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"amy welborn"

Happy All Saints!

I’m in Living Faith today. 

Before we get rolling here with some Thoughts, I’ll just mention, since it is obligatory on Social Media, our Halloween experience.

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Yeah, nada this year. I don’t think we had any trick-or-treaters last year (our house is in a neighborhood, yes, but the street is kind off enough to take it away from main Halloween traffic), so this year, I didn’t even purchase any candy – we had a few Gansito on hand, so I decided that if anyone showed up, that’s what they’d get.

Well, it was also in the 30’s here in Alabama, so add that to the situation, and you have, again, no trick-or-treaters, and an almost 15-year old who’s been over the holiday for a couple of years, so it was indeed, a quiet night here.

Which is fine. There might be some aspects of Parenting Young Children in America I miss at this point, but not many. My stance is more of walking past various aisles in the store – baby needs, feminine hygiene products, Halloween gear and (especially) Valentines  – and thinking Thank God that part of my life is in the past. What next?

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I am convicted of the truth of the Christian – Catholic faith by odd things. Yes, the traditional arguments and proofs have their power and make sense, but in the end, it is manifestations of paradox and a certain kind of skewing that gives me confidence of the truth. I am not as enamored of Chesterton as some are, but where he does appeal to me is his grasp of the paradox at the heart of reality, reflected and clarified in the Incarnation and the faith that flows from it.

The role of the saints in Catholic life makes a similar argument for me, if you will. There are many things to be said about saints, many ways in which they are used to argue for the Faith: they gave up so much for this…it must  be true. And so on. But I come at the saints from a slightly different angle.

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For when I look at the role of saints within Catholic life and spirituality, I see nothing like it any other institution, culture or subculture in human history. Yes, all cultures honor other human beings, some even have their miracle-workers. They have their wise men and founders, they have their holy fools and mystics.

But in what other human context are rulers and managers and the wealthy told that their life – their real life  – depends on honoring, emulating and humbly seeking the prayers of a beggar?

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Or a young woman who died in her early 20’s, almost completely unknown?

 

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Or a young African woman?

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When I consider the Communion of Saints, I see a great deal. I see the Body of Christ, visible and invisible, militant and triumphant. But I also see the breadth and depth of human experience in a way that no other aspect of life affords me and which, in fact, some aspects of life – parochialism, pride, secularism – hide from me. In touch with the saints, I stay in touch with real history in a more complete way, with human experience and with the presence of the Word made Flesh, encountered and embodied in the lives of his saints. Every single day, in the calendar of memorials and feasts, I meet them. I can’t rest easy and pretend that my corner of experience affords me all I need to know.

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Here with the saints, we are taught that grace can dwell in every life, from any corner or level that the world erects. We can’t sit easily, proud and blind and dismissive of the other. The peacemaker is invited to beg the soldier’s prayers. The professor turns to the untutored child martyr. The merchant busily engaged with the world encounters the intense bearded figure, alone in the desert.

 

"amy welborn"

On today’s Solemnity of All Saints, our hearts are dilated to the dimensions of Heaven, exceeding the limits of time and space.

-B16

"amy welborn"

 

 

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And yes, I like to read and write about saints:

 

 

More on my books related to saints here. 

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

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I began this blog post this morning. Or maybe even Sunday night? Not sure. With the best of intentions. Focus! Engage!

The whole business would go a whole lot better, I think, if I would be resolute and disciplined and do this writing before allowing myself even a glimpse at the news in the morning. Or just, as I’m doing now, set things down in the evening, when the news has had the whole day to work its way through my system.

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I was going to digest, but I think I’ll go a little broader and just pound out some notes on the current state of the homeschool. Because, besides the news, that’s what absorbs much of my brain space at the moment.

And since some of you might not make it to the end of the details and blathering, let me get The Point out of the way right away. Things are going well – I think. No balls have been dropped yet, although the pace in some areas is slower than I’d hoped. He seems content – and believe me, I check every day.

But our space an Ecstatic Little Home Education Cottage, top to bottom, dawn to dusk? No. We’re doing this thing, and it’s a good thing, but it’s not the ideal. Both of us wish there were school options that better fit his life and interests here, but without going into details – there just aren’t. I’ve written about that before. Our choices range from terrible to well-meaning mediocrity to budget-draining Wokeness, with the best public schools far away, on the other side of our zoning lines, and I’m not up for going to the trouble of selling a house and moving across town…for that.

(As I’ve mentioned, we do have an IB school here – my daughter went – but I am just not a believer in such high level intensity at the high school level  – and the ideological aspects of the humanities in these programs are a big negative. Why spend years stressing and sweating over courses taught from particular narrow perspectives, when you can get the broad view in a much more relaxed way from you know, reading a book at home? Save the intensity and ideological battles for college.)

So this is what we’re doing, and it’s evolving – especially now, as he takes on more musical responsibilities. I have no trouble admitting that for my part, my stance is a straggly woven tapestry of gratitude, interest, resentment, impatience, contentment and readiness to just be done with this part of my life.

But you know what? This is what I signed up for, and so this is where I am.

No, I didn’t sign up for “homeschooling a teenager as a single parent at the age of 59” when my first kid was born. But when I accepted parenthood, what I did sign up for was to subsume my own desires to their best interests.

