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Archive for the ‘Loyola Kids Book of Heroes’ Category

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Time certainly does fly, doesn’t it?

Not too long ago, our Honduras trip was in the future, and we were ready and excited to go …and then we were in the midst of it….and now…we’ve been back over a week.

 

How did that happen??

If you’re interested in all the posts I’ve written on the trip, go here. 

Advent is just about here – still time to order resources, especially if you go the digital route. Here’s a post on that. 

If you’re interested in ordering signed (or unsigned!) books as gifts from me…go here. 

Advent Resources

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Thanksgiving was quiet here. College Kid is back and in and out. Daughter and son-in-law will be dropping by on Friday. College Kid returns for the final sprint on Sunday, then M and I head out to see new Grandson/Nephew for a couple of days (a longer return trip will be happening after Christmas, when College Kid can come, too).

Dinner was fine, but neither it nor the prep were Instagram-worthy. No turkey this year – I wanted to give College Kid food that he’s not getting and that he’s missing at school, so we did flank steak (this recipe – my standby).

 

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Lots of Christmas shopping lists out there highlighting small businesses – here’s a good one focused on Catholic shops

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Latin is not useless – and there are reasons to study that go beyond vocab boosting:

The frail argument offered by the usefuls has, for decades, helped to prop up shaky pedagogical and rhetorical methods, only adding fuel to the fire of the uselesses. The structure won’t hold anymore. No, the study of Latin—demanding, challenging, exhausting, and, like a good hike through the mountains, restorative in and of itself—must not be treated like a cognitive boot camp. Next we’ll be going to the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum to sharpen our vision and to La Scala to improve our hearing. Divers and ballerinas have beautiful physiques, no doubt, but they’ve built those muscles so they can dive and dance, not to look at themselves in the mirror. When we study Latin, we must study it for one fundamental reason: because it is the language of a civilization; because the Western world was created on its back. Because inscribed in Latin are the secrets of our deepest cultural memory, secrets that demand to be read.

One other minor contention against the usefuls and the uselesses: Latin is beautiful. This fact undergirds all that I will be saying in these pages. Beauty is the face of freedom. What all totalitarian regimes have most strikingly in common is their ugliness, which spreads to every aspect and form of life, even to nature. And by the adjective “beautiful” I mean to say that Latin is various, malleable, versatile, easy and difficult, simple and complicated, regular and irregular, clear and obscure, with multiple registers and jargons, with thousands of rhetorical styles, with a voluble history. Why give ourselves practical reasons for encountering beauty? Why impede ourselves with false arguments about comprehension? Why submit ourselves to the cult of instant access, of destination over journey, of answers at the click of a button, of the shrinking attention span? Why surrender to the will-less, the superficial, the defeatists, the utilitarians? Why not see that behind the question “What’s the point of Latin?”—perhaps posed unassumingly—rests a violence and an arrogance, an assault on the world’s richness and the greatness of the human intellect?

I would like to put the reader on guard against one more noxious cliché. Even among specialists one hears the term “dead language” thrown around. This characterization arises from a misconception of how languages live and die, and a hazy distinction between the written and the oral. Oral language is linked immediately with the idea of being alive. But this is a bias. Latin, even if it’s no longer spoken, is present in an astounding number of manuscripts—and writing, particularly literary writing, is a far more durable means of communication than any oral practice. If, therefore, Latin lives on in the most complex form of writing we’ve yet imagined, namely literature, is it not absurd to proclaim it dead?

Latin is alive, and it’s more alive than what we tell our friend at the café or our sweetheart on the phone, in exchanges that leave no trace. Think of it on an even larger scale. In this very moment the entire planet is jabbering, amassing an immeasurable heap of words. And yet those words are already gone. Another heap has already formed, also destined to vanish in an instant.

It’s not enough that the speaker is living to say that the language he or she speaks is alive. A living language is one that endures and produces other languages, which is precisely the case with Latin. I’m not referring to the Romance languages, which were born from spoken Latin, or to the massive contribution of Latin vocabulary to the English lexicon. What I mean to say is that Latin qua literature has inspired the creation of other literature, of other written works, and, as such, distinguishes itself from other ancient languages: those that, even with a written record, are truly dead on the page, since they served in no way as a model for other languages.

 

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I thought this was good:

This also means, though, that if we are going to become missional parishes, and make forming disciples our main emphasis, the Sunday liturgy cannot be our sole focus. It can’t be our “main event.” It can be the place where disciples come to grow in holiness and be sent on mission, (Ite Missa est), but it can’t be the main way we attempt to accomplish our mission to evangelize. It is a way, in the Church’s theology, that we disciple and catechize those who have already made that intentional decision to follow Jesus, since the sacramental economy is not accidental to the Christian life, and, mainly through the homily, it can be a way that we do missional formation and evangelization, but it isn’t primarily how we as a Church have ever primarily, initially made disciples through the work of pre-evangelization and evangelization.

The Mass isn’t ever going to be very good at pre-evangelization, which is what most people in the earlier discipleship thresholds need. The Sunday service at your local evangelical church is always, always going to be able to put the “cookies on the bottom shelf” more effectively than the Mass is. While we both have Sunday worship experiences, the target audience of ours is very different and, I guess what I am wondering is…maybe that is okay?

