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Continuing with my “reprinting” of De-Coding Mary Magdalene.  This is a long chapter that lays out the claims of and arguments against the gnostic writings that some claim present Mary Magdalene as the special companion of Jesus and the leader of the real Christian movement, suppressed by the patriarchal Peter and his ilk.

In a way this is old news, for much of this moment seems to have passed beyond ten or so years ago when, thanks to The Da Vinci Code and other books, “Magdala Christianity” was all the rage in some quarters. It’s still around though. Do a search for “Mary Magdalene” “July 22” “celebration” and you’ll come up with plenty of nuggets:

Celebrating Mary Magdalene and her message which is so powerful for us at this time… and embracing the Magdalene within each and everyone of us and our story.

 

Find out how Mary the Mother and Mary Magdalene were part of an ancient Lineage of the Sacred Mystery Schools of Isis in Egypt. They were the Keepers of the Lineage of Light. Honoring the feminine was the deepest truth of the secret teachings of the Holy Grail. Discover why the Celtic Lineage of Feminine power holds a key to the healing of modern society. Revered as the sacred keepers of the mystical knowledge of the stars these women were the anointed ones who kept the frequencies of light alive in the darkest of times. Mary Magdalene’s in sacred partnership with Christ embodied the union of both sexual and spiritual beauty. Healing the split between sexual and spiritual power is a key for women of all cultures in these dark times.

Pope Francis has just aknowleged her as one of the beloved Apostles and although many of us have known this for many many years it is a direct call to honor the feminine throughout the world.

Pope declares Mary Magdalene the Apostle to the Apostles – this is huge!!!

The 2016 Feast Day of Mary Magdalene is now an internationally celebrated landmark occasion of the highest order because of the Pope. This paves the way for a major shift in consciousness regarding the state of women in the world. The Pope has taken a powerful stand. We celebrate and aligned with his decision to lift the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene and place her – on par with that of the other Apostles. …

Please join us and help spread the word of this incredible celebration that will prayerfully uplift the consciousness so all can see and feel the deep worthiness of women and deeply appreciate the men who join us in this sacred honoring. Who are we honoring— YOU— the sacred holy one as is expressed and danced and known in a greater and deeper truth. For who is Mary Magdalene in all of these different archetypes if not aspects of ourselves – aspects which we now elevate to the highest state.

Okay.

In addition to the continuing celebrations of Mary Magdalene as a goddess-figure, something else on the horizon is Dan Brown’s puzzling release of The Da Vinci Code in a “young adult” version – as if the original were too erudite and layered for the kids. Anyway, I don’t know if this new edition will interest anyone, but just in case it does and you meet someone who has JUST DISCOVERED this amazing truth about the “real” Mary Magdalene…here you go.

So on to chapter 3….

 

Over the past twenty years, interest in Mary Magdalene has exploded. Books, websites, seminars, and celebrations of her feast day on July 22 have multiplied, as many in the West, particularly women, look to her for inspiration.

Ironically, though, much of this interest in this great Christian saint is being fueled by texts other than the Christian Scriptures. The popular websites devoted to Mary Magdalene refer to her as “The Woman Who Knew All” (www.magdalene.org). One of the more popular treatments of Mary Magdalene, The Woman with theAlabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail, by Margaret Starbird, emphasizes Mary as “Bride 9781879181038_p0_v2_s118x184and Beloved” of Jesus. And, of course, there’s The Da Vinci Code, the mega-selling novel that has brought these depictions of Mary Magdalene to a mass audience. Brown’s novel brings it all together in one convenient package: Mary Magdalene was the spouse of Jesus, bore his child, and was the person he really wanted to lead his movement. This movement, of course, was about nothing the New Testament suggests it is, but was rather a wisdom movement dedicated to help humanity reunite the masculine and feminine principles of reality.

So in this context, Mary Magdalene was the “real” Holy Grail, since she was the vessel that carried Jesus’ child and his teaching. But she’s more: she’s a “goddess” — a mythical figure through whom the divine can be encountered.

It’s all very confusing. It’s also ironic, given the constant modern criticism that the claims of traditional Christianity are suspect because they can’t be “proven,” or because the texts upon which its claims are based are too ancient to be trusted. The modern devotion that so many seem to have to this figure of Mary is actually based, in part, on far less trustworthy sources and has no relation to the Mary we meet in Scripture.

