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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Coming to you from Whole Foods….

Well, for the first time on this trip, I’m staying at a place with less-than optimal internet, which is ironic since this is the most expensive place in which I’ve stayed (which is not saying a whole lot, but still. It’s in a somewhat chi-chi part of town and the owner has the rental casita on a booster from the main house. Even if I plant myself right next to the contraption, photos still don’t load. Let’s see if Whole Foods comes through.)

Update: It did.

(And you wonder – why not just wait until tomorrow? Because I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow – I may not have internet all day, at all – and I don’t want a huge backload of this type of writing. I have other things I need/want to do when I get home.)

Saturday morning was my last morning in the lovely, perfect Tiny House outside of Abiquiu, New Mexico. Here’s the listing – it’s not on the normal rental sites, but on a site geared more towards campers. Hipcamp features campsites, yes, but also lists lodgings that are perhaps on campsites (yurts, cabins, treehouses) and spots like this. It’s also on VRBO. I do believe that the gentleman who owns the property built the house and probably designed it as well. It’s cunning, smart, and cozy – and as you can see, the location can’t be beat.

Good-bye Tiny House!

I cleaned up, packed up and headed out to Mass.

Where?

Here.

As I mentioned somewhere – perhaps it was on Instagram – I’d discovered a couple of days before that since this parish, now St. Thomas the Apostle, was originally founded as St. Rose of Lima in the colonial period, her feastday (which was Monday) is celebrated with a fiesta, that begins with Mass in the ruins of the original mission.

Not something I’m going to miss, amiright?

There were probably 75 people there, mostly Hispanic. The Mass was in English, with all music in Spanish and the Agnus Dei in Latin. The priest was Vietnamese. It was a lovely Mass, in a beautiful, moving setting.

I was standing in the back, and there were probably twenty people behind and around me.

Followed by a procession – not Eucharistic, but with images of St. Rose and the Blessed Virgin – into town. It was escorted by folks on horseback and the fire department. It’s about a two mile journey, and I wasn’t going to walk it, so while I waited, I headed down to the Chamo River for a bit of a break.

The procession arrived – my position was from the parking lot of the famed Bode’s General Store – which is the main shopping stop in Abiquiu.

Up to the fiesta. The church, St. Thomas was open, so of course I took a look. As you can see, it’s peppered with images of both St. Thomas and St. Rose.

I understand the mayordomo is a common role in churches down here. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to have an official parish mayordomo instead of the unofficial jockeying for the spot that’s inevitable anyway?

To cap off an already very interesting morning, I discovered that the O’Keefe house and studio was doing special tours from 1-3. Abiquiu residents were free, and non-residents were asked to give a suggested $20 donation, which would then go to benefit the church. I’m in!

It was not the full tour, of course – more of a walk through with a docent, who gave the basics, but didn’t go in depth. I didn’t get any photo of her studio because there were a few people in there already. But I did get photos of her perfect mid-century mod sitting room – the rocks on her window sill are just part of O’Keefe’s rock collection, which she enjoyed rearranging and studying. The black door is a subject she painted quite a bit.

The setting is….unbelievable. And yes, inspiring.

And remember, it’s just around the corner from the Penitente Morada.

Time to hit the road south to Santa Fe. I stopped in Romero’s fruit stand to pick up some chile powder and some chili-sprinkled dried fruit, then kept going. My rental wouldn’t be ready until 4, so I continued to the Plaza, walked around a bit, got my bearings, saw the Cathedral exterior, where folks were arriving for Mass. Then back up to the rental, through clothes in the washing machine, and then….to the opera!

This was the last night of the season for the Santa Fe Opera, which is performed, of course, in this quite stunning setting, open to the west, so the setting sun provides a backdrop for at least part of the evening, and then twinkling lights for the rest. It’s a gorgeous place.

As I considered attending this performance, I noted that tickets were somewhat scarce, and of course, not cheap. I was willing to pay a couple hundred bucks for the tickets, but then read somewhere about standing room tickets – for $15. How to get them? It’s not on the website. Are they available just on the day? Is it a lottery? What’s up? So, I did the radical thing – called the box office.

“Oh, you can buy them now, over the phone,” she said.

Well, that’s a done deal, then.

There are maybe two dozen standing room spaces, and understand this is not a Globe Groundlings situation where you’re just standing in a crowd. There’s a designated area all along the back of the Orchestra seats – the mixing board is in the middle – with stands on which you can lean, and which also have the little translation screens. Really – I would definitely do it again.

I’m especially glad that I only paid $15 because…wow, this production was not good. This review expresses my reaction in a much more knowledgeable way than I could manage. It just did not work, although the second act was better than the first.

But you know what? It was 12 minutes from my rental, and hearing the singing and the music in that setting for that price is not something I’m going to complain about.

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Let’s backtrack and finish off Wednesday.

Sidebar: It’s crazy to me to think that I’ve only been gone since Sunday. Einstein was right.

We left off in Taos, but let me backtrack a bit from that.

As I mentioned in that post, there’s a “low road” and a “high road” between Santa Fe and Taos. It’s generally recommended to take the low road up for more spectacular views and then the high road back for the small town stops on the way. I’m not in Santa Fe right now, but the advice still applies, so I took it.

I reached the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor’s Center, took in the situation and decided that there was another road that looked really interesting and would probably bring me to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, at which point I could head over to Taos and then back on the high road. Oh, yes, I’m so smart.

So I did this. I turned off the main road at Pilar and meandered up along the river, past campgrounds, until I reached the historic bridge. How interesting. I read about the origins of the bridge, how a camp had been established nearby in the hopes of finding gold, and so on. Some folks were kayaking on the river. I crossed the bridge and started up the winding road, confident that I’d be meeting up with the other road that would take me up to the Gorge bridge.

