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Archive for the ‘Loyola Classics’ Category

Ah, let’s do a bit digesting shall we?

ThursdayWriting: I am currently doing revisions on a book that will be available late this summer, early fall. Should finish those by Monday.

I was in Living Faith yesterday – completely forgot about it. I have one more devotional in this quarter’s , which will be in one day next week.

I’m also trying to finish up another short story. I have to get these people and their situation out of my head, for another one has popped up and is knocking.

The one-day FREE sale on three of my ebooks is over, but hey…you know, their regular price is only .99…so what do you say?

Lent-ing:  I really, really encourage you to take a look at my post on Quinquagesima. There are some really nice quotes there from older writings about Lent prep. A taste:

The season of Lent is at hand; in three days Ash Wednesday will be here; our Mother the Church calls upon us to fast, and pray, and to do penance for our sins. Each one who cannot fast should ask for some practical and methodical work of piety to do instead ; and perhaps few better could be found than ten minutes’ serious meditation, every day, upon the Passion of our Lord. This practice can be varied in many ways, some of them being so simple that a child might learn them ; and God alone knows of what immense value to us this practice, faith- fully continued through one Lent, would be. Let us consider, then, by His assisting grace, that most helpful spiritual devotion called meditation.

In our day the necessity is really extreme of keeping the minds of Christians filled and permeated with an abiding sense of the love and care of Almighty God for each individual soul. The ceaseless hurry and worry prevalent amongst us, to become rich, to be counted intellectual, to know or to have as much as our neighbor, tends to destroy that overruling sense of spiritual things which would give ballast and leisure to our souls. Then, when earthly props fail us, and loneliness, sickness, or great trouble of any kind confronts us, the utter shallowness of our ordinary pursuits opens out in its desert waste before us, and our aching eyes see nothing to fill the void.

From 1904! Still so pertinent!

From 1882:

If you cannot fast, at least abstain. If you cannot abstain, use your dispensation as sparingly as can be, and only as your need requires. If in fasting and abstinence you cannot keep Lent, keep it by prayer, and Sacraments, and alms, and spiritual mortifications. Chastise the faults of temper, resentment, animosity, vanity, self-love, and pride, which, in some degree and in divers ways, beset and bias if they do not reign in all our hearts. In these forty days let the world, its works and ways, be shut out as far as can be from your homes and hearts. Go out of the world into the desert with our Divine Redeemer. Fast with Him, at least from doing your own will ; from the care and indulgence of self which naturally besets us.

Reading:  Aside from way too much on this gender identity stuff, watching that blow up (hopefully), A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene.

Alas, no lovely old library edition this time. There’s not a copy in a single public library in my area, so I obtained a “copy” via archive.org. 

amy_welbornFor those of you who don’t know it, archive.org is a good source for copies of some older books that are not in print but are also not in the public domain. I am not sure of the source of their digital copies, but I think they might be libraries, since you “borrow” them for a limited time. 

I am about halfway through, and will write an extended post once I finish – don’t know if that will be tonight or not, since we have a Confirmation happening – but for the moment.

The novel is set in a leprosorium run by a Catholic order in Africa. A fellow shows up – I won’t spoil the slow reveal of who he is – but just say that he is the usual Greene protagonist – wandering, perhaps even running from something, trying to find a place that is no-place. I’m interested, as I tend to be, in the portrayals of religious life and faith matters. The priests and brothers are eminently practical and straightforward, puzzling some and frustrating others. The primary leper character so far is a man named Deo Gratias by the fathers, so every time one calls for him, one is thanking God.

Just know that “a burnt-out case” refers to a patient who can be cured, but only because leprosy has consumed all it wants to of him. He has already suffered, and now he can be healed of the disease.

A couple of choice quotes:

When a man has nothing else to be proud of…he is proud of his spiritual problems. After two whiskies he began to talk to me about grace. 

