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Well, hello.

I have so many ideas and blog posts and such crawling around in my head, but no real quality time to think them over and then actually write them.

Time exists, but for this introvert, it’s not the right kind of time.

I think what has really screwed me up over the past couple of months is that I lost my high school carpool because of the other kid’s participation in both (very early) morning and afternoon athletic practices, and we’ve  not reconnected since it’s gone to afternoons only, so I don’t even know what’s happening there. Eh, only a few more weeks and new arrangements are already in the works for next year, so I can deal. But that eats up a couple of hours a day. The afternoons are okay because M and I are often out and about in the afternoons anyway, but the mornings..oy. I take the high schooler, and by the time I get back, I need to be thinking about the other one’s school –  which is not too taxing, since I know 97% of what I think will be happening and am always ready for him to just take the lead on what he wants to do for the day – but still. It’s brainspace.

So shall I put what’s on my mind  here and hold myself accountable? What needs to be written in the next few days?

(I also have two manuscripts to read – one another soon-to-be published book, and the other a YA historical novel by one of my older sons..plus two articles to write…)

  • Amoris Laetitia. It’s a challenge to write about, not only for the usual Pope Francis-related reasons (his thinking, writing and rationale are unclear, highly idiosyncratic and float free from most of 2000 years of Catholic tradition. That doesn’t say it’s opposed to that tradition, necessarily. It says he doesn’t bother with tying his arguments to it except in terms of the most general values. ) – but also because every day, one or two really interesting articles on the matter are published and I think…well I needn’t bother. But then I keep thinking and….

I also don’t want to produce another thousands-of-words declamation on the subject. For your sake. So I’m trying to hone in and really get to the point, and my point(s) pops up at a different place on the coordinate than what I have read elsewhere, so it might be worth saying.

  • School. We are chugging along. I haven’t had the opportunity to do the daily homeschool reports, but hope to offer you a few more before the school year ends. I think they might be helpful, not as guides – not at all – but as examples of what one family does. Maybe you’re not as crazy as you think.

 

  • Oh, here’s one anyway. This will be easy -except for the rabbit holes, which are the best part, and which I usually take notes about as we go along, but didn’t today, because we were on the road.

We began with the readings of the day, a short prayer, then cursive practice. No copywork or dictation, just a page of cursive practice. His handwriting is getting pretty good, and he just needs to work on speed. Then just a few pages of math review from Evan-Moor books – these 6th grade problems. (He’s in 5th grade, but he can handle most of it.)

Then we hit the road!

Not far. Just a bit south. First stop was the Hoover Library – the best branch library around here, always busy, good collection. We checked out some CD’s – the soundtrack to Gladiator, some Beethoven, and then a bunch of books about Italy, and some random new books – this one about Back to the Future, and then this, which looks interesting. For his casual reading, he’s flying through Stuart Gibbs, whom he finds amusing.

(He just came in and asked how long War and Peace is.  We looked it up. He says he might read it after he finishes his current books.  I’m thinking if he’s serious I’ll tell him that he can be done with school for the rest of the year. I mean…I don’t think he’s interested in the plot..I think it just exists in his consciousness as This Big Iconic Thing.)

Check out, hop back in the car, and keep going south, to a swamp. It’s this preserve, part of the University of Montevallo. A friend of mine had been there a few weeks ago with her kids and seen lots of animals. It’s a nice walk, and we enjoyed our conversation and our observations, but the only animals we saw were a skink, an anole, lots of bees and a few nice fat tadpoles. M was of course hoping for snakes and I beavers, but nope. Just tadpoles.

 

amy_welborn44

Isn’t this odd? I’d never seen so many woodpecker holes in such a pattern.

Lunch, drive back, listening to the Gladiator soundtrack, talking Roman history and music.

  • Better Call Saul. Coming right up.
  • Books.
  • Trip planning….let’s move that to another post, shall we?

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— 1 —

Blogfodder first.   I hate linking to – hell I hate reading the Huffington Post, partly because it’s mostly boring predictable liberal agitprop but mostly because they don’t pay writers for providing content that makes the website money.