To me, this is good news because, frankly, in refining the focus of the Mass, we still do not lose our missionary mandate as parishes, so we have to figure out how to do that elsewhere. Outside of some small tweaks with how we approach hospitality and welcoming, or the homily, etc., nothing about the way the liturgy is crafted is ordered with non-believers in mind. It is inherently for disciples, to move them deeper into the mysterium tremendum. It serves the mission in the sense that it sanctifies disciples to prepare them for mission but it’s purpose is not to speak to non-disciples in a way that impacts them and moves them through the thresholds. Even the best tweaks we can make to the Sunday experience will still not allow for the Mass to actually comprise the sum total of our evangelistic efforts, if we want to be missionally impactful in our communities.

If parishes DO want to be more missionally effective, they then have to get really serious about Thinking Outside of Sunday.

 

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If you haven’t read Madeleine Kearns’ NRO cover piece on “The Tragedy of the Trans Child” – here it is. An excellent summary of much of the current situation. 

 

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Good saints coming up next week – including St. Nicholas, so be sure you check out the Saint Nicholas Center in time!

I’ll be in Living Faith on Tuesday – so go here to check that out. 

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

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"amy welborn"

Happy All Saints!

I’m in Living Faith today. 

Before we get rolling here with some Thoughts, I’ll just mention, since it is obligatory on Social Media, our Halloween experience.

Image result for empty space

 

Yeah, nada this year. I don’t think we had any trick-or-treaters last year (our house is in a neighborhood, yes, but the street is kind off enough to take it away from main Halloween traffic), so this year, I didn’t even purchase any candy – we had a few Gansito on hand, so I decided that if anyone showed up, that’s what they’d get.

Well, it was also in the 30’s here in Alabama, so add that to the situation, and you have, again, no trick-or-treaters, and an almost 15-year old who’s been over the holiday for a couple of years, so it was indeed, a quiet night here.

Which is fine. There might be some aspects of Parenting Young Children in America I miss at this point, but not many. My stance is more of walking past various aisles in the store – baby needs, feminine hygiene products, Halloween gear and (especially) Valentines  – and thinking Thank God that part of my life is in the past. What next?

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I am convicted of the truth of the Christian – Catholic faith by odd things. Yes, the traditional arguments and proofs have their power and make sense, but in the end, it is manifestations of paradox and a certain kind of skewing that gives me confidence of the truth. I am not as enamored of Chesterton as some are, but where he does appeal to me is his grasp of the paradox at the heart of reality, reflected and clarified in the Incarnation and the faith that flows from it.

The role of the saints in Catholic life makes a similar argument for me, if you will. There are many things to be said about saints, many ways in which they are used to argue for the Faith: they gave up so much for this…it must  be true. And so on. But I come at the saints from a slightly different angle.

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For when I look at the role of saints within Catholic life and spirituality, I see nothing like it any other institution, culture or subculture in human history. Yes, all cultures honor other human beings, some even have their miracle-workers. They have their wise men and founders, they have their holy fools and mystics.

But in what other human context are rulers and managers and the wealthy told that their life – their real life  – depends on honoring, emulating and humbly seeking the prayers of a beggar?

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Or a young woman who died in her early 20’s, almost completely unknown?

 

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Or a young African woman?

Image result for josephine bakhita

When I consider the Communion of Saints, I see a great deal. I see the Body of Christ, visible and invisible, militant and triumphant. But I also see the breadth and depth of human experience in a way that no other aspect of life affords me and which, in fact, some aspects of life – parochialism, pride, secularism – hide from me. In touch with the saints, I stay in touch with real history in a more complete way, with human experience and with the presence of the Word made Flesh, encountered and embodied in the lives of his saints. Every single day, in the calendar of memorials and feasts, I meet them. I can’t rest easy and pretend that my corner of experience affords me all I need to know.

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Here with the saints, we are taught that grace can dwell in every life, from any corner or level that the world erects. We can’t sit easily, proud and blind and dismissive of the other. The peacemaker is invited to beg the soldier’s prayers. The professor turns to the untutored child martyr. The merchant busily engaged with the world encounters the intense bearded figure, alone in the desert.

 

"amy welborn"

On today’s Solemnity of All Saints, our hearts are dilated to the dimensions of Heaven, exceeding the limits of time and space.

-B16

"amy welborn"

 

 

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And yes, I like to read and write about saints:

 

 

More on my books related to saints here. 

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

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From The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols

 

We all love St. Francis, and most of us know a bit about him, too.

But as many have noted over the years, St. Francis is like Jesus in more ways than one. Like Jesus, he’s put to many uses by people with sometimes wildly varied agendas.

In general, though, we all agree that in essence, Francis of Assisi decided to follow Jesus by giving up material things and living with and for the poor, he really loved nature and he founded a religious order in order to spread his message.

There’s truth in that common portrait, but there are also distortions and gaps.

Because Francis lived so long ago and because the written record is challenging to interpret, the search for the “real Francis” is a fraught one. A few years ago, Fr. Augustine Thompson set to the task, and produced a biography that anyone seriously interested in Francis should read.  I’ve written about it a couple of times, including here. 

Bullet points for brevity’s sake.

