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It’s the second of September’s Ember Days. Go here for more information on what that means. 

Today’s the feast of St. Matthew.

A few St. Matthew links for you.

From B16,back in 2006:

On the basis of these simple observations that result from the Gospel, we can advance a pair of thoughts.

The first is that Jesus welcomes into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was regarded as a public sinner.

Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the"amy welborn"People of God, but he also collaborated with an alien and despicably greedy authority whose tributes moreover, could be arbitrarily determined.

This is why the Gospels several times link “tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 9: 10; Lk 15: 1), as well as “tax collectors and prostitutes” (Mt 21: 31).

Furthermore, they see publicans as an example of miserliness (cf. Mt 5: 46: they only like those who like them), and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as “a chief tax collector, and rich” (Lk 19: 2), whereas popular opinion associated them with “extortioners, the unjust, adulterers” (Lk 18: 11).

A first fact strikes one based on these references: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Indeed, precisely while he is at table in the home of Matthew-Levi, in response to those who expressed shock at the fact that he associated with people who had so little to recommend them, he made the important statement: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2: 17).

The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: offering God’s grace to the sinner!

Elsewhere, with the famous words of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus actually indicates an anonymous tax collector as an appreciated example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the “tax collector… would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”.

And Jesus comments: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18: 13-14).

Thus, in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God’s mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvellous effects in their own lives.

From today’s Office of Readings:

There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Matthew’s assessment, no riches at all. Our Lord summoned Matthew by speaking to him in words. By an invisible, interior impulse flooding his mind with the light of grace, he instructed him to walk in his footsteps. In this way Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.

What strikes us about the story of Matthew is the immediacy of his response. Invited by Jesus, he simply leaves his sinful life behind. No ambiguity, no parsing of matters of subjectivity and objectivity. This perhaps is not something we are all capable of at every moment, but it is certainly a response we recognize as the ideal one, articulated by Jesus himself (Mark 10:29) and lived out by people like Matthew.

The spiritual life is a never-ending, fascinating and mysterious dynamic, it seems to me, between finding God in all things and if anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother…cannot be my disciple. 

 

 

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This, of course, is from one of his GA talks on the apostles and which were collected in book form by various publishers, including OSV. Back in the day, I wrote a study guide for these collected talks to be used either by individuals or groups in parish discussion settings. Here’s the section on Matthew. Feel free to use!

 

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Speaking of St. Matthew and speaking of parish adult religious education, maybe consider this Loyola Press Six Weeks with the Bible book on the Passion accounts in Matthew:

 

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This came across one of my social media feeds, as things do, and it was very striking and sobering: “27 Photos that prove that depression has no face or mood.”  Photographs  – random, candid photos – of people smiling and having a great time, people who just a day or two after the photo was taken, committed suicide. 

Well worth pondering and prayer, and a reminder to be aware, be kind, be open and never assume. Anything.

 

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Something surprising and sad: one of the earlier Catholic bloggers, Zippy Catholic, died this week in a bike accident. 

Here’s the newspaper article – quite tragic and it appears to have been a hit-and-run. 

 

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Here’s something: a secret Reformation-era chapel in Amsterdam: 

One of the oldest continuously operating churches in the Netherlands is hidden away in an attic not far from Amsterdam’s infamous red-light district.

The story of how the chapel came to be starts with Jan Hartman, a German Catholic living in Amsterdam during the Reformation.

During the 17th century, Hartman, like all Catholics, was prevented from exercising his faith in public following the rebellion of the majority-Protestant Low Countries, encompassing parts of modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands, against the Catholic king Philip II of Spain. This led to hostility towards Catholics in the Dutch capital. All Catholic churches were turned into Protestant ones, and many Catholics fled the city to pursue their religious freedom.

But instead of fleeing, Hartman came up with an innovative solution to continue practicing his faith. He brought the two properties on each side of his own home and turned the attic in one of them, at Number 40, Oudezijds Voorburgwal, right near the infamous red light district, into a secret Catholic church. Fellow Catholics could access the “schuilkerk” (literally “clandestine church”) through a spiral staircase hidden behind a fake door in the living room. They would often resort to code language to share news about Mass and other services. F or instance saying “I am going to the parrot” was a way to say that Mass was going to be celebrated.

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Finally, here’s a story about spiderwebs enveloping a Greek town, notable, not only for the very fact of it, but for this quote, which I would like to frame:

“The spiders will have their party and will soon die.”

I mean….is there a more succinct summary of life on earth?

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

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Guys, this is random. I have been doing a lot of staring at pieces of paper this week and attempting to get my head into a particular mode. I’m almost there.