But this struck me as very true, so here it is. 

Simplicity Parenting encourages keeping fewer toys so children engage more deeply with the ones they have. Payne describes the four pillars of excess as having too much stuff, too many choices, too much information and too much speed.

When children are overwhelmed they lose the precious down time they need to explore, reflect and release tension. Too many choices erodes happiness, robbing kids of the gift of boredom which encourages creativity and self-directed learning.

It’s a useful argument to have handy: “You’re bored? Good. I’m just here to help. You’re welcome.”

— 2 —

True story:  11-year old just showed me a drawing of a space scene he’d done, describing the moment as “A cross between The Far Side and Mister Roberts.” 

(The theme being the character in the drawing feeling left out of the action and feeling a yearning to be involved in distant battles and adventures. The Far Side cartoon involved a wolf in the middle of a forest holding a desk job, apparently.)

– 3—

Very few Daily Homeschool Reports, I know.  School has certainly happened, but every day has been truncated by afternoon activities – some of our own design, like walking the trail behind the local Jewish Community Center – and some involving other homeschoolers. Park Day, Gym Day, etc. Too nice to stay inside.

"amy welborn"

 — 4 —

The most notable thing we’ve done this week is read and discuss half of The Red Pony.  I had never read it, but I have to say that I am being blown away by the depth of discussion this slim book is inspiring.  It is a tough book in some respects, but also a very good starting point for a young reader to dive deeply into motifs, themes and so on. It is probably all but impossible to teach in a classroom now, even the young teens who could be ready for it,  considering that it involves death and sorrow and other triggers.

— 5 

LOOK.

Ann Engelhart has illustrated a new book for Regina Doman’s Chesterton Press, a book written by Chesterton doyenne Nancy Carpentier Brown: 

Chestertons and the Golden Key

Doesn’t it look lovely? I can hardly wait to see a copy!

— 6–

Hey, guys, I will be at the Catholic Library Association/National Catholic Education Association meetings in San Diego on March 29-30.  I am for sure signing books at the OSV booth Tuesday at 2, and hopefully will be at one or two other publishers’ as well. If you are going to be there or have an educator friend who will, please tell them to say hello!

Oh – today’s my day in Living Faith. Check out the entry here. 

A couple of years ago, we visited the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta. There’s a tour there, during which you can peer through windows and see lots and lots of paper money being collected and sorted. At the end, you take away a little plastic bag full of shredded bills, once “worth” something, now “worth” nothing.

 

MORE

— 7 —

Speaking of books…order some from me!  Signed editions of any of the picture books (illustrated by Ann)  at 8 bucks a title.  Big orders for your entire First Communion class welcome! If you order in the next day or so, they will probably reach you by Easter.

