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— 1 —

Happy feast of St. Andrew – more on him here. 

Advent is almost here – I draw your attention to a pre-preparation preparation post from yesterday, and a post on my own Advent resources here. 

In particular, there are several resources available for instant download – one family devotional and one individual devotional. Please check them out!

(And don’t forget the short story, she said very much like a broken record)

— 2 —

There is so much – justifiably – written about Church corruption, but one piece that does more than till the same familiar ground is this one in Dappled Things, reflecting on the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in this context. 

But the image of the triumphant outcasts wrapped in the consoling mantle of the church is not to last. The church is still Claude Frollo’s domain. He is the first to assault Esmeralda’s sanctuary, and Quasimodo cannot bring himself to kill his father in her defense; Esmeralda must wave a blade at Frollo herself. Her gypsy friends come next in an attempt to save her, which Quasimodo mistakenly foils because he cannot hear them speak their intentions. Then the King orders the sanctuary violated for the sake of ridding his kingdom of the supposed “sorceress.” The church’s ability to protect the powerless proves to be fleeting. As the king’s army closes in, Frollo alone has the power to save the girl, and he offers her a choice: life as his lover, or the gallows. Esmeralda replies, “I feel less horror of that than of you.” She goes to her death rather than submit to his lust.

I can only imagine how many real victims might see themselves reflected in Esmeralda. How many came to the Church looking for refuge, only to have their pastors, bishops, or archbishops issue fresh attacks by ignoring or disbelieving their accusations? How many faithful Catholics have felt like Quasimodo, carrying our wounded brothers and sisters into the bosom of the church for protection, only to be scolded and threatened by the very men we looked upon as fathers? How many predatory priests have used their power to issue ultimatums as appalling as the one given by Frollo to Esmeralda?

—3–

From the Catholic Herald: The Jesuit who photographed the First World War:

Alongside courage were modesty and devotion. 2,300 Irish Guards died in the war and the chaplain had to write many letters of condolence. Never merely a ritual expression of sympathy Browne always gave them a personal touch, writing to one mother that her son was “a dear good lad” with whom, a few days before his death, he had “had a chat about Galway…He still preserved the little bit of shamrock that came to him with your letter of 14th…” while to another, written shortly after the first, he wrote regretting that he could not give her any definite details of her son’s death: “From the nature of the fighting you will understand that that no matter how hard I tried, I could not reach all those who fell in time to administer the Last Sacraments.”

A close friend of the revered WWI chaplain, Fr Willie Doyle SJ, Browne wrote after his death on 16 August 1917 that in recent months “he was my greatest help and to his saintly advice and still more to his saintly example, I owe everything that I felt and did…May he rest in peace – it seems superfluous to pray for him.”

All this puts the photographs themselves into context. Already famous for taking the last photos of the Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1912 (Browne was ordered off the ship at Cork by the Jesuit Provincial, an order that saved his life), he showed a rare gift for composition, atmosphere and for seizing on the most resonant aspect of a scene, demonstrated in his “Interior of fortified hut, Flanders 1917”, the hut he and Fr Doyle used for Mass. Generally his photos were uncaptioned; they speak for themselves, such as one of the Front Line near Bethune (1916) showing a solitary soldier marching through a ruined landscape; soldiers attending to a dying comrade in the trenches; or the devastation of the beautiful medieval Cloth Hall in Ypres (1917).

It was also Fr Browne who took the photograph of Rudyard Kipling at the Irish Guards’ barracks in 1919, gazing straight at the camera, immobile in grief. His only son John was killed while fighting with the Irish Guards and his father was painfully aware that if he had not used his influence on John’s behalf, his son’s poor eyesight would have barred him from fighting. In Kipling’s History of the Irish Guards, written in memory of John, there are more than 20 references to Father Browne.

One image can convey more than innumerable words; with his eye, hand and heart in careful and sympathetic alignment, Browne’s memorable photos remain a permanent part of a sorrowful record.

–4–

Now for some local church-y news. There’s a lot going on down here.

First of all, this afternoon, Fr. Lambert Greenan, O.P. passed away at his home at the Casa Maria Convent and Retreat House.

Long-time readers know of our connection to Casa Maria. My high school friend and college roommate (from Knoxville) is a sister there, and ever since we moved here, we’ve attended Mass there at least once a month. For the past few years, the boys have served there.

If you’ve been to Mass there over the past few years, you couldn’t help but notice the concelebrant. Oh, when we first moved here, he was still able to preside. But time, as it does, moved on, and his physical capacities weakened, even as his mind was clearly still very sharp. He had most of the liturgy memorized – including Eucharist Prayer II – but by the time we arrived on the scene, the sisters were having to print out large-print versions of the Gospels and Ordinary for him – and even with that he eventually required a magnifying glass.

A few years ago, he was not able to preside any longer both because of his sight, I’m assuming, and also because he could not stand unassisted.

