amounts of possession of
more than they can at present eat, use, and enjoy, seems to him quite
unworthy of all the compassion excited by it; though the compassion,
having something amiable in it, is of a kindly use as far as it goes. In
a cemetery, the thoughtless are startled into the same perception. How
destitute are the dead in their graves! How naked is the spirit gone
from its warm housings and environs of luxuries! This is the first
thought. The next is, was it ever otherwise? Had these luxuries ever
anything to do with the peace of the spirit, except as affording a
pursuit for the employment of its energies? Is not as vigorous and
gladsome a mind to be found abroad in the fields, or singing at the
mill, as doing the honours of the drawing-room? and, if it were not so,
what words could we find strong enough for the cruelty of the decree
under which every human being is compelled to enter his grave solitary
and destitute? In the retrospect of the recent traveller in America, the
happiest class is clearly that small one of the original abolitionists;
men and women wholly devoted to a lofty pursuit, and surrendering for it
much that others most prize: and, in the retrospect of the traveller
through life, the most eminently blessed come forth from among all ranks
and orders of men, some being rich and others poor; some illustrious and
others obscure; but all having one point of resemblance, that they have2martineau retrosepct western travel
not staked their peace on anything so unreal as money or fame.

As for the worth of praise, a traveller cannot have gone far without
finding it out. He has been praised and blamed at every turn; and he
soon sees that what people think of him matters to themselves and not to
him. He applies this to himself, and finds confirmation. It is ludicrous
to suppose that what he thinks of this man and that, whose motives and
circumstances he can never completely understand, should be of lasting
importance to the subjects of his observation, while he feels it to be
very important to his own peace and state of temper that he should
admire as much and despise as little as reason will allow. That this is
not more felt and acted upon is owing to the confined intercourses of
the majority of men. If, like the traveller, they were for a long time
exposed to a contrariety of opinions respecting themselves, they would
arrive at the conviction which rises “by natural exhalation” from the
field of graves, that men’s mutual judgments are almost insignificant to
the objects of them, while immeasurably important to those who form
them. When we look about us upon this obelisk and that urn, what matter
the applauses and censures of the neighbours of the departed, in the
presence of the awful facts here declared, that he has lived and is
gone? In this mighty transaction between himself and his Maker, how
insignificant to him are the comments of beings between whom and himself
there could exist no complete understanding in this life! But there is
no overrating the consequences to himself of having lived with high or
low models before his eyes; in a spirit of love or a spirit of contempt;
in a process of generous or disparaging interpretation of human actions.
His whole future condition and progress may be affected by it….

The mysterious pain of partings presses upon the returned traveller and
the surviver with nearly equal force. I do not know whether this woe is
usually taken into the estimate of travellers when they are counting the
cost of their scheme before setting out; but I know that it deserves to
be. I believe that many would not go if they could anticipate the misery
of such partings as those which must be encountered in a foreign
country, in long dreary succession, and without more hope than in
parting with the dying. The chances of meeting again are small. For a
time grief sooths itself by correspondence; but this cannot last, as one
family group after another opens its arms to the stranger, and gives him
a home only that he must vacate it for another. The correspondence
slackens, fails, and the parties are to one another as if they were
dead, with the sad difference that there is somewhat less faith in each
other than if they were in circumstances in which it is physically
impossible that they could communicate. To the surviver of intercourse,
in either place of meditation, there remains the heartsoreness from the
anguish of parting; that pain which, like physical pain, takes us by
surprise with its bitterness at each return, and disposes us, at length,
to either cowardice or recklessness; and each of these survivers may be
conscious of some visitations of jealousy, jealousy lest the absent
should be learning to forget the past in new interests and connexions.

The strongest point of resemblance in the two contemplations of the
life which lies behind, is this; that a scene is closed and another is
opening. The term of existence in a foreign land, and the somewhat
longer term spent on this planetary island, are viewed as over; and the
fatigues, enjoyments, and perplexities of each result in an amount of
calm experience. The dead, it is hoped, are entering on a new region, in
which they are to act with fresh powers and a wiser activity. The
refreshed traveller has the same ambition. I have surveyed my
experience, and told my tale; and, though often visiting America in
thought, can act no more with reference to my sojourn there, but must
pass over into a new department of inquiry and endeavour. Friendships
are the grand gain of travel over a continent or through life; and these
may be carried forward into new regions of existence here, as we hope
they may be into the unexplored hereafter, to give strength and delight
to new exertions, and to unite the various scenes of our being by the
strongest ties we know.

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This is a repost from last year, but I thought since the Benedict Option talk reached a peak of sorts this year, it was worth repeating. 

Today is the feast day of St. Benedict of Norcia.

Buy some beer!

Listen to some music!

Pray!

Blog-Ma-2

There is much talk about St. Benedict these days, as people consider how to live in a culture increasingly hostile to the Gospel. You might come away from these conversations thinking that Benedict and the Benedictine Way is essentially about “withdrawal.”  I don’t think that is correct.  Looking at the origins of Benedictine monasticism might help understand why.

Christian monasticism did, indeed, begin with withdrawal from the world. In the 3rd century men and, to a lesser extent, women, began heading to the desert to live in solitude. But even these anchorites did not shut themselves off from interaction with others, as they accepted visitors seeking to benefit from their wisdom and assist them.

But Benedictine monasticism was different, of course. Cenobitic, as opposed to anchorite, monasticism, was a call to live in community, together, with brothers. But is this “withdrawal?”