*****

‘Oh yes, make no mistake, one does. One comes to an end.’
‘What are you here for then? To make love to a black woman?’
‘No. One comes to an end of that too. Possibly sex and a vocation are born and die together. Let me roll bandages or carry buckets. All I want is to pass the time.’
‘I thought you wanted to be of use.’
‘Listen,’ Querry said and then fell silent.
‘I am listening.’

***

More later.

Cooking: This has been a busy week, so not much cooking beyond leftovers. Probably no more until Saturday, either….

Listening: The usual piano and organ things. Oh, and this morning, this greeted me in the living room as someone was finishing up his toast and slipping on his shoes:

Not sure how that became the Obsession of the Week….

 

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Wish not to do all, but only something, and without doubt, you will do much. 

-St. Francis de Sales, letter, 7/20/1607.

Today’s the feastday of St. Francis de Sales. Which of course you know because all the bloggers and writers are posting: Francis de Sales…my patron saint! 

And really, yes. You should read St. Francis de Sales. But as you do,  try to catch, not simply the ways that he confirms your expectations, but perhaps the way he challenges them.

Over the years – decades– I have been interested in the ways that we modern, post-Conciliar Catholics approach, use and well, perhaps appropriate great spiritual figures of the past. Well, you ask – how can we appropriate them if they are ours? If we share the same faith?

Well, that’s the conundrum, isn’t it?

For we can pick bits and pieces of Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi, and we can collect their sayings that comfort us, we can tack attractively calligraphied sayings of theirs on our walls and make pillows and mugs out of them, but really –

-do we believe everything they believe?

Do we buy it?

So take St. Francis de Sales. We like him, we celebrate him because he’s the patron saint of writers and journalists – yay us – and because he wrote specifically for the laity – YAY us – but what happens when you actually read him? What happens when you try to reach beyond what comforts you?

For the truth is, most of us reading St. Francis de Sales today have been formed to believe that belief and conversion is essentially coming to believe that I am important, and I am loved by God, that I have a place in the universe. God loves me, God accepts me as I am. 

The essence of the spiritual life seems to be: Rest in God’s love. You’re doing your best. Don’t worry.  Be assured. Come as you are. 

Well, when you read Francis de Sales – and, of course, other spiritual teachers of the past – you might pick up on some differences. Yes (as we’ll see) Francis de Sales advises against scrupulosity all the time, and both he and Jane de Chantal warn against excessive interiority and obsession with one’s spiritual state.

But this moderation is advised, not because they’re communicating that where ever you are, you’re fine and embrace your imperfections and mess. It’s a little different than that. It’s more: You’re a person, so yes you’re an imperfect mess. But God calls you to shed that mess and move towards perfection, and he gives you the tools and the grace to do so. 

And further, if you recognize this, you have an obligation to do so. A duty.

So, although I am spiritually slothful myself, I have mused about this distinction for a long time and critiqued it in various ways, but last night, I was re-reading some Francis de Sales, a bit of clarity came to me, clarity about the world we’ve lived in since the Enlightenment. And with that clarity, came, I think, some understanding, and yes, acceptance.

Modern people – that means you and me – live in a world without God. Even if we are churchgoers and say we believe in God, we actually live in a world without God, because, we admit, everyone believes what they like and who are we to judge?

That’s a world without God.

Just admit it.

And living in a world without God means living in a world of anxiety. It means living on this world that exits – why? – not knowing why or how you came to be, not having any firm, objective sense of your own value or purpose, and certainly  not knowing if your life is any more meaningful than the weed you just pulled from your garden.

So in that radically non-transcendent universe, what is “salvation?”

It is, simply, the revelation that yes, you matter. Yes, you are here, not accidentally, but because Someone wants you to be, which means that you are loved.

And so that is the core of the meaning of conversion in 2019: Accepting your own value.

I’ve spent a lot of time puzzling over that persistent theme and critiquing it, but this evening, after reading St. Francis de Sales for a while, and trying to figure out the distinctions between his message and most of what I hear today – I think that’s it, and I get it.

In an empty, meaningless universe, if we can start there – you matter – well, that’s where we have to start. It may strike me as solipsistic and goopy, but if you have been formed to believe that your life means whatever you want  which means, in essence your life means nothing –  to learn that: your life has happened because the Creator of the Universe wants  it to…

….is, indeed, transformative.