So where does it start? Of course, much of this revisioning is rooted completely in the present, in a mishmash of conspiracy theories, false history, and wishful thinking that we will address in the last chapter. But the truth is that Mary Magdalene wouldn’t be the subject of interest from many of her contemporary fans outside traditional Christianity if it weren’t for some other ancient texts: the writings produced by Gnostic Christian heresies.

Secret Knowledge

Here’s the short version. From about the second through the fifth centuries, a movement that we now call “Gnosticism” was popular in many areas around the Mediterranean basin. “Gnosticism” is a word derived from the Greek word gnosis, which means“knowledge.” Although there were various Gnostic teachers and movements over the centuries, most of them shared a few common characteristics, succinctly described by Father Richard Hogan in his book Dissent from the Creed: Heresies Past and Present (Our Sunday Visitor, 2001):

“Gnostics claimed a special knowledge,a gnosis. Included in this special gnosis was an understanding that there was God Who created the spiritual world and a lesser anti-god who was responsible for the material (evil) world. Gnosticism represents a belief in dualism.There is a good and an evil. Evil is material and physical. Good is spiritual and divine.

“According to the Gnostics, a disaster at the beginning of the world had imprisoned a divine ‘spark’ in human beings, i.e., in the evil world of material Creation.This divine element had lost the memory of heaven, its true home. Salvation consisted in knowing that this ‘spark’ existed and liberating it from the human body.” (Hogan, p. 43)

 

The creation myths of Gnosticism that describe this imprisonment are quite complex and intricate. Just as intricate were the Gnostic visions of what salvation was about. The emphasis, naturally, was on knowledge, rather than faith, life, or love. The way to salvation involved knowing the truth about human origins and then knowing the way to progress, both in this life and the next, through the various layers of reality that were imprisoning that sacred spark.

Early Gnosticism, which predates Christianity, drew from many sources, including Platonic philosophy and Egyptian mythology. Christian Gnosticism used the Gospels 516ywedgjtl-_sx321_bo1204203200_and other Christian traditions, eliminating elements that were not consistent with Gnostic thinking. So, for example, Gnostic Christian teachers taught that Jesus was not really human — since the material world is evil. Valentinus, who lived around the year 150 in Rome, taught an extraordinarily complex story of Jesus being the product of the yearnings of Sophia — the personification of wisdom. Historian David Christie-Murray describes it in the following way:

“Christ,who brings the revelation of gnosis (self-consciousness), clothed himself with Jesus at baptism and saves all spiritual mankind through his resurrection,but had only a spiritual body. Men can now become aware of their spiritual selves through him and return to their heavenly origin. When every spiritual being has received gnosis and becomes aware of the divinity within himself, the world-process will end. Christ and Sophia, after waiting at the entrance of the Pleroma [the center of spir-itual, divine life] for spiritual Man, will enter the bridal chamber to achieve their union,followed by the Gnostics and their higher selves, their guardian angels.” (A History of Heresy[Oxford UniversityPress, 1989], p. 29)

This is just one example, but Gnostic Christianity is really simply a variation on this theme: Creation is evil. Jesus was not fully human. He did not suffer or die. Redemption cannot, of course, be achieved through such a means, for it involves the material body, which is sinful anyway. Salvation is not available to all, but only those with special knowledge. This way of thinking infiltrated many other systems of the time, including Christianity.

Those who tried to merge Gnostic thinking with Christianity produced writings, some of which survive, mostly in the context of quotations in the works of Christian writers arguing against them. In the late nineteenth century, some Gnostic Christian texts, not seen before, were discovered, and even more in the mid-twentieth century. The discovery of these texts caused a stir among some who believed that, more than giving an insight into a Christian heresy, these texts opened a world to what they believed could be the real story of Christianity that was concealed by orthodox Christian leaders.

Consequently, over the past century or so, these Gnostic texts have been rediscovered and reinterpreted. Some have taken their existence as proof that there was a whole other, and long-hidden, response to Jesus’ ministry, one with roots as ancient as those we see in the Gospels, and just as legitimate. The modern re-visioning of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ bride, as the special recipient of his wisdom, and as the foundress of an alternative mode of Christianity owes much to the fascination with these Gnostic writings.