But when his health permitted – which was most of the time – he concelebrated either with that weekend’s retreat master or one of the friars. Over the past year, they brought in a health worker to work with the sisters. This young woman would help Father come into the chapel – with the Sisters helping him with his walker when that was possible, but over the past months, pushing him in a wheelchair. I was also so touched by the fact that this health worker coordinated the color of her scrubs with the liturgical season – at first I thought it was just a coincidence, but as the year wore on, I could see that it clearly was intentional – even, sometimes, extending to the color of her hairband.

img_20170312_111553So, Father Lambert would come in, assisted by the Sisters and by the healthcare worker, and be helped into place next to the celebrant’s chair, with  – when we were there – my sons on either side of him. Once in a while, the son on his left would have to help him reach his glass of water or box of tissues. No matter what, if Father Lambert was concelebrating, Eucharistic Prayer II had to be used because, as I said, it was the one he had memorized – at least once when we were there, the celebrant forgot or didn’t know this and started in on one of the others – to be stopped by Father Lambert from the side and reminded.

It never failed to move me, seeing this ancient priest praying the Mass to the best of the ability in whatever time God was giving him. To see him  up there – a century old – yes – with young people more than eighty years younger at his side, praying together in the presence of the Crucified One – is a bracing sight. A sight deep in mystery.

Father Lambert was 101 years old.

From our Cathedral rector’s blog:

Fr. Lambert, né Lawrence, was born on January 11, 1917 in Northern Ireland. He came from a devout family and both he and one of his brothers entered the Dominicans and were ordained priests. (His brother, Fr. Clement, died a few years ago, if memory serves.) He had other siblings but I don’t remember much about them. Fr. Lambert excelled in his studies and was ordained at age 23 — they would have had to obtain a dispensation to ordain him so young at that time, though it was not an uncommon occurrence.

Fr. Lambert was a canon lawyer and taught canon law at the Angelicum University in Rome for many years. He was also the founder of the English language edition of L’Osservatore Romano — the daily newspaper of the Holy See. In fact, he told many impressive stories from that chapter of his personal history, and how he, as editor, had the task of upholding Church teaching during the turbulent 1960s, when some were trying insidiously to air erroneous teachings through media. Fr. Lambert was a stalwart priest, a real legend. He was what the Italians call a “uomo di Chiesa” — a churchman in the fullest sense.

–5 —

Other local doings:

The incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney will be here next week.

Sunday Advent Vespers begin this weekend at the Cathedral, with a visit from the monks of St. Bernard’s Abbey.

The Fraternity Poor of Jesus Christ have settled in and are out on the streets, ministering – including a “Thanksgiving under the Bridge” – serving a meal under one of the interstate overpasses, a place where transients and others gather.

–6–

Huh. Someone caught someone practicing organ in the Cathedral the other night. 

–7–

And I’ll be in Living Faith tomorrow. 

Insanely busy week next week.

 

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

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Advent is coming – next Sunday, December 2, which makes for another delightfully brief Advent season (since Christmas is on a Tuesday).

I think there’s probably enough time to order and receive most of these before the end of the week.  And some of them are digital – so…..

(And just for future reference – Ash Wednesday is March 6, and Easter is April 21 – almost the latest it can be.)

(BTW – I don’t make any $$ from the sales of these booklets. The way it works is that these kinds of materials are, for the most part, written as works-for-hire. You write it, you get paid a flat fee, and that’s it. I just …think what I’ve written is not terrible and hope my words might be helpful to someone out there…so I continue to spread the word!)

A family devotional I wrote for Creative Communications is still available.

You can buy print copies here – including in bulk. Also at that page are links to Kindle and Nook (is that still a thing?) editions. 

That Kindle version is of course available on Amazon. Just .99!

Last year, Liguori published daily devotions I wrote for both Lent and Easter. They publish new booklets by different authors every year, but mine are still available, both through Liguori and Amazon.

Liguori – English

(pdf sample)

Liguori  – Spanish

(pdf sample)

Single used copies also available through Amazon. No Kindle version. 

A daily Advent meditation book I pulled together from reflections my late husband had posted on his blog:

Nicholas-Of-Myra

Nicholas of Myra

Samples of the St. Nicholas booklet here.

For more about St. Nicholas, visit the invaluable St. Nicholas Center. 

And then….Bambinelli Sunday!

(Also – if you would like to purchase books as Christmas gifts from me – here’s the link. I don’t have everything, but what I have…I have. The bookstore link is accurate and kept up to date.)

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— 1 —

I don’t know why Blessed Miguel Pro is more known, studied and celebrated among North American Catholics.  But I did my part in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints under, “Saints are people who create.”

saints

— 2 —

A few months ago, when we were in Mexico City, we briefly visited the parish of the Holy Family, the location of Blessed Miguel Pro’s remains.

We made it to the church, and prayed in front of Miguel Pro’s relics, which are contained in a small casket on the right side of the church. What was really unfortunate, but not surprising, was that the museum was closed – the museum that holds, for example, the vest he was wearing when he was killed and of course other interesting items and information. I didn’t think that through when “planning” this – that of course it would be closed on Holy Thursday. I am very glad we got to the church, but really regret not being able to see the museum with the boys. I find Miguel Pro’s story so inspiring and humbling (I wrote about him in the Book of Saints under “Saints are People who are Creative)  that even without the museum, visiting him gave me a boost, and I hope did so for my sons as well, not to mention those for whom I prayed there.

