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Pope Francis wrote a letter to the American bishops, on retreat at Mundelein Seminary this week.

Here’s the text.

It is, honestly, the usual strange/not-strange message from Pope Francis. Strange in that he goes all over the place except to the specific place where the problem resides, and not-strange in that, well, this is what he usually does, and there’s always a reason for that.

Your experience of reading the letter might be like mine (or it might not – who knows!) – I read it and nodded and thought, Well, not bad, that’s true, sure, it’s good for these things to be said, nice point there and then I finished, thought about it for a minute, and realized that none of the specific problematic issues had actually been addressed and further, the spiritual context which Pope Francis recommends for going forward, it could be argued, actually enables the original problematic actions. Many problematic actions.

To begin with:

“At times of great confusion and uncertainty, we need to be attentive and discerning, to free our hearts of compromises and false certainties, in order to hear what the Lord asks of us in the mission he has given us. Many actions can be helpful, good and necessary, and may even seem correct, but not all of them have the “flavour” of the Gospel. To put it colloquially, we have to be careful that “the cure does not become worse than the disease”. And this requires of us wisdom, prayer, much listening and fraternal communion.”

Quite true, of course.

The first consequence that Pope Francis raises, the first issue that seems to require addressing is that of credibility:

“The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them. This has led to a growing sense of uncertainty, distrust and vulnerability among the faithful. As we know, the mentality that would cover things up, far from helping to resolve conflicts, enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.

We know that the sins and crimes that were committed, and their repercussions on the ecclesial, social and cultural levels, have deeply affected the faithful. They have caused great perplexity, upset and confusion…”

This is institutional thinking, isn’t it? It is, in fact, one of the core attitudes that led to the level of this scandal over the past decades (and probably always): This makes us look bad.

One could say that this is really nothing more than the traditional Catholic understanding of scandal  – a true and valid way of entering into this situation and its consequences. But it’s actually a little different. For traditionally, scandal is seen as a negative because it works to obfuscate the power and truth of the Gospel – people can’t see Jesus because you, the one supposedly representing it, have gotten completely in the way. There’s a hint of this here, but the entire passage is really more about the problem of people seeing the institution in a negative light being a problem simply because it’s better that they see it in a positive light.

“The loss of credibility also raises painful questions about the way we relate to one another. Clearly, a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it. This involves our ability, or inability, as a community to forge bonds and create spaces that are healthy, mature and respectful of the integrity and privacy of each person. It involves our ability to bring people together and to get them enthused and confident about a broad, shared project that is at once unassuming, solid, sober and transparent.”

And so on. The rest of the letter expresses Francis’ usual themes – listen, dialogue, make space for the new, prioritize unity, don’t impose abstractions:

“This approach demands of us the decision to abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships, and instead to make room for the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer. Let us not forget that “the collegial lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth”. [6] Let us try to break the vicious circle of recrimination, undercutting and discrediting, by avoiding gossip and slander in the pursuit of a path of prayerful and contrite acceptance of our limitations and sins, and the promotion of dialogue, discussion and discernment. This will dispose us to finding evangelical paths that can awaken and encourage the reconciliation and credibility that our people and our mission require of us.”

 

And so I wonder:

Is this situation a problem because it diminished the institution’s credibility and threatens bonds of communion or…because people committed all sorts of sins of commission and omission, used other human beings, did great harm to God’s children and offended and disobeyed the Lord who created us for good, not evil?

The framework and assumption that what’s most at stake here is institutional credibility is exactly what led to cover-ups and protection of clerical perpetrators. Exactly. That, of course, is nothing the Holy Father would defend and is what his letter is presented in opposition to, but until you shake that framework that privileges the horizontal over the vertical, you’re stuck in the same rut. It’s subtle, but is at the core of so many problems in the contemporary Church, including this one:

Understanding human actions and choices as fundamentally, basically a response to God’s call and yes, law, keeps everything else in context, since, of course, God’s fundamental call is to love.

Understanding human actions as fundamentally, basically oriented towards keeping some sort of peace with others or creating a certain environment without our obligation to God at the center – absolute, unmoving center, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us – makes it really easy for us to create our own reality, including our own definitions for sin and forgiveness.

It’s the difference between living inside the Garden – or outside. That’s really the whole point of Genesis 1-3.

In short, it just seems to me that a week of reflection on this needs to not start with metaphors of jars and pebbles or concerns about credibility, but rather something more along the lines of Psalm 32.