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on your point of view — what we actually know of the history of early Christianity just can’t back up these exalted claims for Mary Magdalene or even of any substantive link between Jesus’ ministry and Gnostic Christianity and Gnostic writings.

The simplest way to put it is this: Gnostic Christian texts tell us a lot about Gnostic Christian heresies in the second through the fifth centuries. They tell us nothing about the historical figures of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Peter, or the origins of Christianity in the first century.

So what follows is that these Gnostic texts tell us nothing substantive about the real Mary Magdalene, either, and that all those who use them in that way are engaging in, at best, misguided efforts, and, at worst, deceitful misuses of historical materials.

But it continues, nonetheless, and for a reason: this technique of suggesting that the Gnostic Christian texts reveal secret truths about early Christianity and who Jesus “really” was and what he “really” taught serves to undercut not only the New Testament but also the Church that produced it and is formed by it.

As I’ve done talk radio shows discussing this matter, I’ve heard it again and again: “All of these works were written so long after the events they describe — they’re all equally dependable and undependable. What version of Jesus you choose doesn’t matter, for there’s no way to know the truth, anyway.”

That’s just not true. Early Christianity was an enormously complex movement, about which we cannot claim to know everything.

But we do know — and any serious scholar will affirm — that Jesus did not teach Gnostic platitudes and did not marry Mary Magdalene, who then embarked on a life of teaching Gnostic platitudes of her own and emanating divine energy.

It just didn’t happen.

But because these Gnostic texts are so important in so many contemporary treatments of Mary Magdalene, we definitely need to look at them and understand what they’re really about.

 

Know Nothing

 

It’s somewhat challenging to describe Gnosticism because it wasn’t an organized movement, a religion, or even a homogeneous philosophical school. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be to compare it to the self-help movement of our day. For some reason, in the last part of the twentieth century, this notion of the importance of self-esteem took hold in our culture and infiltrated almost every aspect of life, including religion.Two hundred years ago, Christian thinkers and preachers of any denomination would have been appalled at the suggestion that a goal of Christian faith is to help the believer feel better about herself or help her overcome insecurities and self-doubts. On the contrary, despite their differences, Chris-tians and Protestants alike would have described the goal of the Christian life as believing rightly and shaping your life in a way that meet’s God’s standards and spares one an eternity in hell.

Gnosticism was, of course, more complex and cosmic than this. But it’s a decent example to start with, for, like the self-esteem movement, Gnosticism wasn’t confined to groups that identified themselves explicitly as “Gnostic” and separate from other religions. It infiltrated and impacted almost everything it rubbed against, including Judaism and Christianity.

You can see the problems. Gnosticism wasn’t a minor movement. In most major cities of the Roman Empire during these centuries, Gnosticism and even Gnostic Christianity thrived. Most of our knowledge of Gnostic Christianity comes from its Christian opponents, great theologians like St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and St. Clement of Alexandria, who all wrote against Valentinus, for exam-ple, and quoted copiously from his writings in doing so.

But independent copies of some Gnostic Christian texts do exist, and it’s these texts that form the basis of the modern, non-Christian devotion to Mary Magdalene.

 

Ancient Words

 

In the nineteenth century, several discoveries broadened scholarly comprehension, and eventually popular understanding, of Gnosticism. An ancient work of the Christian Hippolytus, Refutationof All Heresies, lost for centuries, was discovered in 1842 in a Greek monastery. This work, of course, quoted many heretics, including Gnostics. More important to many was the rediscovery (in the British Museum) and then translation of Pistis Sophia (into English in 1896), a probably third-century work in which Mary Mag-dalene — and Mary, the mother of Jesus, by the way — figure prominently in dialogue with Christ. Snippets of other Gnostic texts existed, but the real revolution in this area came in 1945 with the discovery in Egypt of the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Coptic texts, bound in leather, and dating from the late fourth and early fifth centuries, that included many Gnostic works (as well as a partial copy of Plato’s Republic). Hidden in jars and stored in caves, it is thought that the library belonged to a Gnostic Christian monastery.

