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For some strange, inexplicable reason, Dan Brown has given the world a “Young Adult Adaptation” of The Da Vinci Code, published today.

???

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t sensed any groundswell of yearning for such a thing, thirteen years after the original publication. (And as of this moment, it’s ranked at about half a millionth on Amazon) After all, it’s not like the original was Proust-level writing. It  was (unfortunately) on quite a few high school reading lists back in the day, and a couple of

Da Vinci Code Young Adult

Australian edition

weeks ago, my 6th grader said one of his classmates was reading it.

I wondered what might be different about an “abridged” or “young adult” version. Would there be vampires? Would Robert Langdon fight the albino monk in the dystopian ruins of Paris? Would Sophie shop the Champs Elysees with her squad? Well, I found one answer in a review:

So, what have they edited out to make the book suitable for the young adult market? Basically, the expletives, some of the bloodier violence, the detailed description of the flashback scene where Sophie Neveu witnesses her grandfather in flagrante during a ritual, and some of Robert’s lengthier explanations regarding ancient sex rites and similar. From this one might therefore deduce that swearing, violence and sex are taboo subjects for teen literature in the 21st Century, which makes me wonder if the editors of this abridged version have actually read any modern YA books themselves?!

And then another in the Amazon description:

Includes over twenty color photos showing important locations and artwork,

Ah, okay..but wasn’t there some of that in the original? I don’t remember. Oh, and…

and publication timing connects to the film release of Inferno!

Inferno…in which Brown/Hanks/Langdon do Dante. Oh, I get it. Fine. 

Yes…Dante! Dante’s death mask! We’ve got to get to Florence!

(So why not do some good and release a version of The Divine Comedy ?)

Okay…back in the day, I wrote a little book about the DVC.  I don’t want to rehash everything, but for readers who weren’t around back then, the short version:

I didn’t care about DVC. One iota. But then I started getting emails from people who were either convinced that the historical claims were true or were being annoyed by others who were arguing about Mary Magadalene and Jesus.  To add to this, one day we were in Cincinnati at one of those “Treasures of the Vatican” type exhibits that occasionally tours and there were two middle-aged women standing in front of a reproduction of Leonardo’s Last Supper (not in the Vatican, I know…in Milan, yes. But I think it was there as a backdrop to some liturgical paraphanalia). One woman pointed to the figure of the apostle John and said to the other, very authoritatively, “You know, that’s really Mary Magdalene there.”  It wasn’t “this book says” or “this novel says” or “I’ve heard.” It was that’s Mary Magdalene up there next to Jesus. 

At that point I decided that someone should do a pamphlet, at least.  I suggested it. OSV said, nah. Then a few weeks later, OSV came back to me and said, well, yes,  they wanted a response to the DVC after all. A book.  Could I pull a manuscript  together in two weeks?

I hesitated a bit , but then thought about it and agreed. It wasn’t hard. It’s short, and I was  basically just sharing a lot of church history, which I had taught at the high school level and had an MA in,  and was packaging it  for…a bit lower than a high school level.  I saw it as an opportunity to do some teaching about the early Church, but just in a weird, backwards kind of way.

So that’s that. The book is out of print now, and when I heard about this YA version, I thought it would be a good opportunity to put the text back out there. So here it is on this page – downloadable as a pdf file. Sorry I can’t get any fancier than that, but here we are.

 

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Just a quick word about a project that’s just becoming available and that I’m proud to have been involved in.

Most of you are familiar with Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series. The Word on Fire team is following up with another video series and study program called Pivotal Players.  The first half of the program is just now being released. From the website:

CATHOLICISM: The Pivotal Players is a multi-part film series that illumines a handful of saints, artists, mystics, and scholars who not only shaped the life of the Church but changed the course of civilization.

The Study Guide looks very strong, with sections by scholars like Dr. Matthew Levering, Fr. Paul Murray, O.P. and Dr. Anthony Esolen. Here’s a pdf sample of the study guide material on Catherine of Siena.

My part? I wrote a prayer book: Praying with the Pivotal Players. 

Each figure gets five segments. Each segment begins with a quote from their writings, even Michelangelo who left many letters and wrote poetry. This is followed up with some reflections and then some prayer and reflection prompts. The sections are thematically aligned with whatever is emphasized in the episodes. I wrote the book last fall, and really enjoyed the process. It gave me an opportunity to immerse myself in the writings of these figures and I learned quite a bit. The table of contents is on the website. 

The book is included as part of the parish program packet, but judging from what I see on Amazon, you should be able to purchase it by itself eventually.

"pivotal players"

 

 

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The full text of Pope Francis’ homily:

Following Jesus is a serious task, and, at the same time, one filled with joy; it takes a certain daring and courage to recognize the divine Master in the poorest of the poor and to give oneself in their service.  In order to do so, volunteers, who out of love of Jesus serve the poor and the needy, do not expect any thanks or recompense; rather they renounce all this because they have discovered true love.  Just as the Lord has come to meet me and has stooped down to my level in my hour of need, so too do I go to meet him, bending low before those who have lost faith or who live as though God did not exist, before young people without values or ideals, before families in crisis, before the ill and the imprisoned, before refugees and immigrants, before the weak and defenceless in body and spirit, before abandoned children, before the elderly who are on their own.  Wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence – and the presence of the Church which sustains and offers hope – must be.

Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded.  She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable”.   She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created.  For Mother Teresa, mercy was the “salt” which gave flavour to her work, it was the “light” which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.

 

The articles at Angelus News – the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – are all very good, including this one by David Scott.

One of the most telling aspects of the Missionaries of Charity is how challenging it is to find information about their present activities online. They do not have a dynamic, smooth online brand or platform, they are not on social media, and it is even hard to just find a list of their locations. In fact, it’s impossible. This is the best I could do – on a web page devoted to volunteering with the MOC.  

I was interested in finding out if and how local news covered the MOC in their area in light of the canonization. It wasn’t an exhaustive search, but here’s some of what I found:

In Washington, DC:

At the Missionaries of Charity facility in Northeast Washington, he now helps care for 51 ill and aging men and women alongside 34 nuns and nuns-in-training. It is a place apart from the rest of Washington, secluded from curious neighbors by expansive gardens. And it is a place suffused with veneration for Mother Teresa, who will become a saint in the Catholic Church on Sunday….

…When their founder officially becomes Saint Teresa of Calcutta at a canonization Mass at the Vatican on Sunday, her nuns will celebrate all over the world – including in the District, where they maintain a presence in three locations.

There’s a contemplative order, a few nuns devoted to prayer, not works. There’s a facility the nuns operate for homeless single mothers in Washington’s Anacostia neighborhood. And there’s the nursing home, on a hill overlooking in the Woodridge neighborhood, near the District’s eastern border.

NYC:

The sisters live in a brick building with a banner of St. Teresa’s centennial stamp from 2010 hanging outside the front of the home facing a housing project. The sisters live without computers and wash their clothes by hand. They avoid pageantry for the good they do—rarely granting interviews or permitting media to enter the convent.

“We’re doing God’s will for us because this is our vocation,” said Sister Clare, who entered the Missionaries of Charity in 1979.

“We will only have true joy and peace when we do what God wants. So we’re called to this life and God has given us the grace to live this life. When this is your vocation, you receive a joy to be with the poor. It is true there are many sacrifices, but also many joys. If we live it, we will have joy.”…

 

…Past the garden, an entrance to a soup kitchen and homeless shelter awaits. Some 80 men and women, sitting at tables in separate rooms, are led in prayer before enjoying an early lunch of pasta with pie or cake for dessert.

Painted in royal blue, the walls of the eating area sport pictures including ones of St. Teresa and another of Jesus at the Last Supper as well as prayers such as the Hail Mary written on poster-size paper. Upstairs from the eating area is the homeless shelter for 18 men, who arrive at 4 p.m. and leave before 6 a.m. Two volunteers oversee the shelter at night.

“The sisters are really kind and wonderful to the volunteers. They are helping the poor with food and clothes as well as their spiritual lives,” said Cesar Mateos, a teacher for children with special needs in Spain who was volunteering in the Bronx for the month.

Norristown, PA:

Mother Teresa herself founded the house in 1984 — one of 17 in a division that covers the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada — at the request of the local archbishop.

Since that time, a rotating group of four sisters has lived in the house and fulfilled the vows of the order: chastity, poverty, obedience and free service to the poorest of the poor.

“All our work is immediate service,” said Sister Regis. “We are not going for continuous work, that someone else can do. Today the person is hungry, today the person has no place to stay.”

Along with an army of volunteers from are Catholic parishes, the order runs a soup kitchen that serves lunch most days. The community also operates an emergency women’s shelter with 16 beds and holds Sunday school for children. The sisters are also missionaries, providing services in tandem with evangelizing and prayer.

San Francisco (story is from 2015)

Six days a week the Missionaries of Charity and volunteers serve a home-cooked dinner to about 100-150 mostly homeless people, many of whom live near or under the freeway that passes over the intersection of Potrero Avenue and Cesar Chavez Street in San Francisco. The Missionaries cook the meal at their home at 55 Sadowa, near St. Michael’s Korean Church. They serve the food around 4 p.m. every day but Thursday, the sisters’ dedicated day of prayer. The tables are set up just outside the fence of the ballfield at James Rolph Playground. The sisters help in many ways, including cutting fingernails and trimming beards and hair.
The Missionaries of Charity, founded by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in 1950, came to San Francisco in 1982, when Blessed Teresa established a novitiate in a convent adjacent to St. Paul Church. Shortly afterward, the Missionaries opened a hospice for AIDS patients, the Gift of Love, now located in Pacifica, and a home for pregnant women, Queen of Peace.