ROAD CLOSED.

No wonder no one else was on the road. Huh.

All right, so I “wasted” about 30 minutes, but you know how that goes – nothing is wasted. We can learn things along the way. In this case: Don’t be stupid, and maybe once in a while, just do what everyone else is doing.

It was pretty, though. It was.

So up towards Taos, the first stop being the historic in Rancho de Taos. You know this. You recognize this – photographed by Ansel Adams, painted by Georgia O’Keefe, and for clearly good reason. The interior is beautifully preserved, and it’s not a museum. It’s a living parish, clearly.

Into Taos, which is Tourist Central, completely unappealing to me. It must be a nightmare during ski season. I walked around for about ten minutes, stopped in the gift shop run by some Benedictines – a nice shop – and then decided I’d had enough.

Time to hit the high road.

The drive takes you through the Carson National Forest, and the difference in topography and flora from just a couple dozen miles to the west is astonishing. I stopped at a few churches along the way – as I explained yesterday, all were locked, and this time, I’m not mad about it. Given the historic and precarious nature of these structures and – I’ll add – given the number of interesting characters who are commonly seen on all roadsides in this state – it’s not a hard decision to keep these places locked up when they’re not in use.

I am storing up my thoughts on all of this, be assured.

It is amazing to be in a place where you can take in thunderstorms on your left and sunshine on your right.

This cemetery was an absorbing sight to me – full of sunflowers, several freshly-dug graves and unique memorials.

Keep going…to the shrine at Chimayo. We were there on our trip 10 years ago, but why not revisit? It was strangely empty, but perhaps not so strange for a Wednesday in late August. I did not get any dirt, as I still have a little pillbox-type thing full from last time. I was moved, as I always am at such places, by the images of loved ones to pray for or to give thanks for. I was interested in not one, but two areas devoted to Our Lady of Lavang, a devotion with Vietnamese roots.

Food here – it was very good.

Upon returning, there was enough daylight for a short hike – this one, not far from my rental. A half mile takes you up to a mesa where a puebla once stood hundreds of years ago. The views, of course, are marvelous, and it’s a gift to be able to take it all in.

And yes, I did get up this morning to see the interior of one of the churches at Mass….

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…and I’ll take the low road. Or maybe I’ll take both

…except I wasn’t in Scotland, but in New Mexico of course.

Today, I got Taos out of my system. Again it’s late and I’m tired and I just got off the phone from a (good) 1-hour convo with new College Guy, so blogging all of this for you people is not my priority, especially since today I decided if I’m going to see the interior of any of these cool colonial churches I’m just going to have to – you know – go to Mass – and the closest one has Mass at 7am, and I’m 30 minutes away…well, this is going to be mostly a photo dump. Sorry, not sorry.

(Later: Not even a photo dump! Too tired. Sorry not sorry still)

I will say, though, that one of my many motivations for taking this (and other) trips is to figure out where I might want to establish a base in a couple of years – because, sorry Birmingham, Alabama, you’re not it – northern New Mexico, after two whole days, is looking pretty sweet.

There are two roads between Santa Fe and Taos: the low road and (surprise) the high road. The low road climbs up and the high road descends. It’s generally recommended to take the low road up for better views and then the high road coming down for the interesting stops along the way. So that’s what I did.

(If you want more photos and videos, check out Instagram, especially Stories at this point.)

Most of the photos I have to share are of churches. And that’s not just because religion is my jam. It’s because while the landscape is primo and the main attraction, the next most interesting thing to see are the churches.

Sorry, atheists.

My interest in seeing and recording these churches is not just because of a general “religion is my thing” or “history is cool” thing happening, eithre.

My deep interest is in faith, evangelization, truth, goodness, beauty – and also inculturation, colonization, and oppression. I think a lot about all of that historically and in the present. Going to these places, contemplating the history and trying to get a hold on the present – those are essential for me as I try to understand it all.

But for a blog post like this, you’re going to have to settle for the travelogue.

Oh, before I begin, let me say: I saw the exteriors of a lot of churches today, but the interiors of only two, only one of which I was allowed to photograph. Almost all of the churches I saw were locked – and that’s not something I’m going to complain about in this context. As I said on Instagram – these are fragile historical edifices in remote communities, all of which are still living parishes. If they are only open for liturgies and prayer times, that is completely understandable. You cannot leave 250-year old historic structures open to everyone and anyone with no security in this day and age. You just can’t.

Even before I left the area where my rental was located, I had the chance to consider some mission ruins.

My first night here, I’d gone out to the Family Dollar to find something to eat – my Tire Drama had left me no time for food, and while I normally don’t eat much anyway, I knew that if I didn’t get something in my system, there’d be trouble. So crackers and cream cheese from Family Dollar it was.

(I asked the guy – who looked like he’d know – if there was anywhere nearby to buy wine or some such. He told me about a nearby place [I didn’t go, by the way] and a customer, obviously a friend ,offered that he’d heard that some Family Dollars were starting to sell alcohol. “Not on my watch,” said my guy, who was also the manager. “I’ve got enough trouble with normal thievery, I don’t need people trying to steal booze….”)

Oh, yes.

Well, anyway, on my way out there, I noticed a cross by the side of the road, a cross lit up with a light on top. Nice, I thought.

Well, this morning I saw what the darkness of night had concealed. The cross stood with the ruins of the ancient St. Rose of Lima mission.

And then it was up to Taos:

Iconic, yes?

Well, I’ve got to call it a night with that. Let’s see if I can make that 7 am Mass….

