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Image result for velazquez mary martha

We are now in the heart of summer, at least in the northern hemisphere. This is the period in which schools are closed and the greater part of the holidays are concentrated. Even the pastoral activities in parishes are reduced and I myself have suspended the Audiences for a while. It is therefore a favourable time to give priority to what is effectively most important in life, that is to say, listening to the word of the Lord. We are also reminded of this by this Sunday’s Gospel passage with the well known episode of Jesus’ visit to the house of Martha and Mary, recounted by St Luke (10: 38-42).

Martha and Mary are two sisters; they also have a brother, Lazarus, but he does not appear on this occasion. Jesus is passing through their village and, the text says, Martha received him at her home (cf. 10: 38). This detail enables us to understand that Martha is the elder of the two, the one in charge of the house. Indeed, when Jesus has been made comfortable, Mary sits at his feet and listens to him while Martha is totally absorbed by her many tasks, certainly due to the special Guest. 
We seem to see the scene: one sister bustling about busily and the other, as it were, enraptured by the presence of the Teacher and by his words. A little later Martha, who is evidently resentful, can no longer resist and complains, even feeling that she has a right to criticize Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me”. Martha would even like to teach the Teacher! Jesus on the other hand answers her very calmly: “Martha, Martha”, and the repetition of her name expresses his affection, “you are anxious and troubled about many things; only one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (10: 41-42). Christ’s words are quite clear: there is no contempt for active life, nor even less for generous hospitality; rather, a distinct reminder of the fact that the only really necessary thing is something else: listening to the word of the Lord; and the Lord is there at that moment, present in the Person of Jesus! All the rest will pass away and will be taken from us but the word of God is eternal and gives meaning to our daily actions.

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

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Let’s talk about that painting. I do love it. But then, I just love Velázquez, period. I probably stood in front of Las Meninas for fifteen minutes when I saw it in the Prado a few years ago. I didn’t want to leave. I’ve seen many well-known paintings in person after getting to know them in reproduction form, but the difference between the real and the reproduction was never as vivid as it was to me with that work.

Anyway, what do you see in that painting?

There are varied interpretations. My initial gut reaction – immediate – was that the resentful-looking young woman in the foreground is Martha herself. But most experts don’t see it that way.

One view:

It is one Velázquez’s early genre paintings, referred to as bodegones, which seems simple at first sight, but may be harder to decipher. We are to interpret the kitchen scene in light of the image of Christ speaking to Mary and Martha in the upper right corner. Christ rebukes Martha for criticizing her sister Mary for sitting at Christ’s feet while she works to prepare the meal. Jesus explains that Mary has chosen the better part and that it will not be taken away from her. Is the older woman, in turn, rebuking the younger one? If so she seems to be calling her to harder work, not less of it. Or, is she pointing her directly to the scene, reminding her of her more important duties?

The young woman has a look that attracts sympathy. She’s been working hard: just look at her red hands! You can see her youth in her pale and smooth skin, which contrast strongly with the older woman. Is she new to the work and being taught how to do it (or chastised for not doing it well enough)? She’s looking away from it and must be longing for something else. Is she feeling like Martha, wanting to get away from it, either fed up with it and/or wishing for something better. Her red hands (unused to work?) contrast with her earrings and lace head-cover.

The older woman clearly has more experience and perhaps more wisdom. Is she more like Martha, encouraging harder work, or is she actually encouraging the opposite by pointing to Christ in the image? Her hand that points to the image also contains a rosary wrapped around it, showing her devotion to prayer. She’s clearly admonishing or encouraging the younger woman, which may place her in the role of Christ pointing to the “one thing necessary” that Christ named in Mary’s devotion.

The image from the Gospels could be a painting on the wall, though some have suggested it could also be a mirror or even a window into the scene. Any of those options, however, still indicate that the painting of the two women should be interpreted in light of Christ’s encounter with Mary and Martha in Luke 10. The relation of work, prayer, and hospitality are the key themes that connect them. 