And finally, in Kentucky. If you click through to any of these stories, include this o Kentucky. If you click through to any of these stories, include this one. I had no idea there was a Missionaries of Charity foundation in rural eastern Kentucky:

Typical days include about six hours of visiting with the sick and needy.

Among those who received a visit from the sisters on Tuesday were Carol and Roy Church.

Roy has a number of health problems and is recovering from recent foot surgery. As he reclined on a small bed in the front room of their home, Sister Suma Rani took a peek at his dressings.

“Time to cut,” she told Carol Church, pointing to the long nail on Roy’s big toe. “Be careful.”

They chatted about how each member of the family was doing, the coyotes that howl at night and the bear that ambled across the family’s front yard.

The nuns offered a bit of advice about a struggling teenager and, before they left, they prayed.

“That’s the best part,” Carol Church said.

She said the nuns have given them food, helped get repairs made to their ceiling and floor and cared for their children at their summer Bible camp.

“They have done so much for us,” she said. “They do for everybody around here.”

Missionaries of Charity in America

 

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(Reprinted from 2015)

Gregory’s story has a lot to teach us about that tricky thing called discernment.

Back in 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI devoted two General Audiences to this saint.  He began with a helpful outline of his life – born into an important Roman family, serving as prefect of Rome, turning his family’s land into a monastery togregory the greatwhich he retired, then entering the service of the pope during very difficult times in Rome, including the plague, which killed the pope, and then…

The clergy, people and senate were unanimous in choosing Gregory as his successor to thend  See of Peter. He tried to resist, even attempting to flee, but to no avail: finally, he had to yield. The year was 590.

Recognising the will of God in what had happened, the new Pontiff immediately and enthusiastically set to work. From the beginning he showed a singularly enlightened vision of realty with which he had to deal, an extraordinary capacity for work confronting both ecclesial and civil affairs, a constant and even balance in making decisions, at times with courage, imposed on him by his office.

Benedict engages in some more analysis in the second GA. This is useful and important to read. 

Wanting to review these works quickly, we must first of all note that, in his writings, Gregory never sought to delineate “his own” doctrine, his own originality. Rather, he intended to echo the traditional teaching of the Church, he simply wanted to be the mouthpiece of Christ and of the Church on the way that must be taken to reach God. His exegetical commentaries are models of this approach.

And that is what any teacher of the faith, especially a pastor, is called to do.

Moving on:

Probably the most systematic text of Gregory the Great is the Pastoral Rule, written in the first years of his Pontificate. In it Gregory proposed to treat the figure of the ideal Bishop, the teacher and guide of his flock. To this end he illustrated the seriousness of the office of Pastor of the Church and its inherent duties. Therefore, those who were not called to this office may not seek it with superficiality, instead those who assumed it without due reflection necessarily feel trepidation rise within their soul. Taking up again a favourite theme, he affirmed that the Bishop is above all the “preacher” par excellence; for this reason he must be above all an example for others, so that his behaviour may be a point of reference for all. Efficacious pastoral action requires that he know his audience and adapt his words to the situation of each person: here Gregory paused to illustrate the various categories of the faithful with acute and precise annotations, which can justify the evaluation of those who have also seen in this work a treatise on psychology. From this one understands that he really knew his flock and spoke of all things with the people of his time and his city.

Nevertheless, the great Pontiff insisted on the Pastor’s duty to recognize daily his own unworthiness in the eyes of the Supreme Judge, so that pride did not negate the good accomplished. For this the final chapter of the Rule is dedicated to humility: “When one is pleased to have achieved many virtues, it is well to reflect on one’s own inadequacies and to humble oneself: instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what was neglected”. All these precious indications demonstrate the lofty concept that St Gregory had for the care of souls, which he defined as the “ars artium”, the art of arts. The Rule had such great, and the rather rare, good fortune to have been quickly translated into Greek and Anglo-Saxon.

Another significant work is the Dialogues. In this work addressed to his friend Peter, the deacon, who was convinced that customs were so corrupt as to impede the rise of saints as in times past, Gregory demonstrated just the opposite: holiness is always possible, even in difficult times.

He proved it by narrating the life of contemporaries or those who had died recently, who could well be considered saints, even if not canonised. The narration was accompanied by theological and mystical reflections that make the book a singular hagiographical text, capable of enchanting entire generations of readers. The material was drawn from the living traditions of the people and intended to edify and form, attracting the attention of the reader to a series of questions regarding the meaning of miracles, the interpretation of Scripture, the immortality of the soul, the existence of Hell, the representation of the next world – all themes that require fitting clarification. Book II is wholly dedicated to the figure of Benedict of Nursia and is the only ancient witness to the life of the holy monk, whose spiritual beauty the text highlights fully.