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  • Francis didn’t have a plan.  He did not set out to form a band of brothers – at all.   His conversion was a personal one, and the life he lead for the first couple of years after it was the life of a penitent, pure and simple.
  • What was his conversion, exactly?  This actually is a knottier problem than we assume.  It wasn’t simply rejecting a life of relative wealth for a life lived in solidarity with the poor, through Christ.  In fact, well, it doesn’t seem to be fundamentally about that at all.
  • Screen shot 2014-10-05 at 11.50.50 PMFrancis doesn’t say much about this at all himself.  He refers to being “in his sins.”  After his traumatic battle experiences, Christ drew him closer, he abandoned all for Christ, lived as a rather sketchy hermit-type penitent on the outskirts of Assisi, and then, in a crucial moment, encountered a leper.
  • As he describes it himself, lepers had been figures of particular horror to him when he was “in his sins.”  But now, God intervened, converted him, and the leper became a person through whom Francis experienced peace and consolation.
  • Francis sought to do penance, live the Gospel and be a servant.  He did not intend to draw followers, but did, and their initial way of life was simply living in this same way, only in community.
  • It wasn’t until their form of life was approved by Pope Innocent that preaching entered the picture – it was an element that the Pope threw into his approval.  This was a surprise to Francis.

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To me, this is most fascinating because, as I mentioned in the other blog post,when we read history, we often read it with the eyes of inevitability.  As in:  everything unfolds according to intention and human plan.  Just as it is with life in general, this is not the way history is, and it’s not the way the life of Francis was – well, not according to his plan.  For he didn’t have one.

But this interesting turn of events shows how the Spirit shakes us up and turns us in a slightly different direction from where we thought we were going.  It happened to Francis.  He adapted, shakily and slowly.  It happens to us.

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  • When you actually read Francis’ writings, you don’t see some things that you might expect.  You don’t, for example, read a lot of directives about serving the poor.   You don’t see any general condemnations of wealth.  You don’t read a call for all people, everywhere, to live radically according to the evangelical counsels.
  • You do read these sorts of things – although not exactly – in the early guidelines for the friars and the few letters to fellow friars that have come down to us.
  • But surprisingly, it’s not what is emphasized.  So what is?
  • Obedience. 
  • When Francis wrote about Christ embracing poverty, what he speaks of is Christ descending from the glory of heaven and embracing mortal flesh – an act  – the ultimate embrace of poverty – not just material poverty, but spiritual poverty – the ultimate act of obedience.
  • Through this act of obedience, Christ is revealed as the Servant of all.
  • So, as Francis writes many times, his call was to imitate Christ in this respect:  to empty himself and become the lowly servant of all.  To conquer everything that is the opposite: pride, self-regard, the desire for position or pleasure.
  • Francis wrote that the primary enemy in this battle is our “lower nature.”  He wrote that the only thing we can claim for ourselves are our vices and all we have to boast about is Christ.
  • Francis also emphasized proper celebration and reception of the Eucharist – quite a bit.  He had a lot to say about proper and worthy vessels and settings for the celebration of Mass.  He was somewhat obsessed with respectful treatment of paper on which might be written the Divine Names or prayers.  He prescribed how the friars were to pray the Office.
  • The early preaching of the Franciscans was in line with all of this as well as other early medieval penitential preaching: francis of assisithe call to the laity to confess, receive the Eucharist worthily, and to turn from sin.
  • Praise God.  Whatever the circumstances – and especially “bad” circumstances – praise God.
  • Accept persecution.  It’s interesting that Francis routinely resisted church authorities affording his order any privileges or even writing them letters allowing them to preach in a certain vicinity.  He felt that if they entered an area and were rejected, this was simply accepting the Cross of Christ, and should not be avoided.
  • Begging was not a core value for Francis, as we are often led to believe.  He and his friars did manual labor.  In the early days, begging was only allowed on behalf of sick and ailing brothers, and then only for things like food.  No money, ever.
  • He really didn’t like telling people what to do.  Well, my theory was that he actually did – what we know about his personality, pre-conversion, indicates that he was a born leader.  Perhaps his post-conversion mode was not only an imitation of the Servant, but a recognition that his “lower nature” included a propensity to promote himself and direct others.
  • That said, Francis’ emphasis on servanthood meant that his writings don’t contain directions for others beyond what the Gospel says (repent/Eat the Bread of Life) unless he’s forced to – when composing a form of life and so on.   This tension, along with ambiguities in the Franciscan life, made for a very interesting post-Francis history, along with problems during his own lifetime as well.

To me, Francis is a compelling spiritual figure not simply because he lived so radically, but, ironically, because the course of his life seems so normal. 

Why?

— 5 –

Because he had a life.  That life was disrupted, and the disruption changed him.  Disoriented him.  He found a re-orientation in Christ: he found the wellspring of forgiveness for his sins and the grace to conquer them (a lifetime struggle).  His actions had consequences, most of which were totally unintended by him, and to which he had to adapt, as he sought to be obedient to God.  His personality and gifts were well-equipped to deal with some of the new and changing circumstances in his life, and ill-equipped for others.  He died, praising God.

Yes, Francis was all about poverty. All about it.  He was about the poverty of Christ, who was obedient and emptied himself.

“I am the servant of all”  

— 6 —

What can you do to celebrate the feastday of St. Francis of Assisi? Pick some flowers? Pet a wolf?

Maybe.

Or (after you pray) you could read his writings. 

Hardly anyone does, unfortunately. It’s too bad because there’s no reason to avoid them. They aren’t lengthy or dense, and you don’t have to pay to read them. You could read – not deeply, but you could do it – his entire corpus in part of an evening.

Here are links to all his extant works, although you can certainly find them in other places. 

