Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Category

One of the more persistent annoyances in the contemporary Catholic world is the proud declaration that now we finally know that we’re supposed to evangelize and go forth and go out and not sit smugly inside the church walls!  Finally! 

It’s not all the fault of the Francis Moment.  Since the Second Vatican Council, that idea: that the pre-Vatican II Church was closed-off, and we’re all about the openness, energy and evangelization now –  exists in the Catholic Atmosphere somewhere between assumption and dogma.

But how odd, then, that when we dig out examples to inspire us in our current efforts to take the Gospel into the world, to be energetic and creative and engaged, we tell each other that we need to be more like…

Francis de Sales!

Catherine of Siena!

Frederic Ozanam!

Maximilian Kolbe!

Alphonsus Liguori!

Francis of Assisi!


or today’s saint: Blessed Marie-Rose Durocher!

Who all, it seems, managed to understand Jesus’ call pretty well, despite having to live rigidly with access only to the ©TLM.

Just think what they could have accomplished with more freedom and the right to actively participate!

(My take has always been that what Vatican II unleashed, even as it was called in order to enable the Church to offer the Gospel to the world with more vigor and understanding, was mostly decades and decades of self-involved naval-gazing and infighting as the energy to go out was redirected into endless meetings trying to figure out new structures and mission statements and what we’re all about and for, a massive waste of time and misdirection that we’re seeing reach its natural climax in #Synod15.)

Eh, as usual, I’m absorbing that very same distracting energy in composing this blog post, which was intended to be pretty simple. So, pull back, and get back to business.

In the midst of my usual historical rabbit-hole explorations the other day, I happened upon a book at Archive. org called The Blind Sisters of Saint Paul. 

It’s an account, written by one Maurice de la Sizerannt, of a religious order founded in the mid-19th century, not only to serve the blind, but as once accepting blind women as members. From another source:

The story of the conversion of St Paul in the Acts of the Apostles (“For three days he was without his sight and took neither food nor drink”, Acts 9,9) is the origin of the charisma of the Blind Sisters of St Paul founded in Paris in 1852 to be, “Light in the Lord” (Eph 5,8).

This Congregation is connected with an intuition of mademoiselle Anne Bergunion, born in Paris in 1804. She had a sewing workshop and had accepted a few blind girls turned away from the National Institute for Young Blind People. The idea of starting a religious community came to her when she read the phrase: “with one of two persons, a week of work and three rooms one could found a congregation”. Mgr Henry Juge, a priest of the diocese of Versailles, immediately supported the endeavour and accompanied it for forty years until his death (1893).

Both founders distinguished themselves for their dedication and their love for the girls. The foundress proposed: “My God I wish to be the slave of the blind for ever”. Her spiritual director said: “If after my death they were to open my heart, in it they would find a blind girl “. To help them work, Canon Juge opened a Braille printing works in 1864.

This was an absolute novelty for the times, both in the social panorama — there was no form of structured assistance — and in the ecclesial field — there had never been a congregation for people with this sort of disability. The foundation was achieved thanks to support from Pius IX, who exclaimed when he heard of the initiative: “There is really a woman who thought of this? This is an admirable undertaking, which was lacking in the Church!”. This phrase still opens the Institute’s Constitution today.

Community life

After giving the community rules and constitutions, Anne Bergunion (now Mère Saint Paul) made her first religious vows in the presence of Mgr. de La Bouillerie, on 22 May 1855. Mother Saint Paul had called the blind sisters “choir sisters” and those who could see “lay sisters “, but Canon Juge wished for there to be no difference between the roles. The intuition proved to be fundamental for community life, inspired by absolute equality. In every day life the blind sisters are assisted by the other members of the Institute. The only one of its kind in the world, the Congregation welcomes young blind aspirants who wish to consecrate their life to God and the Church, to serve others, teaching little girls suffering from blindness. On 21 April 1856, the Holy See granted the Institute a Decree of Praise.

The first half of the book is a description of the lives and experiences of the blind in a more general sense, but then the second half is a very detailed look at the lives and work of this congregation.  From the article above, and from what I could find online – without having to take an hour to translate – the institute still exists, although I am not sure how large the actual congregation of sisters is, or if, that original mandate to incorporate blind women as sisters is still in evidence.

But it’s all just one more tidbit – one of thousands that could be offered – to correct the current assumption that Catholic life in the past was all about living inside walls, closed to the world. Indeed, as I tried to say in my last post on this matter, I think that the “rules” mentality and the expectation that the serious Christian’s life would be defined by sacrifice – or, in more positive terms, the Catholic’s understandings of his or her obligations to practice the virtues and works of mercy  – put this kind of activity in the forefront in a way that made it more difficult for the individual to dismiss.

Yes, there was conflict. That dynamic of conflict and paradox is embedded in Christianity from the beginning: The Gospel and St. Paul are all about the freedom human beings find in gentle yoke of Christ, and when we look at the breadth and depth of Catholic history, we see a continual exploration of what this means and how it is to be lived out, as movements rise, lose their identity to worldly values, are reformed, as creative thinkers butt heads with religious authorities, whose visions are denied one year, then embraced the next.

