Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

(Also Margaret of Scotland. And tomorrow, Elizabeth of Hungary.)

Learn about her from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI 

St Gertrude the Great, of whom I would like to talk to you today, brings us once again this week to the Monastery of Helfta, where several of the Latin-German masterpieces of religious literature were written by women. Gertrude belonged to this world. She is one of the most famous mystics, the only German woman to be called “Great”, because of her cultural and evangelical stature: her life and her thought had a unique impact on Christian spirituality. She was an exceptional woman, endowed with special natural talents and extraordinary gifts of grace, the most profound humility and ardent zeal for her neighbour’s salvation. She was in close communion with God both in contemplation and in her readiness to go to the help of those in need.

At Helfta, she measured herself systematically, so to speak, with her teacher, Matilda of Hackeborn, of whom I spoke at last Wednesday’s Audience. Gertrude came into contact with Matilda of Magdeburg, another medieval mystic and grew up under the wing of Abbess Gertrude, motherly, gentle and demanding. From these three sisters she drew precious experience and wisdom; she worked them into a synthesis of her own, continuing on her religious journey with boundless trust in the Lord."amy welborn" Gertrude expressed the riches of her spirituality not only in her monastic world, but also and above all in the biblical, liturgical, Patristic and Benedictine contexts, with a highly personal hallmark and great skill in communicating.

Gertrude was born on 6 January 1256, on the Feast of the Epiphany, but nothing is known of her parents nor of the place of her birth. Gertrude wrote that the Lord himself revealed to her the meaning of this first uprooting: “I have chosen you for my abode because I am pleased that all that is lovable in you is my work…. For this very reason I have distanced you from all your relatives, so that no one may love you for reasons of kinship and that I may be the sole cause of the affection you receive” (The Revelations, I, 16, Siena 1994, pp. 76-77).

When she was five years old, in 1261, she entered the monastery for formation and education, a common practice in that period. Here she spent her whole life, the most important stages of which she herself points out. In her memoirs she recalls that the Lord equipped her in advance with forbearing patience and infinite mercy, forgetting the years of her childhood, adolescence and youth, which she spent, she wrote, “in such mental blindness that I would have been capable… of thinking, saying or doing without remorse everything I liked and wherever I could, had you not armed me in advance, with an inherent horror of evil and a natural inclination for good and with the external vigilance of others. “I would have behaved like a pagan… in spite of desiring you since childhood, that is since my fifth year of age, when I went to live in the Benedictine shrine of religion to be educated among your most devout friends” (ibid., II, 23, p. 140f.).

Gertrude was an extraordinary student, she learned everything that can be learned of the sciences of the trivium and quadrivium, the education of that time; she was fascinated by knowledge and threw herself into profane studies with zeal and tenacity, achieving scholastic successes beyond every expectation. If we know nothing of her origins, she herself tells us about her youthful passions: literature, music and song and the art of miniature painting captivated her. She had a strong, determined, ready and impulsive temperament. She often says that she was negligent; she recognizes her shortcomings and humbly asks forgiveness for them. She also humbly asks for advice and prayers for her conversion. Some features of her temperament and faults were to accompany her to the end of her life, so as to amaze certain people who wondered why the Lord had favoured her with such a special love.

From being a student she moved on to dedicate herself totally to God in monastic life, and for 20 years nothing exceptional occurred: study and prayer were her main activities. Because of her gifts she shone out among the sisters; she was tenacious in consolidating her culture in various fields.
Nevertheless during Advent of 1280 she began to feel disgusted with all this and realized the vanity of it all. On 27 January 1281, a few days before the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, towards the hour of Compline in the evening, the Lord with his illumination dispelled her deep anxiety. With gentle sweetness he calmed the distress that anguished her, a torment that Gertrude saw even as a gift of God, “to pull down that tower of vanity and curiosity which, although I had both the name and habit of a nun alas I had continued to build with my pride, so that at least in this manner I might find the way for you to show me your salvation” (ibid., II, p. 87). She had a vision of a young man who, in order to guide her through the tangle of thorns that surrounded her soul, took her by the hand. In that hand Gertrude recognized “the precious traces of the wounds that abrogated all the acts of accusation of our enemies” (ibid., II, 1, p. 89), and thus recognized the One who saved us with his Blood on the Cross: Jesus.