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

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  • So, sorry about that, not that any of you are breathlessly waiting for these things.
  • I was trying to think what has thrown me off since late last week. Well, maybe it’s:
  • Friday: Stations of the Cross
  • Saturday: basketball semifinal (lost)
  • Sunday: serve Mass at convent; piano recital
  • Then, Monday. Monday is usually a full day at home, but the piano instructor had a conflict with the usual Thursday time, so we moved the hour-long lesson to Monday at 1.  So now the week was shaping up as:  Monday – piano at 1.  Tuesday – boxing at 1, zookeeper class at 4:30. Wednesday – brother out of school, so good luck with that.  Thursday: Cathedral class in the morning. (last one)
  • Plus, I have a writing project due in three weeks (hahahaha), plus I need to plan my talks for the National Catholic Library Association meeting in San Diego.
  • So, okay school. This won’t be a daily report, nor will it have all those interesting rabbit trails, because I forget them.
  • Prayer:  the daily Mass readings, as per usual.
  • Math. As I mentioned, we finished Beast Academy, with no hint as to when 5B is being released except for the vague promise of “spring.” Which could mean June 20, for all we know.  So since the last section in BA was on expressions and equations, we did a bit of reinforcement of that with discussions and problems from Becoming a Problem-Solving Genius.  Then it was on to fractions – specifically adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators – the usual 5th grade stuff, and new to him. But I don’t have a 5th grade book, only a 6th grade book leftover from my older son – the Pearson Envision program, hated by many, but not hated by me.  I didn’t love it, but I didn’t think it was terrible. I liked that it demonstrated different approaches to problems. My issue was requiring mastery of all of those approaches – I thought the idea of presenting a number of approaches was that you would then be able to use the one that made the most sense to you.
  • But anyway, I still have the book, and the CD with all the practice problems and solutions, so we are just going to do the fractions chapter in that, and then probably go back to more problem-solving stuff, maybe even start on the AOPS Pre-Algebra book. 
  • Also did some Khan Academy on fractions, which we’ll continue as we proceed through the chapter.
  • History. The chapter in the text is Lewis & Clark and War of 1812.  He covered L & C last week, but I think we will not continue with the Burns video – it was good, but it’s so long, and he’s not that fascinated with it. So just move on.  For the War of 1812, he has bounced between the text, A History of  US and some library books.  Today (Wednesday) and tomorrow, he’s reading sections from Primary Source Accounts of the War of 1812, which led to a discussion of the difference between primary. secondary and tertiary sources in historical research.
  • As he read, we discussed who the presidents were, and can recite them through Jackson. I know it’s impressive to be able to reel all their names off through Obama, but it strikes me as a lot easier and more meaningful to just learn their order as you’re learning the history – just as we have done with the books of the Old Testament.
  • Oh, copywork. Forgot. We got three days in, and that’s going to be it, probably. Monday was a Scripture passage from the day’s readings. Tuesday (literature) was this from East of Eden:  “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” Discussed what that might mean.
  • Today (poetry) was “A Prayer in Spring” by Frost. He wrote the whole poem in his copybook, and in our discussion, we focused on the line: “Oh give us pleasure in the flowers/in the flowers today;/And give us not to think so far away / As the uncertain harvest; Keep us here/All simply in the springing of the year.”
  • We discussed what that meant, beginning with the literal sense – why the harvest is uncertain – and moving on to metaphor: you don’t know what is going to happen in the future, so take joy in the present and live in it.
  • No “school” novel or short stories this week. He has been reading literally hundreds of pages a day of the Seven Wonders series in anticipation of the release of the 5th volume in the series, which happened on Tuesday. Unfortunately, libraries do not instantly place books on shelves the day they are published, and this is not a book I’m going to buy, so, well, patience is a virtue.
  • Latin has been prepositions all the way, which works win with reviewing what prepositions are all about in English as well.
  • Today, I sent him outside to find signs of spring and then come back in and tell me about what he found: the almost instantaneous reappearance of bees and wasps, budding trees, flowers and, in his narrative, the coolness of clover.
  • Science was inspired by his zookeeper class on Tuesday – birds were the focus, so he talked a lot about what he had learned by feeding the various birds mealworms, oranges and dead rats (vultures). Most exciting, though was the cassowary sighting. He has never been able to spy it on any of our previous visits – I don’t know where it hides – but this time, well, that was the big news. “I FINALLY saw the cassowary and its feet are AWESOME. They’re like dinosaur feet!”
  • Lots and lots of drawing happening lately – illustrating stories in his head.
  • The snake shed, so there’s that science demonstration happening right in his room, as well.
  • Writing and Rhetoric: still working on that chapter introducing refutation.  The interesting exercise from today, which actually had nothing to do with refutation, was a lesson on not overusing adjectives. He was given a paragraph, told to cross out all the adjectives, and then replace the previously modified nouns – which were all pretty ordinary nouns – with stronger nouns. The point being, to try to communicate something interesting about the person, place or thing, simply depending on strong nouns rather than adjectives.
  • So, with the addition of an intense hour of Beethoven work, a boxing class and time outdoors, that’s it.
  • Things coming up: Holi celebration at the museum Saturday, which we will try to hit after a piano sonata competition in which he is playing. Pi Day at the science museum on Monday.  

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Today is her memorial – March 3. You and your children can read about her in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints:

 

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

 

saints

 

And learn all about her here. 

saint-katharine-drexel-01

 

**You can buy signed copies of many of my books here.****

 

 

 

 

 

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After last week’s 2-or so hours of “school,” we were back in business with our usually daily dose of…three or four.