This is not a motherhood thing. It’s a parenthood thing. It’s what all parents are called to do, it’s a parent’s responsibility – to sacrifice for their children. It begins with a mother’s sacrifice of her body to nurture life. It continues as parents set aside, if it’s necessary, their own plans in order to meet their children’s needs. It’s the way of the world: parents working jobs they can barely stand so the children that they’ve brought into the world can eat. Parents changing situations that give them pleasure so they can have more freedom and space to pay more attention to their children. Sometimes those sacrifices involve distance, don’t they? A parent having to migrate or be deployed in order to provide, a parent working long hours or double shifts so the kids can eat and have shelter. A parent in a profession that requires intense and time-consuming training or emotionally demanding presence.

Sometimes it all comes together. Parents work at something they enjoy, kids are provided for, family flourishes. But much of the time, in life, something has to give. Parents everywhere, all the time, make tough decisions on this score. I’m a medical professional, and I serve loads of people and even save lives – and in order to get there, I had to be less present to my kids than I would have if I’d been in a less demanding profession. I’m in ministry, and everyone in my congregation or apostolate wants a piece of me and thinks they have a right to that – and I do help a lot of them – but at what price to my kids?

No, it’s not easy – and healthy adults emerge from all sorts of crazy circumstances – sometimes the healthiest come out of the weirdest places.  Resilience can’t be predicted or planned.

And every one of us knows, if we’ve honestly reflected on our experiences as former children,  so many of us spend a lot of our growing up and growing into adulthood looking at that greener grass: It would have been so much better if my parents hadn’t gotten divorced. Man, I wish my parents had just split up – they would have both been so much happier. I know I’d have been so much better off if they’d put me in Catholic schools – what were they thinking? Man, Catholic school really messed me up – what were they thinking? I wish my parents would have supported me being in sports or dance or music! I can’t believe they pushed me to do sports or dance or music for so long – I think it was really for them, not me, you know? My parents hardly ever hugged me. I just really wished my parents could have just left me alone for like five minutes. Our family vacations were so great! Hell, defined: a family vacation. 

Growing to adulthood means smashing the idols of your childhood and family life, seeing it for the flawed mess that it was, and looking to the only perfect Parent to fill the gaps.

Which means, then, that parenting means teaching your children, in direct and mostly subtle ways, that lesson exactly: I’m trying here, but I’m not perfect, and I’m sorry for the mistakes that will be and have been made. Let me introduce you to God who, unlike me, will never let you down. 

And in all that, in all the complications and trade-offs, the kids have to come first.  As I indicated above, there are different ways in which they can, indeed, come first – so if they only way you can feed them is to spend your earning time away from them – that’s what you have to do. Or if you’re a messed up individual, maybe “putting the kids first” means that you outsource what you can’t emotionally or mentally manage to loving adults who can. Self-care, maintaining sanity and balance – that’s for the kids, too.

But, in this present moment, in a privileged culture centered on the individual, it might not be a bad thing to recall the concept of sacrifice. We can congratulate ourselves on fulfilling our own desires as adults and claim that because we’re “happier,” of course our kids will be happier – and sometimes this might be true. But what also might be true is that at times we have a responsibility to sacrifice our own desires for our dependents’  – children, aging parents, disabled siblings – well-being.

As I finished that last paragraph, I had a sentence that said something like trusting that God will bring us greater joy than we could have planned – but then I cut it. Obviously. Why? Because I find myself resistant to encouraging expectations of “joy” or “happiness” simply because those are such subjective terms, and so misunderstood.

Traditional spiritual practices remind us, all the time, to have no expectations of results, but to privilege faithfulness instead. It’s not – be careful here – that the deeper joy isn’t promised or won’t come – it’s that “joy” or “happiness” can’t be a goal. Seeking “happiness” or “fulfillment” or “satisfaction” has never been a fundamental goal of the Christian life – being faithful to Christ’s call to love sacrificially is. Do you see the difference?

Basically: Even though I fail every day many times, I see the shape of parenting as essentially: love in whatever way is called for in the moment, sacrifice my own desires for their best interest, and really – try not to be a whiny martyr about it. 

And if that’s where you’re at – if you’re in a place of sacrifice, you’re in the exact place that parents and thoughtful humans have always dwelt – and that sacrifice of your own desires for the good of others?

Is a place of grace. 

You’re doing a good – a great – thing. 

Just don’t be a whiny faux martyr about it – much.

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Well, that went in unexpected directions. It was all probably the Spirit working to get stuff out of my system so *I* wouldn’t be a whiny martyr in the rest of this blog post.

Here’s the summary of what’s going on in the Homeschool.

Main development is that Musician Son has an actual job now. A regular, recurring job at the age of 14 – hope it’s recurring! He’s the regular organist at the Sunday Masses of a small parish not too far from our home – the parish in which his sister was married this past summer. It’s a perfect opportunity for him, and not just because he did, indeed, play on that organ for the wedding – it’s a small parish, really committed to going in the right direction, musically, with most of the cantoring and directing being done by Adrianne Price, whom EWTN viewers will know from, well, EWTN. She’s patient, kind and prayerful – a great support for a young musician.

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So, many thanks to his teacher, Bruce Ludwick of the Cathedral of St. Paul, and the pastor, Fr. Vu – who’s giving him a chance. Here we go!