—3–

I’m in Living Faith today. Go here for the entry.

–4–

Thanksgiving has come and gone. We had a very low-key day. In the late morning, we joined with a couple hundred other folks, delivering meals to the homebound on behalf of the Jimmie Hale Mission. The mission generally serves men and women (in separate facilities) recovering from addiction and other issues – we’ve helped serve lunches and dinners in their residences – but on Thanksgiving and Christmas, they work with Meals on Wheels to provide holiday meals for MoW clients – since MoW doesn’t serve on those days.

The way it works is that those delivering gather in the mission chapel, say a prayer, hear a Scripture and a few words of encouragement and some Iron Bowl jokes, and then you’re given a set of meals with a route for deliveries – it’s very carefully planned and meticulously laid out. This year, our meals were to be delivered to subsidized housing complex for the elderly. It went very smoothly after the beginning. There was no doorway attendant on duty, and calling the “office” on the intercom got me to an answering service. I finally just used the intercom and resident list to call one of the ladies to whom we were delivering, and luckily she was ambulatory, so she came down and let us in.

–5 —

After that, people requested Cracker Barrel. It was a crazy scene, and the wait was very long, but it was educational as we observed how customer service dealt with frustrated customers and a reservation/seating system imposed on them from on high and which obviously doesn’t work. Education. Everything’s an education if you let it be.

Later, people got hungry again, so I tossed together some Pasta Carbonara.

No, no Instagram displays of pies and place settings here.

–6–

Here’s a sobering article from the UK Guardian about the pressure on America’s national parks. Featured is Estes Park, Colorado, where we just were last weekend and is apparently insane during the summer. I’m glad we experienced it during a relatively low season.

Horseshoe Bend is what happens when a patch of public land becomes #instagramfamous. Over the past decade photos have spread like wildfire on social media, catching the 7,000 residents of Page and local land managers off guard.

According to Diak, visitation grew from a few thousand annual visitors historically to 100,000 in 2010 – the year Instagram was launched. By 2015, an estimated 750,000 people made the pilgrimage. This year visitation is expected to reach 2 million.

–7–

Advent is coming – look for a post next week about resources. In the meantime, don’t forget my short story (and in case you wonder about paying a buck for a short story – it’s a little over 7k words, so….maybe you’ll get your money’s worth?)

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

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All right, folks, here’s a story for you.

We can call it a “short story,” but it clocks in around seven thousand words, so maybe not.

kindle coverWhen I finished this a few weeks ago, I wondered what to do with it. I thought I might submit it to a journal or competition. I did send it out to a few friends, most of whom have read it, I believe.

But then, I decided, eh. Just publish it. Get it out there. Move on. 

Which I have – now working on something which will be much shorter and hopefully a little sharper.

Of course, I can probably use an editor. It could use fine-tuning and questions and honing.

But guess what? I’m not 25 or 32, just starting this stuff. I’m 58 – fifty-eight –  and when I trumpet my advanced age so emphatically, it’s not because I’m suggesting that I’m beyond help and that I know all. No – I’m saying that I just don’t have time to sit around and wait for a year to see if this might perhaps catch someone’s eye and make it to print. Life proceeds apace and I have a great deal I want to say, and who knows how long I’ll have to say it?

(No – no Walter White scenarios here. Everything’s fine as far as I know. I’m just morbid realistic.)

Now remember – it’s fiction. And fiction is not supposed to be prescriptive, although much of it ends up being just that, especially if someone is writing about anything vaguely related to religion. I don’t know if I succeed, but I’m trying to describe a moment in history as well as a couple of dynamics as I’ve witnessed and experienced them – personal and spiritual dynamics – and how they relate, which I’m firmly convinced they do. You may not agree. It may anger you – but it might strike you as true, even if you disagree with the characters and their choices and opinions. It’s all I can hope for, I think. Something that strikes you as true.

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— 1 —

It’s the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

Here’s my now-17 year old on the steps back in 2006.

I have a few memories of this Basilica:

  • Our first visit, back in 2006, the stop at St. John Lateran was part of a day led for us by then-seminarian and anonymous blogger Zadok. Remember at the time, my now-almost-13-year old was a bit over a year and was being transported everywhere one someone’s back. We traded him off.  It was a great day, but exhausting as we walked and walked – and if you have been to Rome, you know that the walk between St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major is uphill…way…uphill.
  • I have often referred to the enormous statuary inside St. John Lateran, in which each of the apostles are represented, as is traditional, with the instruments of their martyrdom, St. Bartholomew depicted holding his own skin, as he is traditionaly remembered as having been flayed.
  • As interesting as the church itself is the baptistry, which is enormous.
  • We were in Rome right around Ash Wednesday, and the day we were at St. John Lateran was a Sunday, so the plaza around the church – the area around the obelisk (the oldest  Egyptian obelisk in Rome) – was filled with children dressed in costumes playing games at booths and so on – the Bishop of Rome’s church just like any other parish church during this carnevale
  • We ended up at St. Mary Major during Vespers, and there in a side chapel was Cardinal Law.
  • Back in 2012, the boys and I returned to Rome – in late November as a matter of fact.  My main memory from that trip’s visit to St. John Lateran was a rather aggressive beggar inside the church who was approaching visitors and berating them when they didn’t give – he ended up being driven out rather forcefully by security.