 

The Nag Hammadi collection contains fifty texts in thirteen codices (a form of book), three of which — the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Dialogue of the Savior — are of interest to those intrigued with Mary Magdalene. Other Gnostic texts believed to mention Mary Magdalene, and found outside the Nag Hammadi library, are the Gospel of Mary and the Pistis Sophia. These texts emerged from different periods and reflect different strands of Gnosticism. All are discussions between Jesus and various other figures, mostly about the nature of the soul, the after-life, and the end of time. Let’s take a brief look at how each of them treats the figure called “Mary.”

 

Pistis Sophia (third century)

 

This work consists of extensive dialogues between Jesus, who has been on earth teaching for eleven years since the Crucifixion, and others, including women. Mary, his mother, takes an enormous role, and several times a “Mary,” not explicitly identified as either his mother or anyone else, including Mary of Magdala, is mentioned and praised for her understanding, and is even the subject of envy by other disciples.

 

The Gospel of Philip (third century)

 

This work is made up of dialogues and sayings of Jesus in conversation with his disciples. It mentions the Magdalene, “who was called his companion,” along with “Mary his mother and her sister,” as three who “always walked with the Lord.” The passage, quite provocative to some, ends with the sentence, “His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.”

This work also contains the passage describing Jesus as kissing Mary Magdalene often and the rest of the disciples disapproving,asking, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” Jesus’ answer is obscure, but implies that she is more enlightened than they are. Those who see this kiss bestowed by Jesus as an expression of a unique companionate relationship are missing the point in a big way. In Gnosticism, the kiss is symbolic. As one scholar points out: “The Logos lives in those whom he has kissed, hence the disciples’ jealousy, for they are not yet worthy of the kiss” (Jorunn Jacob-sen Buckley, quoted in The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages, by Katherine Ludwig Jansen [Princeton University Press, 2000], p. 27).

 

The Gospel of Thomas (third century)

 

This, the most well-known of all the Gnostic writings, is a collection of sayings, many of which are also found in the canonical Gospels, but with a heavy dose of the androgynous themes that contemporary readers find so appealing. A “Mary” is mentioned once (the other female character is a “Salome”), as Peter asks Jesus to make her leave. Jesus, in a passage that is not often quoted by modern fans of this gospel, says, “I myself will lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

 

The Gospel of Mary (third century)

 

This is another dialogue, this time beginning with Jesus but ending with a “Mary,” who is identified as the one Jesus loved “more than the rest of the women” and as the primary teacher, in a rather subtle competition, it seems, with Peter.

 

A ‘Few’ Problems

 

These, then, are the basic texts that modern devotees of Mary Magdalene use to support their case that she was an important leader of early Christianity, and probably in an intimate relation-ship with Jesus — but even if not, that her wisdom was esteemed by him above the other male disciples, and that there was friction between Mary Magdalene and the male disciples. This friction, in the eyes of some, reflects a real, historical division in early Christianity between those who followed Mary as a teacher and those who followed Peter.

There are numerous problems with using these documents to support this view of Mary Magdalene. Let’s look at a few of them.

To begin with, this position assumes that the Gnostic texts reflect first-century events. The simple truth is, they do not. No scholars date any of the texts earlier than the second or third centuries. The view they present of Jesus, his teachings, and his ministry are radically different from what we read in the Gospels, which were all composed before the end of the first century. Scholars of all types consistently consider the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament to be the starting point for studying the history of early Christianity. They may disagree on what the texts mean, but none would suggest, for example, that the Gospel of Mary is of equal value with the canonical Gospels in determining what the early Jesus movement was all about.

518hvfnbhsl-_ac_ul320_sr210320_No, the Gnostic texts “tell” us exactly what they should: namely, the ways that Gnostic Christian heretics took the basics of the Christian story and molded them to fit Gnostic thinking. Since some elements of Gnosticism were interested in questions of gender and androgyny, that concern is reflected in some texts, and in the roles played by female figures. They might reflect a greater role for women in some Gnostic sects, or they might even reflect a desire to demean the role of Peter, recognized as the chosen leader of orthodox Christianity.