Another:

“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” depicts a scene of a maid preparing garlic mayonnaise to go with the fish that will be served for dinner. The maid’s expression indicates she is upset and the woman behind her is calling attention to a scene in the upper right corner of the painting. We can not be sure if the smaller scene (like an inset) is intended to be a reflection in a mirror, a hatch (an opening) through which we are looking into an adjacent room, or a painting on the kitchen wall. Velázquez used devices such as reflections and paintings within paintings throughout his career.

In the usual interpretation of this painting, the two figures in the kitchen and the figures in the upper right hand scene are many centuries apart in time. The smaller scene shows Jesus seated in the home of Martha and Mary (Luke 10: 38-42). Mary is seated at his feet and Martha is standing behind her. In the biblical story, Martha became busy serving food and drink while Mary seemed oblivious to the fact that her sister was doing all of the work alone. Instead of helping her sister, Mary sat down and listened to Jesus. Martha was frustrated at this and wondered if Jesus cared that her sister was leaving all of the serving chores up to her; she hoped Jesus would ask Mary to help her. Jesus told Martha that her concern was misplaced and that in sitting and listening to him, Mary had made a good choice.

The frustration of the maid pictured by Velázquez is similar to that of Martha. She is trying to make preparations for a meal but is working by herself and is distraught about all that needs to be done. The woman behind her is calling the maid’s attention to the scene of Jesus, Martha, and Mary; pointing out that spiritual nourishment is an important part of life as well.

It has been suggested this kitchen scene is not set in seventeenth century Spain but rather is in the home of Martha and Mary when Christ was there. If this interpretation of the painting is accepted, the person believed to be an upset maid in the kitchen is actually Martha herself and the second woman with Jesus in the smaller scene is another guest.

 

 

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Yes, this coming Thursday is and remains Ascension Thursday, American Latin Rite bishops notwithstanding.

(If you still want to get your Ascension Thursday on…try the Ordinariate or Eastern Catholic Churches )

One of my favorite places on the internet is the blog (and Twitter feed) of Eleanor Parker, “A Clerk at Oxford.”  She’s an English medievalist who is constantly sharing fascinating nuggets related to her field. Here’s a post on Rogationtide – three days before Ascension Thursday (which would begin tomorrow – Tuesday):

In medieval England, Rogationtide – the three days preceding Ascension Day – was a period of fasting, prayer and processions around the countryside, invoking God’s blessing on the land and the crops of the future harvest.

She has a substantial citation from a 10th century Rogationtide homily, and explains:

The image of the sun comes from St Augustine (Ælfric says he will explain the Trinity swa swa se wisa Augustinus be ðære Halgan Þrynnysse trahtnode), but there’s an implicit relevance to the Rogationtide context: Ælfric talks about how the fruitfulness of the earth, the course of the year and the seasons illustrate the gap between divine knowledge and human perception, and of course that’s precisely the gap Rogationtide seeks to bridge by asking for God’s blessing on the earth. The nature of the sun is a good topic for a summer sermon, since if you are engaged in praying for a good harvest, the sun’s light and heat which make the crops grow are like God’s favour made visible. (Perhaps it was a sunny May day when Ælfric wrote this homily, and he imagined the congregation looking up at “the sun which shines above us”.) And if Rogation processions actively take God’s presence out into the world, consecrating the area beyond the church walls as sacred space, Ælfric’s emphasis on the omnipresence of God – permeating further even than the light of the sun – is a reminder to his congregation that by processing they are in a way participating in this spreading of God’s presence. Rogationtide processions follow the boundaries of the parish, reinforcing territorial markers, and encircling fields, woods, orchards, as blessed and sanctified space; but Ælfric tells us that God’s presence has no boundaries, for him ne wiðstent nan ðing, naðer ne stænen weall ne bryden wah; ‘nothing withstands him, neither stone walls nor broad barriers’.