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A day of driving, with a few stops along the way, one planned, the others impromptu, as it should be. That’s life: a mix of what you know and hope for is coming and then what you happen upon.

I had considered working Clear Creek Abbey into our July journey, but a friend who’s been there advised against it, saying that given the context and length of our trip, it would be too much of a detour – and she was right. It fit into this trip, though, so let’s go.

I had hoped to make Lauds at 5:45 am at Subiaco, but that didn’t happen. No excuses, it..just didn’t. I did manage to get up and out by about 6:45, with just a stop in the Abbey church while Mass was going on (I would be going to Mass later in the morning…if my plans worked out).

Here’s a bit more about Subiaco Abbey – it’s a Benedictine Abbey and boarding school for boys. If you are in Alabama, it’s similar to St. Bernard’s in Cullman, but larger – the abbey is definitely larger and the church is gorgeous.

They also have recently started a brewery and taproom! (Only open on Saturdays, sadly for me.)

Founded in 1877 – the history is here, and quite interesting. I stayed in the guest house, which of course regularly hosts retreats, but was I think essentially empty while I was there.  Reserving a room was very easy, everyone was quite hospitable, the place was quite nice and of course spotless. I didn’t eat any meals, but you can sign up and pay for that if you like.

I headed out about 6:45, drove in a semi-awake state over to Oklahoma and eventually – over a final stretch of gravel road – got to Clear Creek Monastery in time for their 10:00 Coventual Mass for the Queenship of Mary.

There is a lot of construction going on which impacts the upper church, although it took me a few minutes of sitting in there to figure out that no, Mass was not going to happen in this space, so perhaps I should find it – I saw some folks heading through a door in the back, followed them, went down some winding stairs, and there I was in the crypt.

I think there were about 30 monks there, plus 33 laity – 13 of whom were children. I assume a community of sorts is growing up around the monastery, which is on a beautiful piece of land which, you can see as you bump up the road, being cultivated and tended in various ways.

It was a Traditional Latin High Mass, of course.

Afterwards, I checked out the gift shop, saw Friendship with Jesus on the shelf, bought some bread (not great – the crumb was too crumbly and it had a hint of sweetness that I wasn’t expecting and don’t care for) and cheese – very good Gouda!!

(I have More Thoughts on the places I am visiting, but will store them up for later.)

Let’s hit the road again.

I had various scenarios in my head, but eventually decided that the best thing was to get as far as possible so I’d have to drive as little as possible on Tuesday. So I only made a couple of brief stops, both impromptu. I am, I reminded myself, driving back (although probably not the same way), so I can see Other Things then.

If you’ve driven that route, you know that one of the attractions is all the Route 66 stuff – I-40 runs alongside or replaced Route 66, so people like to see some of the remaining structures – gas stations and such – from the heyday, as well as some related museums. I…did none of that. But here’s what I did see:

I stopped for gas in Okemah, Oklahoma, saw a sign about Woody Guthrie, figured that what was there was about 2 minutes away from where I was standing, so of course:

There’s a little plaza set back from the sad downtown area dedicated to Guthrie, who was born and lived there through much of his childhood.

The childhood home is gone, but a tree standing there has been carved in memorial. I like it. It seems fitting.

(Remember, you can click on the photos and a bigger version pops up)

Moving on, of course I had to stop at the big cross in Groom – it might surprise you that in this land of evangelicals and mainliners, this was erected by an (independent) organization with a Catholic angle. But it was, as becomes very clear when you actually approach the cross and see it’s surrounded by the Stations of the Cross and there’s a Divine Mercy fountain. There’s a bit about the founder on the website, but not much that’s very specific. Stations of the Cross, Divine Mercy? Not Baptist, for sure.

There’s a bookstore/gift shop, but it was closed by the time I arrived.

One of my minor hobbyhorses is the wish that Catholics – local churches, religious orders, what have you –  would set up roadside shrines/rest stops along major highways and interstates. Well, here you go! Mega-sized!

Oh, I don’t have photos, but I also stopped at a rest stop outside Amarillo, which screamed, “THIS IS TEXAS WE ARE TEXAS AND WE ARE THE BIGGEST AND THE BEST.”  I mean – it was actually quite tasteful and beautiful, but it was certainly the most majestic state rest stop I’ve ever seen. Even the grills were shaped like Texas, though.

Sorry Texas, not staying this time. Instead, I moved on to a Better Call Saul episode, I guess.

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Welcome, Big Pulpit readers. Here’s a new (8/6) post on these issues.

Well, we don’t, for some reason, have Camille Paglia to eviscerate this stupid moment in time, but American-born, now UK-residing novelist Lionel Shriver (who is female, btw – here’s a brief review of one of her novels), is able to fill some of the gap here. In the UK Spectator, she writes on the Tavistock decision, but runs gender ideology through the gauntlet in a general way. It’s:

Anti-reality. Astonishingly, fanatical activists have brainwashed many otherwise, you would think, intelligent people into reciting like zombies: ‘Trans women are women.’ I can’t be the only one who reflexively translates when reading ‘trans women’: ‘Oh, right. “Men”, then.’ Thus our activist motto decodes: ‘Men are women.’ We might as well recite ‘Lamps are carrots’ or ‘Knitting needles are tractors’…

Anti-nature. Screen junkies forget this, but we live in bodies. They are not our invention. They’re not toys, like Barbie and Ken. They’re not infinitely malleable, mere canvases for our fantasies. It can’t be a coincidence that so many young people are suddenly determined to change their perceived sex during the digital era. But our bodies aren’t video-game avatars and cannot be rearranged at will with a pull-down menu. In elevating the subjective experience of self above the physical reality of us breathing, rutting bipeds, trans activists express an utter alienation from nature, to which the same younger generations claim to be so attached.