So: linkish takes. That’s it. In the mess, I’m sure you’ll find something to interest you.

From William Newton – about a…performance artist…at…Lourdes:

When these sorts of stories come up in art news, as they occasionally do, it’s very easy to become angry. Leftists behave like this because they know that it’s a cheap and easy way to offend a significant number of people, and get press attention for themselves. However with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes the knowledge that Ms. de Robertis is quite powerless, having no idea what she has just unleashed in her life.

In her prior performances, Ms. de Robertis targeted the world of fine arts, such as the leadership of prestigious museums like the Louvre and the Orsay. But now, she has targeted the Virgin Mary before pilgrims to Lourdes. These pilgrims are devout Catholics, suffering from painful disabilities or chronic, often incurable or fatal illnesses, who are accompanied by family, friends, and volunteers, all of whom have gathered together to pray together for God’s Grace through the intercession of Jesus’ Blessed Mother. These are not people to be trifled with.

I can guarantee you that somewhere in Lourdes, right at this very moment, there is a group of pious Catholic grandmothers and nuns who are praying to the Virgin Mary to intercede with her Divine Son for Ms. de Robertis’ conversion and redemption. Such a conversion will be far more effective, and of far greater worth to the artist, than any public attempt to criminalize her bad behavior. If she had just left the ladies of Lourdes alone, she could have continued in her rather bestial way of life, but now she is going to be made into a special intention for the prayers of others, and particularly that of the Mother whom she rather foolishly chose to insult.

Sorry, Ms. de Robertis, but you’ve finally met your match.

 

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Charles Collins on the 1908 Eucharistic Congress in England:

Despite the cardinal’s assurance, anti-Catholic sentiment was still common in early 20th century England, and the proposed Eucharistic procession was opposed by many Protestant groups.

Schofield told Crux the radical Protestant Alliance claimed that the procession breached the Catholic Emancipation Act (1829), which prohibited Catholic priests ‘to exercise any of the rites or ceremonies of the Roman Catholic religion, or wear the habits of his Order, save within the usual places of worship, or in private houses.’

The archivist pointed out this “might have been true on paper” but the law wasn’t really enforced, and several churches held public processions every year in England for Corpus Christi.

However, the prospect of a procession even worried some establishment figures.

“It is impossible to deny, however, that this assemblage of princes of the Church and of lesser members of the Roman hierarchy from all parts of the world wears the appearance of a demonstration, and almost of a challenge, which excites apprehension in respectable quarters, and has given rise to regrettable effusions of bigotry in others. An unfounded idea has been disseminated that the Congress is a move in the campaign for the restoration of the temporal power of the Papacy, and for the re-establishment of direct diplomatic relations with the Vatican,” said the September 12, 1908, edition of The Spectator, a London-based weekly.

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On Dr. Beau Braden’s attempts to open a small rural Florida hospital – and the forces arrayed against it. 

A few doctors have offices in town, but patients say their hours are unpredictable. One afternoon, an older man who had been waiting outside a locked doctor’s office slid off his walker and curled up on the shaded pavement under an awning. He just needed to rest, he said.

“There’s huge need,” said Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, the area’s Republican congressman.

Dr. Braden, 40, said he realized this soon after he and his wife moved in 2014 to Ave Maria, where they are raising five children. He specializes in emergency medicine and frequently flies himself from Immokalee’s tiny airfield to pull overnight shifts at nearby hospitals.

When he started pulling together the hospital application to the state, letters of support flowed in from the fire department, county commissioners, local businesses, developers and nonprofit health providers.

The hospital would be built on the edge of Ave Maria, about seven miles south of Immokalee, on land now owned by a development company that supported the proposal. But the hospital still exists only in blueprints and paperwork.

After years of work and spending about $400,000 from a family trust on lawyers, consultants and state filing fees, Dr. Braden submitted a 2,000-page application to Florida’s health care regulators this spring, seeking a critical state approval called a certificate of need.

Update: When I read this story, I immediately spotted what seemed like what Terry Mattingly calls a religion “ghost.”  I passed it along to him, and he writes about it in the Get Religion blog today:

If you have followed GetReligion for a decade or so, you know that one of our goals is to spot “religion ghosts” in mainstream news coverage.

What’s a “ghost”? Click here for our opening post long ago, which explains the concept. The short version: We say a story is “haunted” when there is a religious fact or subject missing, creating a religion-shaped hole that makes it hard for readers to understand what is going on….

….

So we have a young doctor – with five kids – who is making a high-stakes, risky effort to start a small hospital that will provide care for an area with lots of low-income people and a controversial Catholic community.