But if you take the time to read these works yourself, you’ll see that they are radically different from the canonical Gospels in tone and content. (The Gnostic texts are not long, and all are available on the Internet. The Gospel of Mary, at least the fragment that we have today, is reproduced in full in Appendix B of this book.) The canonical Gospels, with all of their very human, flawed figures, are reflective of an attempt to present events accurately, through the prism of faith, certainly, but accurately nonetheless. The Gnostic writings are preachy, tendentious, obtuse, and . . . well . . . Gnostic in their concerns.

So the contemporary thinkers who suggest that a strand of “Magdalene Christianity” was born from Mary’s early leadership that was eventually suppressed by those loyal to Peter are basing their conclusions on the most tenuous of threads: that these Gnostic writings, written some two hundred years after the fact by Gnostics, reflect an ancient, hidden relationship between Mary and Jesus.

Let’s take this one step further. Who’s to say that the “Mary” mentioned in all of these writings is, each and every time, Mary Magdalene?

After all, there are only a couple of incidents — in the Gospelof Philip and Pistis Sophia — in which the Magdalene is specifically mentioned. The much-vaunted Gospel of Mary speaks only of a “Mary,” does not specify the Magdalene, and gives no identifying clues to tie her into the historical figure of Mary Magdalene, despite modern editions tacking “Magdalene” on to the title. Even the Gospel of Philip, which has been held up by many as evidence of a “companion” relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, is not as clear as it seems on who that Mary is. A close reading of the text indicates, a growing number of modern scholars suggest, that the female figure is a composite, mythical “Mary,” representing the feminine aspect of reality.

One of the features of some contemporary celebrations of Mary Magdalene is that the Gnostic writings indicate a tension between her and Peter and the other disciples, thereby implying a separate strand of “Magdalene Christianity.” Entire books have been written on this. That view, of course, is dependent on reading these Gnostic texts as if the Mary in conflict with the disciples is, in fact, Mary Magdalene. That’s by no means certain.

In the Pistis Sophia, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is described as being in conflict with the disciples. On a couple of other occasions, another Mary is described in the same way, and many assume this Mary is Mary Magdalene, although she is not explicitly identified in this way. However, some scholars — looking at the way this Mary is described, as “blessed among women” and “called blessed by all generations” — believe that a case could be made for identifying this Mary as Jesus’ mother. At the very least, it is not certain at all that she is Mary Magdalene, who does, in turn, play a prominent role in the dialogues in Book Two of the work.

Scholar Stephen J. Shoemaker summarizes this perspective:

In summary then, the Gnostic Mary’s identity is by no means a simple matter, nor is her identification with Mary of Magdala as certain as it is frequently asserted in modern scholarship. The particular spelling of the name Mary is in no way a reliable criterion distinguishing the two women, even though this is the most frequently advanced argument in favor of the Gnostic Mary’s identity with Mary of Magdala. If anything, the spellings Mariam and Mariamme appear to favor an identification with Mary of Nazareth, as I have demonstrated elsewhere. Likewise, the writings of the New Testament fail to resolve this problem, since they show both Marys to have equally been important figures in early Christian memory. Even the Magdalene’s role as apostola apostolorum in the fourth gospel does not tip the balance in her favor, since in early Christian Syria, where it seems most likely that the Gnostic Mary traditions first developed, it was believed that Christ first appeared to his mother, Mary of Nazareth, commissioning her with a revelation to deliver to his followers.

Moreover, despite frequent assertions to the contrary, there is significant evidence that early Christians occasionally imagined Mary of Nazareth in situations similar to those in which the Gnostic Mary is found: she converses with her risen son, expounds on the cosmic mysteries, and reveals her son’s secret teachings to the apostles, with whom she is occasionally seen to be in strife. Such is especially evident in the Pistis Sophia, a text whose interpretation has been tightly controlled by the last century’s interpretive dogmas. Both this text and the Gospel according to Philip make clear that the Gnostic Mary traditions do not have only a single Mary in view. Although many will no doubt continue to take refuge in the Gospel according to Philip’s description of Mary Magdalene as the Savior’s favorite, we should not forget that the New Testament identifies Mary of Nazareth as the ‘favored one,’ who has ‘found favor with God.’ (“Rethinking the ‘Gnostic Mary’: Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Magdala in Early Christian Tradition,” Journal of Early Christian Stud-ies, 9:4, pp. 588-589)

 

Why take so much time to unpack this? Because it’s terrifically important in getting Mary Magdalene right. Many contemporary activists have adopted Mary Magdalene as a representative of an alternative vision of Christianity, based partly on wishful thinking, partly on her role in the canonical Gospels, but confirmed, in their minds, by the evidence of these Gnostic writings. In them, they see traces of an ancient tension, an ancient movement within the followers of Jesus that held up Mary Magdalene as a wisdom teacher, as the one Jesus designated as his successor.