But here we are, back with St. Francis de Sales. And he won’t let you rest there. He won’t let you rest with I’m okay, I’m loved, I’m here for a reason, I have amazing gifts and talents. 

Nope.

Traditional Catholic spirituality – as expressed by today’s saint – is not about resting on our laurels and delighting in our unique gifts and talents. It’s about honestly looking at ourselves, seeing what trash we’ve allowed in, and sucking it up, embracing hard discipline, and moving forward.

We post-Vatican II babies were raised to look back at this type of spirituality and shudder: Scrupulosity! God loves you just as you are!

The basic difference has been:

Salvation = understanding and accepting that God made you and loves you as you are

Salvation = cooperating with the grace of God to restore the you he made. 

And this is why St. Francis de Sales is so wonderful. He bridges this gap, he is realistic on every score, reminding us that we are not perfect and that we should be striving for perfection, but warning us against unrealistic expectations as well:

 My God ! dear daughter, do not examine whether
what you do is little or much, good or ill, provided it is
not sin, and that in good faith you will to do it for God.
As much as you can, do perfectly what you do, but when
it is done, think of it no more ; rather think of what
is to be done quite simply in the way of God, and do
not torment your spirit. We must hate our faults,
but with a tranquil and quiet hate, not with an angry
and restless hate ; and so we must have patience when
we see them, and draw from them a profit of a holy-
abasement of ourselves. Without this, my child,
your imperfections which you see subtly, trouble you
by getting still more subtle, and by this means sustain
themselves, as there is nothing which more preserves
our weeds than disquietude and eagerness in removing
them.

To be dissatisfied and fret about the world, when we
must of necessity be in it, is a great temptation. The
Providence of God is wiser than we. We fancy that
by changing our ships, we shall get on better; yes, if
we change ourselves. My God, I am sworn enemy of
these useless, dangerous, and bad desires : for though
what we desire is good, the desire is bad, because God
does not will us this sort of good, but another, in
which he wants us to exercise ourselves. God wishes
to speak to us in the thorns and the bush, as he did to
Moses; and we want him to speak in the small wind,
gentle and fresh, as he did to Elias. May his good-
ness preserve you, my daughter ; but be constant
courageous, and rejoice that he gives you the will to
be all his. I am, in this goodness, very completely
your, &c.

That’s from his letters “to persons in the world,” collected here in this book found at the Internet Archive. (I’m sure they are in more contemporary bound versions but this is online…and free).

It is well worth downloading and keeping on hand. So much pertinent, valuable, wise advice and insight. Perhaps begin with his 10/14/1604 letter to Jane de Chantal. It’s long and rich and contains, among other bits, tremendous insight on true liberty in Christ.

The effects of this liberty are a great suavity of
soul, a great gentleness and condescension in all that
is not sin or danger of sin ; a temper sweetly pliable to
the acts of every virtue and charity.

For example : interrupt a soul which is attached to
the exercise of meditation ; you will see it leave with
annoyance, worried and surprised. A soul which has
true liberty will leave its exercise with an equal coun-
tenance, and a heart gracious towards the importunate
person who has inconvenienced her. For it is all one
to her whether she serve God by meditating, or serve
him by bearing with her neighbour : both are the will
of God, but the bearing with her neighbour is necessary
at that time.

The occasions of this liberty are all the things which
happen against our inclination ; for whoever is not
attached to his inclinations, is not impatient when they
are contradicted.

This liberty has two opposite vices, instability and
constraint, or dissolution and slavery. Instability, or
dissolution of spirit, is a certain excess of liberty, by
which we change our exercises, our state of life, with-
out proof or knowledge that such change is God’s
will. On the smallest occasion practices, plan, rule
are changed; for every little occurrence we leave our
rule and laudable custom : and thus the heart is dissi-
pated and ruined, and is like an orchard open on all
sides, whose fruits are not for its owners, but for all
passers by.