What do we know about this man’s background? Might there be a hint there about his motives? Well, a quick glance at his online biography shows that he is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California – a small, very doctrinally conservative Catholic liberal arts college in California.

So we have a rather young, clearly idealistic Catholic doctor who moves, with his semi-large family, to the Ave Maria area to start a clinic to serve the poor and others near a controversial Catholic town.

Might religion have something to do with this story?

 

 

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Hilary Yancey on her son’s prenatal diagnoses, suffering, and God:

I prayed in that room while lying in an anxious horizontal position. God spoke one thing back, something I proclaimed for a week or two, until the diagnosis, until the end and the beginning: “She can never tell you something about this person I do not already know.”

When we think about God’s foreknowledge, we are tempted to run so far out, foreknowledge trailing behind us like a kite. We cannot do, say, think, be anything but what God has already seen, already ordained, already determined. We think in terms of past and present and future, and God contains them all in his knowledge, a bucket of truths about us. We think, “God already knows,” and we often translate this as “God already made it to be the case that …” or “God already did.” At least we think, It can’t be anything except this.

But I think God’s foreknowledge might be better understood as an action. God foreknows because he is in all the places where we will go, because he stands next to us and near us before and after we get there. He hovers over and in and through time, and here the descriptions feel thin, unable to pin down the truth. God stands where we will stand. God moves where we will move. God sees what we do not yet but will someday see.

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And now…the Tyburn Monks:

The priests met Mother Marilla and her assistants in Rome that year, certain of their vocation as Tyburn Monks. But the nuns were hesitant, having no idea about how to establish a male order. In Colombia, the priests would also soon experience opposition from their bishop, who was reluctant to lose two of his finest men.

Negotiations continued tentatively for nearly four years until the archivist at Tyburn Convent discovered among the possessions of a recently deceased Sister a document from 1903 which changed everything. It was entitled “The Monk of the Sacred Heart” and was written by Marie Adèle Garnier. Over 33 pages it set out in detail her vision for the Tyburn Monks, even down to the colours of their habits and scapulars.

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A French illustrator obsessed with Byzantium:

Helbert, who only made his first visit to Istanbul at the age of 35, has put in that amount of imaginative work and much more besides. “Since then,” writes Risson, Helbert “has taken great care to resurrect the city of the emperors, with great attention to details and to the sources available. What he can’t find, he invents, but always with a great care for the historical accuracy.” Indeed, many of Helbert’s illustrations don’t, at first glance, look like illustrations at all, but more like what you’d come up with if you traveled back to the Constantinople of fifteen or so centuries ago with a camera. “The project has no lucrative goal,” Risson notes. “It’s a passion. A byzantine passion!”

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Don’t forget – The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols.

 

NOTE: If you really want a copy soon – I have them for sale at my online bookstore (price includes shipping)  Email me at amywelborn60 AT gmail if you have a question or want to work out a deal of some sort. I have many copies of this, the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, the Prove It Bible and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days on hand at the moment.

Also – my son has been releasing collections of short stories over the summer. He’s currently prepping his first (published) novel, The Battle of Lake Erie: One Young American’s Adventure in the War of 1812.  Check it out!

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

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Today’s her feastday. A post that’s a compilation from previous years:
St. Teresa is in The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. You can read most of the entry here, at the Loyola site – they have a great section on saints’ stories arranged according to the calendar year. Some of the stories they have posted are from my books, some from other Loyola Press saints’ books.

When we think about the difference that love can make, many people very often think of one amy-welborn-booksperson: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. A tiny woman, just under five feet tall, with no tools except prayer, love, and the unique qualities God had given her, Mother Teresa is probably the most powerful symbol of the virtue of charity for people today.

Mother Teresa wasn’t, of course, born with that name. Her parents named her Agnes—or Gonxha in her own language—when she was born to them in Albania, a country north of Greece.

Agnes was one of four children. Her childhood was a busy, ordinary one. Although Agnes was very interested in missionary work around the world, as a child she didn’t really think about becoming a nun; but when she turned 18, she felt that God was beginning to tug at her heart, to call her, asking her to follow him.

Now Agnes, like all of us, had a choice. She could have ignored the tug on her heart. She could have filled her life up with other things so maybe she wouldn’t hear God’s call. But of course, she didn’t do that. She listened and followed, joining a religious order called the Sisters of Loreto, who were based in Dublin, Ireland.

Years ago,  when the excerpts from Mother Teresa’s journal detailing her “dark night” were published, I wrote several posts. All have links to other commentary.

The first is here.  One of the articles I linked there was this 2003 First Things piece.