Anti-science. The notion that some people are ‘born in the wrong body’ belongs right up there with belief in phrenology (the Victorians), ‘wandering wombs’ (ancient Greece) or the vital medical balancing of ‘the four humours’, blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile (Hippocrates). We’ve come a long way, you say? Maybe not. Having embraced wrong-body folklore, ideologues are pumping children full of puberty blockers with no clue about the long-term consequences of this experimental off-label medication for their patients. No one really knows the results of cross-sex hormones over a lifetime delivered at scale. The drugs are distributed like Smarties anyway.

According to the above conceit, I was born in the wrong body. I am 5ft 2in. But inside? I feel tall. My soul is tall. I experience myself as 6ft 5in. And because a terrible mistake was made when I was born and ‘assigned’ as this short person, I’m going to force everyone to look me in the eyes by staring 15 inches over my head.

We’re not nearly as sophisticated as we imagine. We’re as prey to nonsensical manias, untruths and superstitions as we were in the 1600s. You’ve got to wonder, too, what’s wrong with a culture obsessed with pretending to switch sexes when hardly short of genuine problems. We’re fiddling with our genitals while Rome burns. And the trans fetish is doing untold, often permanent damage to children who deserve the protection of proper grown-ups.

Looking at her next-to-the-last paragraph, that’s a notion I’ve taken up here as well as, more recently, here, in a reflection on an article on a female artist’s self-portrait of her aging self:

My spirit looks nothing like my body…

Well, proclaims the modern age, fix it up! Become the self you know you are inside! Lift, tuck, go to the dermatologist and the surgeon, get a makeup and hair consult, and let me tell you about the best filters!

Or…just accept? Accept not only the reality of who we are and our physical state, but accept the dissonance we live with in these bodies, on this earth, in this life.

Sorry, it’s not going to “match.” Ever. It’s just going to be. That’s the curse, that’s the gift.

More from me on this issue

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Folks, time is flying. It was about a month ago that we set out on that last trip, so perhaps I should finish up my posts on said trip – because there’s more coming.

So let’s review:

We were on a journey from June 14-30, most of which was to England but which began in New York City. Explained here.

So let’s talk about where we stayed.

First of all, who are we? Because that matters. In just a couple of weeks, my travel-type posts will shift in emphasis because I’ll mostly be going solo, and believe me, in the short bit of time that I’ve spent pinning down some stays for the fall, it has been most enjoyable because...it’s just me. And I am very low maintenance (as you will see if you continue to follow me), and can basically stay in a corner of a room or hell, probably the back of a car for days, if not weeks at a stretch, and it’s a lot different making those arrangements than it is to figure things out for a 61-year old female Me, a 21-year old male and a 17-year old male.

But for this trip, well, it was three of us and no regrets, but still, it was three of us – three adults who did not want to share a bed, no. And booked and paid for by a cheapskate, so there’s that, too.

So here you go:

New York City: The Wall Street Inn: This was a new one for us. In the recent past, we’ve most frequently stayed at the Leo House in Chelsea – a unique Catholic guest house for which I’ve usually been able to score some deals because I’ve booked and paid for the stays ahead of time. Not so this time – I suppose demand was higher, and there just wasn’t anything available. So, via booking.com, I found this one, and it turned out great.

Wall Street Inn, NYC

We are familiar with and fairly frequent visitors to NYC (my oldest lives there) so there was no need to have some definitive Midtown or Times Square experience, plus he lives not far from the Financial District, so it worked out. Three of us fit in one room for a bit under $200/night, the place was very clean and nicely run – by…I hate to say it in the current climate, but judging from accents either eastern Europeans or Russians (not sure which, sorry), and I’d definitely stay there again.

England!

Oxford: The Red Mullions Guest House Staying super close in to Oxford would have been quite expensive, but this lovely guest house was about a ten-minute bus ride from the center. We had breakfast one morning, and if we were breakfast-eaters, would have done it more. The proprietors were friendly – making a great deal about the elder son’s “‘tache” – (not ‘stache’ – no – “‘tache'”) – and helpful, the room spacious and clean, and the food excellent.

York: Airbnb. This was fairly dramatic. We were to go to York on Monday, and on Saturday afternoon, I got a message from the owner of our rental that she was cancelling on us. There was work being done, she’d thought it would not be a problem, but it turned out it was.

O -kay. What does one do?

Well, luckily, another was available – and Airbnb came through with a refund and a coupon to make up the difference – and this one had a washer and dryer, which was a bonus. It was a lovely apartment with lots of space, which is what we needed.

Photos 1,2: Interior. 3: the street where the apartment was located; 4: the city gate to the area; 5: the view at the ridiculous hour of something like 4 am from my skylight.

Hexham: The Station Inn. The point of this stage of the trip? Hadrian’s Wall. This was not the most luxurious hotel, but who needs that? It was just what the name suggests – a hotel for travelers near the train and the bus station. The room was clean, the people at reception were super helpful especially on the next morning when I was trying to get us the heck out of there on the day of a rail strike – and yes, I’d stay there again.

Seahouses: The Bamburgh Castle Inn The most, by per/night measure, expensive stay, but that’s because it was a good hotel in a popular vacation destination. The room was nothing spectacular, but it was clean, with three separate beds and a nice view.

Edinburgh: The Mackenzie Guest House– Again, if you are into fancy hotels, or even higher mid-level American hotels, you would probably not be pleased, but it was fine – we had two adjoining rooms – one with a double for me, and then another with two twins for them – with a shared external bathroom – on the top floor of the guest house. A nice breakfast with a very helpful and kind proprietor. If you want something else, you can pay $200/night more, but I’m not going to….