Which it probably did, outside the official public communications.

Anyway, I haven’t even remarked on what struck me as the most problematic aspect of this letter: the deep, repeated call to work together, be unified, be in communion and so on.

Wait, what? Why is that a problem? I mean…isn’t dialogue and communion the point?

No. Truth is.

And the reason the harping on unity and scolding about “recrimination” is problematic in this context is that one of the crucial issues leading to this crisis was precisely that:  prioritizing of the external bonds between clerics above telling the truth and the privileging of protecting image over allowing consequences to be borne.

Who’s against dialogue and a mature search for answers and new ways forward? Hey, not me! But nothing at all will change if that dialogue is conducted in a context in which we are focused on how we think we should make each other feel and how the world sees us rather than on how all of this looks to God, –  or if we’re more invested in saying things that make us seem open-minded and unified rather than saying true things, no matter how harsh they may be.

Is the culture of church leadership in desperate need of encouragement to be more gently tolerant of all points of view and less critical of each other? Seems to me it’s pretty much the opposite.

We don’t create the bonds of Christian unity. God does this. Jesus Christ does, through Baptism. Our call is to recognize those bonds, strengthen them and then do the harder thing:  be willing to recognize when those bonds have been broken by sin  – and courageously say it out loud, no matter what the price.

Shorter, cynical version: When you’re told to get along and play nice, you’re probably being played. 

 

 

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I originally posted this years ago, but it remains one  of my favorite posts….so why not repeat?

 

Canonization-of-St-Martin-de-Porres

 

We’ll start with the  July 1962 issue of Ebony and read about the canonization:

(Click on image for a larger version, or just go to the archives site and read it there.)

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Complete with sweet mid-century ads!

(Honestly, those back issues of Ebony…don’t know about you, but they put me at great risk of rabbit-hole exploring..fascinating. So be warned.)

From John XXIII’s homily at the canonization:

The example of Martin’s life is ample evidence that we can strive for holiness and salvation as Christ Jesus has shown us: first, by loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind; and second, by loving our neighbours as ourselves.

When Martin had come to realize that Christ Jesus suffered for us and that He carried our sins in his body on the cross, he would meditate with remarkable ardour and affection about Christ on the cross. Whenever he would contemplate Christ’s terrible torture he would be reduced to tears. He had an exceptional love for the great sacrament of the Eucharist and often spent long hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. His desire was to receive the sacrament in communion as often as he could.

Saint Martin, always obedient and inspired by his divine teacher, dealt with his brothers with that profound love which comes from pure faith and humility of spirit. He loved men because he honestly looked on them as God’s children and as his own brothers and sisters. Such was his humility that he loved them even more than himself and considered them to be better and more righteous than he was.

He excused the faults of others. He forgave the bitterest injuries, convinced that he deserved much severer punishments on account of his own sins. He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly he comforted the sick; he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; he helped, as best he could, farm laborers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves: thus he deserved to be called by the name the people gave him: ‘Martin the Charitable.’

The virtuous example and even the conversation of this saintly man exerted a powerful influence in drawing men to religion. It is remarkable how even today his influence can still call us toward the things of heaven.  Sad to say, not all of us understand these spiritual values as well as we should, nor do we give them a proper place in our lives. Many of us, in fact, strongly attracted by sin, may look upon these values as of little moment, even something of a nuisance, or we ignore them altogether. It is deeply rewarding for men striving for salvation to follow in Christ’s footsteps and to obey God’s commandments. If only everyone could learn this lesson from the example that Martin gave us.

From 2012 at the New Liturgical Movement blog, a post on a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the canonization, in Lima

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And remember I wrote about artist Jean Charlot last month? Among many other things, he illustrated a biography of St. Martin de Porres:

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Oh. And let’s end with some Mary Lou Williams – jazz artist, Catholic.

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Some background:

Black Christ of the Andes

Suitable for the day, but I much prefer her Anima Christi


Last, and certainly least…he’s in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints – first page here

amy-welborn3

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— 1 —

This coming Sunday is, well, a Sunday – so that means Sunday takes precedence over any saints’ days – but since it is April 29, and that’s St. Catherine of Siena’s day – here’s a link to a section from Praying with the Pivotal Players on St. Catherine – reprinted last year in Aleteia: Catherine of Siena –  Drunk on the Blood of Christ. 