A second post, in which I wrote:

My first post on the story of Mother Teresa’s decades-long struggle with spiritual darkness struck some as “dismissive,” and for that I apologize. That particular reaction was against the press coverage – not the Time article, but the subsequent filtering that I just knew would be picked up as a shocking new revelation and used by two groups to promote their own agendas: professional atheists (per the Hitchens reaction in the Time piece itself) and fundamentalist Protestants, who would take her lack of “blessed assurance” emotions as a sure sign that Catholicism was, indeed, far from being Christian.  Michael Spencer at Internet Monk had to issue a warning to his commentors on his Mother Teresa post, for example, that he wouldn’t be posting comments declaring that Roman Catholics weren’t Christian.

So that was my point in the “not news” remark. Because the simple fact of the dark night isn’t – not in terms of Mother Teresa herself or in terms of Catholic understanding and experience of spirituality.  It is very good that this book and the coverage has made this more widely known to people who were previously unaware of either the specifics or the general, and it is one more gift of Mother Teresa to the world, a gift she gave out of her own tremendous suffering. What strikes me is once again, at its best, taken as a whole, how honest Catholicism is about life, and our life with God. There is all of this room within Catholicism for every human experience of God, with no attempt to gloss over it or try to force every individual’s experience into a single mold of emotion or reaction.

In that post, I linked to Anthony Esolen at Touchstone:

Dubiety is inseparable from the human condition.  We must waver, because our knowledge comes to us piecemeal, sequentially, in time, mixed up with the static of sense impressions that lead us both toward and away from the truth we try to behold steadily.  The truths of faith are more certain than the truths arrived by rational deduction, says Aquinas, because the revealer of those truths speaks with ultimate authority, but they are less certain subjectively, from the point of view of the finite human being who receives them yet who does not, on earth, see them with the same clarity as one sees a tree or a stone or a brook.  It should give us Christians pause to consider that when Christ took upon himself our mortal flesh, he subjected himself to that same condition.  He did not doubt; His faith was steadfast; yet He did feel, at that most painful of moments upon the Cross, what it was like to be abandoned by God.  He was one with us even in that desert, a desert of suffering and love.  Nor did the Gospel writers — those same whom the world accuses on Monday of perpetrating the most ingenious literary and theological hoax in history, and on Tuesday of being dimwitted and ignorant fishermen, easily suggestible — refuse to tell us of that moment.

     In her love of Christ — and the world does not understand Christ, and is not too bright about love, either — Mother Teresa did not merely take up His cross and follow him.  She was nailed to that Cross with him. 

Another post with more links to commentary.

And one more.

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For St. Augustine’s feastday, from Notre Dame’s John Cavadini:

(In this lecture – offered as part of Notre Dame’s pre-home game “Saturday with the Saints” series – Cavadini begins by explaining what the phrase “hermeneutic of suspicion” means – and then explores Augustine’s understanding of pride and humility: Augustine, he says, reminds us to embrace a “hermeneutic of suspicion” towards ourselves, first, our motivations and then the culture at large, by judging whether they are rooted in pride or humble gratitude – which is the foundation of praise – to God. )

Augustine drily comments in a sermon that the Cross is the Incarnate Word’s chaired professorship, the place from which he teaches as magister, and yet there are not many would-be educational leaders vying for that particular Chair, which, I suppose, could be called the Word-Made-Flesh Professorship of Suffering Love and Compassionate Self-Gift, endowed not with cash but with blood. Can we listen, Augustine asks us, to Professor Jesus? Can we afford to let that love seep into our own closed hearts? And suddenly, out of gratitude for the sacrifice of love, for something so beautiful, we, in love with something completely non-prestigious, non-excellent as we have come to construe and constrain it, blurt out “Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” “You burst my bonds asunder, and to you will I offer a sacrifice of praise”—a sacrifice that extends not only to my lips and my heart but becomes a “Thank you” that even enters “all my bones” so that even they cry out the question, “Who is like you, O Lord?” And then he answers, “I am your salvation.” And then, maybe even we reply:

Late have I loved you, Beauty ever ancient and ever new, Late have I loved you! . . . You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness; you lavished your fragrance, I gasped, and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace (Confessions, 10.xx).

 

In the crypt of the Duomo – the baptistry where St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine:

The Metro stop is nearby, and an underground corridor passes the baptistry.  You can peek out at the passengers rushing by, and if you are on the other side you could peek in to the baptistry – if you knew it was there.

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Only one substantive thing today, related to reading. Not surprisingly, this took me down a rabbit trail that ended up being quite absorbing and, in several strange turns, pertinent to the present day.