London: St. Athan’s Hotel: Another shared bathroom situation, this time with more folks, but again – no problem. We had one room with four beds (including a bunk), and there were, I think, maybe four floors of the hotel with four bathrooms for each two floors – that were kept very clean. I think these proprietors were either Turks or Syrians (again apologies for not being able to nail it), and it was located in an area near King’s Cross that had lots of these small hotels. I’d stay there again, no question.

Photo 1: – stairs from our floor to one of the two sets of bathroom that were in between each floor.

It’s expensive to travel, especially with a family. If we weren’t moving around so much, of course my first choice would have been an apartment. But honestly – we didn’t have a bad experience in any of these stays. Probably the Station Inn in Hexham was the “worst,” but even that was fine. You just have to adjust your expectations – the Residence Inn is not the global norm, guys…..

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Well, we are BACK, and while I’ve not finished posting day-by-day journals, I had time on the plane to pull together this summary of the trip, and so as the first load of laundry is going and the house is cooling down, I’ll post it.

I’ll admit it. I’m still basking in my finest moment of the return journey. Standing in line at a currency exchange joint at the ATL, knowing that it would be a rip off, but with 40 pounds still in my purse and no plans to return to the UK in the near future (no offense), I noted that the fee for the exchange was TWELVE DOLLARS AND NINETY-FIVE CENTS. Well, that’s stupid. And even more of a rip-off than I had expected. I turned to the people in line behind me and murmured, “Anyone need pounds?” Someone did. We looked up the conversion rate. We made a deal. He got pounds, I got dollars, no fees involved, a good deal all round.

As always, all posts will be linked on the Travel page.

All right, let’s go:

Where:

England!

Why:

We’d been to England once before (well, twice for me, if you count a few hour-long layover at Gatwick) – to London back in 2017.

Before this, our last – that is the two remaining sort-of-living-at-home guys and my – overseas trip had been Spain in the summer of 2019. (The youngest and I had been to Honduras in the fall of 2019, the other one spent spring 2021 in Florence, Italy)  and by no means had any of us lived in a locked-down mindset over the past couple of years, either. But of course, others placed limits, so there we were.

(Speaking of Honduras, strangely enough, the plane we took from Atlanta to Birmingham tonight had come from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where we’d flown into back in 2019.)

During the late winter and early spring of 2022, restrictions stated lifting. The first to really give an all-clear was England, in early February, and I was on it.  I purchased round trip tickets to London as soon as restrictions lifted, not having a plan, just knowing that we would head over there and See Things.

It was far cheaper to fly out of NYC than Birmigham, even with a return directly to Birmingham, so I decided to combine it with a quick trip to NYC, where my oldest lives and works. We’d not been there since February 2020. What made it all the more interesting (potentially) was that there were two Broadway shows of possible interest playing during our time: Hugh Jackman in The Music Man and Daniel Craig in Macbeth. Plus, I wanted to take College Guy to Hadestown which I’d seen with the youngest back in 2020. Three shows in two days! How fun!

Well, as it turned out…we didn’t see either Music Man or Macbeth (explained here). But it was a good time anyway, and it’s weird that was all just two weeks ago, and we’re going to be home in a few hours.

So let’s do the basis itinerary, and then in the next post, I’ll share a bit about accommodations and meals.

First on “plans.” As I have written many, many times before, when it comes to life I am not a planner. I am an obsessive preparer but not a planner. However, there are certain things one must plan – for example, accommodations for three adults in busy, high-priced cities during tourist season, and then train fares in places where last-minute fares are many times more expensive than those purchased ahead.

(Although, I will say in defense of my non-planning – you can plan all you want, but when a rail strike is announced two weeks before your visit, you’d better have prepared.)

So yes, I planned. And everything went pretty much according to plan except:

  • We didn’t see either Music Man or Macbeth.
  • I had planned for possibly doing both an afternoon and much of the next day doing Hadrian’s Wall things. We decided the one afternoon was enough for this trip, so left the Hexham area earlier than planned. Then, of course, we got on the wrong freakin’ train to Edinburgh, thanks to me, so who knows if we saved any time at all?
  • Since we’d been to London in 2016, when I looked at those last couple of days, I’d initially thought : “day trips!” – Canterbury was first on the list, and then Portsmouth. But once we got to London on Monday, two things happened: First, I was sick to death of trains and train schedules and delays. I suspect others were as well. Secondly, my youngest, the history and museum fiend, walked around the city that first afternoon saying, “Yeah, I don’t remember any of this.”  So….maybe he’d enjoy just revisiting the British Museum and other places? (Narrator: He did.)

Tuesday, June 14:   Birmingham-New York, quite delayed, Chris Christie sighting in DC, Daniel Craig sighting at the stage door after Macbeth.

Wednesday, June 15: A day in NYC. Hadestown matinee. Dinner with the oldest at Raoul’s.

Thursday June 16:  Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with Ann Engelhart, who then took us to JFK. Fight to LHG supposed to leave at 10. Nightmare at JFK, our flight didn’t leave until maybe 1 am.

Friday, June 17: Arrived at Heathrow (late), bus to Oxford. Strolled around Oxford.

Saturday, June 18: Morning 30-minute tour of the Bodleian Library, afternoon private tour of Oxford.

Sunday, June 19:  Mass at the Oxford Oratory, visit to Tolkien’s grave, Oxford museums, Corpus Christi procession, no punting, unfortunately.

Monday, June 20:  Train to York. Stroll around York, including Yorkshire Museum Gardens and city walls.