(New readers:  Over the past few weeks, I have been attempting a “Daily Homeschool Report,” not because I think what we do is so great, but rather because I think it’s helpful for accounts of typical homeschooling days to be out there for people to find. More and more folks are considering homeschooling, and having this kind of information out there might help dispel some myths and encourage (or discourage!) some.)

Last week was atypical, as I noted before – since Monday was a holiday, we “lost” a day there. But it’s important to note that although the only “school” was a few pages of math, the 11-year old experienced plenty of education over the course of the week:  A 2-hour introduction to the pipe organ. A 1 hour boxing class. A 90-minute zookeeper class at the zoo.  2 90-minute basketball practices and a game.  A science session centered on demonstrations of weather-related science. A professional (abridged) live  production of Comedy of Errors. A live symphonic performance of Bach/Webern and Schubert. A piano lesson. A piano performance, during which he played Joplin (original form, not adapted) and Burgmuller. A 90-minute homeschool open gym time with loads of kids. Private reading time of The Fellowship of the Ring and Farenheit 451. Play time with friends and brother at home.

It was actually a very good week.

But let’s go back and look at today. I always include rabbit trails if I remember them, because that’s an important – and one of the most enjoyable – parts of homeschooling.

  • Prayer: Feast is Chair of St. Peter. I said he probably didn’t remember seeing it in Rome 3 1/2 years ago, he insisted he did. I explained why it was important, the role of the sede  – the bishop’s chair, and we talked about where it is in our cathedral.  He asked why bishops stopped being elected by the laity, so I gave what I hope was an accurate 60-second synopsis of the history of the selection of bishops, explaining that as processes are abused, they are reformed and new processes emerge.  We read the reading aloud, and did the intercessions.
  • Copywork was – as it always is on Monday – Scripture, in this case, a sentence from the Gospel, Matthew 16.
  • First rabbit hole was literally about rabbits. I remembered seeing some photos of Giant Continental Rabbit, so we gaped over the big bunnies for a few minutes.
  • He finished Farenheit 451 over the weekend. We will deal with it in more detail through this week, but I asked his initial impressions, which centered today on the end of the book.
  • Math was half of the problems on these worksheets – solving equations.
  • For history he read the first section of chapter   of the textbook from the Catholic Textbook Project, From Sea to Shining Sea. The focus of the chapter (11)  was the history of Catholicism in the early National period – beginning with Charles and John Carroll – an interesting link to the earlier question about the selection of bishops.
  • He then spent a few minute telling me about “The Fortunate Islands” – I had given him this book  – The Dictionary of Imaginary Places – for Christmas, so he told me about this entry, which seem to have been imagined in a 17th century French account.
  • Started a new chapter in Writing and Rhetoric, which begins the study of argument by comparing a quarrel to an argument.  Two excerpts  were read – one by a Quaker against slavery and a portion of Patrick Henry’s speech to the Virginia Convention. He had to narrate the argument that were being made. What followed were several literary passages from sources like Twain which he had to identify them as either quarrels or arguments and explain why.
  • Then some drawing/reading/music time – his pick. He read for a bit, drew for a bit, then told me the beginnings of a story he was imagining – ten minutes worth, at least.
  • Last Friday, we heard live performances of Webern and Schubert. We read a short bio of Webern from this book (accidentally shot and killed by an American GI two months after WWII ended!), read about Schoenberg, talked about 12-tone and atonal music, then watched/listened to a couple of videos of his music. The conductor on Friday had mentioned that he normally wrote rather short music, and we found that to be true.  Then we watched part of a wretched auto-voiced video bio of Schubert until we couldn’t take it any more.
  • We finished up with a few videos:  a few from The Kids Should See This: the one on the top in the bubble, the starling murmuration and the cracking ice on Lake Superior. Then a few SciShow videos: Why we sneeze, why we faint and how dogs listen to us and puffer fish blow up.
  • He then wanted to find some videos on Didgeridoos, so that’s what he did while I made lunch – and then it was time to get brother.
  • Time frame: 9:30  – 1:30.