— 2 —

From 2008, Pope Benedict XVI:

The beauty and the harmony of churches, destined to render praise to God, invites us human beings too, though limited and sinful, to convert ourselves to form a “cosmos”, a well-ordered construction, in close communion with Jesus, who is the true Holy of Holies. This reaches its culmination in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the “ecclesia” that is, the community of baptized finds itself again united to listen to the Word of God and nourish itself on the Body and Blood of Christ. Gathered around this twofold table, the Church of living stones builds herself up in truth and in love and is moulded interiorly by the Holy Spirit, transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself ever more to her Lord Jesus Christ. She herself, if she lives in sincere and fraternal unity, thus becomes a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.

Dear friends, today’s feast celebrates an ever current mystery: that God desires to build himself a spiritual temple in the world, a community that adores him in spirit and truth (cf. Jn 4: 23-24). But this occasion reminds us also of the importance of the concrete buildings in which the community gathers together to celebrate God’s praises. Every community therefore has the duty to carefully guard their holy structures, which constitute a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy, so that she might help us to become, like her, a “house of God”, living temple of his love.

— 3 —

Tomorrow is feastday of St. Leo the Great.  Here’s a good introduction to this pope from Mike Aquilina.

The Tome of Leo on the nature of Christ.

He’s in The Loyola Catholic Book of Saintsunder “Saints are People who are Strong Leaders.”

amy-welborn2

— 4 —

From the Catholic Herald – “A visit that confirmed all my prejudices about England’s protestant revolution:”

Norfolk, I discovered, is full of suppressed Catholicism; every field seems to contain a ruined abbey, every house a priest hole. The most impressive hideout is in Oxburgh Hall, home to the recusant Bedingfields. It’s an assault course: you have to lower yourself down a trapdoor right onto your bottom, slide along the floor beneath a sunken wall and then pull yourself up the other side into a tiny cell with a wooden bench.

Coming out again, backwards, is even harder. How many arthritic clerics went down that hole and never returned? As I squeezed myself into the cell, I imagined finding there a couple of priests from the 1500s, covered in cobwebs, drinking tea. “Is the Reformation over yet?” they ask.

Sometimes it amazes me that English Catholics don’t get angrier about all of this: the desecration of the faith was appalling. What remains of Castle Acre Priory gives visitors an impression of what was lost. A giant Norman religious establishment that housed perhaps 30 Cluniac monks, its enormous west front still stands in tall weeds, almost intact, and the foundational outline of the rest is clear enough that you can trace the nighttime run from dormitory to latrine.

— 5 —

From Crisis: “Recognition for a Much-Neglected English Catholic Artist:”

Dilworth maintains David Jones was a British original: sui generis. Perhaps that is why Jones is also neglected today. Even those interested in English poetry of the twentieth century will have rarely read his work—at best a cult figure for a few. And yet Dilworth argues that Jones’s place is with the greatest literary exponents of the modern era—Joyce, Eliot and Pound. Dilworth concludes his biography claiming that Jones “may be the foremost British [literary] modernist” and that his “creative life is probably the greatest existential achievement of international modernism.” These claims are especially interesting given Jones’s heartfelt and overt Catholicism, a trait clearly evident throughout his work, and, thanks to this biography, no doubt one that will be investigated further in the years to come.

— 6 —

If you do Twitter, check out the account and the hashtag: Before Sharia Spoiled Everything. 

— 7 —

And well…this is actually happening:

 It appears that there will be a Breaking Bad movie, but it is unclear what role that the one who knocks will have in it, according to the man himself.

Bryan Cranston, who claimed four Emmys for his performance as chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-lord Walter White in AMC’s critically worshipped drama, has confirmed that a Breaking Bad movie is happening, though he revealed that even he was in the dark about the details.

“Yes, there appears to be a movie version of Breaking Bad, but honestly I have not even read the script,” Cranston told Dan Patrick on The Dan Patrick Show. “I have not gotten the script, I have not read the script. And so, there’s the question of whether or not we’ll even see Walter White in this movie. Ohhhhh! Think about that one.”

I trust Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould to do right by this. There is no way they’d tackle it if they didn’t have a clear vision.  People had doubts about a BB spin-off, but Better Call Saul is quite a different show from Breaking Bad and just as good, in its own way (and some say – even better.)

I say….

Gus-Fring-Wants-You-To-Do-It-On-Breaking-Bad

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

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Sorry for the initial mis-dating. I started this yesterday…

Good morning. Of course lots has happened since we last met, all of which I spent much time following and thinking about, but for today I’ll stick mostly to my formula in this digest. Maybe another post in a bit on something else.