Above all he was profoundly convinced that humility should be the fundamental virtue for every Bishop, even more so for the Patriarch. Gregory remained a simple monk in his heart and therefore was decisively contrary to great titles. He wanted to be – and this is his expression – servus servorum Dei.Coined by him, this phrase was not just a pious formula on his lips but a true manifestation of his way of living and acting. He was intimately struck by the humility of God, who in Christ made himself our servant. He washed and washes our dirty feet. Therefore, he was convinced that a Bishop, above all, should imitate this humility of God and follow Christ in this way. His desire was to live truly as a monk, in permanent contact with the Word of God, but for love of God he knew how to make himself the servant of all in a time full of tribulation and suffering. He knew how to make himself the “servant of the servants”. Precisely because he was this, he is great and also shows us the measure of true greatness.

I found an interesting website from Harvard – a collection of brief articles focused on medieval preaching as reflected in the Houghton Library’s holdings. 

Here’s a page dedicated to Gregory the Great’s influence:

The influence of Gregory the Great is so widespread that the great scholar of exegesis, Henri de Lubac, dubbed the period from Gregory’s death up to the thirteenth century “The Gregorian Middle Ages.” Preachers were everywhere citing, referencing, and, generally, re-using the work of one they affectionately called “our Gregory” or “the homilist of the Church.”

And he’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints. 

amy-welborn-bookgregory-the-great

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Looks like Fall Project is definitely a go. I’ll start work in earnest next week, with a deadline of mid-November.

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

It’s September! That means if you are in parish, school  or diocesan ministry you are definitely thinking about Advent now. Well, think about this – the daily devotional I wrote for Liguori Press. It will be available in a month, and in Spanish, too. So check it out and spread the word. 

— 3 —

 

School’s going fine. Cuneiform tablets are being made by some, element symbols being memorized by others, and I think life is starting to flow a little more smoothly now. We do need this weekend, though.

snapchat-4399530719929583489.jpg

(Via snapchat – amywelborn2)

 

 — 4 —

Recent reads:

Tonight I dashed through Maugham’s novella Up at the Villa. It’s slight, melodramatic, with rather unbelievable stock characters doing foolish (and worse) things. Obviously not Maugham’s best, but not a waste of an hour of my life, Vols and Hoosiers winning in the background.

They made a movie of it back in 2000 starring Kristin Scott Thomas (I saw that and I thought..of course) and Sean Pean (What?).  From the trailer, it looks dreadful and A.O. Scott says as much in his review. The trailer also tells me that the film goes in a slightly different direction that Maugham’s story, but life is too short for me to bother to find out why or how.

— 5 

Earlier in the week, I read another Mauriac I checked out of the library – The Frontenacs which seems to be called The Frontenac Mystery in most English language editions.  The Frontenacs are a family, and while they are, as is usually the case in Mauriac, flawed and limited  by money and propriety concerns, the takeaway here is a bit less mournful than usual. Unfortunately, that means that the book itself feels lighter, the characters more sketchily drawn and the ultimate sentiment more…sentimental. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are determined to Read All the Mauriac.

Weekend reading will be The Razor’s Edge. 

(Go to a post earlier this week on The Good Companions, if you are interested.)

6–

If you want a long, jaw-dropping read, take a look at this LA Times series (running through Saturday) about the Stanford Law-graduate married couple who planted drugs in the PTA president’s car because they decided she’d dissed their son in aftercare.

 

— 7 —

 

I was poking around looking for some historical material on ad orientem and related matters and ran across this archive of the Catholic Northwest Progress newspaper (Archdiocese of Seattle). There are any number of reasons you might find it interesting, but I was looking for what people were told about the Mass changes and how they were reported. For that, look in the issues of late 1964-1965.

Interested in Mother Teresa material? Here’s my blog post on her – and what I wrote about her in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes – from earlier this week. 

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

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….also called Nathanael.  From B16:

We have no special information about Bartholomew; indeed, his name always and only appears in the lists of the Twelve mentioned above and is therefore never central to any narrative.

However, it has traditionally been identified with Nathanael:  a name that means “God has given”.

This Nathanael came from Cana (cf. Jn 21: 2) and he may therefore have witnessed the great “sign” that Jesus worked in that place (cf. Jn 2: 1-11). It is likely that the identification of the two figures stems from the fact that Nathanael is placed in the scene of his calling, recounted in John’s Gospel, next to Philip, in other words, the place that Bartholomew occupies in the lists of the Apostles mentioned in the other Gospels.

Philip told this Nathanael that he had found “him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (Jn 1: 45). As we know, Nathanael’s retort was rather strongly prejudiced:  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1: 46). In its own way, this form of protestation  is  important  for  us.  Indeed, it makes us see that according to Judaic expectations the Messiah could not come from such an obscure village as, precisely, Nazareth (see also Jn 7: 42).

But at the same time Nathanael’s protest highlights God’s freedom, which baffles our expectations by causing him to be found in the very place where we least expect him. Moreover, we actually know that Jesus was not exclusively “from Nazareth” but was born in Bethlehem (cf. Mt 2: 1; Lk 2: 4) and came ultimately from Heaven, from the Father who is in Heaven.