From the book:

When first the community was founded, blind
and normal nuns used to be assembled in separate
groups, so as to exhort the former to resignation
and the latter to gratitude; now all goes smoothly,
there is no longer juxtaposition, but fusion, of the
two elements. Both classes of nuns consider them-
selves Sisters of St Paul — ^that says everything; and
if preferences or special friendships were allowed
in convents, they would most often be between a
blind and a normal nun. On January 25 and Octo-
ber 24, there are general rejoicings; on the day of
St Paul’s Conversion the nuns with eyesight have a
festival for the blind, and on St Raphael’s Day the
blind sisters return the compliment.

It would be a great mistake to imagine the seeing
nuns as ^* Marthas,” entirely taken up with exte-
rior works; and the blind nuns as ”Maries,” per-
petually kneeling before the tabernacle and choos-
ing ”the better part.” A purely physical difference
cannot make such a line of demarcation; some nuns
who can see have more contemplative souls than
some of their blind sisters. It is the interior appeal
of our Lord that makes “Maries,” and not the lack
"amy welborn"or possession of any one physical sense. Tasks are

dual’s aptitudes; some very important ones fall to
the blind, such as music, some branches of scholas-
tic teaching, and training to the brush-work and

In searching the annals of the community we see
still more intricate tasks confided to blind nuns; a
certain Sister Mary Amelia, whilst the congrega-
tion was unavoidably divided between Bourg-la-
Reine and Paris, took the direction of the former
group; Sister Mary Dosithea, treasurer, becoming
totally blind, continued her avocation most success-
fully, being only assisted in the mechanical work of
book-keeping by a young novice; the real manage-
ment falling entirely on the Sister.

On great feast days in summer the
blind delight in the flowers which dress the altar
and sanctuary and perfume their chapel; and when
clouds of incense fill the air while triumphal hymns
are sung by the whole congregation, they feel them-
selves plunged into an atmosphere of happiness and
mystic joy. They love their dear chapel too, when
coming back at the close of a feast-day to look for
a book or make a short adoration, they find it
warm from the flame of tapers, impregnated with
incense, and as if still thrilling with the diants
that have just ended. If we have the patience or

devotion to spend a little time in a comer of St

Paul’s chapel, we shall see many interesting types
of blind women: sometimes a sister enters by the
nuns’ door; she walks quickly and unhesitatingly to
her little stall: sometimes an old woman dressed as a
*Mady ” comes in very slowly and almost on tip-toe,
with much hesitation and faltering, keeping close to
the wall so as not to lose her way, and touching
each row of chairs to count them and discover when
she reaches her own seat. Thiswill bealady-boarder,
who has recently lost her sight; inher own home she
would not have ventured out of her room or down-
stairs without a guide. Here, example has embold-
ened her, she knows that she is surrounded by other
blind people who make every allowance for her
and are kind instead of critiod; she does not feel
set apart, she has taken confidence and tried her
best (‘^essay6 de pouvoir”) and has succeeded;
each day she has made a little progress and has
gradually recovered more and more independence.
The next moment another blind woman enters,
also dressed with a certain amount of care; she
walks quite steadily if slowly, and finds her place
without feeling for it; she is an organist and teacher
of music who, brought up in a blind school, has re-
tired to St Paul’s after forty years of work; she pays
for her board out of the little income which her
savings produce and the few hundreds of francs
left her by her parents. Later a group of young
girls come in together to pay their visit to the
Blessed Sacrament; these also are quite unembar-
rassed and walk with great precision; they are
Children of Mary, and have been for some time in
the house. Finally, an old blind nun quietly enters,
leading a very young blind child, almost a baby, to

pray to the Infant Jesus, and she teaches her how
to make the sign of the Cross. On Feast days, when
the Church exultantly invites the faithful to form
out-of-door processions as a manifestation of their
faith in the Blessed Sacrament or their devotion
to our Lady, and leads them through city streets
and village roads decorated for the occasion, the
family of St Paul’s refuses to be behindhand. Pro-
cessions in honour of Corpus Christi, the Assump-
tion and the Rosary are specially dear to the
Community. They take place in the garden, under
the avenues of lime trees, and on Corpus Christi
a humble Altar of Repose is erected at the far end
of the garden. Little children, students, work-girls.
Children of Mary, lady-boarders, blind and normal
nuns march along singing:

This is day which the Lord hath made; let us be glad and
rejoice therein.

O Lord, save me, O Lord, give good success.

Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord. We
have blessed you out of the house of the Lord. The Lord is
God, and He hath shone upon us. — Psalm cxvii.

What does this mean? That the past was “better?” Nope.  It means, more than anything else, that the notion of “progress” has no place in Catholic self-understanding. There is no earthly ecclesial progression towards a “more true” apprehension and expression of the Gospel over time.  That arrogant presentist bias is contradictory to the Gospel, in which we all, since the Resurrection, live in expectation of the Second Coming of Christ together, across time and space.

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It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
that I may learn your statutes.