But first: Writing: Still working on an essay, which I hope to finish today, then on to the talk for Saturday. From the past – since it’s the feast of the Queenship of Mary – don’t forget that you can get my e-book Mary and the Christian Life – for .99 here. 

Reading: The only pieces of substance that I read were journal articles –  two available through “open access” at the Journal of Ecclesiastical History: “The ‘Affair of the Photographs:’ Controlling the Image of a Nineteenth-Century Stigmatic.” The abstract:

The article focuses on an episode concerning the photographs of the famous Belgian Louise_Lateaustigmatic, Louise Lateau. Examining the events leading up to the bishop’s decision to restrict the circulation of her portrait, it becomes clear that the ‘affair’ of 1877 was as much about creating her public saintly image as it was about controlling it. Studying the ecclesiastical response to grassroots initiatives adds a more religious perspective to the young field of celebrity studies and offers a more complex view on sanctity, and the role of the media and modern techniques in its creation, use and misuse.

.

This, somehow, lead me to another journal article (also with open access) on a very specific topic – as journal articles tend to be – on the use of houses and memorabilia collections in canonization campaigns: 

In this article, I argue that the houses and memorabilia collections associated with venerated personages played an important role in campaigns to elevate popular, unofficial, saintly figures to the level of the blessed or even canonised saints. Two practices converged in these campaigns: the Catholic tradition of sacralising specific sites and endowing material remnants with special meaning, and the ‘museumification’ of memorial houses and collections. The focus here is on the use of material culture in the beatification campaigns for modern stigmatics (who carried the wounds of Christ). Of the hundreds of cases that were reported, only a few were beatified and canonised. The article concentrates primarily on one success story: the evolution of the German stigmatic Anne Catherine Emmerick (1774–1824) from a ‘living saint’ to her being officially blessed (2004) and the role that her houses and possessions played in the promotion of her cult following and image construction.

Whether you are interested in these particular areas or not, hopefully, even scanning these abstracts might remind you of something important: Our sense of the past (and present, for that matter) tends to be flattened into a series of inevitable narratives that fit neatly into whatever our contemporary ideological narrative is – that is just not the way it was or is. Digging into particular elements of history even from weirdly specific angles (like museum studies) sheds light on the past – and present – in valuable ways. In other words: things just don’t happen. People make them happen. 

By the way, a side road unrelated to canonization that popped out of these articles was the very bizarre case of the Bishop of Tournai, one Edmond Dumont. Bear with me and read along. You won’t regret it.

This is a translated version of the French Wiki page. Born in 1828, apparently brilliant, studied in Rome, ordained, and the volunteered for North American missions (inspired by DeSmet)  where he served in Michigan for six years before returning to Belgium because of health issues. Appointed to the see of Tournai, he was a vocal supporter of the papacy and of a more “conservative” angle to Catholicism among more “liberal” voices in the Belgian church. (And a supporter of stigmatist Louise Lateau.)

He generated hostility among his clergy, and an apostolic administrator was appointed by Rome. At this point, he became even more vocal, and, in the words of this biography of Leo XIII: “…influenced by the enemies of religion, with his mental troubles growing worse, he began to protest, ever more and more violently, by word of mouth, and in the Press, against the Papal decree. Having become a rock of scandal, acting in concert with writers most hostile to the Catholic Church, he almost daily poured out insult and outrage through the newspapers, exciting the faithful to the same insolence, insulting men clad in the highest dignities of the Church….”

The pope convened a commission to study the situation, and the recommendation was to depose Dumont – so he was. Deposed of any episcopal jurisdiction and stripped of his title.

But wait!

There’s more!

From something called Appleton’s  – a very detailed annual almanac of world events (here, 1883), we learn the following:

In Belgium, there was property associated with clerical offices, property which was passed on to successors. After Dumont’s power was diminished by the appointment of an apostolic administrator (but before he was deposed), the diocesan administrator decided it would be wise to protect that property, so he put them under the charge of one Canon Bernard.

“Although Tournai is the smallest and poorest of the six Belgian sees, yet the portable funds in the treasury amounted to more than 5 million francs. Canon Bernard, after that-escalated-quicklyfirst consulting [a member of the Belgian cabinet] ran away with the securities and accounts to America and deposited most of them in safety-vaults in New York and Boston. About 1,700,000 francs of the private funds of Monseigneur  Dumont were sent back to Belgium in charge of a Montreal attorney, named Goodhue, who was arrested on his arrival. The Belgian government applied for his [I think “he” here is Bernard] extradition and he was arrested at Havana and sent back to Belgium on charges of embezzlement.”