 

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Daily homeschool report. A distracted day on my part mostly because I kept thinking about  how next week, there are going to be about 5 hours available for “school.”

  • Prayer: Mass readings, discussion of the meaning of the first – what true fasting is, what God is telling us through Isaiah. Intercessions, Lord’s Prayer.
  • No copywork, and no drawing of past copywork either. For writing he did an exercise in Writing and Rhetoric, which asked him to expand a paragraph and make it into a tall tale of sorts – the Legend of Sleepy Hollow was the central story of the unit. They had three different paragraphs to do, and I had him choose one. He mentioned that he would think an invention that would take his voice and turn it into written words would be cool. I said…er…voice recognition software is a thing. We looked it up, and it’s in Windows. The reason he’s interested is because his handwriting can’t keep up with his ideas, and his word processing skills aren’t there yet. Sii
  • Then a lot of math. I had said I was going to let this new section wait until next week…but then I realized Monday was a holiday, and that would give us Tuesday as a beginning…and then I realized that big chunks of every day next week would be taken up with Other Stuff. So might as well get this going. And once we started going, it became clear that in order for it to stick, we needed to keep going. The subject was simplifying equations with variables.  The first chunk of reading is here. 
  • Yeah, that took a while. But I will say, I thought the methodology was ingenious. You can catch a bit of it in the linked pages. It begins by giving a “problem” – if you have a number, take away 3 and then divide by 4, what do you have? Well, you figure that out by working backwards and doing inverse operations. Master that concept and then moving on to actual equations, you see that when you isolate the variable by performing the same operation on both sides, you are essentially doing that work backwards thing but in a different way.
  • At this point – noonish – it was time think about heading out to run some errands before fetching the brother. We needed to go to the library to get the new Bosch book (they had it and it is a lot shorter than the others he has written – I think he had it half finished by the time we got home), we needed a few groceries, he needed new jeans and I wanted to look for whole frozen squid to dissect.
  • So with that in mind, we did one more unit – science. Which was the new OKGo video and attendant educational resources.  
  • I mean…zero gravity is science, right?
  • Then we watched a video about the big gravitational wave discovery. Whatever that is! But he’s studied Einstein in his history of science class, we’ve talked about it, and it’s just valuable for him to see people REALLY EXCITED about scientific discoveries – it matters, it’s interesting, and it’s about the world God made. So yes to gravitational wave frenzy.
  • The next video on the Kids Should See this page was a delightful and creative piece of animation – a guy creates animation cels on transparencies and then uses his IPhone to create stop motion films.  They’re funny and inspire a kid to think…hmmm….I could do that.  Or, if you can’t or don’t want to do exactly that, simply to think of your own creative inklings and think of  yourself as part of an endlessly creative group called the human race.
  • He mentioned that what he liked was how the animator superimposed his cells on everyday objects and brought them to life.  I began a lecture reflected on how he probably did this by simply looking and contemplating the world around him, which leads to something his one-time art teacher used to tell them “Most of art is not in doing, but in looking and seeing.”  “Oh, ” he agreed, “She said that all the time.”  And so we continued the conversation about this animator and the kid’s own creative efforts (mostly writing) along those lines.
  • Book checked out. Non-hormonal milk purchased. (I am indifferent to organic but think hormones in meat and dairy are bad and have probably brought much as-yet undiscovered harm). Squid sought – at Whole Foods, big Hispanic supermarket (I looked there because they carry a lot of Asian foodstuffs as well), Asian grocery. Fail. Many squidish rings and other pieces, but no whole squid.
  • It looks like the world’s squid are safe from our dissection skillz. Probably just as well. My older son said the ink sac smells bad when you break it open.
  • Next week will be weird and busy. Starting with tomorrow, which is about a basketball game, serving Mass at the convent, then a birthday party.  No school on Monday, but I am going to try to set up some science demonstrations and experiments to gestate over the weekend – they actually like that sort of thing as a leisure activity, believe it or not. Who knows.. Maybe cooking will be the only scientific endeavor that happens over the weekend. Tuesday is a music thing in the morning, then boxing, then a new zoo class late afternoon, then basketball practice. Wednesday is an all-day activity out of the house and then basketball. Thursday is  a break from Cathedral class, but there’s a school theater performance from a touring troupe from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival that we’re attending, plus piano lesson. Friday is a school music performance of the Alabama Symphony (I think – I haven’t bought tickets yet, but it looks like there are still a lot of empty seats), then Saturday is basketball and a piano competition/performance thing (I’m really not sure what it is).
  • #unsocializedhomeschooler