– Psalm 119:71

My friend fought cancer for years and years. Every part of her body, it seems, was afflicted. At some point in the midst of all of it–halfway between her diagnosis and her death–she said to me, with complete conviction, “Thank God for my cancer.” She explained that she felt–no, she knew–that before her cancer, she had been living on what she now saw as a superficial level. Cancer had ravaged her body and was cutting her physical life short, but my friend felt strongly that cancer had opened her eyes to grace, deepened her capacity for love and brought her closer to God.

If I am honest, if I look at my own life, I really can’t deny that it’s mostly through suffering that my soul expands and my embrace widens. Admitting that is a challenge. Why? Because, as I pray with the psalmist, I’m opening myself to take the cup and drink in more lessons learned in this way, which is nothing less than the way of the cross.

365 of this sort of thing in The Catholic Woman’s Book of  Days

Today is also St. Bruno. Here’s B16 reflecting on him from 2010, in a visit to the Charterhouse of Serra San Bruno:

“Fugitiva relinquere et aeterna captare”: to abandon transient realities and seek to grasp that which is eternal. These words from the letter your Founder addressed to Rudolph, Provost of Rheims, contain the core of your spirituality (cf. Letter to Rudolph, n. 13): the strong desire to enter in union of life with God, abandoning everything else, everything that stands in the way of this communion, and letting oneself be grasped by the immense love of God to live this love alone.

Dear brothers you have found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value (cf. Mt 13:44-46); you have responded radically to Jesus’ invitation: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). Every monastery — male or female — is an oasis in which the deep well, from which to draw “living water” to quench our deepest thirst, is constantly being dug with prayer and meditation. However, the charterhouse is a special oasis in which silence and solitude are preserved with special care, in accordance with the form of life founded by St Bruno and which has remained unchanged down the centuries. “I live in a rather faraway hermitage… with some religious brothers”, is the concise sentence that your Founder wrote (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4). The Successor of Peter’s Visit to this historic Charterhouse is not only intended to strengthen those of you who live here but the entire Order in its mission which is more than ever timely and meaningful in today’s world.

Technical progress, especially in the area of transport and communications, has made human life more comfortable but also more keyed up, at times even frenetic. Cities are almost always noisy, silence is rarely to be found in them because there is always background noise, in some areas even at night. In recent decades, moreover, the development of the media has spread and extended a phenomenon that had already been outlined in the 1960s: virtuality risks predominating over reality. Unbeknownst to them, people are increasingly becoming immersed in a virtual dimension because of the audiovisual messages that accompany their life from morning to night.

The youngest, born into this condition, seem to want to fill every empty moment with music and images, out of fear of feeling this very emptiness. This is a trend that has always existed, especially among the young and in the more developed urban contexts but today it has reached a level such as to give rise to talk about anthropological mutation. Some people are no longer able to remain for long periods in silence and solitude.

I chose to mention this socio-cultural condition because it highlights the specific charism of the Charterhouse as a precious gift for the Church and for the world, a gift that contains a deep message for our life and for the whole of humanity. I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, “expose” themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent “void”, which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most real Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every creature: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones…. God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.

The monk, in leaving everything, “takes a risk”, as it were: he exposes himself to solitude and silence in order to live on nothing but the essential, and precisely in living on the essential he also finds a deep communion with his brethren, with every human being.

Some might think that it would suffice to come here to take this “leap”. But it is not like this. This vocation, like every vocation, finds an answer in an ongoing process, in a life-long search. Indeed it is not enough to withdraw to a place such as this in order to learn to be in God’s presence. Just as in marriage it is not enough to celebrate the Sacrament to become effectively one but it is necessary to let God’s grace act and to walk together through the daily routine of conjugal life, so becoming monks requires time, practice and patience, “in a divine and persevering vigilance”, as St Bruno said, they “await the return of their Lord so that they might be able to open the door to him as soon as he knocks” (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4); and the beauty of every vocation in the Church "amy welborn"consists precisely in this: giving God time to act with his Spirit and to one’s own humanity to form itself, to grow in that particular state of life according to the measure of the maturity of Christ.

In Christ there is everything, fullness; we need time to make one of the dimensions of his mystery our own. We could say that this is a journey of transformation in which the mystery of Christi’s resurrection is brought about and made manifest in us, a mystery of which the word of God in the biblical Reading from the Letter to the Romans has reminded us this evening: the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and will give life to our mortal bodies also (cf. Rom 8:11) is the One who also brings about our configuration to Christ in accordance with each one’s vocation, a journey that unwinds from the baptismal font to death, a passing on to the Father’s house. In the world’s eyes it sometimes seems impossible to spend one’s whole life in a monastery but in fact a whole life barely suffices to enter into this union with God, into this essential and profound Reality which is Jesus Christ.

This is why I have come here, dear Brothers who make up the Carthusian Community of Serra San Bruno, to tell you that the Church needs you and that you need the Church! Your place is not on the fringes: no vocation in the People of God is on the fringes. We are one body, in which every member is important and has the same dignity, and is inseparable from the whole. You too, who live in voluntary isolation, are in the heart of the Church and make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through your veins.

Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis [the cross is steady while the world is turning], your motto says. The Cross of Christ is the firm point in the midst of the world’s changes and upheavals. Life in a Charterhouse shares in the stability of the Cross which is that of God, of God’s faithful love. By remaining firmly united to Christ, like the branches to the Vine, may you too, dear Carthusian Brothers, be associated with his mystery of salvation, like the Virgin Mary who stabat (stood) beneath the Cross, united with her Son in the same sacrifice of love.

Also from 2010, an Angelus reflection on today’s Gospel:

Christ’s words are quite clear: there is no contempt for active life, nor even less for generous hospitality; rather, a distinct reminder of the fact that the only really necessary thing is something else: listening to the word of the Lord; and the Lord is there at that moment, present in the Person of Jesus! All the rest will pass away and will be taken from us but the word of God is eternal and gives meaning to our daily actions.

Dear friends, as I said, this Gospel passage is more than ever in tune with the vacation period, because it recalls the fact that the human person must indeed work and be involved in domestic and professional occupations, but first and foremost needs God, who is the inner light of Love and Truth. Without love, even the most important activities lose their value and give no joy. Without a profound meaning, all our activities are reduced to sterile and unorganised activism. And who, if not Jesus Christ, gives us Love and Truth? Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us learn to help each other, to collaborate, but first of all to choose together the better part which is and always will be our greatest good.

velasquez martha mary

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (Velázquez)

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Today’s her feastday!

She’s in The Loyola KIds’ Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love their families.”  Here are the first two pages of the entry:

amy-welborn amy-welborn2

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on today’s saint, Therese of Lisieux.  From the General Audience of 4/6/11:

"therese of lisieux"

Dear friends, we too, with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love authentically and totally. Thérèse is one of the “little” ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery. A guide for all, especially those who, in the People of God, carry out their ministry as theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Thérèse continually entered the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this interpretation of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not in opposition to academic knowledge. Thescience of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of her The Story of a Soul, is the loftiest science.

“All the saints have understood and in a special way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of the evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that St Paul, St Augustine, St John of the Cross, St Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic, and so many other friends of God drew thatwonderful science which has enthralled the loftiest minds?” (cf. Ms C 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, for Thérèse the Eucharist was the sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to the extreme to raise us to him. In her last Letter, on an image that represents Jesus the Child in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!” (LT 266).

In the Gospel Thérèse discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point that she said: “To me, He has given his Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other divine attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love” (Ms A, 84r).

In these words she expresses herself in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “I have only to open the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the perfume of Jesus’ life, and then I know which way to run; and it is not to the first place, but to the last, that I hasten…. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit… my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Saviour Jesus, because I know that he loves the Prodigal Son” who returns to him. (Ms C, 36v-37r).

“Trust and Love” are therefore the final point of the account of her life, two words, like beacons, that illumined the whole of her journey to holiness, to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226).

Trust, like that of the child who abandons himself in God’s hands, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of self for ever, as the Saint says, contemplating Mary: “Loving is giving all, and giving oneself” (Why I love thee, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Thérèse points out to us all that Christian life consists in living to the full the grace of Baptism in the total gift of self to the Love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, his same love for all the others.

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My kids know all about St. Jerome because we frequent art museums, and St. Jerome is a very popular subject. I don’t think you can hit a museum with even the most meager medieval or renaissance collection and not encounter him. And since the way I have engaged my kids in museums since forever  – besides pointing out gory things – is to do “guess the saint” and “guess the Bible story” games -yes, they can recognize a wizened half-naked skull-and-lion accompanied St. Jerome from two galleries away.

amy-welborn2 amy-welborn3

"amy welborn"


Good children’s books on St. Jerome:

Oh my gosh!

Margaret Hodge’s version with paintings by Barry Moser is..OUT OF PRINT?!

Well, thank goodness we have a copy, and hey, publishers…somebody pick this up and bring it back into print. Free advice, no charge.

Not surprisingly, Rumer Godden’s version is also out of print. 

Oh well…maybe you can find them at the library? Again…Catholic publishers..get on this!

I have St. Jerome in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints under “Saints are people who help us understand God.”

And now…from 2007. Two GA talks devoted to Jerome. From the first:

What can we learn from St Jerome? It seems to me, this above all; to love the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. St Jerome said: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. It is therefore important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialogue with the Word of God given to us in Sacred Scripture. This dialogue with Scripture must always have two dimensions: on the one hand, it must be a truly personal dialogue because God speaks with each one of us through Sacred Scripture and it has a message for each one. We must not read Sacred Scripture as a word of the past but as the Word of God that is also addressed to us, and we must try to understand what it is that the Lord wants to tell us. However, to avoid falling into individualism, we must bear in mind that the Word of God has been given to us precisely in order to build communion and to join forces in the truth on our journey towards God. Thus, although it is always a personal Word, it is also a Word that builds community, that builds the Church. We must therefore read it in communion with the living Church. The privileged place for reading and listening to the Word of God is the liturgy, in which, celebrating the Word and making Christ’s Body present in the Sacrament, we actualize the Word in our lives and make it present among us. We must never forget that the Word of God transcends time. Human opinions come andgo. What is very modern today will be very antiquated tomorrow. On the other hand, the Word of God is the Word of eternal life, it bears within it eternity and is valid for ever. By carrying the Word of God within us, we therefore carry within us eternity, eternal life.