The bulk of what he left was addressed to his brothers, but since most of us are not Franciscans, I’ll excerpt from his Letter to the Faithful:

Of whose Father such was the will, that His Son, blest and glorious, whom He gave to us and who was born for us, would offer his very self through His own Blood as a Sacrifice and Victim upon the altar, not for His own sake, through whom all things were made (cf. Jn 1:3), but for the sake of our sins, leaving us an example, so that we may follow in his footsteps (cf 1 Pet 2:21). And He willed that all might be saved through Him and that we might receive Him with a pure heart and our own chaste body. But there are few, who want to receive Him and be saved by Him, though His yoke is sweet and His burden light (cf. Mt: 11:30). Those who do not want to taste how sweet the Lord is (cf. Ps 33:9) and love shadows more than the Light (Jn 3:19) not wanting to fulfill the commands of God, are cursed; concerning whom it is said through the prophet: “Cursed are they who turn away from Thy commands.” (Ps 118:21). But, o how blessed and blest are those who love God and who do as the Lord himself says in the Gospel: “Love the Lord thy God with your whole heart and with your whole mind and your neighbor as your very self (Mt 22:37.39).

Let us therefore love God and adore Him with a pure heart and a pure mind, since He Himself seeking above all has said: “True adorers will adore the Father in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:23) For it is proper that all, who adore Him, adore Him in the spirit of truth (cf. Jn 4:24). And let us offer (lit.”speak to”) Him praises and prayer day and night (Ps 31:4) saying: “Our Father who art in Heaven” (Mt 6:9), since it is proper that we always pray and not fail to do what we might (Lk 18:1).

If indeed we should confess all our sins to a priest, let us also receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ from him. He who does not eat His Flesh and does not drink His Blood (cf. Jn 6:55.57), cannot enter into the Kingdom of God (Jn 3:5). However let him eat and drink worthily, since he who receives unworthily eats and drinks judgement for himself, and he does not dejudicate the Body of the Lord (1 Cor 11:29), that is he does not discern it. In addition let us bring forth fruits worthy of penance (Lk 3:8). And let us love our neighbors as our very selves (cf. Mt 22:39). And if one does not want to love them as his very self, at least he does not charge them with wicked things, but does good (to them).

Moreover let those who have received the power of judging others exercise it with mercy, just as they themselves wish to obtain mercy from the Lord. For there will be judgment without mercy for those who have not shown mercy (James 2:13). And so let us have charity and humility; and let us give alms, since this washes souls from the filth of their sins (cf. Tob 4:11; 12:9). For men lose everything, which they leave in this world; however they carry with them the wages of charity and the alms, which they gave, for which they will have from the Lord a gift and worthy recompense.

We should also fast and abstain from vices and sins (cf Sir 3:32) and from a superfluity of food and drink and we should be Catholics. We should also frequently visit churches and venerate the clerics and revere them, not only for their own sake, if they be sinners, but for the sake of their office and administration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which they sanctify upon the altar and receive and administer to others. And let us all know firmly, since no one can be saved, except through the words and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which the clerics speak, announce and minister. And only they should minister and not others. Moreover the religious especially, who have renounced the world, are bound to do more and greater things, but not to give up these (cf. Lk 11:42).

We should hold our bodies, with their vices and sins, in hatred, since the Lord says in the Gospel: “All wicked things, vices an sins, come forth from the heart.” (Mt 15:18-19) We should love our enemies and do good to them, who hold us in hatred (cf. Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27). We should also deny ourselves (cf. Mt 16:24) and place our bodies under the yoke of servitude and holy obedience, just as each one has promised the Lord. And no man is bound out of obedience to obey anyone in that, where crime or sin is committed. However to him whom obedience has been committed and whom is held to be greater, let him be as the lesser (Lk 22:26) and the servant of the other friars. And let him show and have mercy for each one of his brothers, as he would want done to himself, if he were in a similar case. Nor let him grow angry with a brother on account of the crime of a brother, but with all patience and humility let him kindly admonish and support him.

We should not be wise and prudent according to the flesh, but rather we should be simple, humble and pure. And let us hold our bodies in opprobrium and contempt, since on account of our own fault we are all wretched and putrid, fetid and worms, just as the Lord say through the prophet: “I am a worm and no man, the opprobium of men and the abject of the people.” (Ps 21:7) Let us never desire to be above others, but rather we should desire that upon all men and women, so long as they will have done these things and persevered even to the end, the Spirit of the Lord might rest (Is 11:2) and fashion in them His little dwelling and mansion (cf. Jn 14:23).

Why such a long excerpt? To give you a taste of what St. Francis was actually concerned about, which is perhaps not what we have been led to believe.

St. Francis is, not suprisingly, one of Bishop Barron’s “Pivotal Players.” So that means I wrote about him in the prayer book. 

Last year, I wrote a lengthy post on Francis. It’s linked here. Earlier this year, I noted that it was unfortunate that a bishop had cited the “Prayer for Peace” as having been penned by St. Francis – it’s wasn’t. 

*****

SO…I decided to write a book trying to communicate this to kids.  I worked, of course, with my friend Ann Engelhart, and the result is Adventures in Assisi, in which two contemporary children travel in Francis’ footsteps, confront their own need for greater charity and humility, and experience the fruit. It’s intended to be a discussion-starter, to get kids talking and thinking and praying about how they treat each other, and how they think about Christ in relationship to their own lives.

I mean..it’s not hard to get kids to get into animals or Christmas creches.  But St. Francis of Assisi was fundamentally about imitating Christ in his poverty of spirit, and I thought that aspect of the saint’s life was woefully underrepresented in Francis Kid Lit.