Tuesday, June 21:  Mass at York Oratory. Jorvik Viking Center, York Minster, Shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow, Bar Convent Living Heritage Center.

Wednesday, June 22: Train from York to Newcastle, then change to Hexham. Afternoon: Hadrian’s Wall things, including the Roman Army Museum, a bit of the wall at Wallscrag, and the Vindolanda Fort and Musseum. Overnight in Hexham.

Thursday, June 23: Bus to Newcastle, train to….Edinburgh, unintentionally. Then train back to Berwick-on-Tweed. Lindesfarne, or Holy Island.

Friday, June 24:  Morning/early afternoon: boat tour to Staple Island. Puffins. Afternoon – train to Edinburgh, for real this time. See a bit of Edinburgh in the evening. But..rain.

Saturday, June 25: Edinburgh. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle. Mass.

Sunday, June 26:  Royal Highland Show.

*****Note***** – the posts below….have not yet been written! As soon as they are, I’ll link.

Monday, June 27: 8 am train to London. Arrival late – because of residual strike-related issues and a delay on the line caused by stolen cables. Still plenty of time to stroll around London – starting down at Westminster Cathedral, working our way back up through the Westminster area, Covent Garden, etc.

Tuesday, June 28: Morning: Guided tour of “Legal London” – mostly the Royal Court of Justice. Afternoon: British Museum. Evening: King Lear at the Globe, starring Kathryn Hunter (who played The Witches in the recent Joel Coen Macbeth) as Lear.

Wednesday: June 29:  Youngest spent much of the day back at the British Museum, and then wandering around London. College Guy and I went down to the Piccadilly area, Liberty of London, and then up to Portabello Road/Notting Hill. We all met back up late afternoon at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Pub dinner, pack.

Thursday, June 30:  2pm flight from Heathrow. Very grateful not to have an early flight or to have to Covid-test. Slight delays and nonsense lines at Heathrow, and then, being Uber-ed in, very startled by the sight of huge black fences near our house because of the World Games. But we’re home and glad to be here.

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Long-time readers will probably remember this post. But given the nature of the Internet and how quickly readers come and go, I thought it was worth reprinting here.

Mother’s Day is a few days away, but I thought I’d toss this out there, especially for any priests, deacons or other preachers who might wander by.

My mother & a friend in Nogales, 1950’s.

The question of how to “recognize” mothers at a Mother’s Day Mass is a fraught one.

There is, of course, the view (mine) that everything that happens at Mass should relate only to the liturgical year. Stop doing all the other stupid things, thanks. As a community, we’re free to celebrate whatever in whatever way we choose outside of Mass, but when it comes to Very Special Mass in Honor of Very Special Groups of any sort – scouts, moms, dads, youth, ‘Muricans….I’m against it.

But of course, over the years, American sentimental pop culture creeps into the peripheries of liturgical observance, and quite often, here we are at Mass on the second Sunday of May, with the expectation that the Moms present must be honored.

I mean…I went to the trouble to go to Mass for the first time in four months to make her happy…you’d better honor her….

This is problematic, however, and it’s also one of those situations in which the celebrant often feels that he just can’t win. No matter what he does, someone will be angry with him, be hurt, or feel excluded.

Because behind the flowers and sentiment, Mother’s Day is very hard for a lot of people – perhaps it’s the most difficult holiday out there for people in pain.

So when Father invites all the moms present to stand for their blessing at the end of Mass and the congregation applauds….who is hurting?

  • Infertile couples
  • Post-abortive women
  • Post-miscarriage women
  • Women whose children have died
  • People who have been abused by their mothers
  • People with terrible mothers, even short of outright abuse
  • Women who have placed children for adoption
  • People who’ve recently lost their mothers. Or not so recently.
  • Women who are not now and might never be biological or adoptive mothers and who wonder about that and are not sure about how they feel about it.

And then there are those of us who value our role as mothers, but who really think Mother’s Day is lame and would just really prefer that you TRY TO GET ALONG FOR ONE STUPID DAY instead of giving me some flowers and politely clapping at Mass.

So awkward.

Nope. Making Mothers stand up, be blessed and applauding them (the worst) at Mass is a bad idea for a lot of reasons.

It’s not that people should expect to be sheltered from the consequences of their choices and all that life has handed them when the enter the church doorway.

The Catholic way is the opposite of that – after all, the fundamental question every one of us carries is that of death, and every time we enter a Catholic church we are hit with that truth, sometimes more than life-sized.

No, the question is more: Catholic life and tradition has a lot to say and do when it comes to parenthood – in ways, if you think about it, that aren’t sentimental and take into account the limitations of human parenthood and root us, no matter how messed-up our families are or how distant we feel from contemporary ideals of motherhood – in the parenthood of God. Live in that hope, share it, and be formed by that, not by commercially-driven American pop culture.

So here’s a good idea. It happened at my parish a couple of years ago, and is the standard way of recognizing the day there now.

Because, indeed, we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it.  So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials and even Super-Authentic-and-Relatable-Instagram-Influencers let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.

Bring it!

So, quite simply, at the end of Mass as we were standing for the final blessing, the celebrant mentioned that it was Mother’s Day (it hadn’t been mentioned before this), and said that as such, it was an appropriate day to pray for our mothers, living and deceased, and to ask our Blessed Mother for her intercession for them and for us. Hail Mary…

Done.

And done in a way that, just in its focus, implicitly acknowledges and respects the diversity of experiences of motherhood that will be present in any congregation, and, without sentiment or awkward overreach, does that Catholic thing, rooted in tradition  – offers the whole mess up, in trust.

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Today, May 2, we remember St. Athanasius.