Bernard was tried and acquitted since his actions were under obedience to church authorities.

More detail here. 

Crazy. 

(I will say that there are a lot of pieces missing to the English-speaker here. Perhaps somewhere in Belgium archives there is a complete telling of this story, but there are so many gaps and questions – how did this ultramontane bishop turn into a rabble-rouser against papal authority? Was he really mentally unstable, or was that a story told by his opponents?)

Now, let’s look at that rabbit trail.

Regular readers are probably tired of me advocating for reading history as a remedy for despair in the present – but do you see why? Saying that corruption and sin have always been a part of Church life is not in any way a diminishing of current troubles, scandals and sins. But it does, I hope, moderate our temptation to despair and – this is important – see how the Church has dealt with corruption in the past – which it has, in varied ways, in varied circumstances, with varied results, including  – yes – removing and deposing bishops.

 

 

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Also read about St. Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga

Today is also the memorial of St. Helena (Helen), mother of Emperor Constantine and according to tradition, discoverer of the True Cross.

True Christian zeal motivated St. Helena. Eusebius described her as follows: “Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile. While, however, her character derived luster from such deeds … , she was far from neglecting personal piety toward God. She might be seen continually frequenting His Church, while at the same time she adorned the houses of prayer with splendid offerings, not overlooking the churches of the smallest cities. In short, this admirable woman was to be seen, in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshipers, and testifying her devotion to God by a uniform course of pious conduct” (The Life of Constantine, XLIV, XLV).

For a decidedly novel and novelistic take on Helena, check out Evelyn Waugh’s novel Helena.  It was his favorite of all of his novels. Some people hate it, but I love it. When I was working as editor of the Loyola Classics series, the book was amazingly out of copyright in the US, so we were able to publish it with an introduction by George Weigel.  I see that the copyright issue has gone another way, it seems, so the book is now published as part of a series of Waugh novels by .  You helena waugh amy welborncan get copies of the Loyola edition here, and the current edition here. 

Some, as I said, hate it because, they say, it’s basically the type of characters you find in Vile Bodies and Handful of Dust  –  1920’s British upperclass twits – plopped down in the 4th century.  Well, that’s part of the reason I like it. It’s entertaining in that way.

But also – when you read deeper, you see that this novel is about the search for truth – the True Cross is a real thing, but it’s also a metaphor.  Helena’s life is a search for faith, and what she is seeking is something that is true and real. She is offered all sorts of different options that are interesting, intricate, sophisticated or satisfy her wants and desires, but none of them are real.  Except one. From Weigel’s introduction:

Waugh was not a proselytizer, and Helena is no more an exercise in conventional piety than Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, whose hero is an alcoholic priest. But Waugh was a committed Christian apologist, and his apologetic skills are amply displayed in Helena. Thus Helena was not only addressed to those Christians who were trying to figure out the meaning of their own discipleship; it was also intended as a full-bore confrontation with the false humanism that, for Waugh, was embodied by well-meaning but profoundly wrong-headed naturalistic-humanistic critics of the modern world like Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.

More specifically, Waugh wanted to suggest that an ancient pathogen was lurking inside the hollowness of modern humanisms: gnosticism, the ancient heresy that denies the importance or meaningfulness of the world. So, to adopt a neologism from contemporary critics, Helena is, “metafictionally,” an argument on behalf of Waugh’s contention that modern humanistic fallacies are variants on the old, gnostic temptations exemplified by helenathe Emperor Constantine and his world-historical hubris. And at the core of the gnostic temptation was, and is, the denial of the Christian doctrine of original sin – which is, in effect, a denial of some essential facts of life, including the facts of suffering and death. In Helena, the arrogantly ignorant Constantine puts it in precisely these terms to old Pope Sylvester, as the headstrong young conqueror heads off to his new capital on the Bosporus: “You can have your old Rome, Holy Father, with its Peter and Paul and its tunnels full of martyrs. We start with no unpleasant associations; in innocence, with Divine Wisdom and Peace.”

And what was the answer to the gnostic fallacy, which produced in Constantine’s time, as in ours, a kind of plastic, humanistic utopianism? For Helena, and for Waugh, it was what the aged Empress went to find: the “remorseless fact of the lump of wood to which Christ was nailed in agony,” as Waugh biographer Martin Stannard put it. This “remorseless lump of wood” reminds us of two very important things: it reminds us that we have been created, and it reminds us that we have been redeemed. Helena believed, and Waugh agreed, that without that lump of wood, without the historical reality it represented, Christianity was just another Mediterranean mystery religion, a variant on the Mithras cult or some other gnostic confection. With it – with this tangible expression of the incarnation and what theologians call the hypostatic union (the Son of God become man in Jesus of Nazareth) – a window was open to the supernatural, and the “real world” and its sufferings were put into proper perspective. For God had saved the world, not by fetching us out of our humanity (as the gnostics would have it), but by embracing our humanity in order to transform it through the mystery of the cross – the mystery of redemptive suffering, vindicated in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

….