Constraint or slavery is a certain want of liberty by
which the soul is overwhelmed with either disgust or
anger, when it cannot do what it has planned, though
still able to do better.

For example : I design to make my meditation every
day in the morning. If I have the spirit of insta-
bility, or dissolution, on the least occasion in the
world I shall put it off till the evening for a dog
which kept me from sleeping, for a letter I have to
write, of no urgency whatever. On the other hand,
if I have the spirit of constraint or servitude, I
shall not leave my meditation at that hour, even
if a sick person have great need of my help at the
time, even if I have a dispatch which is of great
importance, and which cannot well be put off, and
so on.

And go ahead – get a head start on Lent with What St. Francis de Sales wants you to know about fasting. 

Oh, and check out Bearing Blog’s many posts on Introduction to the Devout Life. 

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— 1 —

Hey, guys, I think you’re going to spare obscure academic articles this week.

But you will not be spared…..

— 2 —

Brochure 2019

PUY DU FOU!

Long, long time readers will know that in the fall of 2012, I took my two youngest to Europe. It was, as I have written here, a way of forcing myself to homeschool them. I reasoned – if I actually left the country – I couldn’t go racing back to the school principal a week in,  begging her to take us back.

Anyway, one of the highlights and grand surprises of the trip was Puy du Fou. I will bet money you’ve never heard of it.   When I first started researching the trip, I happened upon information about Puy du Fou, and was immediately intrigued. What is this??  It’s the most popular attraction of its type in France – more so than EuroDisney – and I’d never even heard of it.  Then I went to the website, watched the over-the-top amazing videos about knights and vikings and such, and I was determined.

 

We had to go. 

So we did – as far as I could tell, one of the few non-French speakers in the park that day, which also happened to be the last day of the season they perform the massive, (literally) cast of thousands evening show.

It’s an “amusement park” but there are no rides.  The main attractions are recreations of medieval and renaissance villages with artisans and shops, a small collection of animals, a few animantronic features – de la Fontaine’s fairy tales, for example, and then these spectacular – I mean spectacular shows featuring French history, starting with the Romans – in a full-blown Roman coliseum with chariots and so on.

So, quickly – when we went, the shows were:

  1. The Romans
  2. A recreation of a Viking raid story with a variation of a saint/miracle story
  3. A Joan of Arc type story (although not quite)
  4. Richilieu’s Musketeer, which I didn’t understand at all – involving musketeers, Spanish type dancers and horses prancing on a water-flooded stage.
  5. Birds of Prey show
  6. The evening show, Cinescine 

You have to watch the videos to understand why, once I saw them, there was no way I was going to France and not going to Puy du Fou.

I see that for 2019, they’re promoting a new show – it looks to be about Clovis and….hmmm…

That said, I didn’t know anything about the place beyond the fact that it was popular and looked kind of trippy and totally French.

As we moved through the day, I started to notice a couple of things:

  1. The explicit religious content of every show (except the musketeer one, but it may have been there, and I just didn’t grasp it.)   The Roman show began with two Christian men running onto the sandy floor of the coliseum and drawing an ichthys, and being arrested for that.  The Viking show featured a miracle (based, I think on a particular miracle story but I don’t remember which at the time) about a saint raising a child from the dead.
  2. At some point it dawned on me…there’s nothing about the French Revolution here.  Nothing. Not a word, not an image. Wait. Aren’t all the French all about the French Revolution?

I knew that the evening show was about the Vendee resistance to the Revolution, but before I went, I didn’t know anything about the founder of the park, his politics and how the park expresses that vision.

As I keep saying, it was simply fascinating and really helped broaden my understanding of French history and the French people and the complexity of contemporary France.

Cinescine is really unlike anything you have ever seen. You’re seated on this huge grandstand, and the show happens around this lake – lights, hundreds and hundreds of people in costume tracing the history of the area, including the resistance to the Revolution, animals, music….wow.

Loved it, and would absolutely go back if I had the chance.