Their vision sounds plausible to those unfamiliar with the original texts, or even to those who only read them in translation, interpreting them according to the assumptions of the promoters of “Magdalene Christianity.” But ancient texts are usually not as simple to interpret as we think or would like to think.

A careful, objective reading shows, quite simply, first, that the figure of Mary of Nazareth played an unquestionably important role in some Gnostic texts. Why hasn’t she been chosen and celebrated by modern interpreters as the special chosen one of Jesus? Second, while Mary Magdalene does appear in these texts, most of the evidence for “Magdalene Christianity” is derived from the presence of a “Mary” who is, in fact, not clearly identified as Mary Magdalene, and is probably either a mythical composite female figure or Mary of Nazareth. Most importantly, though, all of the figures in these Gnostic writings really function on a level of symbol more than historical reality. Scripture scholar John P. Meir sums up the case quite well:

 

“I do not think that the . . . Nag Hammadi codices (in particular the Gospel of Thomas) offer us reliable new information or authentic sayings that are independent of the NT [New Testa-ment].What we see in these later documents is rather the reac-tion to or reworking of NT writings by . . . gnostic Christians developing a mystic speculative system.” (A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus,Vol. 1 [Doubleday, 1991], p. 140)

As we will see throughout the rest of this book, Mary Magdalene is a great saint, and a woman worthy of our interest and honor. But there is simply no evidence that she was who her modern interpreters would like her to be. The Gnostic texts that they use to make the case tell us nothing about early Christianity in the first century, and the “hints” that some read in them, suggesting an ancient tradition being preserved about a leadership role for Mary Magdalene in competition with Peter, are by no means certainly about Mary Magdalene, and in some cases might even refer to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Further, if you read the documents yourself, you will see how ambiguous they really are, how easily they lend themselves to selective reading, and even how, in parts, the Gnostic writings contradict what their modern proponents would have them say.

 

In short, when dealing with Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and the Gnostics, don’t trust the interpreters. Go right to the source.

 

Questions for Reflection

  1. What was Gnosticism? Do you see traces of Gnostic thinking in the world today?
  2. How do some try to use Gnostic writings in regard to Mary Magdalene? What are the flaws to their approach?
  3. What do the Gnostic writings tell us about the Mary Magdalene of history?

 

 

 

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— 1 —

The talented pilots and cinematographers of France’s BigFly skillfully piloted a camera-equipped drone through the sanctuary of the 137-year-old Église Saint-Louis de Paimbœuf.

— 2 —

How fascinating. Terrence Malick’s next film will be about beatified Catholic conscientious objector Blessed Franz Jagerstatter:

He’ll next be directing Radegund, which will depict the life of Austria’s Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector during World War II who was put to death at the age of 36 for undermining military actions. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI declared Jägerstätter a martyr, and he was beatified in a ceremony. Set to play Jägerstätter is August Diehl(Inglourious Basterds, The Counterfeiters), while Valerie Pachner will also join.

This was first announced via Medienboard Förderzusagen’s posting that they are giving 400,000 Euros to the project, and a number of German news sources followed up that it will be Malick’s next film. The drama is set to begin production in Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam, Germany this summer, but it will also expand to other parts of Europe. The casting agency Han & Oldenburg also reports a shoot in South Tyrol, located in Northern Italy, will occur from July 11 through August 19.

The film will find Malick returning to the World War II era following The Thin Red Line, but of course taking on what looks to be a smaller scope. As for the title, Radegund: it refers to the Thuringian princess and Frankish queen from the 6th century who found protection under the Church after fleeing her marriage when her husband had her brother murdered.