At the end of his life, stripped naked, scourged at the pillar, parched with thirst, he was so poor on the wood of the cross that neither the earth nor the wood could give him a place to lay his head. He had nowhere to rest it except on his own shoulder. And drunk as he was with love, he made a bath for you of his blood when this Lamb’s body was broke open and bled from every part … He was sold to ransom you with his blood. By choosing death for himself he gave you life. (Dialogue)

Blood. Some of us are wary of the sight of it or even repulsed, but in Catherine’s landscape, there is no turning away. The biological truth that blood is life and the transcendent truth that the blood of Christ is eternal life are deeply embedded in her spirituality. We see these truths in the Dialogue, in passages like the one above, and even in her correspondence.

For in her letters, Catherine usually begins by immediately setting the context of the message that is about to come:  Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in his precious blood….

The salutation is followed by a brief statement of her purpose, which, by virtue of Catherine’s initial positioning  of her words in the context of the life-giving blood of Jesus, bear special weight and authority: in his precious blood…desiring to see you a true servant….desiring to see you obedient daughters…desiring to see you burning and consumed in his blazing love…desiring to see you clothed in true and perfect humility….

In both the Dialogue and her letters, Catherine takes this fundamental truth about salvation – that it comes to us through the death, that is, the blood of Christ – and works with  it in vivid, startling ways.

More.

— 2 —

Look for me in Living Faith on Monday. 

—3–

My youngest son and I went to a local production of Children of Eden for two reasons – someone we know was involved, and we had free tickets. The person we know did a spectacular job – and it was a huge job, and we’re very proud – but geez louise the theology  is appalling and the show itself – musically and dramatically  – is  mediocre. I’d never seen it, and hardly knew anything about it except that it was about Genesis and is by the Godspell guy. Here’s a history of the show from Wikipedia – and it’s sort of interesting – it had a very short, poorly received run in the West End and, aside from local productions, that’s it. After seeing it, I understand why.

And what’s so bad about the theology? Well, think – Phillip Pullman belting 80’s show tunes – and you’ve nailed it.

I mean – when the show climaxes with Noah telling his son to take Adam’s spear, made from the wood of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – and to go out, replant it, and share the fruit with their descendants – you’ve got a mess on your hands.

Probably the worst of all of the late 20th century “Hey Kids, Let’s Put on a Bible Show!” creations. Well and enthusiastically performed though. So there’s that.

–4–

Since this is “quick takes” – let’s be appropriately random. I ran across these from Catholic Truth Society, which strike me as quite useful: short, inexpensive basic prayer books in a bunch of different languages. 

These new prayer books will help bring together in prayer and worship Catholics of different nationalities. They offer a reliable translation of the Mass and some common prayers and devotions, in the familiar CTS pocket-size format, with the English text always set out on the facing pages. Prepared with the help of chaplains serving immigrant communities, these inexpensive booklets are principally designed to help newcomers to the United Kingdom. Catholics travelling to other countries will also find them useful travelling companions. 

Nice! But wouldn’t it also be great if we could pray together in a single language that is a concrete expression of our unity?

Yes, that would be truly awesome. Can someone make that happen maybe?

–5 —

Let’s add to the already massive amount of great video material out there on the Internet: a new art history site – Heni Talks. 

What I especially appreciate is that they offer transcripts of the audio – always helpful.

Here’s a video on the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral, wrecked by Protestants:

People come into this building to be healed, cheered up, but above all they would have thought about this in kind of medicinal terms. That you’re sweetened by the Virgin Mary. My thought is this. Was the curving Ogee arch and the beautiful, slightly fleshy, consistency of the architecture here, in a way a metaphor, or a communicative vehicle, for the idea of femininity?  What they were doing at Ely was producing an architecture that in itself would have made people subliminally aware of the Virgin Mary as a kind of physical presence, as something which we love, which we’re drawn to.

The second thing was colour. This building was like a hothouse of colour. What we see now is like a bleached remnant of something that was altogether more exotic. And finally stained glass. So, much more striking. We might not have liked it, but we would undoubtedly have been impressed by it.