(If you read TripAdvisor reviews, you will see almost 100% agreement with that sentiment. “Wow” “Amazing” “Hidden Gem” – etc. )

ANYWAY.

The reason I’m bringing this up is that the news came that the empire is expanding – Puy du Fou Espana will begin a soft open late this summer, to be completed in 2021.

I’m absolutely intrigued by this, considering how the French Puy du Fou is expressive of, if not anti-Revolutionary ideals, a more traditional nationalistic view of France that includes, you know, faith. I am wondering what the thinking behind this is – I did see mentioned that one of the historical areas in the park will be a “Muslim camp” and there’s a couple of Arab-looking/dressed fellows in the imagery. Fascinating.

This is the video advertising the “Grand Spectacle” -“El Sueño de Toledo”  – “The Dream of Toledo.”

—3–

Speaking of travel, one of the things I noticed in Japan last summer was the mannered, constant patter from the convenience store clerks. It was weird and awkward – was I supposed to respond in some way or just let it flow over me as I bought my Coca-Cola Light? I thought at the time that it struck me as mannered simply because I don’t speak Japanese. No – it is mannered and practiced and rote – although there are moves afoot to de-emphasize its importance in customer service, mostly because of the greater numbers of non-native Japanese speakers working in that sector. 

Within the framework of Japanese speech exists the somewhat controversial practice of employing formulaic honorific speech by those in the service industry. Manual keigo—so named for the training manuals of phrases that clerks and employees are expected to memorize and use in interactions with the public—creates artificial, repetitious, or otherwise grammatically questionable honorific expressions as companies strive to outdo themselves in terms of reverentially addressing their customers.

Customers can expect to hear generous use of the honorific prefixes “o-” and “go-”, which are appended to words as a sign of respect. “Tsugi no o-kyaku-sama,” or “the next honorable customer,” for instance, becomes “O-tsugi no o-kyaku-sama”—“the honorable next honorable customer.” Similarly redundant compound greetings—irasshaimase konnichiwa, or “Welcome hello”—are also common.

 

–4–

Good stuff from Tom Hoopes on how his family is dealing with tech issues. 

–5 —

Some years ago, I edited an edition of Myles Connelly’s novel Mr. Blue for Loyola Classics. That edition is out of print, but Cluny Media picked it up – and you should to. It’s a powerful parable, much better than the execrable Joshua (which seems to have diminished in popularity, thank goodness) and in a way, an interesting response – not retort, but response – to The Great Gatsby. 

If I were teaching high school religion or literature in a Catholic high school – it just might be my summer reading pick.

Well, here’s an interesting review article about new editions of two other Connelly novels, these new editions edited (as was their Mr. Blue)  by Steve Mirarchi of Benedictine College – who happens to married to one of my former students!

Dan England and the Noonday Devil is somewhat darker. Similar to Blue, Dan England employs a narrator who, conventional in the ways of the world, is initially skeptical of the eccentric ways of the protagonist and yet comes to admire him. Having tried a newspaper career, and having been in his own telling converted in an improbable manner from a conformist lifestyle, Dan England now ekes out a living as a hack writer of detective stories. His real talent and great joy, however, is gathering his motley group of friends and acquaintances nightly at his ample dinner table where he holds court. His home “was a veritable hotel” for his friends, and those friends “were parasites of the most genuine and enduring sort,” including artists, ex-fighters, derelicts, “refugees from Communism and White Supremacy,”—“all having in common a love of Dan’s hospitality and generosity and a few having a love of Dan himself.”

A romantic, an eclectic reader, a storyteller, and an ardent Catholic, Dan indulges in wide-ranging talk that includes paeans to the beauty of the Church and the heroics of the saints and the martyrs. He maintains the “belief that Scripture and the saints should be a natural part of the common small talk and banter of each and every day.” The narrator, a newspaper man, is drawn into Dan’s circle after witnessing Dan’s humanizing effect on a colleague. Betrayed by one of his hangers-on, Dan exhibits a Christ-like forgiveness despite the personal cost: “What mattered to him was not serenity or success but what he so often called ‘the plain but nonetheless terrible necessity’ of saving his soul,” the narrator muses.