Watching: As I do every two years, I watched some cable news on election night. You Thursdayknow, when you only see a group of people once every 700 days or so, you can really track the aging process and note how everyone just gets….older and fatter. Except Wolf Blitzer, who hasn’t changed in decades. And Laura Ingraham? What is the deal there? If I had the sound turned off, I would have thought, Huh, another cable news blonde. I didn’t  recognized her at all until she started speaking. What has she had done with her face? I spent the whole time she was on camera, every time, trying to figure it out  – lips? Eyes? General facelift? We’re almost the same age…uh…amazing.

Listening: The Edith Wharton episode of In Our Time. An interesting discussion in which the fraught and shifting views on Wharton as a female writer – feminist or no? – were fairly covered.

The thread that was introduced but not really tied up, though, involved an aspect of her background I’d not known about. She was tutor and self-educated (coming from a wealthy family) and when asked about her reading, one of the panelists emphasized the importance of the works of evolutionists from Spencer to Darwin and others. A few minutes later, as they discussed her predominant themes, they sketched a picture of a changing world, yes, but also a deeply hierarchical world in which the “lower” classes and non-Europeans were given scant attention and that, mostly dismissive. That is to say – a world very reflective of social Darwinism, although no one ever explicitly made that link.

Someone dropped a comment during the discussion about Catholicism, though, that sent me on a rabbit trail, which transitions us to….

Reading:  Aside from the very hot stream of  Super Hot Takes on the election, a close read of the great J. F. Powers story, “The Lord’s Day” – this was about all I managed:

So, as I mentioned, one of the In Our Time scholars mentioned that the Church had condemned or at least criticized Wharton’s work. The impression I got from the discussion was that any Church criticism must have had to do with sexually-scandalous material.

Well, the rabbit trails indicated that was only partly so.

The main critique is related to a poem Wharton wrote on Margaret of Cortona. You can read it here, along with an accompanying Howard Pyle illustration.

Reminder: Margaret of Cortona lived with a man outside of wedlock for nine years and bore him a child. The man was murdered, and upon discovering his body, she converted to a life of penance and charity, eventually becoming a Franciscan tertiary.

In Wharton’s poem, published in Harper’s Monthly in 1901, we meet Margaret on her deathbed, confessing to a friar – is it her son? I don’t know.

The gist of the poem, and what got Catholic readers up in arms,  is that Margaret is torn between her love of Christ and her love of her dead lover – and perhaps even not so torn, since she makes it clear that what she had found with the earthly lover seemed pretty close to heaven. Here on her deathbed, she has prayed and prayed, but has been met with silence, while she knows that if her lover were alive, at least he would respond to her.

I have lain here, these many empty days
I thought to pack with Credos and Hail Marys
So close that not a fear should force the door –
But still, between the blessed syllables
That taper up like blazing angel heads,
Praise over praise, to the Unutterable,
Strange questions clutch me, thrusting fiery arms,
As though, athwart the close-meshed litanies,
My dead should pluck at me from hell, with eyes
Alive in their obliterated faces!…
I have tried the saints’ names and our blessed Mother’s
Fra Paolo, I have tried them o’er and o’er,
And like a blade bent backward at first thrust
They yield and fail me—and the questions stay.
And so I thought, into some human heart,
Pure, and yet foot-worn with the tread of sin,
If only I might creep for sanctuary,
It might be that those eyes would let me rest…

You can see how this would make people unhappy. From an article on “The Catholic in Fiction” from a secular journal called The Reader:

It is incredible that a writer of Mrs. Wharton’s refinement and ability should have taken a canonized saint as the subject on which to exercise such an unseemly flight of fancy….Mrs. Wharton makes this holy woman, after years of repentance, avow on her death-bed a preference for her lover’s caresses and the comfort his impassioned ardor, to the divine love of the crucified Lord whom she had so diligently served for years. Mrs. Wharton is entitled to no consideration for this affront, unless on the ignoble ground of ignorance.

Of course, I understand this objection, but I did read the poem from a slightly different angle as well.  The contrast between Christ and the earthly lover is certainly the major theme – in which Christ comes out less favorably – but there’s also, it seems, some grappling with an irony of the spiritual life which must strike any thinking person: you might even call it the irony of conversion. She’s asking: if I hadn’t been living a sinful life, would I have met Christ?

As well as, in a general way, the questions all of us have about the direction our life has taken as we look back on it:

 

Ah, that black night he left me, that dead dawn 
I found him lying in the woods, alive 
To gasp my name out and his life-blood with it, 
As though the murderer’s knife had probed for me 
In his hacked breast and found me in each wound… 
Well, it was there Christ came to me, you know, 
And led me home—just as that other led me. 
(Just as that other? Father, bear with me!) 
My lover’s death, they tell me, saved my soul, 
And I have lived to be a light to men. 
And gather sinners to the knees of grace. 
All this, you say, the Bishop’s signet covers. 
But stay! Suppose my lover had not died? 
(At last my question! Father, help me face it.) 
I say: Suppose my lover had not died – 
Think you I ever would have left him living, 
Even to be Christ’s blessed Margaret? 
– We lived in sin? Why, to the sin I died to 
That other was as Paradise, when God 
Walks there at eventide, the air pure gold, 
And angels treading all the grass to flowers! 
He was my Christ—he led me out of hell – 
He died to save me (so your casuists say!) – 
Could Christ do more? Your Christ out-pity mine? 