Nathanael’s reaction suggests another thought to us: in our relationship with Jesus we must not be satisfied with words  alone. In  his  answer,  Philip offers Nathanael a meaningful invitation:  “Come and see!” (Jn 1: 46). Our knowledge of Jesus needs above all a first-hand experience: someone else’s testimony is of course important, for normally  the  whole  of  our  Christian life begins with the proclamation handed  down  to  us  by  one  or  more  witnesses.

However, we ourselves must then be personally involved in a close and deep relationship with Jesus; in a similar way, when the Samaritans had heard the testimony of their fellow citizen whom Jesus had met at Jacob’s well, they wanted to talk to him directly, and after this conversation they told the woman:  “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world” (Jn 4: 42).

Returning to the scene of Nathanael’s vocation, the Evangelist tells us that when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching, he exclaims: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!” (Jn 1: 47). This is praise reminiscent of the text of a Psalm: “Blessed is the man… in whose spirit there is no deceit” (32[31]: 2), but provokes the curiosity of Nathanael who answers in amazement:  “How do you know me?” (Jn 1: 48).

Jesus’ reply cannot immediately be understood. He says: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig  tree,  I  saw  you” (Jn  1: 48).  We  do not know what had happened under this fig tree. It is obvious that it had to do with a decisive moment in Nathanael’s life.

His heart is moved by Jesus’ words, he feels understood and he understands: “This man knows everything about me, he knows and is familiar with the road of life; I can truly trust this man”. And so he answers with a clear and beautiful confession of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn 1: 49). In this confession is conveyed a first important step in the journey of attachment to Jesus.

Nathanael’s words shed light on a twofold, complementary aspect of Jesus’ identity: he is recognized both in his special relationship with God the Father, of whom he is the Only-begotten Son, and in his relationship with the People of Israel, of whom he is the declared King, precisely the description of the awaited Messiah. We must never lose sight of either of these two elements because if we only proclaim Jesus’ heavenly dimension, we risk making him an ethereal and evanescent being; and if, on the contrary, we recognize only his concrete place in history, we end by neglecting the divine dimension that properly qualifies him.

We have no precise information about Bartholomew-Nathanael’s subsequent apostolic activity. According to information handed down by Eusebius, the fourth-century historian, a certain Pantaenus is supposed to have discovered traces of Bartholomew’s presence even in India (cf. Hist. eccl. V, 10, 3).

In later tradition, as from the Middle Ages, the account of his death by flaying became very popular. Only think of the famous scene of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel in which Michelangelo painted St Bartholomew, who is holding his own skin in his left hand, on which the artist left his self-portrait.

St Bartholomew’s relics are venerated here in Rome in the Church dedicated to him on the Tiber Island, where they are said to have been brought by the German Emperor Otto III in the year 983.

To conclude, we can say that despite the scarcity of information about him, St Bartholomew stands before us to tell us that attachment to Jesus can also be lived and witnessed to without performing sensational deeds. Jesus himself, to whom each one of us is called to dedicate his or her own life and death, is and remains extraordinary.

The apostles are often portrayed in art with the means of their death, so you do see Bartholomew holding his flayed skin.  As Benedict mentions, the most well-known is the depiction in the Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.

"amy welborn"

Also impressive is the huge statue in St. John Lateran. It stands in the central nave, along with representations of all the apostles. 

"amy welborn"

Remember that all of Benedict’s General Audience talks on the apostles are available in book form. 

And take a look at this post from the Clerk of Oxford blog on some medieval traditions, with this lovely and true reflection:

This story suggests all kinds of interesting things about memory and oral transmission in eleventh-century England, and the way traditions were perpetuated within communities; it’s unusual to have such specific details of the means by which knowledge was transmitted from one generation to another. Young Eadmer, listening to Edwin and the others tell their story, was not very different from the children at St Bartholomew’s who ran the other day to receive their currant buns, watched over by their elders; one purpose of such ceremonies is to imprint their memory on the younger generation, specifically in this case the principle of St Bartholomew’s ancient tradition of charity. The elders were once children themselves, and one day the running children may be the watching hospitallians in their wheelchairs. With stories, current buns and biscuits, we ensure that our children know about the past so that one day they will remember and acknowledge it as we do.

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(Repost….but why reinvent the wheel.)

What do we know about St. Clare of Assisi?

As is the case with many historical figures, separating legend and history can be a challenge with Clare and the effort can even miss the point because…well, who knows?

But it can be helpful and important to try to tease the two apart, not just for the sake of accuracy, but also so that we engage the willingness to be critical, not so much of the record that comes to us, but of our own assumptions.  Are we, for example, molding the figure of St. Francis to a particular modern agenda by  embracing some exaggerated legendary material about him but ignoring aspects of his life that are actually historically verifiable  – his strict views on liturgy and reverence, for example?

So, Clare.

58d729de3674eabab7869868b547b9aaIn his excellent and necessary biography of Francis, Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. writes a bit about Clare, what we know about her and what is disputed.