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In the leadup to Lent, and probably throughout at this rate (I had intended to get this up on Tuesday….)  I’m going to posting some links to and excerpts from various sources.  There is valuable contemporary material out there, but it seems much of it, even the Catholic stuff, neglects some important aspects of Lent.

Perhaps it comes down to this. It’s the difference between understanding Lent as a particularly listcicle-friendly (40 days! 3 disciplines!)  opportunity for an individual’s spiritual growth and understanding it as the entire Church’s solemn call and responsibility to do penance and grow in faith.

Are those different things? Yes.  Think about it. Not in tension, not opposed, but slightly different roads and paradigms.  The first is centered on pleasing ourselves, the second on pleasing God.

It is the distinction highlighted by Francis’ last of three pointers for a good fast: fast to please God alone.  To many of us, this sounds odd, since we have been formed to believe that we need to nothing to please God other than accepting ourselves as we are, haven’t we?

For what happens in modern spiritual discourse is that we have collapsed the two – we please God most of all when we are ourselves and are content with ourselves.  When you dig deeply, that’s true – when we are the selves God created and that above all brings us contentment and peace. But what our spiritual wisdom has always admitted is that to get to that point requires stripping and sacrifice and a hard journey – not simply acceptance of the Good News that we are God’s creatures and loved by him. It is complicated, yes, but the bottom line seems to me that when you remove penance and the organic nature of fallen creation and the role of our fallen selves in that, you really are just left with individuals on a journey to feel okay about themselves, and not much more.

It is the distinction highlighted by Francis’ last of three pointers for a good fast: fast to please God alone.  To many of us, this sounds odd, since we have been formed to believe that we need to nothing to please God other than accepting ourselves as we are.

It’s an intriguing distinction. As an amateur student of the strangeness of modern Catholicism, I am most often struck by the sharp ironies and waves of unintended consequences that mark our slice of history.

We post-Conciliar Catholics were formed in a way that emphasized both individual spiritual freedom yet also the greater weight of  community, perhaps best encapsulated by the sense that no, Mass is not the time to come and focus on God’s presence as an individual. Rather, it is the time in which individuals freely come, but not to pray individually, but rather to do “the work of the people” in liturgy.

(This is why some liturgists think the worst sin one can commit during Mass is to kneel and pray quietly after receiving Communion instead of standing with the group and singing that you are bread ready to be chewed for justice or some such. We are here as the people of God, by God.)

The irony to me is that when you consider pre-Vatican II materials, the sense of communal identity was actually much stronger in those bad old days when (we are told) indvidual piety was emphasized above community.

So why is it that now, we are continually having to be told that we are community, experience community-building experiences and asked how we would like our parishes to create stronger communities?

Part of it is simply cultural and social.  “Community,” period was stronger, sometimes to oppressive extents.  You didn’t have to build community, you were born into it, you lived in it your entire life, and perhaps woe to you if you attempted to crack those walls.

Double-sided and full of shadows – that’s everything, that’s life.

But you see it in older treatments of Lent.   If you read pre-Vatican II popular and catechetical works on Lent, you encounter an unmistakable sense of the season being about the entire Church – the community – engaged in a journey – being willing to sacrifice in order to form itself to be more like Christ, in gratitude for all God has given, in sorrow for sin, with each individual’s efforts being a part of that greater whole, and being important because of it.

But today, we are on our own. Lent is about you and your walk with Jesus and making that better. It’s ironic. Matthew Kelly’s “Best Lent Ever” marketing campaign is the pinnacle of this sensibility: it’s all about Lent as a peak individual consumer experience – like Sandals for the soul.