From that moment her life of intimate communion with the Lord was intensified, especially in the most important liturgical seasons Advent-Christmas, Lent-Easter, the feasts of Our Lady even when illness prevented her from going to the choir. This was the same liturgical humus as that of Matilda, her teacher; but Gertrude describes it with simpler, more linear images, symbols and terms that are more realistic and her references to the Bible, to the Fathers and to the Benedictine world are more direct.

Her biographer points out two directions of what we might describe as her own particular “conversion”: in study, with the "amy welborn"radical passage from profane, humanistic studies to the study of theology, and in monastic observance, with the passage from a life that she describes as negligent, to the life of intense, mystical prayer, with exceptional missionary zeal. The Lord who had chosen her from her mother’s womb and who since her childhood had made her partake of the banquet of monastic life, called her again with his grace “from external things to inner life and from earthly occupations to love for spiritual things”. Gertrude understood that she was remote from him, in the region of unlikeness, as she said with Augustine; that she had dedicated herself with excessive greed to liberal studies, to human wisdom, overlooking spiritual knowledge, depriving herself of the taste for true wisdom; she was then led to the mountain of contemplation where she cast off her former self to be reclothed in the new. “From a grammarian she became a theologian, with the unflagging and attentive reading of all the sacred books that she could lay her hands on or contrive to obtain. She filled her heart with the most useful and sweet sayings of Sacred Scripture. Thus she was always ready with some inspired and edifying word to satisfy those who came to consult her while having at her fingertips the most suitable scriptural texts to refute any erroneous opinion and silence her opponents” (ibid., I, 1, p. 25).

Gertrude transformed all this into an apostolate: she devoted herself to writing and popularizing the truth of faith with clarity and simplicity, with grace and persuasion, serving the Church faithfully and lovingly so as to be helpful to and appreciated by theologians and devout people.

Little of her intense activity has come down to us, partly because of the events that led to the destruction of the Monastery of Helfta. In addition to The Herald of Divine Love and The Revelations, we still have her Spiritual Exercises, a rare jewel of mystical spiritual literature.

In religious observance our Saint was “a firm pillar… a very powerful champion of justice and truth” (ibid., I, 1, p. 26), her biographer says. By her words and example she kindled great fervour in other people. She added to the prayers and penances of the monastic rule others with such devotion and such trusting abandonment in God that she inspired in those who met her an awareness of being in the Lord’s presence. In fact, God made her understand that he had called her to be an instrument of his grace. Gertrude herself felt unworthy of this immense divine treasure, and confesses that she had not safeguarded it or made enough of it. She exclaimed: “Alas! If you had given me to remember you, unworthy as I am, by even only a straw, I would have viewed it with greater respect and reverence that I have had for all your gifts!” (ibid., II, 5, p. 100). Yet, in recognizing her poverty and worthlessness she adhered to God’s will, “because”, she said, “I have so little profited from your graces that I cannot resolve to believe that they were lavished upon me solely for my own use, since no one can thwart your eternal wisdom. Therefore, O Giver of every good thing who has freely lavished upon me gifts so undeserved, in order that, in reading this, the heart of at least one of your friends may be moved at the thought that zeal for souls has induced you to leave such a priceless gem for so long in the abominable mud of my heart” (ibid., II, 5, p. 100f.).