And from the second

Truly “in love” with the Word of God, he asked himself: “How could one live without the knowledge of Scripture, through which one learns to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?” (Ep. 30, 7). The Bible, an instrument “by which God speaks every day to the faithful” (Ep. 133, 13), thus becomes a stimulus and source of Christian life for all situations and for each person. To read Scripture is to converse with God: “If you pray”, he writes to a young Roman noblewoman, “you speak with the Spouse; if you read, it is he who speaks to you” (Ep. 22, 25). The study of and meditation on Scripture renders man wise and serene (cf. In Eph.,Prol.). Certainly, to penetrate the Word of God ever more profoundly, a constant and progressive application is needed. Hence, Jerome recommends to the priest Nepotian: “Read the divine Scriptures frequently; rather, may your hands never set the Holy Book down. Learn here what you must teach” (Ep. 52, 7). To the Roman matron Leta he gave this counsel for the Christian education of her daughter: “Ensure that each day she studies some Scripture passage…. After prayer, reading should follow, and after reading, prayer…. Instead of jewels and silk clothing, may she love the divine Books” (Ep. 107, 9, 12). Through meditation on and knowledge of the Scriptures, one “maintains the equilibrium of the soul” (Ad Eph., Prol.). Only a profound spirit of prayer and the Holy Spirit’s help can introduce us to understanding the Bible: “In the interpretation of Sacred Scripture we always need the help of the Holy Spirit” (In Mich. 1, 1, 10, 15).

A passionate love for Scripture therefore pervaded Jerome’s whole life, a love that he always sought to deepen in the faithful, too. He recommends to one of his spiritual daughters: “Love Sacred Scripture and wisdom will love you; love it tenderly, and it will protect you; honour it and you will receive its caresses. May it be for you as your necklaces and your earrings” (Ep. 130, 20). And again: “Love the science of Scripture, and you will not love the vices of the flesh” (Ep. 125, 11).

For Jerome, a fundamental criterion of the method for interpreting the Scriptures was harmony with the Church’s Magisterium. We should never read Scripture alone because we meet too many closed doors and could easily slip into error. The Bible has been written by the People of God and for the People of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in this communion with the People of God do we truly enter into the “we”, into the nucleus of the truth that God himself wants to tell us. For him, an authentic interpretation of the Bible must always be in harmonious accord with the faith of the Catholic Church. It is not a question of an exegesis imposed on this Book from without; the Book is really the voice of the pilgrim People of God and only in the faith of this People are we “correctly attuned” to understand Sacred Scripture.

Finally, Pope Benedict XV wrote an encyclical about St. Jerome on the 1500th anniversary of his death, and in it declared him the patron of all who study Sacred Scripture. You can read it here. 

Immense, then, was the profit Jerome derived from reading Scripture; hence came those interior illuminations whereby he was ever more and more drawn to knowledge and love of Christ; hence, too, that love of prayer of which he has written so well; hence his wonderful familiarity with Christ, Whose sweetness drew him so that he ran unfalteringly along the arduous way of the Cross to the palm of victory. Hence, too, his ardent love for the Holy Eucharist: “Who is wealthier than he who carries the Lord’s Body in his wicker basket, the Lord’s Blood in his crystal vessel?”[128] Hence, too, his love for Christ’s Mother, whose perpetual virginity he had so keenly defended, whose title as God’s Mother and as the greatest example of all the virtues he constantly set before Christ’s spouses for their imitation.[129] No one, then, can wonder that Jerome should have been so powerfully drawn to those spots in Palestine which had been consecrated by the presence of our Redeemer and His Mother. It is easy to recognize the hand of Jerome in the words written from Bethlehem to Marcella by his disciples, Paula and Eustochium:
What words can serve to describe to you the Savior’s cave? As for the manger in which He lay – well, our silence does it more honor than any poor words of ours. . . Will the day ever dawn where we can enter His cave to weep at His tomb with the sister (of Lazarus) and mourn with His Mother; when we can kiss the wood of His Cross and, with the ascending Lord on Olivet, be uplifted in mind and spirit?[130]

Filled with memories such as these, Jerome could, while far away from Rome and leading a life hard for the body but inexpressibly sweet to the soul, cry out: “Would that Rome had what tiny Bethlehem possesses!”[131]