And by “we” – I mean – “we.” Yeah, well. AMDG and all that, right? Because this definitely impacts more than him. He needs to practice organ more – and no, we don’t own an organ, so that means more time in the car and sitting in churches. And he has a weekend commitment now. Which impacts our Big Homeschool Travel Dreams. I already had our November Honduras trip planned, so I gave them the dates for that ahead of time, but at this point, we are sort of stuck here for a while. We’ll see. Trying not to be irritated at that, trying to remember that this is all for God, right, and WOW it’s GREAT that I get to spend more time in churches….I keep saying, with all these older kids and in-law kids and grandkids plus all the needs of just..the world…it doesn’t seem that there’s enough time in the day for all the prayers that need to be said, so well..here ya go. Fine. Whatever. Fine. 

Image result for joan of arc silent

Because of this, while both other music lessons continue (jazz and regular, classical piano), the pace has slowed and commitments cut. He needs to focus on organ right now.

Math: Working on Algebra II, combining Art of Problem Solving with other resources, mostly Khan Academy and this great teacher from Australia – Mr. Woo! M thinks he’s great and has already developed a very accurate impression of the fellow.

Here’s a nice TedX talk from Eddie Woo, and here’s an interview with him from a religious publication -he’s a Christian, and here’s something he says in the interview which dovetails a bit with what I wrote above: 

Mr Woo’s devotion to the ideal of Christian service even extended to his choice of teaching subject. Amazingly, despite arguably being Australia’s best-known maths teacher, his preferred choice of topic was English or history.

He chose maths because of the shortage of maths teachers.

(Maths) was not an area I was particularly gifted in or passionate about – but I did that from a service point of view because I knew that there was need,” he said.

“I follow someone who didn’t come to be served but to serve. That’s part of who I am. So to me that makes perfect sense even though to the world it doesn’t.”

Latin: On chapter 12 of Latin for the New Millenium, occasional meetings with the tutor – we will increase the frequency of those meetings after Christmas, when he starts prepping for the National Latin Exam.

Spanish: He does on his own, using the Great Courses Spanish II – and of course he’ll have a week of immersion in Honduras. He’s also working in El Hobbit – he’s re-reading IMG_20191022_090802.jpgthe English version, and thought it would be fun to attempt the Spanish.

History: All over the place, self-directed, although in the next couple of weeks, I’m going to have him do some focused Colonial and post-Colonial Central American history. He’s been fixating on World War II lately.

Science:  Biology, once a week, with the homeschool co-op, taught by a local Ph.D.

Literature: This is where the pace has slowed. He’s still reading the Iliad – although I think he’ll finish this week. I wanted to do King Lear to go with the production being mounted by Atlanta Shakespeare, but I don’t think we’re going to have a chance to see it with our trip and all. So we’ll do another Shakespeare in early winter to go with either the Alabama or Atlanta Shakespeare productions – whatever they are. I can’t remember at the moment.

Writing: We’ve finally gotten started using this Norton book, which is very good. He reads an essay, we talk about the questions, and he does a writing exercise. The focus is on clarity of thought and expressing those thoughts in engaging and precise ways.

Religion: Besides, you know, hearing two homilies every weekend now, plus occasional daily Mass, and our discussion of the feastdays and Scripture readings on the days we don’t go to daily Mass – we’re doing Old Testament. He’s finishing Genesis this week. He just straight up reads it, we use this as a reference book when necessary. You know, I used to teach this stuff, so…it’s not a problem. Old Testament and Church History were always my favorite courses to teach, which was convenient, because those tended to be the courses that other department members liked teaching least. He’s supposed to be memorizing the names of the books of the Bible, too. Not sure if that is happening. I guess I should check on that.

guess. 

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A friend from Red Mountain Park on Sunday.

Just a bit of blogging this past week – scroll back for that. Some homeschooling thoughts, some El Camino thoughts. Important, big stuff.

I’ll be in Living Faith on Tuesday – go here for that.

And per usual, check out my son’s writings on film and his fiction!

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After flailing away for months, trying to find thinkers and thoughts that in some way echo my own chaotic thoughts on the Present Moment, particularly in regard to mass and social media, the self and spirituality, I’ve stumbled upon a couple of works that I think might help – one I should have read decades ago, the other new to me:

The Culture of Narcissism – duh. It’s one of those books that for years I’ve just thought, yeah, I get it – as I’ve read other authors referencing it. But then I thought – yeah, I should probably just read it.

and then Society of the Spectacle by Frenchman Guy Debord, referenced by Catholic thinkers here and  here and available here. 

So perhaps at some point, you can return for any insights gained from that.

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Debord wrote from the position of a cultural Marxist, and before you get all frazzled by that, consider:

It goes without saying that Western culture is saturated with images. They are on our billboards, on sides of vehicles, buildings, clothing and phones. We cannot even answer nature’s call without the walls of toilets calling to us with the latest offer we cannot refuse. The explosion of smartphone technology means that users have round-the-clock screen time. Our world is awash with signs and symbols that flood every corner of our social space and fill our collective imaginations.

But what is the cultural effect this image-saturation? This is where Kulturkritik comes in. The heart of Kulturkritik is the well-known Marxist analysis of the process of commodification ― the conversion of things into units of exchange. In brief, Marx saw commodities not merely as things but also carriers of meaning acquired through the process of industrial manufacture and commercial distribution. This cultural meaning accrues in the form of a series of images that surround the commodity, the most important of which is the conceit that the commodity possesses self-contained value ― and it is this value that facilitates commodity-exchange. The upshot of this is that, for Marx, a commodity is a thing with an image fused to it. And through these images, the commodity acquires a symbolic power over its creator, shaping ― and clouding ― the creator’s perceptions of the world around him. This was described by Marx not only as an illusion, but also as a “religious fog.”

