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I’m going to be writing a little bit about the Internet and social media every day this week.

“A little bit” and “every day” are nothing more than a probably pointless attempt at self-discipline. This is the kind of knotty issue I do contemplate every day and that might lead me sit for hours in front of the computer hashing out ridiculously long walls of text. So I’m going to limit myself. And sitting here, it’s 9:15 am – I am committing to publish this by 10. AM. Let’s see how I do.

Strange times, what with social media bannings and excommunications and attempts to even deny upstarts and dissidents a framework for their businesses. There’s a lot to unpack here, a challenging task because of the almost frantic narrative shaping that’s happening. We really don’t know – as usual. I have my suspicions. I think the core of what’s happening, both in Congress and in Big Tech, is an effort to strip Trump of his power immediately,  before 1/20, not because they seriously think he will have a second term, but because of what he can still do in the next couple of weeks: namely declassify, pardon and issue executive orders (as Pompeo did regarding Taiwan in the last couple of days.)

We’ll see.

That’s not my subject today, anyway.

And yes, what is “actually happening” in the United States government is more important the Internet/social media treatment of it, but they are also intimately connected.

I also want to be very clear on something else: there are serious issues here, related to repression of information and news, and the greater power that has concentrated in a few hands as other news sources have disappeared. That’s not my subject today.

Over the past couple of days, the calls to Follow Me on [Alternative Platform] have heightened. I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook (and hardly any at all commenting or “discussing”), but every other post, it seems, over the past few days has been invitations to migrate, declarations of cancellation and so on.

Valerie Cherish Take 3 GIF by The Comeback HBO - Find & Share on GIPHY

I won’t be following anyone on to any new platforms. Not a one. In fact, this is a clarifying moment for me. It’s time to take a few more steps away. I’m in the process of stripping down my FB presence – they don’t make it easy, that’s for sure. It might take a few weeks, but in the end, I’ll still have a FB page, but it will only have a week’s worth of posts on it at a time – and none of those personal, just links from here.

(My only concern – and the reason I’m taking time – is to catch personal photos or anecdotes I might have posted there, but not saved elsewhere.)


Before this (yes) wall o’ text, let me just give you an abstract. Maybe save you some time:

If you’re frustrated by the limitations of social media, discern why. Maybe it’s not time to find another, more acceptable form of social media. Maybe it’s time to turn away.

Pay attention, come to me;

listen, and your soul will live.

-Today’s first reading. Isaiah 55

Let me offer a little spiritual perspective. Limited, as usual. Perhaps even wrong – not unusual. But perhaps it might help one or two of you.

When we live, shaped by a framework of Catholic spirituality, we live in tension – an acknowledged tension between radical acceptance of God’s will and acceptance of God’s call to courageously plunge into the world and, with his help, affect radical change.

I think following the latter path correctly is totally dependent on embracing the former.

And in traditional Catholic spirituality, acceptance of God’s will in my life means approaching a particular event or circumstance, not with a reflexive reaction of rejection or outrage or determination to do what I did before, but rather of calm watching and listening.

What’s happening here? What is God teaching me through this? How can I grow through this? What does this invite me to embrace that’s good and from God? What elements of my life or the world is it revealing to me I should turn from or change?

So, in the wake of great loss – say, a death – you can rage and grieve – and there is a place for that – but then there is a point at which such emotions become an exhausting treadmill, not to speak of a rejection of God’s will, and it’s time to take a look at life, not as you want it to be, but as it is.

How can I grow closer to God now, not despite this, but through this?

For that – lest we forget – is why we’re here. Not to make our voices heard, not to right earthly injustices, but to grow in holiness. We may do that through those other efforts, but our first reason for existence stems from the fact that God created us, God loves us, and wants us to love him and dwell with him forever.

So when something happens – good, bad, indifferent – our call is to stop, look and listen, set our egos aside, and say….what does this reveal? About my sins? About my temptations? About my love of God and neighbor?

So much for no wall of text.

Anyway. All that is to say – in a moment like this, I find it really ironic that as we have spent years fretting and clucking over the mostly negative impact of particularly social media on our individual and social lives – the minute the true face of these powers is revealed, so many of us respond by….trying to find another way to remain in their caves.

What about this? What about seeing this as a clarifying moment and girding your loins and actually leaving the cave?

Maybe begin with the following. First recognize that this internet/social media loop is not random. It didn’t just happen. Like marketing, it’s designed.