Iconoclasm literally is the destruction of images. Basically, the censorship off anything that is a representation. This building was absolutely packed with sculpture. A lot of that is gone, simply torn away. In the 16th and 17th centuries, when the English Reformation occurred, a long-drawn out and violent process, a very divisive process, the deliberate targeting of the central symbols of Catholicism was important. And certainly in this part of England, which was really the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation, there was a violent sentiment against all the things that had, two centuries before been extremely loved, respected and regarded. And the cult of the Virgin Mary, was swept away. The theory is always that by getting rid of the concrete expression of something, by erasing it, you disempower the idea and you disempower the perpetuation of the idea. It’s a way of erasing memory.

So when I speak about the art and architecture here being persuasive, being sweetening, you have to understand that to a Protestant reformer, all these little what they would call ‘puppets’ these statues all around the room, all the little stories, would be deeply interesting, but also repulsive and dangerous. And, as a result of that, what I call ‘hammer-happy iconoclasts’ went for this building with a kind of enthusiasm. All the statues were pulled down in the upper parts of the wall, all the stained glass just smashed out, and all the delicate little stories of the Virgin Mary, all of her little miracles, whacked off with hammers. All heads went, some of them are unrecognisable, and the colour was scrubbed off, and the whole thing, it was an effort to kind of cancel it, to destroy its power.

–6–

This one is also excellent – it’s on Pisaro’s Pisa Pulpit – 

It is now over seven hundred years since the Italian Gothic sculptor Giovanni Pisano set chisel to stone. Though long regarded as his masterpiece, the Pisa Pulpit fell out of favour in the 20th century.

The rise of photography had given a new generation of historians outside of Italy access to the work, but photos failed to convey the pulpit’s complexity. Basing their opinions on two-dimensional reproductions, critics thought the carvings to be distorted and the narrative scenes grossly cluttered.

Art Historian Jules Lubbock examines a plaster cast of the pulpit in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collections and argues that it was the critics who were ill-judged. As an inscription on the pulpit implores: ‘You who marvel, judge by the correct law!’

–7–

As you may recall, our Bishop Emeritus David Foley passed away last week. I didn’t make to any of the actual rituals – I was going to go to Vespers on Sunday evening, but I got a phone call and by the time I was done, it was too late. The funeral Mass itself was ticketed (our Cathedral is small), so I didn’t even consider that – but I knew they were going to process with the body from the church around the block to the courtyard where the episcopal burial plot is located, so I thought we would dash downtown for that (it’s a ten minute drive). I kept an eye on the progress of the funeral on EWTN (you can watch the recording here) and as Communion drew to a close, we got ourselves out the door and into the car. Now – the word had always been that the procession was of course, contingent on weather – and it’s been rainy here lately. But that morning had been clear, and at the moment we left, it still was. We parked and walked to the street where they Knights of Columbus were standing at the ready, waiting. Still clear. Around the corner come the servers, followed by the first set of priests – looking okay – but then…..sprinkles. Then more. Still more – and then a minute later, le deluge. It just poured down on all those priests and bishops in their vestments. You can see it on the video – starting around the 1 hour fifty minute mark. 

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More on Instagram. 

 

Seeking gifts for First Communion, Confirmation, Mother’s Day…etc?

Try one of these!

 

First Communion

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

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— 1 —

Some you might have seen my earlier post about our Bishop Emeritus David Foley, who passed away Tuesday evening. Go there to read a bit of a personal reminiscence. I’ll add a summary of a story told by our music director, who posted that a few months ago, he encountered Bishop Foley at the Cathedral, stocking up on his oils because he was headed to a prison to say Mass and celebrate some confirmations. At the age of 88.

— 2 —

EWTN will be broadcasting both the Vespers and the Funeral Mass – Sunday night and Monday.  Even if you don’t know anything about Bishop Foley – if you are in the least interested hearing some of the finest sacred music in any Catholic church in this country – tune in.

—3–

No adventures this week to speak of. It’s been about music lessons (X3), a teenager looking at a car, mom losing sleep over the prospect of this teenager buying this car, and waiting for the weather to finally warm up in a permanent, serious way. Friday is often an adventure day, but won’t be this week because, well, there’s that patio door that is finally going to get replaced – an errant stone flung from a weedeater was the culprit – several weeks ago, and it took this long to get the door and get the guy to come take care of it. But finally, I can get the plywood and tarp out of my living room. (And yes, it was that way while we were in Mexico – obviously super secure plywood and tarp, right?)

Oh – I was in Living Faith on Sunday. Another one coming soon. 