But Marx was talking about tables and chairs. What happens when non-physical goods like images become commodities in themselves? This is where Baudrillard and Debord make their singular contributions. In 1967, Guy Debord published his landmark work Society of the Spectacle, in which he argued that images have the mobilising power they have now because “the commodity has succeeded in totally colonising social life … we no longer see anything else; the world we see is the world of the commodity.” Images are not distractions from the real world, they have become the means by which we apprehend the real world. They, moreover, give a certain consistency to the world; as Debord writes, images are “a means of unification … the focal point of all vision and consciousness.”

That’s from Matthew Tan, who blogs at Awkward Asian Theologian – a spot I will be exploring with great interest. 

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This is the Debord reference that piqued my interest:

This debris, the culture of late-modern industrial society – as has been realized at both ends of the political spectrum – is really little more than a spectacle designed to reproduce and inculcate a secular, consumerist ethos and order of production, which itself is essentially a theatre. This partly lies in the fact that the gratuitous consumption fundamental to our society is driven not by need, but by wants related to the construction and maintenance of “identities” and “lifestyles” paraded about in a collective charade with little connection to authentic human realities. Thus, to paraphrase Guy Debord, cultural Marxist par excellence, spiritually lifeless mass culture in late-modern capitalism is just a spectacle for the sake of maintaining a spectacle. 

It’s from Catholic Insight – another online publication, this one Canadian, that is also worth your time. 

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Today’s the feastday of St. Vincent de Paul:

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

 

An account of his life:

Thus, although he had no advantages of birth, fortune, or handsome appearance, or any showy gifts at all, Vincent de Paul’s later years became one long record of accomplishment. In the midst of great affairs, his soul never strayed from God; always when he heard the clock strike, he made the sign of the cross as an act of divine love. Under setbacks, calumnies, and frustrations, and there were many, he preserved his serenity of mind. He looked on all events as manifestations of the Divine will, to which he was perfectly resigned. Yet by nature, he once wrote of himself, he was “of a bilious temperament and very subject to anger.” Without divine grace, he declared, he would have been “in temper hard and repellent, rough and crabbed.” With grace, he became tenderhearted to the point of looking on the troubles of all mankind as his own. His tranquillity seemed to lift him above petty disturbances. Self-denial, humility, and an earnest spirit of prayer were the means by which he attained to this degree of perfection. Once when two men of exceptional learning and ability asked to be admitted to his congregation, Vincent courteously refused them, saying: “Your abilities raise you above our low state. Your talents may be of good service in some other place. As for us, our highest ambition is to instruct the ignorant, to bring sinners to a spirit of penitence, and to plant the Gospel spirit of charity, humility, and simplicity in the hearts of all Christians.” One of his rules was that, so far as possible, a man ought not to speak of himself or his own concerns, since such discourse usually proceeds from and strengthens pride and self-love.

From his own words, in today’s Office of Readings:

Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves those who love the poor. For when one person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to understand the poor and weak. We sympathise with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: I have become all things to all men. Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbours’ worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions.

 

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The writings that St. Vincent left behind are mostly in the form of correspondence and conferences, which are in print today and easy to find. Some of these thoughts were collected in a small volume of “Counsels” which you can access via archive.org. For example, here.

I find reading works like this instructive for a number of reasons. First, naturally, because they are the thoughts and advice of a great saint, and that’s always good to put in your brain and fill your time with.

But secondly – what a contrast. What a contrast to the contemporary spiritual gestalt and yes, I’m talking about Catholic gestalt, too. Perhaps especially.

I am ever intrigued by popular spirituality, no matter what era, and in particular by the give and take, ebb and flow between Catholicism and secular thought and culture. When does the latter help illuminate the former? When does it obscure, distract and point us away from Christ? When we tease it apart, what should be retained, and what should be tossed?

When you read these Counsels of St. Vincent de Paul, you might start suspecting that much of what you’re encountering in contemporary Catholic spiritual and pastoral efforts falls into that latter category.

Harsh!

But why?

Because traditional Catholic spirituality, from St. Paul on, has been about humility and emptying the self and allowing Christ to fill you. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. 

Consider what you’re being sold these days, even from Catholics. In every way, in every corner, it seems to be about you and your self. We are constantly told that the core of spiritual seeking is to discover who you really are, with gifts ‘n’ talents at the ready, accept who you really are, accept that God accepts you as you really are, arrange your life around the self you have accepted, be passionate about that self and its potential for greatness, find a church community that accepts you as you really are, and then get upset if you feel that you’re not being accepted as you really are. Lather, rinse, repeat.

 

There’s that concept of being stuck in perpetual adolescence, and this seems to me to be one manifestation of it – that unrelenting focus on and anxiety about the self and how well we are understood and accepted. As well as a spirituality formed in a context of relative material prosperity and social segregation. Does it nudge us in the proper direction, open us to the fullness of the Gospel? Sometimes, perhaps. God can work through anything, no matter how weird and odd and even bad, and does. But really, this moralistic therapeutic deism, as it’s commonly called in this, yes, culture of narcissism –  and what St. Vincent is preaching – to not speak of oneself and one’s own concerns –  are…different.  It’s good to pay attention and question your spiritual paradigm, not just once in a while, but every day.