It’s designed to elevate and harness various aspects of human personality and behavior, not for the benefit of society, not for your personal benefit, but for their profit.

There’s no nobility here. There’s no idealism. It’s about money and power, period.

It’s about using particular types of energy that make you tick, like you’re a cog in a machine.

  • First, and most obviously, you’ve given up your data. All of it. It’s there, from your Social Security number to what you searched for on Ebay just now. It’s all there.

But of more interest to me is how this ecosystem engages and exploits:

  • Our curiosity
  • Our nosiness
  • Our anxiety
  • Our loneliness
  • Our aspirations
  • Our desires
  • Our tribalism
  • Our anger
  • Our ego
  • Our creativity
  • Our drive for change
  • Our desire for freedom

Yes, the Internet can help us direct our good qualities in positive ways. But I think it’s clear, particularly in the context of the authoritarian ecosystem this is turning out to be, it’s mostly a negative and it’s time to leave it behind, as much as we can.

For it is good and natural to:

  • Want to know and understand
  • Feel as if I belong
  • Know that I’m not alone in my views, interests and loyalties
  • Express myself
  • Connect
  • Play
  • Share what I know
  • Share my gifts

How does social media exploit these good, even holy aspirations and desires and turn them into destructive, demeaning dross?

Double Indemnity

So as with anything else – we look to this digital empire and we must discern. It’s true of any moment, of any situation – there is a neutral aspect to it, there is the potential for positive outcomes, and there is always, no matter what, temptation. Temptation to let our qualities, both good and bad, be used for the sake of another’s profit and power.

As you can see, this isn’t so much a comment of the events over the past week, but more a nudge offered about how to approach the moment. To stand apart from the events, whether they be in Washington or on the screen in your hand, and to consider how truth is being served by the events and how they are used, and to consider what how this digital ecosystem is tempting us, what it’s delivering and who is ultimately benefiting.

To consider how they are all exploiting you, your anger, your idealism, your anxiety, and even your desire for change.

And how do we get out? What do we do?

We look at the good aspects of life that we hoped were served by this ecosystem – and perhaps were and are – and we consider two points in relation to that:

  • What is the cost of finding community, self-expression and so on in the context of this digital/social media world?
  • What temptations does this digital world touch and exploit in me?

All that  – yes – wall of text – is to say – here’s this moment. It’s clarifying even as it’s very confusing. Perhaps it makes sense to respond by finding another outlet that won’t exploit both your worst and best instincts and censor you when you violate the chosen narrative.

Or perhaps….it doesn’t make any sense at all.

9:56. Made it!

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I tell you, it’s coming.

I’ve been telling you for years, when it comes to social media, put not your trust in princes.

This has nothing to do with political preferences, but with other issues I’ve been contemplating, in my usual haphazard way, for years, and which I’ll set down later today.

Here.

Not in an Instagram or Facebook post. Not on Twitter. Not on a podcast or a YouTube video.

Here.

Yes, this space is prone to censorship and deplatforming as well. We’ve seen it. One of the best “Gender Critical” (i.e. anti-trans movement) blogs was completely removed from WordPress a couple of years ago. Including the archives, I believe. Google owns Blogger. You know what that means.

But for the moment, this is what it’s always been. Mostly mine.

For the moment, at least.

Update: How strange, but appropriate to see news, right after posting this, that Kathy Shaidle, pioneering blogger, both in general and in the Catholic arena, has died:

Following a tedious rendezvous with ovarian cancer, Kathy Shaidle has died, wishing she’d spent more time at the office.

Her tombstone reads: GET OFF MY LAWN! 

She is relieved she won’t have to update her LinkedIn profile, shave her legs, or hear “Creep” by Radiohead ever again. Some may even be jealous that she’s getting out of enduring a Biden presidency. 

Kathy was a writer, author, columnist and blogging pioneer, as proud of her first book’s Governor General’s Award nomination as of her stint as “Ed Anger” for the Weekly World News. A target for “cancel” culture before the term was coined, she was denounced by all the best people, sometimes for contradictory reasons

 


We’ll start easy.

So this happened.

Amy Welborn

(Ladder next to piano is part of our very professional setup for the remote piano lessons. Guitar is his own purchase with his organ-playing money.)

Someone was giving it away. Saw it on (okay….I know…shut up) FB Marketplace. As it happens, the family lives just a few houses down from our house before this one – just a couple of miles away. No way we could transport it ourselves, so I figured paying someone to move it + free fully operational organ (- one key, as you can see below) still = pretty good deal.