Here’s an interview Ann and I did with Lisa Hendey:

Q: What prompted you to write/illustrate “Adventures in Assisi” and what will our readers discover in this book?

Amy: I love history and I love to travel and the saints are central to my Catholic spirituality. In my teaching and writing, I’ve always particularly enjoyed bringing Catholic tradition and history to readers and listeners and many of my books reflect that interest.

St. Francis of Assisi has always interested me not only because his is a truly compelling, radical figure, but also because he is  rather mysterious.  The radical nature of his conversion and the singularity of his journey is unique, but the legends and stories that have grown around him over the past eight hundred years have only added to the mystique and have always piqued my curiosity.  My earliest encounters with Francis were both quite memorable, although both were rooted, I now understand, in more fiction, personal ideology and a cultural moment than fact – reading NIkos Kazantzakis’ St. Francis as a teenager and seeing Brother Sun, Sister Moon with my friends from the Catholic campus ministry in college.  Despite the serious limitations of both, what moved me in these works was my vivid and thought-provoking encounter with the possibility that radical sacrifice was, paradoxically, the path to fullness of life.

In the subsequent years, I encountered St. Francis here and there.  I taught his story when I taught high school theology.  I wrote about him in the Loyola books. I wrote about his prayers in The Words We Pray.  Over the years, I probably read every existing children’s picture book about Francis to my own children, most of which were about either the wolf of Gubbio or the Christmas creche.

And then, a few years ago, I read the new biography of Francis by Fr. Augustine Thompson OP  – Francis of Assisi: A New Biography.  It’s a tight, compact, rich work, and Fr.Thompson’s insights struck me to the core, so once again, St. Francis moved me…. MORE

Q: Ann, please say a few words on the artwork in this new book. How did you conceive of the characters “look”? What type of research do you have to undertake to artfully depict a venue like Assisi?

Ann: I was able to visit Assisi on two occasions, once with my teenage children and another time alone with my husband. I was able to walk the same paths as the characters in this book as they followed St. Francis’ footsteps.

I took countless photos because the style of my work is quite detailed, and I wanted the reader to authentically experience the exquisite Umbrian landscapes, the extraordinary architecture that is both grand and humble, and the simple beauty of the country roads and olive groves that surround St. Francis’ hilltop hometown….

MORE

— 7 —

Finally:

How about that Peace Prayer of St. Francis, guys?!

Nope.
The incorrect association of “Make me an instrument of your peace” with St. Francis runs so deeply now, it’s presented, unquestioningly, that way on the USCCB website, but still. It shouldn’t be this way. Truth matters, in areas great and small.

I explored the matter in my book The Words We Pray.  There are a couple of pages available for perusing online.  I think the actual history of the prayer makes it even more interesting than it is as a mythical pronouncement of St. Francis. Also, when Make me a channel of your peace comes to define the saint, we miss out on even more challenging words. Try it. Read his letters and Rule. 

A bit more on who didn’t write what – some other incorrect attributions out there. 

Tomorrow?

St. Faustina, who’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

 


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

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I attended Vanderbilt for my MA.   I was in the graduate school, but my classes were in Vanderbilt Divinity School. (Difference?  I was going for an MA in Church History, not an M.Div – a professional degree. So, Graduate School, not Div School). Most of my classmates were being educated for ministry in some Protestant denomination, mostly Methodist (Vanderbilt being an historically Methodist school) or Lutheran.

One afternoon, I was talking to a friend, a woman who was a Lutheran seminarian.  I cannot remember what seminar we were taking together, but the topic of our conversation was the paper for the course. What would we write about?  We ran over topics, we mused, we discussed.

And what struck me, and what sticks in my mind almost 30 years (!) later  – it’s so weird that I can remember even that we were standing in an office of some sort, talking –  was her end of the conversation. As I said, I don’t remember which class this was, but every possible paper topic she considered had, of course, Martin Luther at the center.  Luther’s views on……Whatever topic as seen through the prism of Luther’s thoughts….     Understanding X in the context of Luther’s writings on Galatians….

And I thought…

How boring.

How boring to have your Christianity defined by the perspective of one theologian who lived in one tiny corner of Christian history. 

(Sorry, Lutherans!)

I’ve thought of that often in the years since, as I’ve been grateful for the dynamic, if sometimes fraught diversity of Catholicism,which simply reflects the reality of what happens when the Word becomes Flesh.  In the Catholic context, it’s most clearly seen, of course, in religious orders, all of which have different – sometimes radically different – charisms and spiritual sensibilities, but co-exist in the awareness that the body as many parts: Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, Jesuits, Cistercians, active orders of women and men….etc.

So it has been over the past few years that I have marveled at some people’s insistence that Pope Francis, in his priorities and public expressions, defines  – or is in the process of redefining Catholicism. What? Actually, that’s not supposed to be the way it is – Catholicism is supposed to define him, as is the case with all of us.  Five tips for happiness from Pope Francis. How can bishops and priests be more like Pope Francis? Following Pope Francis this Lent…..Want to live like Pope Francis?

In addition, as social media takes over the scene and everything, even spirituality, seems to be filtered through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and the like, we see the dominance of I guess what you could call inspirational influencers, people of all denominations and traditions who’ve grabbed these platforms in the name of “faith sharing” and “inspiring” but somehow managed to invariably place themselves – their daily lives, their past and present struggles and victories, their children, their adventures, their advice, their personal care regimes – all at the center of your feed. Constantly.