68. But we rejoice – and Rome with us – that the Saint’s desire has been fulfilled, though far otherwise than he hoped for. For whereas David’s royal city once gloried in the possession of the relics of “the Greatest Doctor” reposing in the cave where he dwelt so long, Rome now possesses them, for they lie in St. Mary Major’s beside the Lord’s Crib. His voice is now still, though at one time the whole Catholic world listened to it when it echoed from the desert; yet Jerome still speaks in his writings, which “shine like lamps throughout the world.”[132] Jerome still calls to us. His voice rings out, telling us of the super-excellence of Holy Scripture, of its integral character and historical trustworthiness, telling us, too, of the pleasant fruits resulting from reading and meditating upon it. His voice summons all the Church’s children to return to a truly Christian standard of life, to shake themselves free from a pagan type of morality which seems to have sprung to life again in these days. His voice calls upon us, and especially on Italian piety and zeal, to restore to the See of Peter divinely established here that honor and liberty which its Apostolic dignity and duty demand. The voice of Jerome summons those Christian nations which have unhappily fallen away from Mother Church to turn once more to her in whom lies all hope of eternal salvation. Would, too, that the Eastern Churches, so long in opposition to the See of Peter, would listen to Jerome’s voice. When he lived in the East and sat at the feet of Gregory and Didymus, he said only what the Christians of the East thought in his time when he declared that “If anyone is outside the Ark of Noe he will perish in the over-whelming flood.”[133] Today this flood seems on the verge of sweeping away all human institutions – unless God steps in to prevent it. And surely this calamity must come if men persist in sweeping on one side God the Creator and Conserver of all things! Surely whatever cuts itself off from Christ must perish! Yet He Who at His disciples’ prayer calmed the raging sea can restore peace to the tottering fabric of society. May Jerome, who so loved God’s Church and so strenuously defended it against its enemies, win for us the removal of every element of discord, in accordance with Christ’s prayer, so that there may be “one fold and one shepherd.”

And finally, Fr. Steve Grunow:

There is another quality of St. Jerome’s character that will console many of us who struggle to be virtuous and holy, a quality which surprises many whose image of sanctity lacks a sense of how Christ’s holiness transforms human character. Jerome was known for being a cantankerous fellow. He struggled at times with the virtue of patience, could be overbearing with those who disagreed with him, and had a reputation for being cranky. One commentator on Saint Jerome’s life noted that perhaps Jerome chose to be a hermit, not so much as a heroic act of sacrifice, but because had he not lived alone, he most assuredly would not have been a saint! 

The spiritual lesson for us in this might be to remember that saints are not born with perfect characters and that even the holiest among us has become that way over time. This means that saints have shared with us all the qualities and weaknesses that vex us. However, flaws in character did not assuage them from seeking to know Christ and to live in such a way that their relationship with him was evident in their way of life. 

Therefore we should never believe that our weaknesses be justified as an excuse that exempts us from living as disciples of the Lord Jesus. The saints know their weaknesses and can readily admit them, but they also accept them as opportunities to for conversion and humility. 

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(Click on any of the images in this post for a larger, clearer view. Do it with this old-school vintage infographic in particular. From a 1947 Catholic high school textbook) 

Warning: this is long and wordy and convoluted, but I really do have a point. Take it or leave it.

Is it a good thing that people proclaim that they are inspired by Pope Francis?

It’s hard to say “no” – so  won’t.  But I’ll still say something I’ve said before.  I find a lot of the purported “inspiration” I’m reading and hearing about a little odd.

Not to mention hyperbolic. This morning, John Allen’ Crux article says that yes, only “time will tell” if Pope Francis’ visit “changed America.”


And when I consider the ways that Catholic institutions and entities have been playing off the surge of #PopeisHope, most of it strikes me as theologically and spiritually short-sighted and even sort of weird. Unfortunate, even.

Circling back. Why do I find it “strange?”

Well, as have written before, I am at a loss to understand how Catholics, life-long or converts, can just now be learning, since the election of Pope Francis, that one of the virtues is charity. That, you know, as someone once said, “the greatest of these is love.”

Even without considering the possibility of daily prayer, devotions or spiritual reading and just assuming that most of us do the minimum, spiritually, I still have to ask: Do you people just not listen in church? At all? 

Why does it take Pope Francis to clue you into the nature of Christian discipleship and light your fire – don’t you ever listen to, you know, JESUS? 

What makes it all especially bizarre to me is that catechesis since the Second Vatican Council has had three basic themes: 1) God is Love  2) Help others  and (since, say, the early 90’s) 3) Catholic identity is awesome, you guys!

What I’m saying is that even in the desert of late 20th-century Catholic formation, the duty to live out the virtue of charity has not been exactly neglected.

So, okay, that’s the way it is. If Jesus’ words weren’t strong enough to nudge your conscience on how you spend your material resources and brief time on earth God has gifted you with, then hooray for the present moment.

But you know, being me, I can’t let go of this.  I keep trying to figure it out. Let me tease some of this out and think about history.

Supposedly, we are now all on high alert to the value of simplicity and a modest lifestyle and one which is harmony with the earth.  And this, apparently is a new thing and an amazing new direction for ..who? Catholics? Christians? The World? I’m not sure.

But was there ever  time in which Catholics were advised otherwise? Was wastefulness and exploitation of earthly resources ever deemed a virtue for Catholics? Were those kinds of decisions ever seen as matters irrelevant to the moral life?

The answer, of course, is no.  And if you want to understand how Catholics were expected to live out these values, look at the saints. Our saints live lives in imitation of Christ, which means emptying oneself and living, as He did, in humility. Yes, there have been wealthy and powerful people celebrated as saints, but their virtues always include heroic charity and, quite often, a turning away from that wealth and position.

(This is not to say this ideal was always lived out, even by the institution or church people themselves, who have been known to, er, enjoy the comforts of the culture in which they lived.)