And for the record, these small organs from the 60’s and 70’s are items which, these days, you can really only give away. They have zero resale value. In fact, one organist discussion board I read said that the benches have more resale value than the instrument themselves – and yes, it’s a nice looking bench.

Organ Guy is delighted. It only has one octave of pedals, which makes it less than optimal for home practice for church pieces, but at least he can work with the manuals. And he’s having fun doing it. I had wondered before getting it, if it was really worth it, considering that he has a pretty nice digital keyboard already, but I can already see that yes, it’s different, with other, good reasons to decide to spend time with it, rather than the new shiny keyboard.

He remains noncommittal on a music career, but he does enjoy it, spends a lot of time practicing and then fooling around with various instruments, so as far as I’m concerned it’s money well spent.

Actually, my goal is for him to fill our house with sounds like this.

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This series is a repeat from last year. It is, I think, even more timely this year than last – so here you go again. 

No, not that kind of Claret. The saint kind.

St. Anthony Mary Claret’s autobiography is available here. Written under obedience, a little sketchy and repetitive, it’s still well worth a read, particularly if you are interested in matters related to evangelization, ministry, catechesis and the like.

There was a lot that caught my eye – sometimes because they support the truth that things are pretty much the same and sometimes because they support the truth that things are really different. 

What’s the same? God, revelation and human nature and even human society. What’s different? Our understanding of the meeting place of divine and human and how to make the former understandable and accessible to the latter.

I think about this a lot, as I keep trying to hone in on The Thing that’s different. Reading this with the Synod in the background clarifies. A bit.

I’m not going to offer you a wall of text. I’m going to pull some interesting passages related to different issues throughout the day. Perhaps you’ll find some wisdom. Perhaps, if you were under the impression that the pre-Vatican II was all about Rules and Exclusion and Thank the Spirit we have Mercy and Inclusion now – you might learn something.

For an introduction to this figure, go here. 

On learning the Catechism by heart as a child:

I didn’t really comprehend the wording of the catechism although, as I have said, I could parrot it extremely well. Nevertheless, I can see now the advantage of knowing it by heart, because in time, without quite knowing how or adverting to it, those great truths that I had rattled off without understanding them would come back to me so forcibly that I would say, “Ah! That’s what that meant! How stupid you were not to understand that!” Rosebuds open in time, but if there were no buds there would be no blossoms. The same holds for religious truths: if there are no catechism lessons, then there is complete ignorance of religious matters, even among those who otherwise pass for intelligent persons.

He came from a textile-manufacturing family, and even though he had a deep interest in religion as a child, he followed his family’s career path and worked quite hard at it – and enjoyed it.

Because I wanted to improve my knowledge of manufacturing techniques, I asked my father to send me to Barcelona. He agreed and took me there. But, like St. Paul, I had to earn what I needed for food, clothing, books, teachers, etc., with my own two hands. My first move was to submit a petition to the Board of Trade for admission to classes in design. My request was granted and I used it to some advantage. Who would have guessed that God would one day use in the interests of religion the studies in design that I undertook for  business reasons? And, in fact, these skills have been most useful to me in designing prints for catechisms and works on mysticism. 

As I said in the previous post, reading the autobiography is interesting, not only for the historical and spiritual insights, but to track his discernment process – from childhood through a life in the world, through a preaching mission, the episcopacy, and finally, as he was writing the autobiography, to service in the Spanish court – which he did not enjoy at all. 

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—1 —

Okay guys, this might be rough. As I mentioned yesterday, WordPress has forced a new editor on us, and it’s definitely one of those things of:

We’re giving you this intuitive process…

That isn’t intuitive to me at all.

Perhaps I’ll get used to it, but I am currently finding it weird and I resent it. So. This might be short.

— 2 —

Here’s a link to all my Yellowstone/Grand Teton posts which, as per usual, feels like a trip that was a lifetime ago.

— 3 —

So yes, we returned Friday night – all flights went smoothly. I will say that flights to and from Jackson (WY) were PACKED. I received a few emails over the course of last week asking me to change my flight, but I declined. There wasn’t an empty seat on either of those flights. The BHM-Dallas and Dallas BHM flights were considerably less crowded. But …yeah.

And everyone was very nice, and everyone was, of course, masked, with the not-so-subtle threat that “if you argue with us you probably won’t ever fly American again.” Which, given my past experience with them was not actually much of a threat, but hey, I paid for these tickets with miles, so whatever.