No, the poem is not anything great, and I certainly understand the reaction against it, but still. There’s a glimmer of truth in there.

I just spent a lot of time on that, but, of course, it wasn’t my intention when I began writing this to go as much into the poem as into the reaction to her novel The Valley of Decision. This was Wharton’s first published novel: a historical novel of 18th century Italy that, it seems from plot summaries, positions free-thinkers against Church and tradition, etc. I have zero interest in reading it, but when I searched for “Edith Wharton” and Catholic Church condemned – this was, besides from the poem, what popped up.

So initially I thought, “Oh the early 20th century American church criticized this content for sexual-related content it deemed immoral, obviously.” But..maybe not?

What I found was, of course, no “official” condemnation, but a strong critique published in Catholic World, which, in turn, reprints a critique from the Chicago Chronicle.

And what’s the basis of the critique?

The answer will surprise you!

The focus is the treatment of the primary female character, Fulvia, and specifically the role of education in her life. The critique takes on Wharton for, the author claims, indicating that higher education corrupts a woman’s character.  I’m going to reproduce this section at length, because I want you to participate in one of my favorite activities: Dispel myths about the past.

In this case, the myths are: No one believed that women should be educated before 1970 or so. In particular, the Catholic Church was opposed to women’s intellectual development.

Not to mention that this contemporary critique adds to the discussion about Wharton. It may or may not be an accurate read of her character, but the fact is that in this case, her narrative was received as anti-woman’s education and moralistic. Interesting.

The severest blow dealt against the higher education of women has been delivered by one of themselves, the author of The Valley of Decision, a somewhat tedious two-volume novel of the spurious “historical” variety.

It has been claimed by the opponents of equal education for men and women that whatever the intellectual results of the attempt, the moral result would be injurious to the family and society. It has been specifically urged that the tendency of the higher education would be to draw women more and more toward the laxer social standards of men, and to make women impatient of those restraints which until now have constituted the bulwarks of the home.

The Valley of Decision supports this theory. The heroine around whom the sympathy of the story is concentrated enjoys from early youth the advantages which other women, at least in the United States, must acquire, if at all, by long years of labor through primary and secondary schools into colleges and universities. A name of evil omen, whether in Roman history or in Ben Jonson’s “Catiline,” Fulvia starts the heroine out on a path of aspiration, independence, erudition, and ruin.

Her learning fails to develop moral or spiritual growth. In full womanhood, having had abundant experience enabling her to see the evils of society in the fullest glare of their malignity, Fulvia voluntarily accepts an unlawful and immoral social status from which all right-minded women instinctively recoil. She becomes the willing victim of a profligate weakling on a petty ducal throne, and feels neither shame nor remorse in her degradation.

The malign influence of such a novel upon the aspirations of American women for university privileges is made by the author the more certain and the more emphatic because the scene of the sinister fiction is laid in the country which was the first to open university doors to women. The poet Alfieri is dragged into the story to heighten the proportions of its all-pervading moral squalor. Sneering at the idea of a woman taking the degree of doctor of philosophy, the poet is made to say: “Oh, she’s one of your prodigies of female learning, such as our topsy-turvy land produces; an incipient Laura Bassi or Gaetana Agnesi, to name the most distinguished of their tribe; though I believe that hitherto her father’s good sense or her own has kept her from aspiring to academic honors. The beautiful Fulvia is a good daughter and devotes herself, I am told, to helping Vivaldi in his work, a far more becoming employment for one of her age and sex than defending Latin theses before a crew of ribald students.”

But Fulvia’s father was a sympathizer with his daughter’s tastes, which he habitually promoted. To make the lesson of the moral failure of the higher education of women still more convincing, the author of The Valley of Decision reserves the bestowal of her final degree upon Fulvia until after the university and the whole town are familiar with her adoption of a shameless life and her open rejection of religious or conventional standards.

In Italy the universities were open to women soon after their foundation in the Middle Ages. At Bologna, which for centuries was one of the greatest universities in Europe, a number of women justly attained distinction as professors of the sciences, languages, and law. Laura Bassi was of a comparatively late time. So great was her reputation for learning, but also for virtue, that her doctorate was conferred under circumstances of civic and academic pomp. She married happily and became the mother of fourteen children.

Two sisters Agnesi were distinguished in Italian higher education. One, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, was an eminent professor and author in the exact sciences during the eighteenth century, and lived to be upward of eighty years of age. A younger sister was distinguished as a pianist and composer. Upon the entire array of the learned women of Italy whose careers have been historically noted there was never a breath of moral reproach.

The injury which The Valley of Decision inflicts upon the contemporary higher education of women is shrewdly designed in the contrast which this repulsive novel makes in its alienation of the higher education from religious and moral control.

The atmosphere which is created for the reader of The Valley of Decision is the most repulsive ever introduced into an American literary production. In the large company constituting the chief participants in a story projected along hackneyed guide-book information there is not from the first cover of the first volume to the last of the second one honest man or virtuous woman.