True to his cinematic training, Connolly’s novels often consist of a series of brief set pieces or vignettes. His characteristic theme is that of the man who eschews a conventional, conformist way of life in pursuit of human freedom. One is reminded of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” which similarly tells a parable-like tale of the ultimate “drop-out” from mercenary society and that also employs an initially skeptical narrator. The great difference is, of course, that Connolly’s fools are holy fools. While O’Connor’s original Catholic readers would no doubt enthuse over these novels as decidedly positive expositions of the Catholic faith, Connolly acknowledges the suffering and sacrifice that comes with such belief.

–6–

You probably know about Doctors Without Borders. Well, how about The Mission Doctors Association? This month marks an important anniversary for them:

2019 marks a special anniversary for Mission Doctors Association; our 60th Anniversary.  We have many things planned to celebrate this year as we also look to the future.  Yet, we also know that without the vision of our founder, Msgr. Anthony Brouwers, none of the lifesaving work of the past 60 years would have been possible.

January 14th marks the anniversary of our founder’s passing at only 51 years old, in 1964. This story is a familiar one for anyone who is close to MDA, or who has ever heard me speak!  As the Director of the Propagation of the Faith in Los Angeles, Msgr. Brouwers traveled to Legos Nigeria to attend the Marian Congress. Once it was over he traveled all over Africa – he said later that he wanted to find ways to help the people of Los Angeles know more about the needs so they could be help.  While he expected to hear requests for money, overwhelming he heard “We need help” He met with priests doing construction, sisters (with no training) pulling teeth and bishops who were so involved in the administration and secular tasks that they had little time to be shepherds.

So, Msgr. returned with a very focused vision.  He wanted to make it possible for Catholic professionals, (not the priests, sisters or brothers, just lay people – single, married, families) to find a way to share their gifts as they lived their faith.   In the 10 years that followed, Msgr. founded the Lay Mission-Helpers Association to send teachers, nurses, accountants and others, and then working with the Catholic Physicians Guild, Mission Doctors Association to send physicians and dentists and their families.

 

–7–

 As I noted the other day, I’ve put up Michael’s How to Get the Most Out of the amy-welbornEucharist on Kindle. 

I’ve created a Lent page here.

The page of the articles I’ve published on Medium here. 

And don’t forget my story!

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

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He’s a saint who was a strong leader….the first page of the entry in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.

"amy welborn"

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Pope Francis wrote a letter to the American bishops, on retreat at Mundelein Seminary this week.

Here’s the text.

It is, honestly, the usual strange/not-strange message from Pope Francis. Strange in that he goes all over the place except to the specific place where the problem resides, and not-strange in that, well, this is what he usually does, and there’s always a reason for that.

Your experience of reading the letter might be like mine (or it might not – who knows!) – I read it and nodded and thought, Well, not bad, that’s true, sure, it’s good for these things to be said, nice point there and then I finished, thought about it for a minute, and realized that none of the specific problematic issues had actually been addressed and further, the spiritual context which Pope Francis recommends for going forward, it could be argued, actually enables the original problematic actions. Many problematic actions.

To begin with:

“At times of great confusion and uncertainty, we need to be attentive and discerning, to free our hearts of compromises and false certainties, in order to hear what the Lord asks of us in the mission he has given us. Many actions can be helpful, good and necessary, and may even seem correct, but not all of them have the “flavour” of the Gospel. To put it colloquially, we have to be careful that “the cure does not become worse than the disease”. And this requires of us wisdom, prayer, much listening and fraternal communion.”

Quite true, of course.

The first consequence that Pope Francis raises, the first issue that seems to require addressing is that of credibility:

“The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them. This has led to a growing sense of uncertainty, distrust and vulnerability among the faithful. As we know, the mentality that would cover things up, far from helping to resolve conflicts, enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.

We know that the sins and crimes that were committed, and their repercussions on the ecclesial, social and cultural levels, have deeply affected the faithful. They have caused great perplexity, upset and confusion…”

This is institutional thinking, isn’t it? It is, in fact, one of the core attitudes that led to the level of this scandal over the past decades (and probably always): This makes us look bad.