— 4 —

Progress report on the new editor. I think I get it. But I don’t like it.

So anyway, the week since has been all about Starting School For Real, getting updates from College Kid on the shifting sands of his place, and music, specifically, not one, but two funerals.

Hey! An advantage of being homeschooled! Your friends may be at school, sitting in class together, walking single file down the hall in their masks, but you can, instead, attend funerals every day.

Okay, two days.

— 5 –

School:

  • Algebra 2 tutoring resumed. We’d begun, casually, over the summer, but will be more focused now.
  • Chemistry class doesn’t start until next week.
  • Latin: Started chapter 4 of Latin for the New Millenium 2 . Perfect and Pluperfect Subjunctive or some such rot.
  • History: He’s on his own, doing this thing. Focusing on Ancient Greeks at the moment.
  • Religion: Chapter 1 of the vintage textbook below, along with a pdf of the five proofs for the existence of God, and a viewing of one of the excellent Dominican House of Studies Aquinas 101 videos. This one.
  • Also religion, this week: When you are the Teachable Moment Mom, yes, you take advantage of the student playing at not one, but two funerals to teach him about the symbolism in the Catholic funeral liturgy and what it says about both Catholic teaching on death and on baptism. So yeah, there’s that.
  • Literature: I’m taking hold of this one, and guiding him through American Literature. Made out a syllabus for the month and everything. Using the two textbooks seen below, plus handouts, plus novels – The Scarlet Letter for September. This week, he read several readings from European explorers (Verazzano, de Vaca, Champlain) and will start with Colonial North America (Smith, Bradford, Winthrop, Bradstreet, etc. ) next week.

Process with the humanities: mostly reading and discussion, with him having to do a weekly written notemaking/assessment type of thing – of just whatever strikes him, in any way.

This week has been a little wacky because of the funerals, which took up two whole mornings. I don’t think that’s going to happen again any time soon.

Also every day: biking with his friends around town, banging on guitars and a bit of video gaming.

— 6 –

From Atlas Obscura:

As in many, maybe all, matters of Jewish law, the exact meaning of this rule has been debated for centuries. At times, Jewish leaders (and leaders of other religions) have advised artists to avoid any representation of human figures. At other times this scriptural stricture is interpreted more loosely. But in the early 14th century, it resulted in a remarkable illuminated manuscript that illustrates the story of Exodus without ever showing a human face.

Some of the figures simply have empty circles where their faces would be. But others, the ones representing Jewish characters in particular, have bird-like heads and human bodies. It is “the earliest surviving example of the phenomenon of the obfuscation of the human face,” scholar Marc Michael Epstein writes in his book Skies of Parchment, Seas of Ink: Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts, and it’s a mystery. Why did the artist choose these avian heads? And what do they mean?

Scenes from Exodus.

— 7 —

I actually did some cooking this week. I got myself out to the Asian grocery store and finally figured out what the Thai Basil was as well as some other ingredients, and came back and made a couple of things:

This (used skirt steak) and this. (I used pork instead of beef in this one – boneless “country style rib” meat – which turned out to be fabulous in the recipe.)

Well, neither call for Thai Basil, but I used it anyway. (I got it because I had tried to make Thai Drunken Noodles several months ago without it, but it was not, as they say, a success. But I didn’t make Drunken Noodles this time…I just used the basil in other..recipes…never mind.)

Also, may I say something about dumplings? Perhaps you live in an area in which you can find good frozen Asian dumplings in your regular grocery store, but if you don’t, and if you have a good Asian grocery store – go there, and buy bags of dumplings and fix them just as the package suggests, and you won’t ever spend $$$ on dumplings in a restaurant again unless you can actually see them being hand made. I’m sure 90% of restaurants simply used the frozen ones, just as with egg rolls.

This is what I’ve been buying.

Oh, and speaking of restaurants?

Drew Talbert on Instagram. (Or Tik Tok, if that’s you’re thing)

That is all. Insanely talented.

Okay, that’s enough learning curve for today. I don’t think I hate it. Much.

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

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Thanks to decent wi-fi (more than decent – excellent  – thanks place that I’ll name when we’re gone!), I can get this done for you this evening instead of my usual routine, which has been: write it on the word processor at night and then attempt to load photos at 7am when hopefully fewer people were trying to be online at the otherwise quite nice NPS accommodations.

(For the record – a cabin at Colter Bay in the Grand Tetons and a cabin at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge – both wonderful in every way.)