But what possible value can there be in even taking three seconds to think about a 4th-century fellow who spent his adult life fighting battles over words and formulations and theories?

Wouldn’t it be better to spend our time thinking about real life and real problems?

Well, sorry but theology matters. It doesn’t matter to us because we are attached to words or formulas. It doesn’t matter to us because we are focused on human intellectual constructs rather than human life. It doesn’t matter because we are afraid to get down into the messiness of human life in favor of the cool, dry safety of walled-in libraries.

Theology matters because it is an attempt to understand and express what is real.   Have you ever taught religion, catechism or theology? If so, then you might understand that a great part of what you were doing in that classroom was helping students dig deeply and understand how the teachings of the Church do not stand opposed to the realities of life, but in fact accurately express How Life Is.  You find this in so many conversion stories: the realization, sudden or gradual, that what has been fought or rejected for so long in fact expresses what is real and true, not just about some transcendent sphere, but about your life. 

From a 2007 General Audience, Benedict XVI

"amy welborn"

…it was not by chance that Gian Lorenzo Bernini placed his statue among those of the four holy Doctors of the Eastern and Western Churches – together with the images of Ambrose, John Chrysostom and Augustine – which surround the Chair of St Peter in the marvellous apse of the Vatican Basilica.

Athanasius was undoubtedly one of the most important and revered early Church Fathers. But this great Saint was above all the impassioned theologian of the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God who – as the Prologue of the fourth Gospel says – “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).

For this very reason Athanasius was also the most important and tenacious adversary of the Arian heresy, which at that time threatened faith in Christ, reduced to a creature “halfway” between God and man, according to a recurring tendency in history which we also see manifested today in various forms.

In all likelihood Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in about the year 300 A.D. He received a good education before becoming a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, the great Egyptian metropolis. As a close collaborator of his Bishop, the young cleric took part with him in the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council, convoked by the Emperor Constantine in May 325 A.D. to ensure Church unity. The Nicene Fathers were thus able to address various issues and primarily the serious problem that had arisen a few years earlier from the preaching of the Alexandrian priest, Arius.

With his theory, Arius threatened authentic faith in Christ, declaring that the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained for ever inaccessible to us. The Bishops gathered in Nicaea responded by developing and establishing the “Symbol of faith” [“Creed”] which, completed later at the First Council of Constantinople, has endured in the traditions of various Christian denominations and in the liturgy as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

In this fundamental text – which expresses the faith of the undivided Church and which we also recite today, every Sunday, in the Eucharistic celebration – the Greek term homooúsios is featured, in Latin consubstantialis: it means that the Son, the Logos, is “of the same substance” as the Father, he is God of God, he is his substance. Thus, the full divinity of the Son, which was denied by the Arians, was brought into the limelight.

In 328 A.D., when Bishop Alexander died, Athanasius succeeded him as Bishop of Alexandria. He showed straightaway that he was determined to reject any compromise with regard to the Arian theories condemned by the Council of Nicaea.

His intransigence – tenacious and, if necessary, at times harsh – against those who opposed his episcopal appointment and especially against adversaries of the Nicene Creed, provoked the implacable hostility of the Arians and philo-Arians.

Despite the unequivocal outcome of the Council, which clearly affirmed that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, these erroneous ideas shortly thereafter once again began to prevail – in this situation even Arius was rehabilitated -, and they were upheld for political reasons by the Emperor Constantine himself and then by his son Constantius II.

Moreover, Constantine was not so much concerned with theological truth but rather with the unity of the Empire and its political problems; he wished to politicize the faith, making it more accessible – in his opinion – to all his subjects throughout the Empire.

Thus, the Arian crisis, believed to have been resolved at Nicaea, persisted for decades with complicated events and painful divisions in the Church. At least five times – during the 30 years between 336 and 366 A.D. – Athanasius was obliged to abandon his city, spending 17 years in exile and suffering for the faith. But during his forced absences from Alexandria, the Bishop was able to sustain and to spread in the West, first at Trier and then in Rome, the Nicene faith as well as the ideals of monasticism, embraced in Egypt by the great hermit, Anthony, with a choice of life to which Athanasius was always close.

St Anthony, with his spiritual strength, was the most important champion of St Athanasius’ faith. Reinstated in his See once and for all, the Bishop of Alexandria was able to devote himself to religious pacification and the reorganization of the Christian communities. He died on 2 May 373, the day when we celebrate his liturgical Memorial.

The most famous doctrinal work of the holy Alexandrian Bishop is his treatise: De Incarnatione, On the Incarnation of the Word,the divine Logos who was made flesh, becoming like one of us for our salvation.

In this work Athanasius says with an affirmation that has rightly become famous that the Word of God “was made man so that we might be made God; and he manifested himself through a body so that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and he endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality” (54, 3). With his Resurrection, in fact, the Lord banished death from us like “straw from the fire” (8, 4).

The fundamental idea of Athanasius’ entire theological battle was precisely that God is accessible. He is not a secondary God, he is the true God and it is through our communion with Christ that we can truly be united to God. He has really become “God-with-us”.

Among the other works of this great Father of the Church – which remain largely associated with the events of the Arian crisis – let us remember the four epistles he addressed to his friend Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, on the divinity of the Holy Spirit which he clearly affirmed, and approximately 30 “Festal” Letters addressed at the beginning of each year to the Churches and monasteries of Egypt to inform them of the date of the Easter celebration, but above all to guarantee the links between the faithful, reinforcing their faith and preparing them for this great Solemnity….

…Yes, brothers and sisters! We have many causes for which to be grateful to St Athanasius. His life, like that of Anthony and of countless other saints, shows us that “those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 42).