 

–4–

Speaking of the Cathedral – which we were, just a minute ago –

My youngest takes organ lessons at the Cathedral, and during his lesson this week, a class of some sort – they looked to be either high school seniors or younger college students – filed in, sat, listened to a short presentation, and then scattered about the church, sitting with handouts, looking and writing.

I never did find out where they were from or what their class was about, but just remember that the next time someone tries to tell you that there’s a conflict or dichotomy between taking care to construct beautiful and substantive churches and a “simple”  – implication – better  – faith.

A beautiful church building is a witness to Christ in the midst of the city surrounding it.

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–5 —

 

Tomorrow (April 21) is the memorial of St. Anselm. This is from a blog post from last year:

I will always, always remember St. Anselm because he was the first Christian philosopher/theologian I encountered in a serious way.

As a Catholic high school student in the 70’s, of course we met no such personages – only the likes of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Man of La Mancha.

(That was a project senior year – do a visual project matching up the lyrics of “Impossible Dream” with the Beatitudes. JLS had been Sophomore year. It was a text in the class. It was  also the year my religion teacher remarked on my report card, “Amy is a good student, but she spends class time sitting in the back of the room reading novels.” )

Anyway, upon entering the University of Tennessee, I claimed a major of Honors History and a minor of religious studies. (Instapundit’s dad, Dr. Charles Reynolds, was one of my professors). One of the classes was in medieval church history, and yup, we plunged into Anselm, and I was introduced to thinking about the one of whom no greater can be thought, although more of the focus was on his atonement theory. So Anselm and his tight logic always makes me sit up and take notice.

–6–

If you want a good modern translation of Anselm’s Proslogion – I dug this one up. It’s a pdf.  

I like the way it begins. Anselm shares some good advice:

Come now, insignificant man, leave behind for a time your preoccupations;
seclude yourself for a while from your disquieting
thoughts. Turn aside now from heavy cares, and set aside your
wearisome tasks. Make time for God, and rest a while in Him.
Enter into the inner chamber of your mind; shut out everything
except God and what is of aid to you in seeking Him; after closing
the chamber door, seek Him out.

 

–7–

Seeking gifts for First Communion, Confirmation, Mother’s Day…etc?

Try one of these!

First Communion

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

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Earlier this evening, Bishop David Foley, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Birmingham (Third bishop of the diocese, as well as former auxiliary of Richmond), passed away after final bout of cancer. He was 88, tiny (under five feet tall) but astonishingly energetic up until the end. Last weekend, parishes in the diocese published this handwritten letter from him in their bulletins.

Bishop Foley

Bishop Foley remained very active in the diocese after his retirement. He said Mass everywhere, whenever needed, including in the Extraordinary Form. I last heard him preach perhaps a year ago or so, and his preaching was focused, on point and deeply well-prepared. One of the most striking elements of the way he celebrated Mass was perhaps related to his celebration of the Extraordinary Form – he prayed the Consecration almost sotto voce.  This might surprise some of you whose knowledge of Bishop Foley derives primarily from his interactions with EWTN leadership – including Mother Angelica – back in the day. But there it was.

One more note: My 17-year old works at a local grocery store, and just last fall, Bishop Foley came in. He recognized my son – we are assuming because my son has served at Casa Maria Convent and Retreat Center, where the Bishop would sometimes celebrate Mass – but their paths did not cross that often – perhaps two or three times over the course of three years – but Bishop Foley recognized him – if not by name, but definitely by sight – and chatted with him.

Requiescat in Pace. 

Bishop Foley’s obituary.

 

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Want to know more? The old Catholic Encyclopedia entry is a good place to start.  Another good intro at the EWTN site.

I wrote about him in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

(You can click on individual images to get a clearer view.)

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Welcome to those of you who might have wandered over here after seeing me on Jim and Joy Pinto’s show today.

And Merry Christmas!

To learn more about me and my writings, you can, of course, simply peruse this blog through the archives over there on the right.

I’m a regular contributor to Living Faith, and, as it happens, one of my devotionals is tomorrow’s – the feast of St. Stephen. You can bookmark this page and read it online on December 26. 

You can follow me on Instagram here – and if you actually follow me on your phone or other device, you can see the more in-the-moment Instagram Stories I post – and over the next week, there’ll be quite a bit of that, as we do a bit of journeying over Christmas.

For more information on my books, go to my main website  or my Amazon author page. 

My most recent book is The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

Be in touch!

amywelborn60 – AT – gmail.com

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