Although set more than a millennium and a half ago, Helena is a bracing antidote to this contemporary gnosticism: this “bosh” and “rubbish,” as Waugh’s Helena would put it. From her childhood, Helena is determined to know whether things are real or unreal, true or false — including the claims of Christianity. For her, Christianity is not one idea in a world supermarket of religious ideas. Christianity is either the truth — the Son of God really became man, really died, and really was raised from the dead for the salvation of the world — or it’s more “bosh” and “rubbish.” The true cross of Helena’s search is not a magical talisman; it is the unavoidable physical fact that demonstrates the reality of what Christians propose, and about which others must decide.

One Waugh biographer suggests that the novelist’s later years were marked by an agonizing spiritual quest for compassion and contrition. As for many of us, the contrition likely came easier than the compassion. But it is difficult to read Helena without discerning in its author the capacity for a great compassion indeed – a compassion for the human struggle with the great questions that are raised in every life, in every age. Evelyn Waugh’s comic energy was once sprung from his pronounced power to hurt others, as a novel like Vile Bodies demonstrates. But in the mature Waugh, the Waugh who wrote Helena and thought it his finest achievement, the farce has been transformed into comedy, and the comedy has become, for all the chiaroscuro shadings, a divine comedy indeed.

St. Helena is in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints….first page here…her section is “Saints are people who are strong leaders.”

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

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As you may or may not know, every day of the liturgical year is full of saints’ memorials.  I’m sure there is a technical explanation somewhere as to which make it on to the universal calendar and why. If you go to the generally published calendar, say at Universalis, you find one saint mentioned, but there  are others.   But we do remember several saints on this day. If you have one of those multi-volume editions of Butler’s, you know what I mean – and also here, which lists most of the daily memorials.

So for example, there’s St. Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga, a recently canonized saint from Chile, and one with – as is the case with all saints – an interesting story.

From the Vatican website:

…born in Viña del Mar, Chile, on 22 January 1901; he was orphaned when he was four years old by the death of his father. His mother had to sell, at a loss, their modest property in order to pay the family’s debts. As a further consequence, Alberto and his brother had to go to live with relatives and were often moved from one family to another. From an early age, therefore, he experienced what it meant to be poor, to be without a home and at the mercy of others.

He was given a scholarship to the Jesuit College in Santiago. Here he became a member of the Sodality of Our Lady and developed a lively interest in the poor, spending time with them in the most miserable neighborhoods every Sunday afternoon.

When he completed his secondary education in 1917, Alberto wanted to become a Jesuit, but he was advised to delay the realization of this desire in order to take care of his mother and his younger brother. By working in the afternoons and evenings, he succeeded in supporting them; at the same time, he studied law at the Catholic University. In this period, he maintained his care for the poor and continued to visit them every Sunday. Obligatory military service interrupted his studies, but once he fulfilled this duty he went on to earn his degree early in August 1923.

On 14 August 1923 he entered the Novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Chillán. In 1925 he went to Córdoba, Argentina, where he studied humanities. In 1927 he was sent to Spain to study philosophy and theology.

However, because of the suppression of the Jesuits in Spain in 1931, he went on to Belgium and continued studying theology at Louvain. He was ordained a priest there on 24 August 1933, and in 1935 obtained a doctorate in pedagogy and psychology. After having completed his Tertianship in Drongen, Belgium, he returned to Chile in January 1936. Here he began his activity as professor of religion at Colegio San Ignacio and of Pedagogy at the Catholic University of Santiago. He was entrusted with the Sodality of Our Lady for the students, and he involved them in teaching catechism to the poor. He frequently directed retreats and offered spiritual direction to many young men, accompanying several of them in their response to the priestly vocation and contributing in an outstanding manner to the formation of many Christian laymen.

In 1941 Father Hurtado published his most famous book: “Is Chile a Catholic Country?” The same year he was hurtadoasked to assume the role of Assistant for the Youth Movement of the Catholic Action, first within the Archdiocese of Santiago and then nationally. He performed these roles with an exceptional spirit of initiative, dedication and sacrifice.