He says that it is not clear how Francis and Clare came to meet. For his part, as an historian, he leans toward the view that it was via one of Francis’ early followers, Rufino, who was also Clare’s cousin. We don’t know how many times they met, but, as Fr. Thompson says, “The eventual result, however, was a plan for Clare to ‘leave the world,’ just s Francis had nearly seven years earlier.” (46)

The night of Palm Sunday 1212,  Clare and her sister Pacifica left the family home and went to the Porziuncula. “They found Francis and the community waiting for her in prayer before the candlelit altar. Francis cut the young woman’s hair and gave her a habit like that of the brothers, but with a veil. Before the ceremony, as Clare later recounted herself, she made profession of religious obedience for life directly to Francis…Francis now faced a new problem: what to do with his first female disciple. As on several other occasions of need, he turned to Benedictines.” (47)

After some time, they were settled at San Damiano. Francis prepared a rule of life for them by which they were charged to “follow the perfection of the holy Gospel.” (48)

And from that point, until his death, we have no record of contact between Francis and Clare.

When he died in 1226, his body was taken to the sisters at San Damiano for reverence.

********

The letters of St. Clare to Agnes of Prague. 

Agnes was the daughter of a king and espoused to the Emperor Frederick, who remarked famously upon news of her refusal of marriage to him, “If she had left me for a mortal man, I would have taken vengeance with the sword, but I cannot take offence because in preference to me she has chosen the King of Heaven.”

She entered the Poor Clares, and what makes the letters from Clare so interesting to me is the way that Clare plays on Agnes’ noble origins, using language and allusions that draw upon Agnes’ experience, but take her beyond it, as in this one: 

Inasmuch as this vision is the splendour of eternal glory (Heb 1:3), the brilliance of eternal light and the mirror 6477dcad09d8967545d8190b6c9cbdc1without blemish (Wis 7:26), look upon that mirror each day, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually study your face within it, so that you may adorn yourself within and without with beautiful robes and cover yourself with the flowers and garments of all the virtues, as becomes the daughter and most chaste bride of the Most High King. Indeed, blessed poverty, holy humility, and ineffable charity are reflected in that mirror, as, with the grace of God, you can contemplate them throughout the entire mirror.

Look at the parameters of this mirror, that is, the poverty of Him who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. O marvellous humility, O astonishing poverty! The King of the angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger! Then, at the surface of the mirror, dwell on the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labours and burdens which He endured for the redemption of all mankind. Then, in the depths of this same mirror, contemplate the ineffable charity which led Him to suffer on the wood of the cross and die thereon the most shameful kind of death. Therefore, that Mirror, suspended on the wood of the cross, urged those who passed by to consider it, saying: “All you who pass by the way, look and see if there is any suffering like My suffering!” (Lam 1:2). Let us answer Him with one voice and spirit, as He said: Remembering this over and over leaves my soul downcast within me (Lam 3:20)! From this moment, then, O queen of our heavenly King, let yourself be inflamed more strongly with the fervour of charity!

Now, more on Clare herself, from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, first from a General Audience in 2010

Especially at the beginning of her religious experience, Francis of Assisi was not only a teacher to Clare whose teachings she was to follow but also a brotherly friend. The friendship between these two Saints is a very beautiful and important aspect. Indeed, when two pure souls on fire with the same love for God meet, they find in their friendship with each other a powerful incentive to advance on the path of perfection. Friendship is one of the noblest and loftiest human sentiments which divine Grace purifies and transfigures. Like St Francis and St Clare, other Saints too experienced profound friendship on the journey towards Christian perfection. Examples are St Francis de Sales and St Jane Frances de Chantal. And St Francis de Sales himself wrote: “It is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there. I am not now speaking of simple charity, a love due to all mankind, but of that spiritual friendship which binds souls together, leading them to share devotions and spiritual interests, so as to have but one mind between them” (The Introduction to a Devout Life, III, 19).

After spending a period of several months at other monastic communities, resisting the pressure of her relatives who did not at first approve of her decision, Clare settled with her first companions at the Church of San Damiano where the Friars Minor had organized a small convent for them. She lived in this Monastery for more than 40 years, until her death in 1253. A first-hand description has come down to us of how these women lived in those years at the beginning of the Franciscan movement. It is the admiring account of Jacques de Vitry, a Flemish Bishop who came to Italy on a visit. He declared that he had encountered a large number of men and women of every social class who, having “left all things for Christ, fled the world. They called themselves Friars Minor and Sisters Minor [Lesser] and are held in high esteem by the Lord Pope and the Cardinals…. The women live together in various homes not far from the city. They receive nothing but live on the work of their own hands. And they are deeply troubled and pained at being honoured more than they would like to be by both clerics and lay people” (Letter of October 1216: FF, 2205, 2207).