As you recall, Benedict’s General Audience talks tended (like John Paul II’s) to be thematic, being really “mini courses” on some aspect of Church history or theology.  For a good long while, Benedict focused on great figures on the Church, beginning with the Apostles and moving forward in time to the early Church Fathers. These were, of course, collected and published by various publishers, including OSV. I wrote study guides for their collections. The pages for Athanasius (and others) are below, and you are welcome to download the entire pdf of the guide here – it’s a great free resource for either personal use or a study group – B16’s talks are online, this pdf is free – you’re good to go, without the ritual Catholics-charging-for-catechetical-materials-must-be-that-New-Evangelization.

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john baptist de la salle

St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, the 17th-18th century French priest, founder of the Christian Brothers, who revolutionized education.

In brief, from a 2013 Catholic Herald post: 

Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719) is one of the most important figures in the history of education. As the founder of the Institute for the Brothers of the Christian Schools – not to be confused with the Irish Christian Brothers – he showed a revolutionary fervour for the education of the poor.

In teaching techniques, too, he was an innovator, insisting on grouping pupils together by ability rather than by age. Against the traditional emphasis on Latin, he stressed that reading and writing in the vernacular should be the basis of all learning.

Equally, Catholic dogma should lie at the root of all ethics. Yet de la Salle also introduced modern languages, arts, science and technology into the curriculum. Of his writings on education, Matthew Arnold remarked: “Later works on the same subject have little improved the precepts, while they entirely lack the unction.”

From a LaSallian page:

John Baptist"john baptist de la salle" de La Salle was a pioneer in founding training colleges for teachers, reform schools for delinquents, technical schools, and secondary schools for modern languages, arts, and sciences. His work quickly spread through France and, after his death, continued to spread across the globe. In 1900 John Baptist de La Salle was declared a Saint. In 1950, because of his life and inspirational writings, he was made Patron Saint of all those who work in the field of education. John Baptist de La Salle inspired others how to teach and care for young people, how to meet failure and frailty with compassion, how to affirm, strengthen and heal. At the present time there are De La Salle schools in 80 different countries around the globe.

An excellent summary of the life of the saint can be found at a webpage dedicated to a set of beautiful stained-glass windows portraying the main events.

Not surprisingly, de la Salle left many writings behind. Many, if not all, are available for download at no cost here. 

All are of great interest. De la Salle wrote on education, of course, but since his vision of education was holistic, he was concerned with far more than the transmission of abstract knowledge or skills.

You might be interested in reading his Rules of Christian Decorum and Civility.

It is incredibly detailed. Some might find the detail off-putting or amusing. I see it as a fascinating window into the past and a reminder, really, of the incarnational element of everyday life. The introduction to the modern edition notes:

De La Salle sought, instead, to limit the impact of rationalism on the Christian School, and he believed that a code of decorum and civility could be an excellent aid to the Christian educator involved in the work of preserving and fostering faith and morals in youth. He believed that although good manners were not always the expression of good morals, they could contribute strongly to building them. While he envisioned acts of decorum and civility as observing the established customs and thereby protecting the established social order, he envisioned them more profoundly as expressions of sincere charity. In this way the refinement of the gentleman would become a restraint on and an antidote to self-centeredness, the root of individual moral transgressions as well as the collective evil in human society.

Perhaps we can see a key difference here – the difference between educating with a goal of prioritizing self-expression and self-acceptance and that of prioritizing love of others and self-forgetfulness.

A sample:

Decorum requires you to refrain from yawning when with others, especially when with people to whom you owe respect. Yawning is a sign that you are bored either with the compabruegel-yawning-man.jpg!Largeny or with the talk of your companions or that you have very little esteem for them. If, however, you find that you cannot help yawning, stop talking entirely, hold your hand or your handkerchief in front of your mouth, and turn slightly aside, so that those present cannot notice what you are doing. Above all, take care when yawning not to do anything unbecoming and not to yawn too much. It is very unseemly to make noise while yawning and much worse to yawn while stretching or sprawling out.

You need not refrain entirely from spitting. It is a very disgusting thing to swallow what you ought to spit out; it can make you nauseated. Do not, however, make a habit of spitting often and without necessity. This is not only uncouth but also disgusting and disagreeable to everyone. Take care that you rarely need to do this in company, especially with people to whom special respect is due

Also of interest might be two books on religious formation, gathered here into a single volume. The first centers on the Mass, and the second on the prayer life of a school.  The first was intended, not just for students, but for parents and the general public as well, and once again, offers a helpful and important piece of counter evidence against the ahistorical claim that the laity were not encouraged to “participate” in the Mass before the Second Vatican Council.

Of all our daily actions, the principal and most excellent one is attending Mass, the most important activity for a Christian who wishes to draw down God’s graces and blessings on himself and on all the actions he must perform during the day. jeanbaptistedelasalleNevertheless, few people attend Mass with piety, and fewer still have been taught how to do so well. This is what led to the composing of these Instructions and Prayers to instruct the faithful in everything relating to the holy Sacrifice and to give them a means of occupying themselves in a useful and holy manner when they attend Mass.

To begin with, we explain the excellence of holy Mass, as well as the benefits derived from attending it. Next, we point out the interior dispositions that should animate our external behavior at Mass. Finally, readers learn the means of focusing their attention fully during the time of Mass.

Following this presentation, we explain all the ceremonies of holy Mass. Finally, this book suggests two sets of prayers, one based on the Ordinary of the Mass, the other on the sacred actions performed by the celebrant during Mass. Thus the faithful can alternate between both sets of prayers without growing overly accustomed to either one. Those who prefer can select the one set they like best or that inspires them with greater devotion

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