As an aside on the “best Lent ever” slogan…I’m reminded of the more traditional way of inspiring spiritual fervor during the season, something an older priest up in Indiana used to regularly pull out and that I’ve heard on retreat…not make it your best Lent ever but a reminder that we should approach the season as if it were our “Last Lent ever.”

(The same template might be used for Advent or even about Sunday and reception of Communion….receive Communion as if it might be your last..)

Dire, yes, but as the kids say, you’re not wrong. 

Because it could be, indeed.  Both “best” and “last” indeed center us on the self and the needs of the soul, but with different orientations and expectations. 

And then there is penance.  Fasting serves many purposes, as St. Francis de Sales will tell us. But at root, it is a penitential act, not simply one to help us to “grow in faith” and find peace and joy and focus.  Yes it does, indeed do so, but it does so, Catholic tradition has normally held, because, among other things, the penitential act of fasting is part of the process of ridding our lives of sin and its effects – a process which  of course brings us closer to Christ. Not just because it’s fasting and giving stuff up, but because it is penitential.  I’ll let St. Francis de Sales explain.

 

To treat of fasting and of what is required to fast well, we must, at the start, understand that of itself fasting is not a virtue. The good and the bad, as well as Christians and pagans, observe it. The ancient philosophers observed it and recommended it. They were not virtuous for that reason, nor did they practice virtue in fasting. Oh, no, fasting is a virtue only when it is accompanied by conditions which render it pleasing to God. Thus it happens that it profits some and not others, because it is not undertaken by all in the same manner.

We find some people who think that to fast well during the holy season of Lent it is enough to abstain from eating some prohibited food. But this thought is too gross to enter into the hearts of religious, for it is to you I speak, as well as persons dedicated to Our Lord. We know very well that it is not enough to fast exteriorly if we do not also fast interiorly and if we do not accompany the fast of the body with that of the spirit.

 

The first condition is that we must fast with our whole heart, that is to say, willingly, whole-heartedly, universally and entirely. If I recount to you St. Bernard’s words regarding fasting, you will know not only why it is instituted but also how it ought to be kept.

He says that fasting was instituted by Our Lord as a remedy for our mouth, for our gourmandizing and for our gluttony. Since sin entered the world through the mouth, the mouth must do penance by being deprived of foods prohibited and forbidden by the Church, abstaining from them for the space of forty days. But this glorious saint adds that, as it is not our mouth alone which has sinned, but also all our other senses, our fast must be general and entire, that is, all the members of our body must fast. For if we have offended God through the eyes, through the ears, through the tongue, and through our other senses, why should we not make them fast as well? And not only must we make the bodily senses fast, but also the soul’s powers and passions — yes, even the understanding, the memory, and the will, since we have sinned through both body and spirit.

How many sins have entered into the soul through the eyes, as Holy Scripture indicates? [1 In. 2:16]. That is why they must fast by keeping them lowered and not permitting them to look upon frivolous and unlawful objects; the ears, by depriving them of listening to vain talk which serves only to fill the mind with worldly images; the tongue, in not speaking idle words and those which savor of the world or the things of the world. We ought also to cut off useless thoughts, as well as vain memories and superfluous appetites and desires of our will. In short, we ought to hold in check all those things which keep us from loving or tending to the Sovereign Good. In this way interior fasting accompanies exterior fasting.

This is what the Church wishes to signify during this holy time of Lent, teaching us to make our eyes, our ears and our tongue fast. For this reason she omits all harmonious chants in order to mortify the hearing; she no longer says Alleluia, and clothes herself completely in somber and dark colors. And on this first day she addresses us in these words: Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return [Gen. 3:19], as if she meant to say: “Oh man, quit at this moment all joys and merrymaking, all joyful and pleasant reflections, and fill your memory with bitter, hard and sorrowful thoughts. In this way you will make your mind fast together with your body.”

This is also what the Christians of the primitive Church taught us when, in order to spend Lent in a better way, they deprived themselves at this time of ordinary conversations with their friends, and withdrew into great solitude and places removed from communication with people…….