The day began with me stressing out a bit about the next few days. Not because we might or might not do here, but because of what something called Laura is doing down south. We are flying home via Dallas later this week, and I just started worrying that this hurricane would disrupt travel throughout the Southeast, and it would be better for us to try to get home tomorrow. Well, I called, and yes there were seats, but I’d have to pay $$$ for them (I got these tickets originally with miles) and I’d missed the no-cancellation-fee timeframe for the night-before-the-flight’s hotel in Jackson, and I’d lose the money for the last night here, and so, I just said oh well, we’ll chance it and just hope we can make it home in time for the Organist to practice before Sunday.

Nothing compared to the plight of those in the storm’s path, of course. Nothing. 


So here we are, in a part of the park that is certainly gorgeous, but without the set of  obvious “must-sees” that one finds in Geyser or Canyon country. Plus, there’s a major road (between Tower and Canyon) that is closed for the year, which makes travel down that way circuitous and those sites inaccessible unless, of course, you are backcountry camping which we are most decidedly not.

So we are taking this time to meander. We had one major site to check off today, and then rest of the time, we’ll be driving, stopping to walk/hike a bit, see something interesting, and then get back in the car and drive some more.  This part of the country is so gorgeous and so different from our usual stomping grounds that taking it in that way is more than satisfying.

I’d thought about rafting on the Yellowstone River – but Kid just did some of that a couple of weeks ago (on the Ocoee, not the Yellowstone, of course) , and wasn’t keen enough on the possibility for me to spend the money. I also thought about heading up to Bozeman to the Museum of the Rockies, which is, indeed, open, but today was so pleasant, we decided we’d rather just have more of the same tomorrow.

First stop was about five miles south of Gardiner to the Mammoth Hot Springs site of Yellowstone. You can read more about it here(and if you ever saw the first Star Trek movie, know that it was Vulcan, with modern elements erased. ) It is also the headquarters of the entire park, and historically quite important as “Fort Yellowstone.” 

The nationally significant Fort Yellowstone-Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District is in the northwestern portion of Yellowstone National Park on an old hot springs formation. The buildings on this plateau represent the first development of administrative and concession facilities in the park.
For the decade after 1872 when Yellowstone National Park was established, the park was under serious threat from those who would exploit, rather than protect, its resources. Poachers killed animals. Souvenir hunters broke large pieces off the geysers and hot springs. Developers set up camps for tourists, along with bath and laundry facilities at hot springs. Civilian superintendents were hired to preserve and protect this land from 1872 through 1886. The good intentions of these early administrators, however, were no match for their lack of experience, funds and manpower. Word got back to Congress that the park was in trouble and legislators refused to appropriate any funds for the park’s administration in 1886.

Invoking the Sundry Civil Act of 1883, the Secretary of the Interior called upon the Secretary of War for assistance in protecting the park. The Army came to the rescue and in 1886 men from Company M, First United States Cavalry, Fort Custer, Montana Territory under Captain Moses Harris came to Yellowstone to begin what would be more than 30 years of military presence in Yellowstone.

The hot springs themselves are primarily large travertine formations – cliffs, hills and terraces – formed by the water dissolving limestone and such. Read about it here. 

It was interesting, but right now, there’s not a lot of activity going on – it’s totally unpredictable and constantly changing – so what we saw was certainly worth seeing and studying, but it wasn’t nearly as mystically magical as most of the photos you’ll find online suggest. Still, very weird to see this landscape sticking up in the midst of life-filled mountains.

We saw the formations in the lower terrace area, walked around the historic buildings and then decided to head back to our lodging to eat leftover pizza from last night before heading out again.

At which point, the first stop was the Rescue Creek trailhead.We walked perhaps a quarter mile into vast, open fields, watching a trio of elks, including a calf, from a safe distance. (video at Instagram).

Hopped in the car, stopped at the 45th parallel (halfway between the North Pole and the Equator).

IMG_20200825_150248

Then to the Lava Creek trail,  where we walked for a bit further, down to the Gardner River, spending some time watching elk on both our left and right take the waters – doing a weird move with one of their back legs to get water on themselves, it seemed from a distance. Then the hike back up the hill to take in the upper terraces (more easily driven than walked) and then down to the  Hoodoo Trail for rock scrambling.