It is quite a different approach from so much of what we see and hear today, isn’t it?

Old and Busted: Theological concepts and their Spirit-guided formation as Church doctrines are expressions of truth,  gateways to deeper understanding, and, as we look around us with an open mind, we recognize how the Stuff of Life, both external and internal, reflects this Truth.  Basically: Doctrine, in its limited way, reflects what is Real.

New Hotness:  Theological concepts and doctrines are the product of human effort that obscure truth and are obstacles to what is Real.  #Rigid

But guess what? When we listen to the stories of conversion, both classic and modern, the common thread we so often see is this:

A person has lived his or her life and, here and there, bumped up against the Gospel. He has been mildly interested, repelled, attracted – or a combination of all these and more.

But at some point, he realizes something: these teachings that may have seemed like curious or irritating words and phrases actually express a truth that he has experienced in his life. 

The doctrines and the reality of life match. 

The doctrines explain life. Finally, it all makes sense. 

Maybe not so old and busted.

There is still deep mystery – and as the homily Parker quotes indicates, this is not news. Humility demands that we understand the limits of human language and thinking in the light of the Divine.

This is not “rigidity.” It is an exciting, humble journey based on trust that when Jesus said he was the Way, the Truth and the Life…he meant it.

 

Image result for rogationtide

 

 

From Enid Chadwick’s absolutely lovely My Book of the Church Year – Anglican, of course! Go here to see the whole thing.

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Since May is Mary’s month, over the next few days, I’ll be highlighting aspects of my books related to Mary. Let’s start with something free. 

When you publish on Amazon Kindle, you have a certain number of days during each quarter in which you can offer promotions of free books. I have one more day in this quarter for Mary and the Christian Life and so just for 5/2 (starting and ending at midnight), it’s free! (And it’s usually only .99 so….if you miss it, you can certainly swing a dollar, right?)

An excerpt to get you going:

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Mother’s Day is still over a week away, but I thought I’d toss this out there, especially for any priests who might wander by. It’s a repeat of an old post, but still, I think, worth considering:

My mother & a friend in Nogales, 1950’s.

The question of how to “recognize” mothers at a Mother’s Day Mass is a fraught one.

There is, of course, the view (mine) that everything that happens at Mass should relate only to the liturgical year. Stop doing all the other stupid things, thanks. As a community, we’re free to celebrate whatever in whatever way we choose outside of Mass, but when it comes to Very Special Mass in Honor of Very Special Groups of any sort – scouts, moms, dads, youth, ‘Muricans….I’m against it.

But of course, over the years, American sentimental pop culture creeps into the peripheries of liturgical observance, and quite often, here we are at Mass on the second Sunday of May, with the expectation that the Moms present must be honored.

I mean…I went to the trouble to go to Mass for the first time in four months to make her happy…you’d better honor her….

This is problematic, however, and it’s also one of those situations in which the celebrant often feels that he just can’t win. No matter what he does, someone will be angry with him, be hurt, or feel excluded.

Because behind the flowers and sentiment, Mother’s Day is very hard for a lot of people – perhaps it’s the most difficult holiday out there for people in pain.

So when Father invites all the moms present to stand for their blessing at the end of Mass and the congregation applauds….who is hurting?

  • Infertile couples
  • Post-abortive women
  • Post-miscarriage women
  • Women whose children have died
  • People who have been abused by their mothers
  • People with terrible mothers, even short of outright abuse
  • Women have placed children for adoption
  • People who’ve recently lost their mothers. Or not so recently.
  • Women who are not now and might never be biological or adoptive mothers and who wonder about that and are not sure about how they feel about it.

And then there are those of us who value our role as mothers, but who really think Mother’s Day is lame and would just really prefer that you TRY TO GET ALONG FOR ONE STUPID DAY instead of giving me some flowers and politely clapping at Mass.

So awkward.