Two favours in particular were dearer to her than any other, as Gertrude herself writes: “The stigmata of your salvation-bearing wounds which you impressed upon me, as it were, like a valuable necklaces, in my heart, and the profound and salutary wound of love with which you marked it.
“You flooded me with your gifts, of such beatitude that even were I to live for 1,000 years with no consolation neither interior nor exterior the memory of them would suffice to comfort me, to enlighten me, to fill me with gratitude. Further, you wished to introduce me into the inestimable intimacy of your friendship by opening to me in various ways that most noble sacrarium of your Divine Being which is your Divine Heart…. To this accumulation of benefits you added that of giving me as Advocate the Most Holy Virgin Mary, your Mother, and often recommended me to her affection, just as the most faithful of bridegrooms would recommend his beloved bride to his own mother” (ibid., II, 23, p. 145).

Looking forward to never-ending communion, she ended her earthly life on 17 November 1301 or 1302, at the age of about 46. "amy welborn"In the seventh Exercise, that of preparation for death, St Gertrude wrote: “O Jesus, you who are immensely dear to me, be with me always, so that my heart may stay with you and that your love may endure with me with no possibility of division; and bless my passing, so that my spirit, freed from the bonds of the flesh, may immediately find rest in you. Amen” (Spiritual Exercises, Milan 2006, p. 148).

It seems obvious to me that these are not only things of the past, of history; rather St Gertrude’s life lives on as a lesson of Christian life, of an upright path, and shows us that the heart of a happy life, of a true life, is friendship with the Lord Jesus. And this friendship is learned in love for Sacred Scripture, in love for the Liturgy, in profound faith, in love for Mary, so as to be ever more truly acquainted with God himself and hence with true happiness, which is the goal of our life. Many thanks.

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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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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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— 1 —

Someone’s middle name is Bernard, so they got a cake yesterday. Instagram commenters quickly and brilliantly named it a Tonsure Cake. 

— 2 —

Friday is my day to talk with Diana von Glahn on The Faithful Traveler radio show – this week, we talk about St. Bernard-related things, mostly St. Bernard’s Abbey in Cullman, just a bit north of here, and the great Ave Maria Grotto. If you drive on I-65 through Alabama, you see the signs for it – the Catholic See Rock City. But believe me – it’s not tacky. It’s a lovely expression of faith that comes straight from the heart.


— 3—

 Today? Pius X. B16 here:

Today I would like to reflect on my Predecessor, St Pius X whose liturgical Memorial we shall be celebrating next Saturday and to underline certain features that may be useful to both Pastors and faithful also in our time.

Giuseppe Sarto, that was his name, was born into a peasant family in Riese, Treviso, in 1835. After studying at the Seminary in Padua he was ordained a priest when he was 23 years old. He was first curate in Tombolo, then parish priest at Salzano and then canon of the Cathedral of Treviso with the offices of episcopal chancellor and spiritual director of the Diocesan Seminary. In these years of rich and generous pastoral experience, the future Pontiff showed that deep love for Christ and for the Church, that humility and simplicity and great charity to the needy which characterized his entire life. In 1884 he was appointed Bishop of Mantua, and in 1893, Patriarch of Venice. On 4 August 1903, he was elected Pope, a ministry he hesitated to accept since he did not consider himself worthy of such a lofty office.

Pius X’s Pontificate left an indelible mark on the Church’s history and was distinguished by a considerable effort for reform that is summed up in his motto: Instaurare Omnia in Christo, “To renew all things in Christ”. Indeed, his interventions involved various ecclesiastical contexts. From the outset he devoted himself to reorganizing the Roman Curia; he then began work on the Code of Canon Law which was promulgated by his Successor Benedict XV. He later promoted the revision of the studies and formation programme of future priests and founded various Regional Seminaries, equipped with good libraries and well-qualified teachers. Another important sector was that of the doctrinal formation of the People of God. Beginning in his years as parish priest, he himself had compiled a catechism and during his Episcopate in Mantua he worked to produce a single, if not universal catechism, at least in Italian. As an authentic Pastor he had understood that the situation in that period, due partly to the phenomenon of emigration, made necessary a catechism to which every member of the faithful might refer, independently of the place in which he lived and of his position. As Pontiff, he compiled a text of Christian doctrine for the Diocese of Rome that was later disseminated throughout Italy and the world. Because of its simple, clear, precise language and effective explanations, this “Pius X Catechism”, as it was called, was a reliable guide to many in learning the truths of the faith.