So my puzzle is this: It used to be that everyone understood, even as they lived it out in the flawed way humans do, that the ideal Christian life was marked by humility, modesty, simplicity, and even asceticism. A Catholic life was ideally organized around practicing the virtues and the Works of Mercy.  To give a concrete example, I have below reproduced some scans from a mid-century (1947)  American Catholic high school religion textbook – this is book 4, so it’s for seniors.  The last half of the book is concerned with issues of Justice, and then apologetics.  The justice section is even longer than the apologetics section and contains a detailed outline of Quadragesimo Anno. 

I’d invite you to take a look at these pages – and to see if you think, even from these brief excerpts, whether these young people were being taught that the ideal Catholic life was closed-in, self-referential and narrow in 1947, before the Light Shone Forth.

In fact, it is the opposite.  The Catholic was taught he or she had a DUTY to live out the virtues and the Works of Mercy. To not do so was a SIN. 

So what is it that happened so that 70 years after this textbook was published, and fifty years after the Council that supposedly shot the Catholic laity straight into the world with all that Peace and Justice ammunition to “build the Kingdom,” there’s this massive, joyfully shocked reaction to Pope Francis’ emphasis on mission and outreach: Now I get it! Poor People! Peripheries! #WalkWithFrancis!

I’ve settled on three points of explaining this to myself.

  • Prosperity.  There’s more general prosperity now than ever before in human history, and you know what The Man said about wealth, needles and camels.  It’s true, and it doesn’t just apply to billionaires.  The satisfaction that we find in our stuff deafens us, and what does get through is rationalized: As long as I’m not too attached. Ach, taxes. I pay taxes that pay for food stamps for Those People Over There. Doesn’t that count? 
  • Social and economic segregation. A lot of people who are economically comfortable are able to live most of their lives without regular, meaningful encounters and relationships with others outside their class and that includes in the workplace, school, neighborhood and most significantly, modern parish.

Both of these act as enablers to our blindness.

And…I actually think, for 21st century Catholics, this next one is key. Let’s see if I can explain it in a way that makes sense because it’s kind of a mess in my head:

  • The emphasis of post-Vatican II formation of both children and adults has been freedom and the individual relationship with God, mediated to some extent through the Church, but mostly through the sacraments, rather than the bigger, thicker tradition.  The “old” mode of formation in discipleship was about sharing the love of Christ, but it was articulated within a bigger philosophical and theological framework and a framework of responsibility and duty to norms articulated by the Church in the name of Christ and visible in the lives of the saints.

So what happened? That was dispensed with. Boom. Gone. All the talk of “the virtues” and the “works of Mercy” was mostly abandoned because it was seen as at best irrelevant to and and worst constrictive of the spiritual freedom and individuality of each person’s journey. We don’t do those things because a “rule” tells us to or because we are “fearful” of the consequences or because we are children who have to be directed how to act by the patriarchal Church.  We give freely out of love, rooted in our own individual story, responding to the Spirit at any given moment, inspired by the example of Jesus our brother. And moreover, we’re all about the new and what was old is of no value any more.

What’s left is us, some other people who live in another part of town and are “poor,” some idealistic words that we know Jesus said that really aren’t that much different from what other good and noble leaders have said, so hey, take your pick and do what you’re moved to do.

There’s no comprehensive understanding of what the world really is, organically developed over two thousand years, articulated in a common and fairly well-understood philosophical and theological language. (read the excerpts below to see the difference).

I especially like the reminder, regarding the virtues: But the world hardly knows them, but it must be told about them, and as it will hardly listen to the Church, you must do the preaching by your lives. 

An interesting recognition of reality!

And of the importance of the lay role in the world.  No, it wasn’t invented in the last few decades.

For the next few pages, I’m interested in the treatment of covetousness. (starts at the end of the right-hand page below)  It covers a host of issues that people seem to think are just being raised by Pope Francis, like, today. #freshair #newspiritblowing

Now, if you read through the material on covetousness, perhaps you can see more of what I’m grappling with.

The Church’s treatment of this issue is comprehensive, detailed, and aware of the realities of human life. Today, what we mostly hear regarding a Christian’s relationship to material goods is, “Jesus said to the rich young man….!” or “St. Francis gave up stuff!”

And not much else.

Do you see the difference between that and the past articulation of these issues? The reasons for the proper Christian attitude toward stuff is articulated in a context which is rooted in truths about the nature of the human person, the nature of created things, and our proper relationship to those things in light of our final end and the purpose of our life on earth.


Perhaps this was inadquate. Perhaps, in reality, it did come across and was lived as one big game of Chutes and Ladders with randomly established rules by a distant authority, as David Lodge described it in his novel, How Far Can You Go?

The American title is Souls and Bodies, which is fine but clearly inferior to the British title, which conveys Lodge’s subject ingeniously: The young Catholics growing up in the 50’s were obsessed with the question of how far could they go sexually before reaching a certain level of sin, but then the question of “how far can you go” took on another sense as the Church they had chafed in did in fact change and the question turned – how far can you go with all of these changes until what’s left is no longer recognizable?