Nope. Making Mothers stand up, be blessed and applauding them (the worst) at Mass is a bad idea for a lot of reasons.

It’s not that people should expect to be sheltered from the consequences of their choices and all that life has handed them when the enter the church doorway.

The Catholic way is the opposite of that – after all, the fundamental question every one of us carries is that of death, and every time we enter a Catholic church we are hit with that truth, sometimes more than life-sized.

No, the question is more: Catholic life and tradition has a lot to say and do when it comes to parenthood – in ways, if you think about it, that aren’t sentimental and take into account the limitations of human parenthood and root us, no matter how messed-up our families are or how distant we feel from contemporary ideals of motherhood – in the parenthood of God. Live in that hope, share it, and be formed by that, not by commercially-driven American pop culture.

So here’s a good idea. It happened at my parish a couple of years ago, and is the standard way of recognizing the day.

Because we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it.  So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.

So, quite simply, at the end of Mass as we were standing for the final blessing, the celebrant mentioned that it was Mother’s Day (it hadn’t been mentioned before this), and said that as such, it was an appropriate day to pray for our mothers, living and deceased, and to ask our Blessed Mother for her intercession for them and for us. Hail Mary…

Done.

And done in a way that, just in its focus, implicitly acknowledges and respects the diversity of experiences of motherhood that will be present in any congregation, and, without sentiment or awkward overreach, does that Catholic thing, rooted in tradition  – offers the whole mess up, in trust.

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john baptist de la salle

Today is the feastday of St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, the 17th-18th century French priest, founder of the Christian Brothers, who revolutionized education.

In brief:

Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719) is one of the most important figures in the history of education. As the founder of the Institute for the Brothers of the Christian Schools – not to be confused with the Irish Christian Brothers – he showed a revolutionary fervour for the education of the poor.

In teaching techniques, too, he was an innovator, insisting on grouping pupils together by ability rather than by age. Against the traditional emphasis on Latin, he stressed that reading and writing in the vernacular should be the basis of all learning.

Equally, Catholic dogma should lie at the root of all ethics. Yet de la Salle also introduced modern languages, arts, science and technology into the curriculum. Of his writings on education, Matthew Arnold remarked: “Later works on the same subject have little improved the precepts, while they entirely lack the unction.”

From a LaSallian page:

John Baptist"john baptist de la salle" de La Salle was a pioneer in founding training colleges for teachers, reform schools for delinquents, technical schools, and secondary schools for modern languages, arts, and sciences. His work quickly spread through France and, after his death, continued to spread across the globe. In 1900 John Baptist de La Salle was declared a Saint. In 1950, because of his life and inspirational writings, he was made Patron Saint of all those who work in the field of education. John Baptist de La Salle inspired others how to teach and care for young people, how to meet failure and frailty with compassion, how to affirm, strengthen and heal. At the present time there are De La Salle schools in 80 different countries around the globe.

An excellent summary of the life of the saint can be found at a webpage dedicated to a set of beautiful stained-glass windows portraying the main events.

Not surprisingly, de la Salle left many writings behind. Many, if not all, are available for download at no cost here. 

All are of great interest. De la Salle wrote on education, of course, but since his vision of education was holistic, he is concerned with far more than the transmission of abstract knowledge or skills.

You might be interested in reading his Rules of Christian Decorum and Civility.

It is incredibly detailed. Some might find the detail off-putting or amusing. I see it as a fascinating window into the past and a reminder, really, of the incarnational element of everyday life. The introduction to the modern edition notes:

De La Salle sought, instead, to limit the impact of rationalism on the Christian School, and he believed that a code of decorum and civility could be an excellent aid to the Christian educator involved in the work of preserving and fostering faith and morals in youth. He believed that although good manners were not always the expression of good morals, they could contribute strongly to building them. While he envisioned acts of decorum and civility as observing the established customs and thereby protecting the established social order, he envisioned them more profoundly as expressions of sincere charity. In this way the refinement of the gentleman would become a restraint on and an antidote to self-centeredness, the root of individual moral transgressions as well as the collective evil in human society.