There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by the particular charism and angle of a particular figure – of course! I certainly am!  A particular figure can help us draw closer to Jesus and the Church, certainly – that person can be our grandmother, our friend, a pastor, a friend, a writer or mystic, an activist or the Pope.  We can see something in that person that sparks us to take a closer look at Christ.

At Christ. 

Just as is the case with religious orders, so it is with saints. As far as I’m concerned, children’s religious education could be totally designed around the lives and thoughts of the saints – you get it all – spiritual formation, history, theology, ecclesiology, liturgy. Boom.

So here are the major saints from this coming week’s calendar (beginning today) – a typical week, really, expressing the diversity of Christ’s Church and the generous way in which God’s grace permeates all of life, at every stage, in every walk of life and every type of person.  We have men and

EPSON MFP image

women, clergy, secular rulers, mystics, martyrs and a fisherman.

These saints  would certainly welcome you, advise you to the best of their ability, teach you, listen to you, pray with you and be glad that you were inspired by some element of their life and thinking, but would also be horrified to think that you might be defining your Christian faith by their particular spiritual path rather than that of Christ through His Church.  Because, you know, that’s humility. Real humility, which understands when stuff is becoming to much about yourself and your personal vision and in humility – backs off.

In most of these images, the gaze of the saints is certainly fixed, and in their example, they invite us to look, not at them, but with them.

"amy welborn"

July 20: Apolinnaris

July 21: Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor of the Church

July 22: Mary Magdalene

July 23: Bridget of Sweden

July 24: Charbel Maklhouf

July 25: James, Apostle

Come back every day this week for a bit more on each of these saints. 

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— 1 —

Getting ready here – ready to write the “Pre-trip letter of death,” as we call it – the email I send out to my adult kids before a big trip. You know: location of the estate documents, attorney contact information, detailed (to the extent that it’s been planned) itinerary, insurance information, passport #s.

Fun!

You know why I do this right? There’s some superstition involved, yes: if I overprepare for disaster nothing will happen. But it’s also just, in my mind, an act of love. I’ve dealt with two deaths and estates over the past ten years: my husband’s and my dad’s (my mother died 18 years ago, just a few days after J was born, so I really had no involvement until the final Do you want any of this? stage.) – one unexpected and one, if not entirely predicted, not a total shock, considering he’d been smoking for sixty years and drinking heavily for a lot of that as well.

And you know what? It’s a pain in the neck. I mean – even with a will and other preparations, it’s a hassle, added on top of grief. Who needs that? Life is so complicated now, it’s not as if you can just shut the door and move on. If something happens to me or us, I owe it to the people I’m leaving behind to make the clean-up as smooth as possible. That begins with leaving clear instructions .

Well, it actually starts with having a will and other pertinent documents…you’ve got that, right?

(New readers don’t know this, but my late husband didn’t have a will at the time of his death – and neither did I, of course. It was a huge hassle, and issues still pop up occasionally, mainly related to publishing contracts. Get your wills made and make sure every account you have (529/401K/mutual funds) has designated heirs  – a “successor owner.”)

 — 2 —

 

So what else do I do besides write the letter-of-death to prepare for three weeks in Europe? Maybe do a little planning? A little.

(In my own defense, I secured the Seville apartment back in February, when we first settled on the trip. Airfare came much later – in April.)

I finally did start some thinking – mostly about post-Seville –  and discovered the delightful note that one of our weirder destinations – the cemetery from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly  – is just kilometers away from the monastery of the famed Chant monks – S. Domingo de Silos. It will be a spectacular end to the trip, all round, for everyone, with all of our…interests.

(There’s a good, if overlong documentary on the effort to find and restore the cemetery – it’s called Sad Hill Unearthed and you can watch it here.)

I also realized that we’ll be in Seville during Corpus Christi (June 20), with a great-looking procession and hopefully other activities. We’ll be in Spain for St. John’s Day – and Spain, as in many European countries, St. John’s Eve is celebrated with bonfires. The Spain bonfires seem to be mostly centered in beach areas, but I’m still looking….

Corpus Christi in Sevilla

— 3 —

Pentecost is coming! Is your parish dropping rose petals from the ceiling?

 

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-4–

I don’t know anything about the “40 Book Challenge” – but here’s a parent/librarian who pushed back against what she describes as its misuse:

In our district, kids were challenged to read 40 books. They would read 20 books the first semester and another 20 books the second semester. They had to read a very regimented list of books and were required to keep a reading log AND to fulfill a one page question sheet for each completed book to get credit. They were graded and after the first semester, when many of the kids hadn’t read the first 20 books, they had to turn in a sheet each Friday and if they didn’t their punishment was to give up their recess to walk laps. Only two of the options each semester were free choice books, everything else was designed to make them read a variety of genres. Half of the books had to be over 80 pages in length. It was a one size fits all approach that left little wiggle room for the various types and stages of readers. It was limiting, punitive, and left little room for enjoyment or exploration. And it highly regulated our children’s freedom outside of class, which is incredibly difficult because school time is now so very regulated and regimented.