In October 1944, while giving a retreat, he felt impelled to appeal to his audience to consider the many poor people of the city, especially the numerous homeless children who were roaming the streets of Santiago. This request evoked a ready and generous response. This was the beginning of the initiative for which Father Hurtado is especially well-known: a form of charitable activity which provided not only housing but a home-like milieu for the homeless: “El Hogar de Cristo”.

By means of contributions from benefactors and with the active collaboration of committed laity, Father Hurtado opened the first house for children; this was followed by a house for women and then one for men. The poor found a warm home in “El Hogar de Cristo”. The houses multiplied and took on new dimensions; in some houses there were rehabilitation centers, in others trade-schools, and so on. All were inspired and permeated by Christian values.

In 1945 Father Hurtado visited the United States to study the “Boys Town” movement and to consider how it could be adapted to his own country. The last six years of his life were dedicated to the development of various forms in which “El Hogar” could exist and function.

In 1947 Father Hurtado founded the Chilean Trade Union Association (ASICH) to promote a union movement inspired by the social teaching of the Church.

From the blog of Ottowa Archbishop Terry Prendergrast:

In 1941, he published a book which sent shock waves through the country:Is Chile a Catholic Country? It was a provocative title which pointed up both the increasing mediocrity of Chilean Catholic life and the renewing force of his own vision. In its pages, he opened up an offensive against materialism, its toxic effects on the young, its atrophying of vocations, and, above all, the way its pernicious cultural impact aggravated the plight of the poor.

Alberto was years ahead of his time in his approach to social issues. ‘Injustice’, he insisted with enviable clarity, ‘causes far more evil than can be repaired by charity’. So he advocated and made his own the arduous tasks of reading, social analysis, planning action, establishing institutions and deepening that Ignatian contemplative regard which takes in the whole world and is free enough to see just how bad things truly are. It was the antithesis of feel-good, charitable giving, but he knew that in it he would find God.

With this in mind, he undertook a gruelling trip to post-war France to update his thinking. Once again he stood out from the crowd. A fellow Jesuit describes his intervention at a conference as ‘a cry of anguish but at the same time an irresistible lesson in pure, ardently supernatural zeal’.

The trip enthused him greatly. Doubtless, he had already begun to sense in Europe the tremors which would lead to Vatican II. The prophet in him, meanwhile, grasped the shadow-side of that renewal, an advancing secularism and ‘a tendency to forget the true values of the Church, its traditional vision’.

Few individuals can take in a truly panoramic vision, seeking refuge instead in petty dualisms: either charity or justice, either tradition or renewal. How did Hurtado sustain such imposing breadth?

He once wrote: ‘I am often like a rock that is beaten on all sides by the towering waves. For an hour, for a day I let the waves thrash against the rock; I do not look toward the horizon, I only look up to God.’

From the homily of Pope Benedict XVI at his canonization in 2005:

“You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart…. You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22: 37, 39). This was the programme of life of St Alberto Hurtado, who wished to identify himself with the Lord and to love the poor with this same love. The formation received in the Society of Jesus, strengthened by prayer and adoration of the Eucharist, allowed him to be won over by Christ, being a true contemplative in action. In love and in the total gift of self to God’s will, he found strength for the apostolate.

He founded El Hogar de Cristo for the most needy and the homeless, offering them a family atmosphere full of human warmth. In his priestly ministry he was distinguished for his simplicity and availability towards others, being a living image of the Teacher, “meek and humble of heart”. In his last days, amid the strong pains caused by illness, he still had the strength to repeat: “I am content, Lord”, thus expressing the joy with which he always lived.

For a more thorough, in depth introduction to this saint, take a look at this longer article by a fellow Jesuit (pdf). I read it last night, and it’s very helpful.

As an advisor and spiritual guide to those working for El Hogar de Cristo, Hurtado always taught the importance of combining a solid spiritual life with the apostolate. The spiritual contribution of collaborators shared equal importance with the physical works. In a letter to a sister who was lamenting her failure to give more time to the movement, he described the role of the Communion of the Saints, an essential part of his spirituality.

Up until now you have helped the children with your work, your lessons, your affection; now you continue helping them with your affection, your patience, your prayer, your very sincere desire to continue doing them good. There is a truly consoling dogma, that of the Communion of Saints. It teaches us that there is not a single one of our actions that lacks a social value. Never do we merit solely for ourselves, since all our actions hold a deep social value. In doing good, in suffering with patience, in praying, we always profit for others, for the entire Church militant on earth, for those waiting in purgatory; we give joy to the just in heaven, and, in a special way, we help those who are most intimately tied to us. In this way you continue working for Hogar not only with affection, but also with the same, or even greater, efficacy than before.

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