In fifth century Europe, most people lived their lives in small communities of extended family and small settlements. Most people did not travel far from where they had been born, unless driven to do so by war or natural catastrophe. As towns developed, they built walls, and in general, one could not just pop into any walled settlement you happened to be passing by. The walls were there for a reason, and access to all communities  was guarded and controlled.  These kinds of restrictions on travel and entrance into unfamiliar towns is not just a feature of medieval life, either. Last year, I read a history of hotels and tourism in the United States, and was quite interested to see how serious travel restrictions were even in the US, up to the mid-19th century and the development of the railroad. The traveler, in short, was usually viewed with suspicion before welcome.

My point is this, moving back to 4th and 5th century Europe. Benedictine monasticism developed on a  continent in serious, violent transition, parts under constant siege, and it was radical and transforming, but the basic instinct – to form a community with a strong sense of self-identification vis-a-vis the outside world was a fundamental paradigm of social organization of the period. 

One could even say that during this period, all communities that valued their survival and identity were, in a sense, semi-cloistered, guarded against the influence of the outside world. 

The difference is that Benedictine monastic communities were intentional, with ties rooted, not in family or geography, but in brotherhood in Christ. A new family, a new community in a continent of other communities formed out of different paradigms.

I also think the argument could be made that Benedictine communities, while they were certainly withdrawing from worldly influence in terms of turning from marriage, familial ties and the political arrangements of the world, they were probably more open to the world than your average family-based walled settlement down the valley from the monastery. They were more open to learning, more open to visitors from other areas, more cosmopolitan and just as economically engaged – at least before the growth of commerce.  

So to position Benedictine monasticism as an option that, at heart, is a means of protection from the world, period, is a simplistic misunderstanding of the origins of this movement that misses the opportunity to explore what St. Benedict and his monks really have to say to us today. It is about community, yes. It is about cutting ties with some aspects of the world and intentionality, yes. It is about expressing the instinct that human beings are made, fundamentally, for communion with God and that aspects of the world actively work against spiritual growth and fully human life as God desires. That is fundamental to Christian spirituality, as we can see from St. Paul on. But withdrawal from everything, pushing away and closing-off? No. 

From Pope Benedict XVI, in 2008:

Throughout the second book of his Dialogues, Gregory shows us how St Benedict’s life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict’s spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God’s gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs. Seeing God, he understood the reality of man and his mission. In hisRule he describes monastic life as “a school for the service of the Lord” (Prol. 45) and advises his monks, “let nothing be preferred to the Work of God” [that is, the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours] (43, 3). However, Benedict states that in the first place prayer is an act of listening (Prol. 9-11), which must then be expressed in action. “The Lord is waiting every day for us to respond to his holy admonitions by our deeds” (Prol. 35). Thus, the monk’s life becomes a fruitful symbiosis between action and contemplation, “so that God may be glorified in all things” (57, 9). In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God (58, 7) on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ (5, 13), whose love he must put before all else (4, 21; 72, 11), and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace. In the exercise of obedience practised by faith inspired by love (5, 2), the monk achieves humility (5, 1), to which the Rule dedicates an entire chapter (7). In this way, man conforms ever more to Christ and attains true self-fulfilment as a creature in the image and likeness of God.

The obedience of the disciple must correspond with the wisdom of the Abbot who, in the monastery, “is believed to hold the place of Christ” (2, 2; 63, 13). The figure of the Abbot, which is described above all in Chapter II of the Rule with a profile of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, can be considered a self-portrait of Benedict, since, as St Gregory the Great wrote, “the holy man could not teach otherwise than as he himself lived” (cf. Dialogues II, 36). The Abbot must be at the same time a tender father and a strict teacher (cf. 2, 24), a true educator. Inflexible against vices, he is nevertheless called above all to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27, 8), to “serve rather than to rule” (64, 8) in order “to show them all what is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words” and “illustrate the divine precepts by his example” (2, 12). To be able to decide responsibly, the Abbot must also be a person who listens to “the brethren’s views” (3, 2), because “the Lord often reveals to the youngest what is best” (3, 3). This provision makes a Rule written almost 15 centuries ago surprisingly modern! A man with public responsibility even in small circles must always be a man who can listen and learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule he wrote as “minimal, just an initial outline” (cf. 73, 8); in fact, however, he offers useful guidelines not only for monks but for all who seek guidance on their journey toward God. For its moderation, humanity and sober discernment between the essential and the secondary in spiritual life, his Rule has retained its illuminating power even to today. By proclaiming St Benedict Patron of Europe on 24 October 1964, Paul VI intended to recognize the marvellous work the Saint achieved with hisRule for the formation of the civilization and culture of Europe. Having recently emerged from a century that was deeply wounded by two World Wars and the collapse of the great ideologies, now revealed as tragic utopias, Europe today is in search of its own identity. Of course, in order to create new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are important, but it is also necessary to awaken an ethical and spiritual renewal which draws on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise a new Europe cannot be built. Without this vital sap, man is exposed to the danger of succumbing to the ancient temptation of seeking to redeem himself by himself – a utopia which in different ways, in 20th-century Europe, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, has caused “a regression without precedent in the tormented history of humanity” (Address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, 12 January 1990). Today, in seeking true progress, let us also listen to the Rule of St Benedict as a guiding light on our journey. The great monk is still a true master at whose school we can learn to become proficient in true humanism.

 

 

 

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