More on Jagerstatter:

Around the year 1936, Franz wrote these bold words to his godchild: “I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a halfway Christian; it is more like vegetating than living.” And he poignantly adds: “Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives—often in horrible ways—for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal some day, then we, too, must became heroes of the faith.”

 

— 3 —

Here’s a great story from Birmingham. From the local public radio station, a story about Holy Family, a high school in the Cristo Rey network. As is the case with all of those schools, the students spend a day a week working in local businesses. Most are in offices of one sort or another, but I’ve seen them at the library, in the diocesan offices, as well as the bus tooling around in the afternoons, picking them up.

Kirk Mitchell coordinates the more than two-hundred placements. He describes a moment when he knew Cameron had turned a corner:

“He was speaking to a group of eighth-graders considering coming to Holy Family, and he was really open and up-front with these kids. He told them, ‘I’m going to be honest with you-all: I got suspended five times in the eighth grade, and I was proud of it. But my parents saw that this was a better school for me.’ I’m really proud of Cameron, and I think he’s on his way to great things … And we’ve got tons of Camerons in this school.”

Cameron’s favorite subject is calculus. He plays basketball, writes poetry, and dances. He wants to go to Samford University and major in accounting, either to go into that field or to teach math.

“I see what these teachers can do,” says Cameron. “I’m seeing that the counselor, or the principal, and everybody just really care. They really care about your future, and I started to care about my future more ever since I got here. So that’s why I really do love this school so much.”

For kids with strikes against them, that motivation can be half the battle. Connections help too. Cameron hopes to intern at WBRC-Fox 6 over the summer and work at an accounting firm next year. He says being in a work-study program “shows you that, even though I’m young, I can still be mature enough to work.”

 

 — 4 —

In other Birmingham Catholic news, I was excited to see that the Winter Sacred Music Event for the Church Music Association of America will be held in Birmingham, at the Cathedral of St. Paul. I’m looking forward to some beautiful liturgical music (not that we don’t already enjoy that at St. Paul’s) and the encouragement for other local parishes to turn in that direction – of sharing the deep tradition of Catholic sacred music with their parishioners, a tradition that is also, as it happens, a powerful tool for evangelization.

I saw the announcement at the Chant Cafe blog, which is currently reporting on the 2016 CMAA Colloquium, wrapping up in St. Louis today.

— 5 

I ran across this blog by accident somehow, but can’t help but be moved by the story of Emily Meyers, aka the Freckled Fox, mom of five children under six years old, whose husband Marty died last week after battling melanoma. 

 

6–

Happy feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist! A few words from B16:

2006:

Yesterday, the liturgy enabled us to celebrate the Birth of St John the Baptist, the only saint whose birth is commemorated because it marked the beginning of the fulfilment of the divine promises:  John is that “prophet”, identified with Elijah, who was destined to be the immediate precursor of the Messiah, to prepare the people of Israel for his coming (cf. Mt 11: 14; 17: 10-13). His Feast reminds us that our life is entirely and always “relative” to Christ and is fulfilled by accepting him, the Word, the Light and the Bridegroom, whose voices, lamps and friends we are (cf. Jn 1: 1, 23; 1: 7-8; 3: 29). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3: 30):  the Baptist’s words are a programme for every Christian.

Allowing the “I” of Christ to replace our “I” was in an exemplary way the desire of the Apostles Peter and Paul, whom the Church venerates with solemnity on 29 June. St Paul wrote of himself:  “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2: 20).

2007:

Today, 24 June, the liturgy invites us to celebrate the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist, whose life was totally directed to Christ, as was that of Mary, Christ’s Mother.

John the Baptist was the forerunner, the “voice” sent to proclaim the Incarnate Word. Thus, commemorating his birth actually means celebrating Christ, the fulfilment of the promises of all the prophets, among whom the greatest was the Baptist, called to “prepare the way” for the Messiah (cf. Mt 11: 9-10)….

 

As an authentic prophet, John bore witness to the truth without compromise. He denounced transgressions of God’s commandments, even when it was the powerful who were responsible for them. Thus, when he accused Herod and Herodias of adultery, he paid with his life, sealing with martyrdom his service to Christ who is Truth in person.