Pius X paid considerable attention to the reform of the Liturgy and, in particular, of sacred music in order to lead the faithful to a life of more profound prayer and fuller participation in the Sacraments. In the Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini (1903), the first year of his Pontificate, he said that the true Christian spirit has its first and indispensable source in active participation in the sacrosanct mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church (cf. AAS 36[1903], 531). For this reason he recommended that the Sacraments be received often, encouraging the daily reception of Holy Communion and appropriately lowering the age when children receive their First Communion “to about seven”, the age “when a child begins to reason” (cf. S. Congr. de Sacramentis, Decretum Quam Singulari: AAS 2 [1910] 582).

Faithful to the task of strengthening his brethren in the faith, in confronting certain trends that were manifest in the theological context at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Pius X intervened decisively, condemning “Modernism” to protect the faithful from erroneous concepts and to foster a scientific examination of the Revelation consonant with the Tradition of the Church. On 7 May 1909, with his Apostolic Letter Vinea Electa, he founded the Pontifical Biblical Institute. The last months of his life were overshadowed by the impending war. His appeal to Catholics of the world, launched on 2 August 1914 to express the bitter pain of the present hour, was the anguished plea of a father who sees his children taking sides against each other. He died shortly afterwards, on 20 August, and the fame of his holiness immediately began to spread among the Christian people.

Dear brothers and sisters, St Pius X teaches all of us that at the root of our apostolic action in the various fields in which we work there must always be close personal union with Christ, to cultivate and to develop, day after day. This is the essence of all his teaching, of all his pastoral commitment. Only if we are in love with the Lord shall we be able to bring people to God and open them to his merciful love and thereby open the world to God’s mercy.

— 4 —

A new education year is beginning….

  • Are you planning adult education? Consider these resources.

— 5 —

A friend of one my older kids just started law school.  He said that the orienters (sp?) strongly suggested only one extracurricular be pursued and for no more than an hour a day, and for that “we recommend either exercise or religion.”

write your own punch line. 

.— 6—

We were there!  Completely by accident – the boys serve at Casa Maria once a month, but not normally this particular Sunday. I’d asked to switch because I thought we might be out of town.  But I was so glad it worked out. It was great to meet Erin Manning, whose honest writing I have long admired, as well as her sister-in-law, who also blogs, and who has provided such wonderful resources (like coloring pages) over the years.  I honestly had no idea of the connections between all these folks, but was glad to finally make them, and most especially to meet everyone!

— 7 —

Back to school for everyone, and I’ll have more to say on that next week, but for now, just a word about this book – Oxford’s The Ancient American World, part of their series, The World in Ancient Times. Far more substantive than most books on the subject matter for late elementary/middle school, what I particularly liked about was that the work and techniques of archaeologists and historians are part of the story. This is important because it makes clear that what we “know” about ancient cultures isn’t, ahem, carved in stone.  It’s an interpretive decision based on evidence gathered in a certain way, posing and answering certain questions.  My 10-year old really enjoyed this, and although the books aren’t cheap, they have a lot of good material, well-presented.

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

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…the curse being for the kid being homeschooled, of course.

I’ve written about introversion and parenting before  In fact, it’s one of the more frequent search terms bringing people to my blog – some combination of “introverted” and parenting.

And what’s an INFP? Well, probably gobbledygook, but I’ve actually found it to be a useful and pretty accurate way of understanding myself. The initials stand for Introverted Intuitive Feeling Perceiving.  What it means in my psyche is that I am not shy or awkward with others, but am drained by time with others and energized by time alone.  The NFP parts add up to mean that I deal with life by observing and responding to it rather than trying to organize it ahead of time.