Perhaps we can see a key difference here – the difference between educating with a goal of prioritizing self-expression and self-acceptance and that of prioritizing love of others and self-forgetfulness.

Huh.

 

A sample:

Decorum requires you to refrain from yawning when with others, especially when with people to whom you owe respect. Yawning is a sign that you are bored either with the compabruegel-yawning-man.jpg!Largeny or with the talk of your companions or that you have very little esteem for them. If, however, you find that you cannot help yawning, stop talking entirely, hold your hand or your handkerchief in front of your mouth, and turn slightly aside, so that those present cannot notice what you are doing. Above all, take care when yawning not to do anything unbecoming and not to yawn too much. It is very unseemly to make noise while yawning and much worse to yawn while stretching or sprawling out.

You need not refrain entirely from spitting. It is a very disgusting thing to swallow what you ought to spit out; it can make you nauseated. Do not, however, make a habit of spitting often and without necessity. This is not only uncouth but also disgusting and disagreeable to everyone. Take care that you rarely need to do this in company, especially with people to whom special respect is due

Also of interest might be two books on religious formation, gathered here into a single volume. The first centers on the Mass, and the second on the prayer life of a school.  The first was intended, not just for students, but for parents and the general public as well, and once again, offers a helpful and important piece of counter evidence against the ahistorical claim that the laity were not encouraged to “participate” in the Mass before the Second Vatican Council.

Of all our daily actions, the principal and most excellent one is attending Mass, the most important activity for a Christian who wishes to draw down God’s graces and blessings on himself and on all the actions he must perform during the day. jeanbaptistedelasalleNevertheless, few people attend Mass with piety, and fewer still have been taught how to do so well. This is what led to the composing of these Instructions and Prayers to instruct the faithful in everything relating to the holy Sacrifice and to give them a means of occupying themselves in a useful and holy manner when they attend Mass.

To begin with, we explain the excellence of holy Mass, as well as the benefits derived from attending it. Next, we point out the interior dispositions that should animate our external behavior at Mass. Finally, readers learn the means of focusing their attention fully during the time of Mass.

Following this presentation, we explain all the ceremonies of holy Mass. Finally, this book suggests two sets of prayers, one based on the Ordinary of the Mass, the other on the sacred actions performed by the celebrant during Mass. Thus the faithful can alternate between both sets of prayers without growing overly accustomed to either one. Those who prefer can select the one set they like best or that inspires them with greater devotion

 

 

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Ash Wednesday 2019

And you know – Lent is coming up. Two weeks from today!

Last Sunday: Septuagisima Sunday

Next up – Sexagesima Sunday. 

amy-welborn

Here’s a page on Lent. 

Here are some Lent resources from me. 

Also – if you’re looking for a Lenten read, either as an individual or for a group – consider The Words We Pray. 

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Reading: Well, I finished The Woman in White. It was..quite the read. Now, you know that if you don’t have a taste for dense Victorian melodrama, you wouldn’t even consider Mondaypicking this up. But if you do have an interest in such things – you might like this. Or you might tire of it, as I did. I liked Collins’ No Name much better. As absurd as it was at times, it was still more grounded in reality than The Woman in White – it explored a more varied landscape of English society and it expressed a more focused outrage – at the helplessness of women within the British legal system.

The Woman in White is fascinating, however, from the perspective of history and literature. For Collins is quite creative in constructing the tale and in the narrative. He uses many different points of view and is meticulous in building a very complex structure of events.

One of the key differences between the two books has to do with perspective. No Name is essentially told from the narrative perspective (in the third person) of the wronged woman, the woman who has been deprived of any rights – and it is told as she is amy-welbornrecouping what morality, if not the legal and social system owe her. The Woman in White‘s events are described in two stages: 1) what happened  and 2) one character’s attempts to discover what happened and bring the perpetrators to some sort of justice. I found the narrative stage of the No Name more compelling.