 

— 7 —

If you are still wondering whatever in the world the Snapchat app could be good and useful for in the adult world, take a look at these accounts (and unlike most other apps, you do have do download and join in order to see what people are doing..and it’s hard to actually *find* people on it. So it’s actually a more “social” social media than most others.)

Mountain Bouterac, aka the Catholic Traveler, took a 3AM stroll through Rome. It was fascinating and haunting. A brilliant idea and fantastic use of the app. He downloaded the whole story and it’s on his Facebook page. 

Mountain Bouterac on Snapchat. 

Paris-based food writer David Lebovitz has become an avid Snapchatter, and it’s so fun to follow him through his day as he shops at the markets, visits lovely bakeries and cooks up his own recipes.

And yes…me on  Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2). I’m currently in Charleston, and hopefully will get a few good photos and Snaps out of it, although most of our time will be dedicated to Toddler Rangling!

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

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Well, definitely 21st century First World problems. So I’ll deal.

Although I will say it has made planning the next week far more challenging that it might have been. Or has it? Perhaps it has just shortened it and nipped my ‘satiable curiosity about the Next Best Vacation Rental in the bud, that curiosity that makes it so difficult to make a decision sometimes.

So this time, it’s more, “That one has beds and wi-fi. Looks good.Grab it before the internet collapses.”

So we are set…until Monday. The next rental promises good internet, so we will see.

At this point, we are catching a train to Orvieto tomorrow, seeing Orvieto, then picking up a rental car and heading west.

For some reason, I couldn’t get enthusiastic about picking up a rental car in Rome. I’m a little nervous about driving, although I have driven in Europe before, including Sicily and including Palermo. I’ve driven in Manhattan and Chicago and ATLANTA.  And even though I wouldn’t have been driving much in actual Rome – and could have avoided it completely by getting a car at the airport, I just wasn’t feeling it. For one, getting the car at the airport would have been a hassle: Train ride to FCO, then get car. I might as well just take the train somewhere else and avoid that specific stress. The train stations have rental car offices nearby, but really…if I’m taking us to the train station…why not just get on the train and go somewhere and take care of a car later?
So we’ll see. I will take a few minutes tonight to review my Italian road signs. This won’t be as bad as that time at the beginning of the Fall 2012-3-months-in-Europe-thing that as we descended into Paris it dawned on me that I had not even begun to familiarize myself with French road rules and signs, and I would be picking up a car right aftet we landed and setting off in it. In France.

So again with the sketchy internet. Just a brief review of today, then: Over to St. Peter’s by 9, headed straight to the dome, which I’d never before. 5 minutes in security, no line at the dome ticket office. Took the elevator partway up, walked the rest, saw the sights. Back down into the Basilica, where I was struck by the large areas that are now roped off from visitors. There is a the big path down the middle reserved for Year of Mercy pilgrims (who are visitors of course) and then the whole area from way in front of the baldacchino all the way back, and then the whole area around Alexander VII’s tomb. It makes the rest of the space even more crowded than ever.

Then…rain. We sought shelter in souvenir shops and an overpriced lunch, then made it back to the apartment to wait out the weather, which eventually cleared.

So..hop on the 75 bus to Circo Massimo, change to the 118, and down to the Appian Way. We toured the Catecombs of St. Callistus and St. Sebastian, and then walked a big chunk of the road. Back on the 118 and 75, rest for a bit in the apartment, start to clean and pack, then out for an excellent, reasonable dinner here. 2 appetizers, 2 pastas, 2 secondi (scallopini) (all split between the 3 of us), 2 cokes, 1 large mineral water, a small carafe of wine – 64 E. Not bad at all.

I hope with dependable internet and quieter nights, I’ll have more time to share notes from the past couple of days…

 

 

DSCN0401

I really liked this sign.

I also liked this booklet idea, found in one of the Vatican bookshops. It’s for an older elementary child, with the story of the saint he or she might be named after. My name is….

PhotoGrid_1464891444826[1]

 

Finally, on the Appian Way.  I’ll write more about it later, but just say, we enjoyed the St. Callisto tour more, as it was led by a lively older British Salesian, and also just say that it would be pretty amazing to live in an place where your afternoon park stroll could be down a 2,000 year old Roman road.

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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. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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