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Here’s my tonic for that temptation. From the Counsels:

The methods by which God chooses to work are not in accordance with our ideas and our wishes. We must content ourselves with using those small powers which He has given us, and not be distressed because they are not higher or more far-reaching. If we are faithful in a little, He will give much into our charge ; but that is His province, and does not depend on efforts of ours. We must leave it to Him, and try and fill our own niche.

The spirit of the world is restless, and desires to be active in all things. Let it alone. We must not choose our paths, but follow those into which it is God’s pleasure to direct us. So long as we know ourselves unworthy to be used by Him, or to be esteemed by other men, we are safe. Let us offer ourselves to Him to do or to suffer anything that may be for His glory or for the strengthening of His Church. That is all He asks. If He requires results, that is in His hands and not in ours ; let us spread out heart and will in His presence, having no choice of this or that until God has spoken. And, -‘meanwhile, pray we may have grace to copy our Lord in those virtues that belonged to His hidden life.

Remember always that the Son of God remained unrecognised. That is  our aim, and that is what He asks of us now, for the future and for always, unless He shows us, by some method of His which we cannot mistake, that He wants something else of us. Pay homage to the everyday life led by our Lord on earth, to His humility, His self-surrender, and His practice of  the virtues such a life requires. But chiefly pay homage to the limitations our Divine Master set on His own achievements. He did not choose to do all He might have done, and He teaches us to be content to refrain from undertakings which might be within our power, and to fulfill only what charity demands and His will requires.

I rejoice at this generous resolve of yours to imitate our Lord in the hiddenness of His life. The idea of it seems as if it must have come from God, because it is so opposed to the ordinary point of view of flesh and blood. You may be quite sure that that certainly is the state befitting children of God. Therefore be steadfast, and have the courage to resist all  the suggestions that are against it. You have found the means by which you may become what God asks you to be and learn to do His holy will continually, and that is the goal for which we are striving and for which all the saints have striven.

Another way to think of this, traditionally, is in terms of will. One of St. Benedict’s rules is “to hate one’s own will.” Again – harsh! Isn’t happiness about fulfilling our deepest yearnings?

Well, yes and no, and of course it all comes down to definitions.

We all suffer because we believe that happiness lies in fulfilling our will. But if we have the gift to reflect on our past, we quickly come to the realization that much of what we “will” does not bring us happiness and in fact is quite fleeting and arbitrary–changing with the wind.

To fight “our will” does not mean going off into another direction but rather facing reality. Our “will” often pulls us away from what most needs our attention. We often will to be somewhere other than where we are, to be doing something other than what needs to be done and to be with someone other than the one we are with at the present moment. These are exactly the moments when we are to “hate” our own will and seek to do the will of God.

 


 

Coming Monday: St. Jerome’s feastday:

 

 

From The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

 

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

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Gregory’s story has a lot to teach us about that tricky thing called discernment.

Back in 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI devoted two General Audiences to this saint.  He began with a helpful outline of his life – born into an important Roman family, serving as prefect of Rome, turning his family’s land into a monastery togregory the greatwhich he retired, then entering the service of the pope during very difficult times in Rome, including the plague, which killed the pope, and then…

The clergy, people and senate were unanimous in choosing Gregory as his successor to thend  See of Peter. He tried to resist, even attempting to flee, but to no avail: finally, he had to yield. The year was 590.

Recognising the will of God in what had happened, the new Pontiff immediately and enthusiastically set to work. From the beginning he showed a singularly enlightened vision of realty with which he had to deal, an extraordinary capacity for work confronting both ecclesial and civil affairs, a constant and even balance in making decisions, at times with courage, imposed on him by his office.

Benedict engages in some more analysis in the second GA. This is useful and important to read. 

Wanting to review these works quickly, we must first of all note that, in his writings, Gregory never sought to delineate “his own” doctrine, his own originality. Rather, he intended to echo the traditional teaching of the Church, he simply wanted to be the mouthpiece of Christ and of the Church on the way that must be taken to reach God. His exegetical commentaries are models of this approach.

And that is what any teacher of the faith, especially a pastor, is called to do.

Moving on:

Probably the most systematic text of Gregory the Great is the Pastoral Rule, written in the first years of his Pontificate. In it Gregory proposed to treat the figure of the ideal Bishop, the teacher and guide of his flock. To this end he illustrated the seriousness of the office of Pastor of the Church and its inherent duties. Therefore, those who were not called to this office may not seek it with superficiality, instead those who assumed it without due reflection necessarily feel trepidation rise within their soul. Taking up again a favourite theme, he affirmed that the Bishop is above all the “preacher” par excellence; for this reason he must be above all an example for others, so that his behaviour may be a point of reference for all. Efficacious pastoral action requires that he know his audience and adapt his words to the situation of each person: here Gregory paused to illustrate the various categories of the faithful with acute and precise annotations, which can justify the evaluation of those who have also seen in this work a treatise on psychology. From this one understands that he really knew his flock and spoke of all things with the people of his time and his city.