 

The second condition is never to fast through vanity but always through humility. If our fast is not performed with humility, it will not be pleasing to God…..

But what is it to fast through humility? It is never to fast through vanity. Now how can one fast through vanity? According to Scripture there are hundreds and hundreds of ways, but I will content myself with telling you one of them, for it is not necessary to burden your memory with many things. To fast through vanity is to fast through self-will, since this self-will is not without vanity, or at least not without a temptation to vanity. And what does it mean to fast through self-will? It is to fast as one wishes and not as others wish; to fast in the manner which pleases us, and not as we are ordered or counseled. You will find some who wish to fast more than is necessary, and others who do not wish to fast as much as is necessary. What causes that except vanity and self-will? All that proceeds from ourselves seems better to us, and is much more pleasant and easy for us than what is enjoined on us by another, even though the latter is more useful and proper for our perfection. This is natural to us and is born from the great love we have for ourselves.

Let each one of us examine our conscience and we will find that all that comes from ourselves, from our own judgment, choice and election, is esteemed and loved far better than that which comes from another. We take a certain complacency in it that makes the most arduous and difficult things easy for us, and this complacency is almost always vanity. You will find those who wish to fast every Saturday of the year, but not during Lent.{2} They wish to fast in honor of Our Lady and not in honor of Our Lord. As if Our Lord and Our Lady did not consider the honor given to the one as given to the other, and as if in honoring the Son by fasting done for His intention, one did not please the Mother, or that in honoring the Virgin one did not please the Savior! What folly! But see how human it is: because the fast that these persons impose on themselves on Saturday in honor of our glorious Mistress comes from their own will and choice, it seems to them that it should be more holy and that it should bring them to a much greater perfection than the fast of Lent, which is commanded. Such people do not fast as they ought but as they want.

There are others who desire to fast more than they should, and with these one has more trouble than with the first group.

The glorious St. Augustine, in the Rule that he wrote for his religious (later adapted for men religious), orders that one follow the community as much as possible, as if he wished to say: Do not be more virtuous than the others; do not wish to practice more fasting, more austerities, more mortifications than are ordered for you. Do only what the others do and what is commanded by your Rule, according to the manner of living that you follow, and be content with that. For although fasting and other penances are good and laudable, nevertheless, if they are not practiced by those with whom you live, you will stand out and there will be some vanity, or at least some temptation to esteem yourself above others. Since they do not do as you do, you experience some vain complacency, as if you were more holy than they in doing such things.

Follow the community then in all things, said the great St. Augustine. Let the strong and robust eat what is ordered them, keeping the fast and austerities which are marked, and let them be content with that. Let the weak and infirm receive what is offered them for their infirmity, without wishing to do what the robust do. Let neither group amuse themselves in looking to see what this one eats and what that one does not eat, but let each one remain satisfied with what she has and with what is given to her. By this means you will avoid vanity and being particular.

 

The third condition necessary for fasting well is to look to God and to do everything to please Him, withdrawing within ourselves in imitation of a great saint, St. Gregory the Great, who withdrew into a secret and out-of-the-way place where he remained for some time without anyone knowing where he was, being content that the Lord and His angels knew it.

 

This is all that I had to tell you regarding fasting and what must be observed in order to fast well. The first thing is that your fast should be entire and universal; that is, that you should make all the members of your body and the powers of your soul fast: keeping your eyes lowered, or at least lower than ordinarily; keeping better silence, or at least keeping it more punctually than is usual; mortifying the hearing and the tongue so that you will no longer hear or speak of anything vain or useless; the understanding, in order to consider only holy and pious subjects; the memory, in filling it with the remembrance of bitter and sorrowful things and avoiding joyous and gracious thoughts; keeping your will in check and your spirit at the foot of the crucifix with some holy and sorrowful thought. If you do that, your fast will be universal, interior and exterior, for you will mortify both your body and your spirit. The second condition is that you do not observe your fast or perform your works for the eyes of others. And the third is that you do all your actions, and consequently your fasting, to please God alone, to whom be honor and glory forever and ever.

Lent 2016

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