This is how that first semester went in our home. As I attempted to keep my child on task to meet the various requirements and goals, we fought. A lot. My child, already behind and feeling a lot of insecurity and resenment towards reading, responded exactly as you would expect. She cried. She fought. She procrastinated. She told me she hated reading. She told me she hated me. She told me she was stupid and a failure and that she hated herself. It was a very difficult semester in our home, for everyone. But most importantly, I worried that she wasn’t going to make it out of the 4th grade with any positive emotions surrounding herself, me or reading. It felt like everyone was being harmed and damaged.

–5 —

“‘The Great Convent Scandal'” That Transfixed Victorian England.” Somewhat interesting, but I’m left confused by exactly why the bullies fixated on this particular nun:

One hundred and fifty years ago a legal case involving three nuns was front-page news in Britain and Ireland. The plaintiff was Susanna Mary Saurin, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, and she was suing her former superiors, Mary Starr and Mary Kennedy, for false imprisonment, libel, assault and conspiracy to force her out of the order. Or as the barrister representing Saurin put it, “wretched little bits of spite and hatred … heightened by all those small acts of torture with which women are so profoundly and so peculiarly acquainted”.

Saurin, also known as Sister Mary Scholastica, was not an obvious person to embarrass the Church; she was from an Irish Catholic family and two of her sisters were Carmelite nuns. One brother was a Jesuit and her uncle was a parish priest. Nor had Saurin been pressurised to become a nun. Her parents felt that two daughters in the convent was quite sufficient and consented with reluctance.

She was sent to a new convent in Yorkshire where Starr was the superior, with Kennedy as her deputy. Problems began after Starr asked Saurin what conversation she had had with the priest when she was in Confession, Saurin not unnaturally refused to say, and thereafter matters went from bad to worse.

Saurin claimed in the trial to have been subjected to numerous petty but vindictive actions by Starr and Kennedy. She claimed she was accused of disobedience for writing to her uncle, the priest, and she was not provided with letters sent by her family – either that or she was only allowed to have them for a short period before they were torn up.

— 6 —

More on the Chant  recording, 25 years old this year. I didn’t know that it was a compilation of older recordings:

Maybe most perplexing is the fact that the recordings had come out years earlier, on four separate releases between 1973 and 1982. These were later packaged into a two-disc set, Las Mejores Obras del Canto Gregoriano, which was released in Spain, where it reached Number One in 1993. The Spanish label that put it out marketed it as a stress reliever. This tipped off Angel that it could be a hit, if they could figure out how to sell it.

“We consciously decided to go for the widest possible distribution, the widest possible sales opportunity,” Steven Murphy, Angel’s president, told the Times. “So we took a very classically packaged product, with two CDs and a demure cover and lots of notes about the works, and we programmed a one-CD version of it. We called it Chant, so it would have a name the way a pop album does. And we came up with the cover as a way of appealing to a young audience.”

Improbably, the label’s marketing campaign — coupled with a general zeitgeist that propelled New Agey, Chant-adjacent ensembles like Enigma and Dead Can Dance to stardom — turned it into a hit.

“It’s hip in its own right,” Murphy said of the album to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s not unlike when you had the sound of Jimi Hendrix and the acoustic Grateful Dead. Now, you have Pearl Jam and Chant all in the same space. They are not exclusive.”

It became such a phenomenon, in fact, that the monks’ Spanish monastery, located in Burgos, became a tourist trap in the mid-Nineties. Another Angel rep told Entertainment Weekly in January 1995 that rooms in the abbey were booked through the summer — even if it wasn’t open to all. When the label was running a promotion to win a chance to spend the night there, they had to exclude women because of the monks’ rules. “If a woman wins, she’ll stay in a nearby hotel and be taken on a guided tour,” the rep told the magazine.

 

— 7 —

Writing notes:

Pentecost is coming:

amy-welborn-books

 

From The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes which, annoyingly enough, has been unavailable since late April (high season). I assume they are trying to get another printing done, but why it’s taking so long I have no idea. 

I was in Living Faith earlier this week. 

Crystal Embers by [Vining, David]My 2020 daily devotional won’t, of course, start until Advent 2019, but it will be published in about a month. So if you’d like to take a look at it and consider it, for example, as a gift for your school’s teachers or parish/diocesan staff – you’ll have plenty of time!

And…one of my older sons is prepping another novel for publication – Crystal Embers. 

You can read an excerpt here – along with his almost daily thoughts on film.

 

A civil war ends, and a knight returns home to a land and wife he no longer knows. A wife mourns over her lost child as her husband returns from years of civil strife. Alone, they have nothing, but together perhaps they could rebuild.

Before they can try on their own, though, they encounter a dragon on their land. Swept up in the flying monster’s beauty and power, they pack up and leave the home that holds nothing for them anymore.

The pair travel through the war torn countryside, seeing the remnants of violence that plague the land while chasing a dragon that flies above it all.

In a land of dying magic and open wounds, follow the knight and his lady as they search for meaning in a new world for both of them.

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

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June is dedicated in a special way to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Mary’s heart – the Immaculate Heart of Mary – is the focus of August).

In a time and culture in which hardly any of us understand what love actually is, in which dehumanizing hate and contempt dominate public discourse, a daily prayer (you can find some here) focused simply on love might just have surprising power.

In a church culture which often reflects contemporary values that emphasize achievement and self-actualization and fulfillment by doing the Next Big Amazing Thing in Your Very Big Amazing Life, a daily prayer centered on opening ourselves to sharing the love pouring forth from the heart of Jesus in just ordinary ways might provide a welcome refocus as we get our bearings for summer.