Nevertheless, the great Pontiff insisted on the Pastor’s duty to recognize daily his own unworthiness in the eyes of the Supreme Judge, so that pride did not negate the good accomplished. For this the final chapter of the Rule is dedicated to humility: “When one is pleased to have achieved many virtues, it is well to reflect on one’s own inadequacies and to humble oneself: instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what was neglected”. All these precious indications demonstrate the lofty concept that St Gregory had for the care of souls, which he defined as the “ars artium”, the art of arts. The Rule had such great, and the rather rare, good fortune to have been quickly translated into Greek and Anglo-Saxon.

Another significant work is the Dialogues. In this work addressed to his friend Peter, the deacon, who was convinced that customs were so corrupt as to impede the rise of saints as in times past, Gregory demonstrated just the opposite: holiness is always possible, even in difficult times.

He proved it by narrating the life of contemporaries or those who had died recently, who could well be considered saints, even if not canonised. The narration was accompanied by theological and mystical reflections that make the book a singular hagiographical text, capable of enchanting entire generations of readers. The material was drawn from the living traditions of the people and intended to edify and form, attracting the attention of the reader to a series of questions regarding the meaning of miracles, the interpretation of Scripture, the immortality of the soul, the existence of Hell, the representation of the next world – all themes that require fitting clarification. Book II is wholly dedicated to the figure of Benedict of Nursia and is the only ancient witness to the life of the holy monk, whose spiritual beauty the text highlights fully.

Above all he was profoundly convinced that humility should be the fundamental virtue for every Bishop, even more so for the Patriarch. Gregory remained a simple monk in his heart and therefore was decisively contrary to great titles. He wanted to be – and this is his expression – servus servorum Dei.Coined by him, this phrase was not just a pious formula on his lips but a true manifestation of his way of living and acting. He was intimately struck by the humility of God, who in Christ made himself our servant. He washed and washes our dirty feet. Therefore, he was convinced that a Bishop, above all, should imitate this humility of God and follow Christ in this way. His desire was to live truly as a monk, in permanent contact with the Word of God, but for love of God he knew how to make himself the servant of all in a time full of tribulation and suffering. He knew how to make himself the “servant of the servants”. Precisely because he was this, he is great and also shows us the measure of true greatness.

And he’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints. 

amy-welborn-bookgregory-the-great

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Of the many saints we could celebrate today, she’s the one I’ll pick. I’ll start by highlighting a 10-year (ten!) old blog post of mine, written the day of her canonization.

(She is the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

I see the retreat master this past weekend was a Discalced Carmelite and the retreat was for Third-Order Carmelites (ah…that explains the big scapulars. Got it.) . He preached a very good homily tying together the Scriptures, the canonization of the saints that had taken place that day (he was quick enough to look up the Holy Father’s homily so he could quote from it at 11am Mass),  and, well, life.

What struck me about his homily was his description of three of the newly canonized – St. Damien, St. Jeanne Jugan, and St. Rafael Arnaiz Baron, as “outcasts” of a sort: St. Damien for his life among the lepers; St. Jeanne Jugan because of her removal as superior of the community she founded, and St. Rafael because of his health problems (diabetes), which prohibited him from joining the Trappists in the way he had hoped (he was able to become an Oblate, but not a brother or priest)

Sell all you have and give the money to the poor.

All of it.

Pope Benedict’s homily:

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the question that opens the brief dialogue we heard in the Gospel, between a man, identified elsewhere as the rich young man, and Jesus (cf Mk 10:17-30). We do not have very many details about this nameless character: all the same from the little we do have we are able to perceive his sincere desire to attain eternal life by living an honest and virtuous existence on earth. In fact he knows the commandments and has obeyed them since childhood. And yet all of this, while important, is not sufficient — says Jesus — there is one thing missing, but it is an essential thing. Seeing then that he is willing, the Divine Master looks at him with love and proposes the qualitative leap, he calls him to the heroism of sanctity, he asks him to abandon everything and follow him: “Sell what you own and give the money to the poor…then come, follow me!” (V. 21).

“Then come, follow me!” This is the Christian vocation that flows from a proposal of love by the Lord, and that can be realized only thanks to our loving reply. Jesus invites his disciples to the total giving of their lives, without calculation or personal gain, with unfailing trust in God. The saints welcome this demanding invitation and set about following the crucified and risen Christ with humble docility. Their perfection, in the logic of a faith that is humanly incomprehensible at times, consists in no longer placing themselves at the center, but choosing to go against the flow and live according to the Gospel.

And after Mass:

At the end of Mass, Benedict XVI made his way to the raised dias in front of the basilica, where tens of thousands of pilgrims were waiting gathered in the square, with whom he prayed the Angelus. In his reflection before the Marian prayer, he returned to the value of the witness of the saints canonized today. He asked French-speaking pilgrims to follow the example of St. Jeanne Jugan, “to take care of the poorest and smallest” to support with prayer and work “the generous people involved in the fight against leprosy and all other forms of leprosy due to the lack of love,  ignorance or meanness”. The pope also asked them to help the work of the Synod for Africa in progress this week in Rome. Benedict XVI also recalled the figure of St. Damian for Flemish pilgrims: “This holy priest was led by God to allow his vocation flourish into a total ‘yes’. May the intercession of Our Lady and the apostle of lepers free the world of leprosy, make us open to the love of God and give us joy and enthusiasm in service to our brothers and sisters. ”   Among the many pilgrims, the pope also greeted – in English – a group of survivors of nuclear attacks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “I pray – said the pontiff – that the world will never witness such a mass destruction of innocent lives again. May God bless you all, as well as your families and your loved ones at home”.