Yes, I’m sixty,  no, I’m not an athlete or a super-hiker or outdoorswoman and yes, I can think of other activities I’d “rather” do – in a way, but on the other hand, since this is about helping one of my kids experience things he’s interested in, and I’m in a position to make that happen, well, of course there is nothing I’d rather do. Not that I’m selfless and all sacrificial (because, when you get down to it, this is no sacrifice) – but because I have the perspective of a parent who has kids who’ve been out of the house and on their own for twenty years now. That day is coming for this one, too, and not too far in the future. This is it. Before  know it, this moment will be gone, and I don’t want to look back on it and say, I spent that time obsessing about my own thing  – well, good for me. 

Here ends the lesson.

Back to the lodging to clean up, then out for a decent dinner (bison burger for him, trout for me) here. 

More of the same tomorrow, but in another direction…..

Big Sky Country is right….

IMG_20200825_143216

 

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Sorting out St. Rose of Lima can be a challenge.  Perhaps you know the basics – what I knew for most of my life: mystic, extreme ascetic.  When I was a girl, I remember reading about how she drove her metal-spiked crown of thorns into her scalp. That was, not surprisingly, my main takeaway.

Digging deeper,  I read through most of this 19th century biography – a translation into English from French. I read what chapters I could (the first two) of this reassessment and psychological unpacking, and finally settled in a more comfortable place than either of those with a chapter from Quartet in Heaven (1962) by British author Sheila Kaye-Smith.

What to make of her, the first saint of the Americas, this young woman who engaged in such extreme mortifications that even some of her contemporary confessors and other observers, including her mother,  thought she was going too far?

It might be tempting for us moderns to dismiss figures such as Rose. She was, we might gently suggest, mentally ill.  She was a victim and product of a guilt-ridden Catholic culture who could not simply accept the grace of God, but thought she had to abnegate herself in order to merit it.

But we shouldn’t do that. It is not helpful or right, in a Catholic context, to be so dismissive. Nor is it necessary to uncritically embrace all the hagiography. We must also always remember that in the Catholic view of saints, we bring two perspectives: to imitate st. rose of limaand to admire. We are not called to imitation of every action of every saint, because we live in different cultures, with various personalities. So not feeling the pull to jam a crown of metal thorns into our scalps should not cause anxiety. It’s okay.

In thinking this over, this struck me: it seems to me that even the saints who pursued extreme ways of personal asceticism did not indicate that everyone do the same.

St. Catherine, in her many letters, does not advise her correspondents that the solution to their spiritual problems was to live as she did, on a single grain of rice a day and sleeping on a board (when she slept). There might be a call to change, to repent, and perhaps to embrace some small mortification, but mostly what we read in her writings, at least, is an urgent invitation to realize how deeply Christ loves us and to live in that light, not the darkness the world offers.

They seem quite aware of the uniqueness of their own path, and do not suggest that theirs is the standard by which all others should be judged. In fact, the saints seem to take the opposite tack: as stubborn as they are about their own mortifications, they tend to keep them secret as much as they are able and are uncomfortable with “followers” who are following them rather than following Christ.

In trying to understand St. Rose, these thoughts come to mind.

She sensed a call to belong to Christ alone. In her culture and her family circumstance, she had to go to extremes to make sure that was clear to everyone and she would not be forced into marriage. Perhaps you can see this as manipulation, or you can see it as a strong rejection of the world in a most personal way.

It is interesting and important to note that hardly anyone knew of these mortifications during her life. The people of Lima who flocked to her funeral by the thousands certainly did not – they came because this young woman radiated the love of Christ.

St. Rose would say that her mortifications were in fidelity to her call to conform herself completely to Christ. Christ sacrificed himself. Christ’s supreme act of love was his Passion and death.  Many of us think of this call differently today: to accept what sufferings happen to come our way in a sacrificial spirit, in imitation of Christ, rather than to create them ourselves. Perhaps the experience of St. Rose can expand our own approach by helping us understand that living as a disciple does, indeed mean conforming ourselves to the Crucified Christ, accepting that the Cross will be a part of whatever path we follow, but that if we do find ourselves conforming to the world instead, it is time to take action and be more intentional – to make sacrifices in addition to accepting them as they come.

I also wondered, based on the minimal reading I did on this, if perhaps Rose knew herself and we should trust her. Perhaps she knew that she had a tendency to vanity. Perhaps she knew that even if she gave up marriage and lived as sort of anchorite, intensely focused on Christ, that she would still draw attention and that attention, even if it is directed at spiritual rather than physical beauty, would be a temptation to her. Perhaps her extreme mortifications were directed at keeping herself conformed to the humble Christ in the most radical way, a way that she knew, for herself, would be at risk as people were drawn to her. Perhaps she wanted to keep herself radically open to Christ in her physical weakness so that she would always remember it was Jesus, not her, that the people of Lima desired and sought.