The moral squalor of J he Valley of Decision is the more surprising because the scene is laid in the land which has given to literature and life the paramount group of ideal womanhood, Dante’s Beatrice, Petrarch’s Laura, Michael Angelo’s Vittoria Colonna; and to Shakspere his two most engaging characters, blending in their mutual devotion of a noble womanhood erudition and chastity, Portia and Nerissa.

The womanhood of the United States may justly deplore that such a volume as The Valley of Decision should have its origin in the United States, in which the experiment of the higher education of women has thus far been courageously carried to an advancement which few of the universities have been able to withstand.

 

And if you’re interested, go to p. 596 in the same volume of the 1902 Catholic World and read an article about Bologna called “A City of Learned Women.”

The universal spread of knowledge and literary culture among women is no doubt one of the boasts of modern civilization. We point to it with pride as emphasizing the superiority of this age over its predecessors; exemplified by the thorough training of mind and body considered equally necessary nowadays for girls as well as boys. Nevertheless, if we go a little more deeply into the matter, we shall find once more at the bottom of all our researches the most discouraging but true old adage embodying the world-weariness of the wisest king of old: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

It is a shock at first to realize that our progress is not so wonderful as we imagined; and that, instead of inventors, we are only “revivalists”; perfecting perhaps what has gone before, with the help of added centuries of experience and science; but still only reviving things dormant, or at best forgotten. In an atmosphere of self-congratulation upon Women’s Colleges and Universities and the Higher Education of Women, can it come as anything but a revelation to find one’s self face to face with a city of learned women of long centuries past, who spread the light of their knowledge through a land which bowed before their intellect while reverencing their true womanhood?

Such was the revelation which disturbed my new-world complacency one bright morning in the ancient city of Bologna, in this year of the twentieth century; wandering through stately halls of learning where for centuries women had held intellectual sway. No fair girl-graduates were these, drinking their first draught at the fountain of mighty knowledge; but women whose powers of intellect had placed them in the professorial chair, instructing on equal terms with the men-professors the students who flocked around them.

I keep saying it, in one way or another: My Hot Take on 20th century feminism is that it happened because the Protestant Reformation, secular intellectual currents and the industrial revolution pushed Western women into the confined, defining space of a domestic sphere that didn’t exist in a holistic Catholic context.

There. 

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I won’t do a reading/watching/listening digest today – how about a trip digest instead?Or perhaps a museum digest, for that is what this amounts to, I think.

This past weekend, we headed up Kansas City way for my older son to take a second look img_20181006_140933at Benedictine. We attended a Raven Day last fall when he was a junior, but now as a senior, he’s been accepted there for next year (as well as three other schools) and we thought it would be good for him to experience it as a seriously potential student – spend the night in a dorm, and so on.

I was originally going to drive up, as we did last year, but then I thought…why? It’s a solid 11-hour drive from here, which is comparable to what I used to do when my daughter attended William and Mary, and I didn’t mind doing it last fall – we saw Sights along the way and back , but for this three day weekend, I decided…nope. We’re flying.

(I lived in Lawrence for five years of my childhood – so this was a familiar sight.)

So, in and out of Birmingham with pretty reasonable fares. We left early Saturday morning, arrived in Kansas City about 1, rented a car and made our way down to, first, the College Basketball Experience for people to stretch their legs, then to a barbecue place for people to watch the Gators, and then to our hotel down in the Country Club district, which is this quite lovely early 20th century faux Spanish/Italianate shopping area. I’d booked this hotel, envisioning an evening of wandering around, but rain interfered with that plan – so there was some walking, but not much and it was wet.

(Note: the College Basketball experience is not worth the money. I guess if you are local and are having a birthday party, it might be, but not for a visitor – there just wasn’t enough to do.)

Sunday morning, youngest son and I went to Mass at the closest church (older son would be going with students in the evening), which just happened to be an FSSP parish. It was very interesting – a small church and packed for the 9 am low Mass (one of three Sunday Masses celebrated there) We didn’t hang around, but the people we encountered were friendly and welcoming and, yes, normal, in case you’re wondering. A majority of the women wore veils, but when I say “majority” I mean over half – by no means all. But veils are becoming an increasingly common sight at my own Cathedral parish, so that’s no big deal to our eyes at this point. Since it was low Mass, there was no music, of course. The church is beautiful and charming, but wow, it’s small and they could definitely use a larger facility.

img_20181007_123746Next stop, after checking out of the hotel, was at Winstead’s Steakburgers for a solid breakfast, then right up the road to the absolutely wonderful Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. What a treasure – with free admission, to boot. (Parking in the garage costs $10….)

I was very impressed with the collection, and we probably only took in a third of it (I’m thinking we’ll be back in the area regularly over the next five years, so…no pressure). I’ve put images of some of my favorites below with a bit of commentary.  You should be able to click on every image and get a larger one.

I didn’t know this about Rouault – that he had been apprenticed as a stained glass artist. You can see it.

I was moved by the descriptive note on this Manet. It prompted me to consider, once more, all the poor excuses I make….