More on St. Jeanne Jugan, including the time Charles Dickens met her:

Jeanne chose the name Sister Mary of the Cross but was commonly known as Mother Marie of the Cross. She would often say, “the poor are Our Lord.” Locals began to call her humble sisters and their hospitality efforts, the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

In 1851 a small group of Little Sisters crossed the English Channel to establish the first home outside France, in a London suburb. Spain was next, followed by Belgium, Ireland, North Africa and North America. In just the last decade, new homes for the elderly have opened in India, Peru, and the Philippines. 

Like the grain of what that falls to the earth and dies, Jeanne’s life has produced great fruit that continues today—but she was not always honored or appreciated during her life.  One day a new priest who was put in charge of the young congregation decided to replace Jeanne as superior and place her in retirement without any say in the decision.  While others protested what was viewed as an injustice, Jeanne simply accepted it as the will of God, and went about begging for contributions to support the growing order. The priest was later removed by the Holy See in 1890. Jeanne told her sisters, “We are grafted into the cross and we must carry it joyfully unto death.” When she died 27 years later, few of the young Little Sisters even knew that she was the foundress.

Once after meeting Jeanne Jugan, Charles Dickens said, “there is in this woman something so calm, and so holy, that in seeing her I know myself to be in the presence of a superior being. Her words went straight to my heart, so that my eyes, I know not how, filled with tears.”  

 

 

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Sorting out St. Rose of Lima can be a challenge.  Perhaps you know the basics – what I knew for most of my life: mystic, extreme ascetic.  When I was a girl, I remember reading about how she drove her metal-spiked crown of thorns into her scalp. That was, not surprisingly, my main takeaway.

Digging deeper,  I read through most of this 19th century biography – a translation into English from French. I read what chapters I could (the first two) of this reassessment and psychological unpacking, and finally settled in a more comfortable place than either of those with a chapter from Quartet in Heaven (1962) by British author Sheila Kaye-Smith.

What to make of her, the first saint of the Americas, this young woman who engaged in such extreme mortifications that even some of her contemporary confessors and other observers, including her mother,  thought she was going too far?

It might be tempting for us moderns to dismiss figures such as Rose. She was, we might gently suggest, mentally ill.  She was a victim and product of a guilt-ridden Catholic culture who could not simply accept the grace of God, but thought she had to abnegate herself in order to merit it.

But we shouldn’t do that. It is not helpful or right, in a Catholic context, to be so dismissive. Nor is it necessary to uncritically embrace all the hagiography. We must also always remember that in the Catholic view of saints, we bring two perspectives: to imitate st. rose of limaand to admire. We are not called to imitation of every action of every saint, because we live in different cultures, with various personalities. So not feeling the pull to jam a crown of metal thorns into our scalps should not cause anxiety. It’s okay.

In thinking this over, this struck me: it seems to me that even the saints who pursued extreme ways of personal asceticism did not indicate that everyone do the same.

St. Catherine, in her many letters, does not advise her correspondents that the solution to their spiritual problems was to live as she did, on a single grain of rice a day and sleeping on a board (when she slept). There might be a call to change, to repent, and perhaps to embrace some small mortification, but mostly what we read in her writings, at least, is an urgent invitation to realize how deeply Christ loves us and to live in that light, not the darkness the world offers.

They seem quite aware of the uniqueness of their own path, and do not suggest that theirs is the standard by which all others should be judged. In fact, the saints seem to take the opposite tack: as stubborn as they are about their own mortifications, they tend to keep them secret as much as they are able and are uncomfortable with “followers” who are following them rather than following Christ.

In trying to understand St. Rose, these thoughts come to mind.

She sensed a call to belong to Christ alone. In her culture and her family circumstance, she had to go to extremes to make sure that was clear to everyone and she would not be forced into marriage. Perhaps you can see this as manipulation, or you can see it as a strong rejection of the world in a most personal way.

It is interesting and important to note that hardly anyone knew of these mortifications during her life. The people of Lima who flocked to her funeral by the thousands certainly did not – they came because this young woman radiated the love of Christ.

St. Rose would say that her mortifications were in fidelity to her call to conform herself completely to Christ. Christ sacrificed himself. Christ’s supreme act of love was his Passion and death.  Many of us think of this call differently today: to accept what sufferings happen to come our way in a sacrificial spirit, in imitation of Christ, rather than to create them ourselves. Perhaps the experience of St. Rose can expand our own approach by helping us understand that living as a disciple does, indeed mean conforming ourselves to the Crucified Christ, accepting that the Cross will be a part of whatever path we follow, but that if we do find ourselves conforming to the world instead, it is time to take action and be more intentional – to make sacrifices in addition to accepting them as they come.

I also wondered, based on the minimal reading I did on this, if perhaps Rose knew herself and we should trust her. Perhaps she knew that she had a tendency to vanity. Perhaps she knew that even if she gave up marriage and lived as sort of anchorite, intensely focused on Christ, that she would still draw attention and that attention, even if it is directed at spiritual rather than physical beauty, would be a temptation to her. Perhaps her extreme mortifications were directed at keeping herself conformed to the humble Christ in the most radical way, a way that she knew, for herself, would be at risk as people were drawn to her. Perhaps she wanted to keep herself radically open to Christ in her physical weakness so that she would always remember it was Jesus, not her, that the people of Lima desired and sought.