One could say that this is really nothing more than the traditional Catholic understanding of scandal  – a true and valid way of entering into this situation and its consequences. But it’s actually a little different. For traditionally, scandal is seen as a negative because it works to obfuscate the power and truth of the Gospel – people can’t see Jesus because you, the one supposedly representing it, have gotten completely in the way. There’s a hint of this here, but the entire passage is really more about the problem of people seeing the institution in a negative light being a problem simply because it’s better that they see it in a positive light.

“The loss of credibility also raises painful questions about the way we relate to one another. Clearly, a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it. This involves our ability, or inability, as a community to forge bonds and create spaces that are healthy, mature and respectful of the integrity and privacy of each person. It involves our ability to bring people together and to get them enthused and confident about a broad, shared project that is at once unassuming, solid, sober and transparent.”

And so on. The rest of the letter expresses Francis’ usual themes – listen, dialogue, make space for the new, prioritize unity, don’t impose abstractions:

“This approach demands of us the decision to abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships, and instead to make room for the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer. Let us not forget that “the collegial lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth”. [6] Let us try to break the vicious circle of recrimination, undercutting and discrediting, by avoiding gossip and slander in the pursuit of a path of prayerful and contrite acceptance of our limitations and sins, and the promotion of dialogue, discussion and discernment. This will dispose us to finding evangelical paths that can awaken and encourage the reconciliation and credibility that our people and our mission require of us.”

 

And so I wonder:

Is this situation a problem because it diminished the institution’s credibility and threatens bonds of communion or…because people committed all sorts of sins of commission and omission, used other human beings, did great harm to God’s children and offended and disobeyed the Lord who created us for good, not evil?

The framework and assumption that what’s most at stake here is institutional credibility is exactly what led to cover-ups and protection of clerical perpetrators. Exactly. That, of course, is nothing the Holy Father would defend and is what his letter is presented in opposition to, but until you shake that framework that privileges the horizontal over the vertical, you’re stuck in the same rut. It’s subtle, but is at the core of so many problems in the contemporary Church, including this one:

Understanding human actions and choices as fundamentally, basically a response to God’s call and yes, law, keeps everything else in context, since, of course, God’s fundamental call is to love.

Understanding human actions as fundamentally, basically oriented towards keeping some sort of peace with others or creating a certain environment without our obligation to God at the center – absolute, unmoving center, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us – makes it really easy for us to create our own reality, including our own definitions for sin and forgiveness.

It’s the difference between living inside the Garden – or outside. That’s really the whole point of Genesis 1-3.

In short, it just seems to me that a week of reflection on this needs to not start with metaphors of jars and pebbles or concerns about credibility, but rather something more along the lines of Psalm 32.

Which it probably did, outside the official public communications.

Anyway, I haven’t even remarked on what struck me as the most problematic aspect of this letter: the deep, repeated call to work together, be unified, be in communion and so on.

Wait, what? Why is that a problem? I mean…isn’t dialogue and communion the point?

No. Truth is.

And the reason the harping on unity and scolding about “recrimination” is problematic in this context is that one of the crucial issues leading to this crisis was precisely that:  prioritizing of the external bonds between clerics above telling the truth and the privileging of protecting image over allowing consequences to be borne.

Who’s against dialogue and a mature search for answers and new ways forward? Hey, not me! But nothing at all will change if that dialogue is conducted in a context in which we are focused on how we think we should make each other feel and how the world sees us rather than on how all of this looks to God, –  or if we’re more invested in saying things that make us seem open-minded and unified rather than saying true things, no matter how harsh they may be.

Is the culture of church leadership in desperate need of encouragement to be more gently tolerant of all points of view and less critical of each other? Seems to me it’s pretty much the opposite.

We don’t create the bonds of Christian unity. God does this. Jesus Christ does, through Baptism. Our call is to recognize those bonds, strengthen them and then do the harder thing:  be willing to recognize when those bonds have been broken by sin  – and courageously say it out loud, no matter what the price.