So yes, I plan, but I do so by watching you and then figuring stuff out at 2 AM. And then jotting a few notes down on the back of an envelope, but being perfectly willing to jump down a rabbit hole if the situation seems to call for it.

So this afternoon, the boys were at a movie, and I was at Barnes and Noble, going through all my bookmarks and Pinterest pins and endless emails I’ve sent to myself with pertinent homeschooling links and getting psyched about the year.

As I wrote before, the ten-year old is not unenthusiastic, but he does have  a bit of anxiety about “keeping up” and his friend who is going to the brainiac school up the hill. As I clicked and scrolled and my pen flew over the pages of my Moleskin (of course), I pondered this, and considered “my” planning, and stopped short.

He’s ten. Almost eleven.  I keep saying I’m all about the unschooling. And we have tried to be totally unschooling, but it’s not a great fit for the older boy (who will be going to high school this year anyway), and then the younger one’s worry kicked in, so I got more proactive and started planning, and then there I was at the bookstore…planning.

I thought…what. Am I doing. There’s got to be a way to help this super smart kid with a ton of interests to take more charge of his own schooling…but feel okay about it.  To help him feel that “yes, this is school, yes you are keeping up. More than keeping up.”

So I closed the computer, picked the boys up, came home, opened the computer back up, typed up some sheets, printed them up and put them in a notebook.  In a little bit, we’ll sit down and go over them.

  • Page 1: The subjects for this year and the spines we’ll be using. (“spines” are the foundational texts – lots of supplementary material and activities are assumed.)
  • Page 2: What should happen every day.  Prayer & chat about the saint of the day; Handwriting/copywork; Math; Latin; Creative time – draw, sculpt, play music, go outside and explore, write, etc.
  • Page 3:  the list of other activities and when they’re happening, from piano to boxing to Troops of St. George to zoo class, etc.
  • Page 4: What he wants to do. What specifically does he want to study this year? (for example, over the past couple of days, he’s mentioned he really wants to delve into herp biology and also do a lot of dissection. Not of Rocky, we can assume). Does he want to play with another language (via Duolingo or something)? Pick up another instrument? Find a different kind of art class? Cook? Clean the basement?

It just occurred to me that his needs weren’t being well served by my instinct to keep things in my head and just respond to the moment.  He needs more than that.  And I really hope – and believe – that what’s going to happen in me being more organized, and us talking it out and being more collaborative, even if I’m taking the lead, the end result just might be him feeling confident enough to  take a bigger role in staking out his own direction, without being afraid that he’s “behind.”

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— 1 —

Coming soon….. Diana von Glahn, aka The Faithful Traveler, is starting a daily radio show on Real Life Radio. 

And every Friday…I’ll be on it!


We’ll be talking about traveling with children/family travel, etc….the show begins on August 3, so be sure to tune in – we’ve recorded two segments already.  I’ve been talking about my life in general, some of our trips, and in particular our humongous three-month trip to Europe in the fall of 2012, with an emphasis on Assisi. Be sure to tune in! 

— 2 —

When last we spoke, we had just visited Warm Springs, Georgia, which again…I recommend. 

After that, we headed further south. The boys spent a couple of days with their family members in Florida.  I was also in Florida, in the Jax/St. Augustine area.  I had work to do, so I spent a lot of time in various Panera Breads doing that but I also stopped by here:

Chamblin’s Uptown – a great used bookstore, although I still maintain that Jacksonville is a strange, unappealing city.  The Durrells are for me and my younger son, the snake book is for him, Twelve Mighty Orphans is for the older one (and he’s devouring it), and No Name, which I’ve already read in e-form, is for my daughter, because I think she would like it.

— 3—

I also spent some time in St. Augustine, but not a lot, since I’ve been there many times before. My main impression this time, as it is every time I go there, because every time I go there it’s summer, is that it’s so. bloody. hot.  I don’t get it.  The temperature there is the same or lower than it is in Birmingham, but it’s so much more miserable. Bleh.