I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

It comes down to this. Different culture, but same Jesus, same faith. We are tempted to dismiss it, but that’s not Catholic. Instead, we dig deeper, realize our own cultural limitations, and listen. Because, you know, she’s not wrong.

It’s a mystery, but suffering can be beneficial and bear tremendous fruit. She’s not wrong.

Christian discipleship is about conforming ourselves to Christ. She’s not wrong. 

The world is beautiful (Rose grew flowers!) but can stand between us and God if we don’t know how to love properly.  She’s not wrong.

“Success”  in the spiritual life can lead to an inflated sense of self and hubris.

She’s not wrong.

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— 1 —

I usually have on ongoing, running file of “7 QT” items that I can pull from quickly when the time comes. But not this week. I’m in recovery/anticipation mode, from one Big Event to Another. Therefore, distracted.

2

I did cook last night, though! For the first time in a while. We are going to be on the road for a bit taking a kid to college soon, with much eating out, and I started to feel guilty about that. So I cooked – Chicken Tetrazzini from the Fanny Farmer cookbook. My mother used to make Turkey Tetrazzini all the time after Thanksgiving, and it’s one of the few cooking “traditions” I seem to have followed. This is the recipe, basically – I layer it a bit more.

 

— 3 —

When in doubt, talk about homeschooling. Honestly, there is so much on other topics I’d like to write about, furious as I am about so many things in the world pretty much constantly – but here I am, with Stuff To Do today…and so no brain space in which to tackle it. Sorry for the lameness. I’ll be blogging over the next couple of weeks – some scenic blogging of a place I’ve never been the last week of August – but I fear the Seriousness, such as it is, won’t return until around August 30 or thereabouts.

-4–

So – homeschooling. Going okay. We’ve been in about halfway mode because of the wedding as well as the fact that his neighborhood friend goes to a school that doesn’t begin until next week.

But he’s been chugging away at his Latin. He’s gone through chapter 7 of Latin for the New Millenium (goal: finish book I by early November, start prepping for the National Latin Exam, but also start book 2), and taken the tests the tutor has sent. I’m passing on tests 4-7 today to the tutor, he’ll look at them, and that will be the basis for the meeting this weekend.

Math – after leaving Saxon, things are going great. He’s finished chapter 1 of the AOPS Counting and Probability book and we are reviewing Algebra, just spot checking through the AOPS Introduction to Algebra book. (The first part of that book is Algebra I – the second Algebra II.)

Spanish he is tackling on his own. He is doing Spanish II, using various resources. I am going to trust him on this one.

–5 —

Forthcoming:

– The Iliad.  We listened to the In Our Time episode on the epic. I’m going to be downloading two books to listen to on our many, many upcoming hours in the car: Derek Jacobi’s recording of Fagles’ translation (we have the hard copy to, to follow along) and, per the advice of a commenter, this class on the archaeological dimensions 

As I said to someone – be carefully what you casually mention to me. As in – if you casually mention “Maybe I’ll read the Iliad and the Odyssey” – I Am On It. 

 

— 6 —

Shakespeare for the fall has been engaged: Alabama Shakespeare in Montgomery is doing Hamlet in September and Atlanta Shakespeare is doing King Lear a couple of months later. So there you go – besides our Iliad/Odyssey – our literature for the fall.

Atlanta is also doing Julius Caesar – which he studied and saw a couple of years ago. But we will probably revisit for a bit and head over there to see it. Can’t have too much Shakespeare! And I do love Julius Caesar. Their favorite memory from that production, which is a very intimate space, was related to Caesar’s body being on a bier right next to our table – and try as he might, the actor playing the supposed-to-be-dead Caesar – sneezed.

He’s also reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy and plans to dive into the Simarillion. 

— 7 —

Yeah, okay. That’s it. Very sorry for the lameness.

Remember:

2020 Devotional available. 

Son’s new novel available.

Son posts film thoughts every day during the week – here’s his top Bergman films. 

Here’s his post on the future of home video.

Streaming is the desolate wasteland of our future, and we are seeing its effects now.
“How can that be?” some of you may be asking. “I can watch whatever I want by just selecting it from a menu!”
I’ve always been wary of streaming, but the original reasons for that originated from an element of the luddite in my soul that I can’t quite get rid of. I wanted physical media, and I couldn’t imagine other people wanting something else. Well, I get the appeal of streaming now, but I’ve seen the limitations and they worry me.
They aren’t technical limitations. The technology will only continue to improve. We’re even at the point where we can stream 4K UHD image with HDR over the Internet. Streaming and physical media are largely at a par in terms of technical delivery.
No, the problem goes back to that which Stephen Prince told my class about how studios want to make their money. Studios have seen physical media profits plateau and begin to fall. They see the future as streaming, and they love the idea because suddenly they have more control over media. No longer will they have to manufacture and then say goodbye to the film once a consumer purchases it. No. Instead, a consumer will purchase, at best, a license for the film that gives them access to the film within the terms of the contract. If the studio wants, it could pull the movie completely. Or change it. Something similar happened when Microsoft recently closed down its eBook store. All licenses expired automatically and everyone lost access to their books. Consumers won’t have to rely on themselves to keep their media in good shape anymore. They’ll have to rely on movie studios staying in business and continuing to provide access.

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

 

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