I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

It comes down to this. Different culture, but same Jesus, same faith. We are tempted to dismiss it, but that’s not Catholic. Instead, we dig deeper, realize our own cultural limitations, and listen. Because, you know, she’s not wrong.

It’s a mystery, but suffering can be beneficial and bear tremendous fruit. She’s not wrong.

Christian discipleship is about conforming ourselves to Christ. She’s not wrong. 

The world is beautiful (Rose grew flowers!) but can stand between us and God if we don’t know how to love properly.  She’s not wrong.

“Success”  in the spiritual life can lead to an inflated sense of self and hubris.

She’s not wrong.

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In a week to few weeks, most Catholic parishes will be reopening for regular Sunday Mass. It’s already begun in some places. There will be much reflection about What This Has All Meant and How We Have Been Changed.

I’m going to do something I generally try very hard not to do – which is to make suggestions about what other people should do. Sharing information and trying to make connections is more what I’m about. Hell, I don’t even see myself in the business of encouraging and inspiring you.  But I am feeling, as we say, a burden on my heart, so here goes – from someone who just sits in the pews and listens. And is sort of dreading it.

Speaking of burdens, it will be a heavy burden and responsibility to get up in front of a congregation – deacons, priests, bishops – and preach for the first time after months of empty churches. There is a great deal to unpack. But here’s my simple suggestion as a way to begin thinking about an approach:

Don’t assume that everyone has had the same experience of this time. 

Just start there.

And for sure..

Don’t assume that everyone shares your experiences and opinions of this time. 

Let’s survey the range you might find in a typical congregation:

  • Those who have suffered from Covid-19 personally. Those who have been ill. Those who have known individuals who have been ill and cared for them. Those who have known individuals who have died from Covid-19.
  • Those who have seen their businesses skate to the edge because of shutdowns, those who have lost their businesses.
  • Those who have lost their jobs.
  • Those who have have been sent home from school, who have missed milestones like graduation.
  • Those who have been negatively impacted by the shutdowns and are sanguine about it.
  • Those who have been negatively impacted by the shutdowns and are confused, angry and resentful.
  • Those who haven’t known anyone personally impacted.
  • Those who have kept working during this time, who’ve not lost time or money.
  • Those worried about the stock market, not because they are fat cats, but because there goes their retirement income.
  • Those who have welcomed this as an opportunity for change and growth.
  • Those who have resented the experience and are angry. Outraged, even.
  • Those who are impacted in a negative way by the constant flow of news and speculation.
  • Those who are at peace with it all.
  • Those who are totally on board with restrictions.
  • Those who are restriction-skeptics.
  • Those who are afraid of being infected.
  • Those who aren’t afraid – those who don’t think that they are at risk, or those who are accepting of whatever comes.
  • Those who started wearing a mask on March 1.
  • Those who pull their shirt collar up over their nose for a mask and resent that. 
  • Those whose family lives have been deepened and enhanced by the time in quarantine
  • Those for whom the quarantine and extended time with family has exacerbated tensions and made problems more obvious
  • Those who think this is a Very Big Deal
  • Those who think this is Not Such a Big Deal
  • Those who have experienced this as a call to change.
  • Those who just want things to go back to the way they were.
  • Those who have, for the first time in their lives, thought seriously about questions of life and death. And are maybe coming back to the church for the first time, or for the first time in a long time because of it.
  • Those who are rethinking their priorities and choices as a consequence of the shutdown and the mystery and possibility of serious illness

You may not find every permutations of this variety in your pews, but I think you’ll find a lot of it. Don’t be fooled by the echo chamber of news, reporting and discussion that most of us fall into that confirms our own biases. Some of those perspectives might drive you crazy and strike you as so very wrong, but well…there are as many different experiences and opinions of this time as there are human beings. That’s just the way it is.

My point?

I am dreading a slew of homilies that do little more than echo the endless drumbeating of We’re All In This Together PSAs with a particular modern Catholic flourish of We’re an Easter People, everything will be all right!  Nice to see you again!

So how can a preacher, teacher or speaker communicated in this moment without assuming too much, but then, as a consequence, simply falling into platitudes and pious generalizations?

I don’t know. There! That solves it!

Well, perhaps part of the answer might come from Bishop Robert Barron, whose homily we watched yesterday.