On the far left, the work of a local artist, Wilbur Niewald, whose work I loved. It’s interesting that his work has become more representational over the decades – this is an early work called Facade I.  On the right is a fabulous lectern support – description in the middle. The fellow is struggle with the serpent, bracing himself, his clunky feet pointed inward.

On the far left, with note next to it, is an aquamanile – a water vessel used for ceremonial purposes, either secular or religious. Then a gorgeous terra cotta Madonna and Child (and others) from Tuscany. I didn’t take a photo of it, but the explanatory note was very good, explaining the symbolism of the various fruits on the border and even the frogs that are scattered in the group (a symbol of resurrection). On the far right, a small Bosch that was part of an exhibit about the layers in paintings. 

A wonderful and pretty large Asian collection. Enlarge that top left photo and see why I found it so enchanting – it flows with gentle, steady energy, and the figure embodies quiet joy. To the right up there is detail of a Jain chapel, then we have an amazingly thin jade disc with dragons and a wild Chinese funerary figure.

Also from China was the amazing statue I highlighted yesterday – from the 6th century: “Central Asian Caravan Woman Rousing her Camel While Nursing.” The best.

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Finally, these two John Singer Sargents – the top one, at least, is a study – not sure about the bottom. Both are completely absorbing.

All right then…

Then to the excellent and quite interesting museum dedicated to what’s been salvaged from the sunken Arabia steamboat. From the museum’s website:

The Arabia Steamboat Museum is a unique Kansas City attraction: a time capsule of life on the American frontier in the mid-nineteenth century.  It is not your typical museum.  Visitors have the one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience the everyday objects that made life possible for pioneers in the 1800s.  It is the largest single collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world.

The Steamboat Arabia was one of many casualties of the perilous Missouri River.  The Mighty Missouri, as it was often called, is the longest river in the United States and has claimed nearly 400 other steamboats over its 2,500 mile course.  In September 1856, the Arabia was carrying over 200 tons of cargo intended for general stores and homes in 16 mid-western frontier towns.  The steamer was still fully loaded when it hit a tree snag and sank just 6 miles west of Kansas City.  Due to erosion, the Missouri River changed course over time, and the Arabia was buried underground for over a century – along with all of its precious cargo. Lying 45-feet deep beneath a Kansas cornfield, the Arabia’s payload was protected from light and oxygen and was thus remarkably well preserved.

Using a metal detector and old maps to guide the search, an amateur archaeologist began the search for the lost steamer.   Located a half-mile from the present river’s course, 5 men and their families would begin the adventure of a lifetime … recovering the Steamboat Arabia.  What they found will astound you.

Being a private museum, it’s not free, but it’s worth every penny of admission. Begin with the tour – it’s very helpful and engaging to have a human being set the event and objects in context. It’s just amazing to be able to walk amid this array of quite ordinary objects, clean and looking as if they could be put to use right now.

(By the way, no human beings died in the accident. The only life lost was a mule.)

We then made our way up to Atchison, with a stop to watch some Vikings football and eat. Once in Atchison, I dropped my older son off on campus, and my younger son and I were able to visit with one of my former students, from ages past, who happens to be married to a Benedictine faculty member – delightful.

Since I’d been to the event last year, I didn’t feel the need to go through it again, so after checking in with the older one on Monday morning, younger son and I headed up to St. Joseph, Missouri. We might have done some nature in one of the local state parks, but it had been raining so much over the past two days and still looked a little threatening, so I thought – I really img_20181008_115443don’t want to tramp around in the mud and wet leaves and perhaps get rained on again – so St. Joseph it was.

What a delightful surprise. A surprise, but not surprising, because every time I travel, even five miles from home, I encounter something new to me, some corner of human life that’s intriguing, a chance to learn about more ways in which human beings do things differently – and are so deeply the same.

This time it was the Patee House Museum – a HUGE local history museum in building originally constructed as a hotel, but over the years used as a women’s college (three different times), headquarters for the Pony Express, the Union Army and, for most of the 20th century, a shirt factory.

It’s now filled – and I mean filled with artifacts from St. Joseph’s history. Much of the downstairs has been divided and fashioned to be like period shops and businesses, other rooms (the ballroom, bathroom, ladies’ parlor and so one) furnished to look as they would have in the hotel’s heyday. There’s a train engine in the former courtyard. Exhibits cover topics like the Pony Express (headquartered here during its short history) and the Buffalo Soldiers. There’s a carousel. And cars. And Walter Cronkite’s father’s dental office equipment. And a piece of rope from the horrible final lynching that happened in the town – in 1933. And just… a lot of stuff.

Well worth the $6 admission.

Next to the Pattee House is the house where Jesse James lived and was shot by the Ford brothers. It’s been moved here from its original location, but it’s also filled with interesting memorabilia from the period and from the exhumation and DNA confirmation that the body was actually Jesse James’. Made me want to read Ron Hansen’s book, which I never have.

Then it was time to head back to Atchison, where we stopped by the river – in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, who rested there on July 4, 1804 and, as the placard said, “ate some corn.”  The head of the music department had kindly responded to my query about M having some practice time, and so we headed up the hill, found the department and he spent an hour getting to play on a nice Steinway baby grand  – very much appreciated!

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