Jacques de Vitry had perceptively noticed a characteristic trait of Franciscan spirituality about which Clare was deeply sensitive: the radicalism of poverty associated with total trust in Divine Providence. For this reason, she acted with great determination, obtaining from Pope Gregory IX or, probably, already from Pope Innocent III, the so-called Privilegium Paupertatis (cf. FF., 3279). On the basis of this privilege Clare and her companions at San Damiano could not possess any material property. This was a truly extraordinary exception in comparison with the canon law then in force but the ecclesiastical authorities of that time permitted it, appreciating the fruits of evangelical holiness that they recognized in the way of life of Clare and her sisters. This shows that even in the centuries of the Middle Ages the role of women was not secondary but on the contrary considerable. In this regard, it is useful to remember that Clare was the first woman in the Church’s history who composed a written Rule, submitted for the Pope’s approval, to ensure the preservation of Francis of Assisi’s charism in all the communities of women large numbers of which were already springing up in her time that wished to draw inspiration from the example of Francis and Clare.

In the Convent of San Damiano, Clare practised heroically the virtues that should distinguish every Christian: humility, a spirit of piety and penitence and charity. Although she was the superior, she wanted to serve the sick sisters herself and joyfully subjected herself to the most menial tasks. In fact, charity overcomes all resistance and whoever loves, joyfully performs every sacrifice. Her faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was so great that twice a miracle happened. Simply by showing to them the Most Blessed Sacrament distanced the Saracen mercenaries, who were on the point of attacking the convent of San Damiano and pillaging the city of Assisi.

Such episodes, like other miracles whose memory lives on, prompted Pope Alexander IV to canonize her in 1255, only two years after her death, outlining her eulogy in the Bull on the Canonization of St Clare. In it we read: “How powerful was the illumination of this light and how strong the brightness of this source of light. Truly this light was kept hidden in the cloistered life; and outside them shone with gleaming rays; Clare in fact lay hidden, but her life was revealed to all. Clare was silent, but her fame was shouted out” (FF, 3284). And this is exactly how it was, dear friends: those who change the world for the better are holy, they transform it permanently, instilling in it the energies that only love inspired by the Gospel can elicit. The Saints are humanity’s great benefactors!

St Clare’s spirituality, the synthesis of the holiness she proposed is summed up in the fourth letter she wrote to St Agnes of Prague. St Clare used an image very widespread in the Middle Ages that dates back to Patristic times: the mirror. And she invited her friend in Prague to reflect herself in that mirror of the perfection of every virtue which is the Lord himself. She wrote: “Happy, indeed, is the one permitted to share in this sacred banquet so as to be joined with all the feelings of her heart (to Christ) whose beauty all the blessed hosts of the Heavens unceasingly admire, whose affection moves, whose contemplation invigorates, whose generosity fills, whose sweetness replenishes, whose remembrance pleasantly brings light, whose fragrance will revive the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, because the vision of him is the splendour of everlasting glory, the radiance of everlasting light, and a mirror without tarnish. Look into this mirror every day, O Queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually examine your face in it, so that in this way you may adorn yourself completely, inwardly and outwardly…. In this mirror shine blessed poverty, holy humility, and charity beyond words…” (Fourth Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, FF, 2901-2903).

And then from a 2012 letter to the bishop of the area on the occasion of the anniversary of her conversion.

According to St Clare’s Testament, even before receiving his other companions Francis prophesied the way that would be taken by his first spiritual daughter and her sisters. Indeed while he was restoring the Church of St Damian, where the Crucifix had spoken to him, he proclaimed that women would live in this place who would glorify God by the holy tenor of their life (cf. FF 2826; cf. Tommaso da Celano, Vita Seconda, 13: FF 599).

The original Crucifix is now in the Basilica of St Clare. Christ’s large eyes which had fascinated Francis were to become Clare’s “mirror”. It is not by chance that the looking-glass would become a topic so dear to her that in her fourth letter to Agnes of Prague she would write: “Look into this mirror every day, O queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually examine your face in it” (FF 2902).

In the years in which she met Francis to learn from him about the way of God, Clare was an attractive young woman. The “Poverello” of Assisi showed her a loftier beauty that cannot be measured by the mirror of vanity but develops in a life of authentic love, following in the footsteps of the Crucified Christ. God is the true beauty! Clare’s heart was lit up with this splendour and it gave her the courage to let her hair be cut and to embark on a life of penance.

For her, as for Francis, this decision was fraught with difficulty. Although some of her relatives understood her immediately — and Ortolana, her mother, and two of her sisters even followed her in the life she had chosen — others reacted violently. Her escape from home on the night between Palm Sunday and the Monday of Holy Week had something of an adventure about it. In the following days she was pursued to the places Francis had prepared for her but the attempts, even with force, to make her go back on her decision were in vain.

Clare had prepared herself for this struggle. Moreover although Francis was her guide, several clues hint that she also received fatherly support from Bishop Guido. This would explain the prelate’s gesture in offering the palm to her, as if to bless her courageous decision. Without the bishop’s support it would have been difficult for Clare to follow the plan that Francis had devised and that she put into practice, both in her consecration in the Church of the Porziuncola in the presence of Francis and his friars, and in the hospitality she received in the days that followed at the Monastery of San Paolo delle Abbadesse and at the community of Sant’Angelo in Panzo, prior to her definitive arrival at St Damian.