I don’t know. I wasn’t there. And I’m for sure not looking at all of this through nostalgic glasses. I’ve written about this before a great deal.  There was obviously a big problem in the pre-Vatican II Church if things fell apart so quickly afterwards. Obviously.


My point, for the few who are still reading, is that as it evolved over the centuries, the Catholic sense was that the individual’s moral life was oriented towards living in imitation of Christ, and the framework for that was clear: virtues/works of mercy lived by people most of whom did not have a lot, if anything to spare, materially.

The idea that a Catholic life was visibly marked, above all, by living out the virtues in a sacrificial way and living humbly and simpy IS NOT NEW.

It is in the Gospel. 

Read it.

It is in the lives of the saints. 

Get to know them. Imitate them.

It is articulated in Tradition. Which, you know, is still in effect.

Study it.

Now – one more thing. In a way I suppose I am saying, “Don’t be startled by what Pope Francis says about this. He’s not saying anything different from what the Church has always taught!”

But in a way I’m also not saying that.

Because one of the problems with Pope Francis’ rhetoric has been its fairly consistent independence as articulated from the traditional Catholic-talk language and framework used to talk about these matters. Or much of anything. His mode of expression does not explicitly rest in this framework or refer to it very often. It’s usually centered on “Jesus says…” and then “I say to you…”  without reference to theological or spiritual principles that, like it or not, provide the scaffolding for Catholic thinking on these matters.

His rhetoric does not explicitly lead one to consider that what is being said rests in a broader tradition rooted in Christ and developed, through the guidance of the Spirit, over time, and still pertinent today. His rhetoric leads many listeners to the conclusion that the value of what is being articulated lies mostly in the fact that the present Pope is saying it.

This is a problem because then the strength of the teaching rests, from the listener’s perspective, on the personal perspective of the speaker, with all of his limitations,  rather than the deeper, broader wisdom tradition and authority of the Church, big, deep, complex, and rooted in the authority of Christ.  It’s a problem for a lot of reasons, among them, the implications for the listener’s understanding of the role of the papacy in the Church.

We don’t do good stuff because The Pope Wants Us To.  We follow Christ because we are baptized and he calls us. If the witness of a Pope or the way he articulates the faith he is charged with protecting and teaching helps  and energizes us, fantastic! But #walkwithFrancis? No. #WalkWithJesus. Period.

My point is that it might seem like a good thing that people are inspired by Pope Francis’ articulation of these values, but what is problematic is that the response at this point, seems weirdly focused on personality  and so ignorant of the Gospel and the Church’s articulation of the Gospel over the centuries, it makes me go all:

Because #ifyouwantpeaceworkforjusticeetc

Oh, and let me address – before it’s raised – the assertion that: “Speaking as a pastor is so great. That’s what we need! Not that…theology!”  Well, the problem with that is obviously, the minute you start trying to put the words of Jesus into practice, you run into complexities:  What does it mean, Jesus’ answer to the rich young man? Does that mean I shouldn’t have anything? Should I not spend resources to go to law school? Is it immoral for me to make money from working in a restaurant that sells food for more than the cost of production? What *is* a living wage? What *is* the responsibility, concretely speaking of a community towards the poor? What is *my* responsibility, as a parent or as a vowed religious, as a old person as a child?

The questions multiply very quickly, and “pastoral” talk just as quickly shows itself to be inadequate as a sole response. Theological, spiritual and philosophical conversations happen for a reason. The Catholic tradition takes those conversations into account in formulating expressions of what is True, and it is part of the role of Church authority to explicitly bring those conversations and answers into the world.

And finally, if your rhetoric is not enmeshed in, informed by and dependent on that greater Revelation and Tradition, explicitly and at all times, the impression is given that the authority for what you are saying rests on you, your personality and your perspective. Not what Catholic catechesis, the presbyterate, episcopacy or papacy is supposed to be about

Tomorrow: On welcoming, closed up churches, narrowness and accompanying. #SaintStyle

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A “minor” saint on the calendar today, but one of my favorites.   In the chapter on the Salve Regina in The Words We Pray, I wrote about him:


You should be able to read more here, at the Google Books link. 

I have to say that this chapter is one of my favorites of anything I’ve ever written over the years.  

The Salve Regina is mentioned in the introduction as well.

"amy welborn"

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This is beautiful.Thanks to Dorian Speed for pointing it out to me.


The #PilgrimageofMercy, the tour of the major relics of St. Maria Goretti has officially begun! This is first time her sacred remains have visited the USA.

St. Maria Goretti began her US tour by visiting Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in NY, where the inmates had the opportunity to venerate the relics of the “Little Saint of Mercy”—seeking the Mercy of God that the 11 year old Maria witnessed as she forgave her murder in her last breath.Of course this wasn’t the first time the St. Maria Goretti had visited a prison cell and offered forgiveness. The unrepentant Serenelli famously reported receiving an apparition of his victim within his prison cell, some 6 years into his 30-year sentence. That occasion began his dramatic transformation from a violent and ruthless brute to that of a gentle and renewed soul intent on spreading devotion to God and his saintly victim. In his words, “Maria’s forgiveness saved me.”

— at Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

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