Here are the pages on the Sacred Heart from The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 

Click on each image for a larger version.

As you can see, the structure of the book is: for every entry, the left-hand page features a beautiful illustration and a brief definition. On the facing page, you will find a longer explanation, suitable for older children.

More about the book – and the others in the series – here. 

 

 

 

 

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— 1 —

 Lots and lots of new readers, thanks to a link from New Advent. Thanks, Kevin!

A note to those new readers: I blog almost every day, in some form or another. Most of what I write here is inspired by things I read, watch or just see. My main purpose here is to share (hopefully) interesting information that might help readers see a slightly bigger and broader chunk of the world and perhaps even make sense of it.

If you look at the row of tabs up there, you can see links to pages on which I’ve collected some of my thoughts on a few topics.

You might want to make a point of keeping up with this blog through the month of June, as in a few days, we are heading to Spain!

 — 2 —

Today is the feast of the Visitation. I wrote about it in my book, Mary and the Christian Life. Here’s an excerpt from the chapter:

For centuries, the disciples of Jesus have easily and joyfully
incorporated Mary into their spiritual lives. With the angel, we
greet Mary. With Elizabeth, we call her blessed.
Why? Because we sense that in greeting Mary, we welcome the
Christ she bears.
In greeting her, we offer indirect but powerful praise to God,
for it is God who has done this. God has entered creation in this
most ordinary moment, in this most ordinary way.
In the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, so much resonates and
gently gestates outside the women’s wombs. Mary has traveled
so far, in haste, to meet the older woman whom, we are told, had
been living in seclusion herself.
One travels, one welcomes, and in their meeting, in this visitation,
we see the heart of hospitality, welcome, and friendship.
One way to look at it is this: these two women recognize
the action of God in each other’s lives. They have listened and
heard good news about each other, and they bring it all into their
encounter. They treasure each other. They treasure the new lives
growing within. They are attentive to those little lives as well.

**In honor of the Feast of the Visitation, Mary and the Christian Life will be available for free all day Friday and Saturday. It’s normally only .99 anyway, but still!**

visitation_yy_la_canne-e1432834856937

— 3 —

Source

-4–

An interesting find from Melanie Bettinelli: The Moby Dick Big Read

In the spring of 2011, artist Angela Cockayne and writer Philip Hoare convened and curated a unique whale symposium and exhibition at The Levinsky Gallery, the dedicated contemporary art space at The Arts Institute (formerly Peninsula Arts), University of Plymouth, under the title, Dominion. Inspired by their mutual obsession with Moby-Dick and with the overarching subject of the whale, they invited artists, writers, musicians, scientists and academics to respond to the theme. The result was an enthusiastic response which evidently could not be contained within the physical restrictions of a gallery space and a three-day symposium.

‘I have written a wicked book’, said Melville when his novel was first published in 1851, ‘and I feel as spotless as the lamb’. Deeply subversive, in almost every way imaginable, Moby-Dick is a virtual, alternative bible – and as such, ripe for reinterpretation in this new world of new media. Out of Dominion was born its bastard child – or perhaps its immaculate conception – the Moby-Dick Big Read: an online version of Melville’s magisterial tome: each of its 135 chapters read out aloud, by a mixture of the celebrated and the unknown, to be broadcast online in a sequence of 135 downloads, publicly and freely accessible.

–5 —

From C.C. Pecknold at the Catholic Herald:

By some miracle, in the midst of this cultural devastation, St. John’s has gone from 50 sporadic parishioners to over 300 every Sunday. The friars just began celebrating Mass ad orientem, and so I asked if the native parishioners objected. He said that once he explained that “this is how it used to be done,” that facing Christ together was one of “the old ways,” they immediately embraced it as something hopeful, and something their ancestors would have known when they were converted hundreds of years ago by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries. It struck me as a fitting response.

It’s tragic to see the devastation. It’s like the trail of tears has never ended. But I saw the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit love these people. With the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit I saw a glimpse of hope for these people. Not material hope mind you, since the tribe is immensely wealthy while the people still live in true material and cultural destruction — a lot like the so-called post-Christian West. What I did glimpse, though, was a greater interior hope. Seeing the Eucharistic sacrifice at the heart of the mission, and faithful friars radiating God’s presence in the midst of their suffering, I suddenly felt joy that the image of God, so beaten down, could find a sanctuary, an oasis, life-giving water, even in the desert of desolation. I had hope that these people could be raised up, not by their tribe, but by the City of God in their midst.

— 6 —

Pentecost is coming to town – we missed it last year – I think because the boys had to serve at the convent – but we will not miss it this year – the Descent of the Rose Petals at the Cathedral of St. Paul here in Birmingham! (Inspired by the same event at the Pantheon in Rome)

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You can see what the music will be – thanks to our fantastic Sacred Music program – here. 

— 7 —

A couple of other writing notes – mine and other’s:

Since it’s the Visitation, check out related excerpts from The Words We Pray (the chapter on the Hail Mary) and The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. The stories in the latter are arranged according to when in the liturgical year a Catholic child would most likely hear it in the context of the Mass – so Advent for this one. The narrative ends by pointing out specifically Catholic ties to the story, as well as recollection and reflection questions. Click on images to see a clearer, readable version.

 

And…one of my older sons is prepping another novel for publication – Crystal Embers. 

You can read an excerpt here – along with his almost daily thoughts on film.

Here he is in a short video, looking at the proof of the paperback:

Pre-order here.

 

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

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