Clare’s story, like Francis’, thus has a specific ecclesial trait: an enlightened pastor and two children of the Church who entrust themselves to his discernment. In it institution and charism wondrously interact. Love and obedience to the Church, so marked in Franciscan-Clarissian spirituality, are rooted in this beautiful experience of the Christian community of Assisi, which not only gave birth to the faith of Francis and of his “little plant”, but also accompanied them, taking them by the hand on the path of holiness.

Francis saw clearly the reason for suggesting to Clare that she run away from home at the beginning of Holy Week. The whole of Christian life — hence also the life of special consecration — is a fruit of the Paschal Mystery and of participation in Christ’s death and Resurrection. The themes of sadness and glory, interwoven in the Palm Sunday liturgy, will be developed in the successive days through the darkness of the Passion to the light of Easter. With her decision Clare relives this mystery. She receives the programme for it, as it were, on Palm Sunday. She then enters the drama of the Passion, forfeiting her hair and, with it, renouncing her whole self in order to be a bride of Christ in humility and poverty. Francis and his companions are now her family.

Sisters were soon to come also from afar, but as in Francis’ case, the first new shoots were to sprout in Assisi. And Clare would always remain bound to her city, demonstrating her ties with it especially in certain difficult circumstances when her prayers saved Assisi from violence and devastation. She said to her sisters at the time: “We have received many things from this city every day dear daughters; it would be quite wicked if we were not to do our utmost to help it now in this time of need” (cf. Legenda Sanctae Clarae Virginis 23: FF 3203).

The profound meaning of Clare’s “conversion” is a conversion to love. She was no longer to wear the fine clothes worn by the Assisi nobility but rather the elegance of a soul that expends itself in the praise of God and in the gift of self. In the small space of the Monastery of St Damian, at the school of Jesus, contemplated with spousal affection in the Eucharist, day by day the features developed of a community governed by love of God and by prayer, by caring for others and by service. In this context of profound faith and great humanity Clare became a sure interpreter of the Franciscan ideal, imploring the “privilege” of poverty, namely, the renunciation of goods, possessed even only as a community, which for a long time perplexed the Supreme Pontiff himself, even though, in the end, he surrendered to the heroism of her holiness.

How could one fail to hold up Clare, like Francis, to the youth of today? The time that separates us from the events of both these Saints has in no way diminished their magnetism. On the contrary, their timeliness in comparison with the illusions and delusions that all too often mark the condition of young people today. Never before has a time inspired so many dreams among the young, with the thousands of attractions of a life in which everything seems possible and licit.

Yet, how much discontent there is, how often does the pursuit of happiness and fulfilment end by unfolding paths that lead to artificial paradises, such as those of drugs and unrestrained sensuality!

The current situation with the difficulty of finding dignified employment and forming a happy and united family makes clouds loom on the horizon. However there are many young people, in our day too, who accept the invitation to entrust themselves to Christ and to face life’s journey with courage, responsibility and hope and even opt to leave everything to follow him in total service to him and to their brethren.

The story of Clare, with that of Francis, is an invitation to reflect on the meaning of life and to seek the secret of true joy in God. It is a concrete proof that those who do the Lord’s will and trust in him alone lose nothing; on the contrary they find the true treasure that can give meaning to all things.

From St. Pope John Paul II

Due to a type of iconography which has been very popular since the 17th century, Clare is often depicted holding a monstrance. This gesture recalls, although in a more solemn posture, the humble reality of this woman who, although she was very sick, prostrated herself with the help of two sisters before the silver ciborium containing the Eucharist (cf. LegCl 21), which she had placed in front of the refectory door that the Emperor’s troops were about to storm. Clare lived on that pure Bread which, according to the custom of the time, she could receive only seven times a year. On her sickbed she embroidered corporals and sent them to the poor churches in the Spoleto valley.

In reality Clare’s whole life was a eucharist because, like Francis, from her cloister she raised up a continual “thanksgiving” to God in her prayer, praise, supplication, intercession, weeping, offering and sacrifice. She accepted everything and offered it to the Father in union with the infinite “thanks” of the only-begotten Son, the Child, the Crucified, the risen One, who lives at the right hand of the Father.

In the fall of 2012, as it happens, we visited Assisi.

The way to San Damiano:

"amy welborn"

The room where St. Clare died – the far corner, in fact.

"amy welborn"

Photographs are not allowed in the chapel – the site where Francis discerned the voice of Christ.  The “San Damiano” cross that is in the chapel at San Damiano is a reproduction – the original is in the church of S. Chiara, back up in Assisi.

120

S. Chiara basilica. 

And….part of the fruit is Adventures in Assisi…so even if you can’t have a photo of the cross inside S. Chiara, you can have a gorgeous watercolor..

9. Santa Chiara basilica - spread 8 copy

and of San Damiano’s interior:

8. San Damiano Chapel - spread 7

assisi

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