Both books are interesting for anyone – like me – who thinks about women’s issues as well as the nature of human freedom and action. When you read Victorian-era fiction – from Collins to Dickens to Trollope and the scores of others – you are struck at every turn by this question: human beings are born into structured environments. Of some sort. How do these legal and social structures restrict human freedom, how do they shape choices? Are they just or unjust? Would these characters be better off without them or do these structures reflect anything real about human nature – do they shape human activity in ways directed toward the good?

When you read fiction of this era, you might be tempted to take a condescending view: Oh, those Victorians, bound by complex legalities and oppressive social mores. We’re so much better off today!

Really?

Also read chunks of The Comedy of Errors  – alone and with boys. We’ll be seeing a production of it soon. Must prepare!

Also reading up on Spain. We’ll be heading there, not really soon – but before the end of the year.

Watching: I’ve been rewatching chunks of Mad Men this past week. I don’t really know why. I first rewatched much of the pilot and was struck – as I had been the first time around – how weak it was. Gorgeous to look at, of course, but the cultural stage-setting was so awkwardly obvious and condescending: Look at all the people smoking! The doctor is smoking! Much misogyny! 

I didn’t rewatch a lot more of that first season, which, as I recall, took time to get over that condescension toward the past (some critics claim it never did – I disagree). But I have been skipping through subsequent episodes – I fast forward through most of the domestic drama, and focus on the office material, which I always really enjoyed. I had problems with Mad Men – I always felt that the core of it was Matthew Weiner working out his negative feelings about his mother (Betty) – and there were a few weak casting choices (aka Weiner’s deeply untalented son) and, as I said, most of the domestic angst bored me, but there were so many great characters, it was a world I always enjoy settling into, the trajectory of the Peggy character was one of the most well-done I’ve ever seen on television, and there was that one episode where Roger made witty remarks – you remember that one?

Listening: Just found out that a drummer who played in my son’s jazz recital ensemble was part of a recording that won a Grammy last night! So I’ll be searching for that to listen to today.

Writing: Not enough. Never enough. Aargh.  Maybe look for another blog post coming up later.

Blog post on Lourdes – it’s Our Lady of Lourdes today. 

Well, I’ll be in Living Faith later this week. Wednesday, I think.

My son posted a review of Glass. 

One element of the film that’s received some derision is the buildup of the idea of the Osaka Tower and the great fight that will come. However, I think that buying into that premise is the audience missing the point of Glass’s philosophy. It’s not that comic books are real, but that they are born from events that then get blown up into something else. Superman couldn’t fly in the beginning Casey reminds Dr. Staple at one point. So, what we end up getting is the beginning of belief, the extraordinary feats of extraordinary people, far removed from the spotlight of a huge crowd. The final fight takes place in a parking lot in much the same way that, if Glass’s philosophy is correct, the inspiration for Superman lifting the car on the front of Action Comics #1 must have. It wouldn’t have been with millions of eyes on him, but with a small crowd.

And that’s the origins of belief. To take this in an explicitly religious direction for a quick moment, it wasn’t a multitude that witness Jesus’ transfiguration or resurrection, but a handful of believers who went on to spread the word from there. It’s an interesting idea, explored in an interesting fashion, and told well.

 

And then…preparing…I guess?

Next Sunday is Septuagesima Sunday, the first of the pre-Lent Sundays – the loss of pre-Lent is one of the most ridiculous changes that occurred in the wake of Vatican II.  When you read about it – say in this blog post I wrote – you see why. I always highlight this page from a 7th grade catechism – read the part to which the arrow leads. I love the lack of condescension towards young people. The assumption that they are simply part of the Body of Christ, with a mission. No catchy banners or t-shirts needed. Just the assumption, because they are baptized, that they are a part of this great journey.

 

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