Shorter, cynical version: When you’re told to get along and play nice, you’re probably being played. 

 

 

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St. Ambrose, today.

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints, under “Saints are People Who Change Their Lives for God.” 

You can peek at the chapter here, at Google Books.

Almost six years ago, we did a spring break trip to Milan (freaky low airfare.  I’ll bet if you flew to Orlando that year for spring break and went to Disney, I spent less than you did on our trip.).  And of course, Milan=Ambrose.

(What you might not know is that Milan, as the center of Lombardy in northern Italy, has been the focus of so much attempted conquest and other warfare over the centures, has very little ancient, medieval or even Renaissance architecture or infrastructure.  The basilica of St. Ambrose is an anomaly in the city. Leonardo’s Last Supper barely survived the Allied bombing of WWII.)

But first, to the Duomo –
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.

A different type of modern transport juxtaposed with the ancient.   Some wheels from the city’s bike-sharing service in front of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio –

one of the four churches built by Ambrose. (of course what we see is not the original – but is the result of building and rebuilding on the site.)

In other places you can find photos of the body of St. Ambrose in the crypt.  I  didn’t take his photo though. I probably could have – a little girl stuck her camera right through the grate and got a shot of the vested skeleton and no one stopped her. But it just didn’t feel right to me. Maybe because the boys were with me and I didn’t want to model “getting a good shot” as even Step Two (after “pray”) in “What To do in the Presence of Important Saints’ Relics.”

B16 at a General Audience, speaking about St. Ambrose:

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like further to propose to you a sort of “patristic icon”, which, interpreted in the light of what we have said, effectively represents “the heart” of Ambrosian doctrine. In the sixth book of the Confessions, Augustine tells of his meeting with Ambrose, an encounter that was indisputably of great importance in the history of the Church. He writes in his text that whenever he went to see the Bishop of Milan, he would regularly find him taken up with catervae of people full of problems for whose needs he did his utmost. There was always a long queue waiting to talk to Ambrose, seeking in him consolation and hope. When Ambrose was not with them, with the people (and this happened for the space of the briefest of moments), he was either restoring his body with the necessary food or nourishing his spirit with reading. Here Augustine marvels because Ambrose read the Scriptures with his mouth shut, only with his eyes (cf. Confessions, 6, 3). Indeed, in the early Christian centuries reading was conceived of strictly for proclamation, and reading aloud also facilitated the reader’s understanding. That Ambrose could scan the pages with his eyes alone suggested to the admiring Augustine a rare ability for reading and familiarity with the Scriptures. Well, in that “reading under one’s breath”, where the heart is committed to achieving knowledge of the Word of God – this is the “icon” to which we are referring -, one can glimpse the method of Ambrosian catechesis; it is Scripture itself, intimately assimilated, which suggests the content to proclaim that will lead to the conversion of hearts.

Thus, with regard to the magisterium of Ambrose and of Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from witness of life. What I wrote on the theologian in the Introduction to Christianity might also be useful to the catechist. An educator in the faith cannot risk appearing like a sort of clown who recites a part “by profession”. Rather – to use an image dear to Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose -, he must be like the beloved disciple who rested his head against his Master’s heart and there learned the way to think, speak and act. The true disciple is ultimately the one whose proclamation of the Gospel is the most credible and effective.

Like the Apostle John, Bishop Ambrose – who never tired of saying: “Omnia Christus est nobis! To us Christ is all!” – continues to be a genuine witness of the Lord. Let us thus conclude our Catechesis with his same words, full of love for Jesus: “Omnia Christus est nobis! If you have a wound to heal, he is the doctor; if you are parched by fever, he is the spring; if you are oppressed by injustice, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire Heaven, he is the way; if you are in the darkness, he is light…. Taste and see how good is the Lord:  blessed is the man who hopes in him!” (De Virginitate, 16, 99). Let us also hope in Christ. We shall thus be blessed and shall live in peace.

 

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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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