Anyway, the real point is that over the past month or so, I’ve spent time with two other Catholic blogger-types and one of my oldest friends, and neither Instagrammed or Facebooked any of it!


— 4 —

Today (if you are reading this on Friday, July 24) is the feast of St. Charblel Makhlouf, who was Lebanese, but who is also very popular in Mexico.  I wrote about it here:

I was particularly interested in the saint in the center – San Charbel Maklouf – for I had seen his image in several homes during the week.  Why is a Lebanese saint so popular in Mexico?

(For, I was told, he is – along with St. Jude, one of the most popular saints in Mexico.)

The person I was talking to didn’t really know, but I assume at least part of the reason has to do with the fact that Lebanese are an important minority in Mexico,with deep roots going back more than a century. The world’s richest man (trading the spot with Gates now and then), Carlos Slim, is Lebanese -Mexican Maronite. Salma Hayak is part Lebanese-Mexican.

Most of all, of course, he’s popular because of the power of his intercession. I didn’t see it, but it’s common in Mexico to drape statues of San Charbel with ribbons on which you’ve written prayers. You can see images from the Flickr pool here, here and here.

— 5 —

Speaking of St. Charbel, readers may or may not know that Maronite Catholics are not unknown in the South.  Particularly along railroad line – the Lebanese were one of the ethnic groups that showed up to do the work.  I gave a woman’s day of recollection over in Jackson, Mississippi, once and a huge proportion of the women present claimed Lebanese roots.  Here in Birmingham, the Maronite Catholic Church, St. Elias, is venerable and established.  The Catholic school my boys used to go to had a Maronite school Mass twice a year. Fr. Mitch Pacwa, who lives here, is bi-ritual and regularly celebrates the Maronite liturgy at St. Elias when he is in town.

A few years ago, I went to an estate sale, and this one was unusual because there was lots of Catholic stuff.  That’s not a normal feature of estate sales in Birmingham, Alabama.  But this one was very Catholic and specifically, very Maronite.  This was one of my treasures from that day:

Do you have a St. Charbel thermometer?

Didn’t think so.

.— 6—

Ice cream is not that hard to make, and is so, so good.  I go between David Lebovitz’s base (eggs) and Jeni’s (no eggs, cornstarch & cream cheese).

This was a David Lebovitz base wtih a bit of chocolate syrup mixed in, as well as melted chocolate & a dab of olive oil for a straciatella thing.

"amy welborn"

— 7 —

If anything is ever going to drive me off of social media, it’s photographs of people’s feet. 

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

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I contribute five devotions to each issue of Living Faith.  Yesterday’s – July 5:

I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

– 2 Corinthians 12:9

Late last fall, my two youngest sons and I gathered with dozens of others in a parking lot on the east side of town.

We were given mesh bags and placed in front of huge boxes of sweet potatoes. Our task? To bag up the tubers collected by the modern-day gleaning group for distribution to the needy.

One of my sons asked, “Why don’t they sell these in stores?” I pointed out that these were oddly shaped, they were too big, they were too small. They were imperfect and, in a way, “weak.”   More

Today’s devotion – July 3 – for example. 

But some doubt is indeed a response to mystery. Thomas witnessed Jesus’ suffering and his terrible, demeaning execution. But now he’s alive? And truly the Messiah? How?

"amy welborn"


As a consequence of some ill-considered decisions by a nine-year-old, I recently spent five hours in a hospital’s emergency room.    More.

I have never climbed a real mountain and have no strong desire to. But I have ambled among hills, some of which might come close to being mountains and sometimes feel that way, depending on what kind of shape I’m in.  More

The webpage for Living Faith is here.

Living Faith is a print publication – available in Spanish and English – but a digital edition is available as well.

More information on the digital edition is here. 

Follow Living Faith on Facebook and Twitter.

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