(We have, as I mentioned, been attending Mass at the parish where my son is employed as an organist. But a week ago, he had a bike accident, lacerated his elbow, and is still on the mend, so we stayed home this weekend. He’ll be back on the bench this coming weekend.)

 

 

Here’s the recording.The point Bishop Barron makes, in his words mostly addressed to other preachers, but applicable to all of us, since all of us are called to give witness, is to look to Peter’s approach, as described in the first reading from Acts:

Focus on Jesus, not yourself, your own doubts, your own experience, your own ideas. And pray, not that your words give superficial comfort, but that they cut to the heart. 

I’ve always felt that the great strength of Catholic liturgy – of any high liturgical tradition – is to give space. It all seems, from the outside, very full  – but all of the proscribed words, gestures and symbols function, in the end, as a space of freedom. Your worship is not about an individual standing up in front of you telling you how to feel in a certain moment or how to respond to God right now.

Within the space of a highly structured, rich liturgy, there’s room for everyone to feel whatever they are bringing with them – joy, sorrow, confusion, doubt – and to sit with it, pray with it, present it to God, and respond to him freely. And it does so in whatever context it’s happening, in a place of privilege or poverty, comfort or insecurity.

It’s a space in which, when we are open, no matter who we are, or where we’re coming from, there is the chance that we might be cut to the heart. 

Powerful preaching, it seems to me, should fit that paradigm. Proposing the Gospel, presenting it in all its fullness, pointing to Jesus, clearly and joyfully – but without manipulation, respecting the wild variety of hearers, respecting God’s power to redeem and save, offering the Gospel that the Church has always preached, forcefully, clearly and humbly – and then stepping back. Letting the Spirit do its work.

So where do we start? Where we always do.

With the liturgical season, with the liturgy, the Scriptures that we’ve been given. It’s Easter Season. Maybe your parish will be gathering for the first time on Pentecost, or Trinity Sunday or Corpus Christi. That’s where we begin.

And I do think, no matter how different the experiences of each of us have been, it’s possible to draw connections without platitudes or incorrect generalizations.

For what have we all experienced?

The cold hard fact that the “control” each of us have over our lives is limited.

My life on earth is transitory. Ephemeral.

I don’t walk on earth as an isolated individual. I’m impacted by things I can identify, and many which I can’t, and are unpredictable and mysterious. It may not have felt like it over the past weeks, but I am in deep communion with every other person on earth. I affect them, they affect me.

Suffering and death are real. Unintended consequences are real.

Human beings stumble as they attempt to solve problems.

Life surprises us. Maybe I don’t know as much as I thought I did – about my own life, my family, about how the world works and why.

Maybe I need to change.

A yearning for permanence, health, security, normality, life – but a realization that none of that can be promised to me on earth. But still I yearn for it. Why? Is it perhaps because I’m created to yearn for this Good, and it is, indeed promised? Promised to me in an eternal way, to feed my eternal yearning?

 

Traditionally, Catholic spirituality is intensely centered on the Incarnate presence of Jesus in this broken world, in our broken hearts. It’s about reassuring us that yes, indeed, he’s present, that he loves us and that his Risen Life can be ours as well.

And it’s about helping each of us – no matter where we are or who we are – recognize that Presence and that Voice.

Essentially:

Where is God present in this weird, unpredictable life we lead?

and

What is God teaching me right now? 

Posing the question isn’t the same as answering it. The crucial thing is to propose that ancient truth that every moment of life on earth, no matter who we are,  provides an opportunity to do the most important thing: to know Him. To hear these words that we’ll hear in next Sunday’s Gospel and understand that they are true – right now. 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.

And no matter who we are, and where we’ve been over the past weeks, no matter what our opinions or experiences are – that’s what we all have in common. We need Him. Every experience we have can, if we are open, alert us more deeply to that reality – that right here, right now, we need Him – our only Way, our only Truth, our only Life.

 

 

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It is invariably, unfailingly true, that if I wait long enough, my inchoate thoughts on a topic find expression in someone else’s knowledgeable, rational words. I’ll link to those more knowledgeable words in a second.

First, let me just run this by you. This is the kind of post that back in the day, I used to be able to toss out,  and some would feel strongly one way or the other, sure, but for the most part, the conversation would be genial and people would be able to laugh and see the oddities, inconsistencies and questions, not only in the opposing point of view, but in their own.

But that really doesn’t happen much any more. I have loads of ideas about why that is and who or what to blame, but none of that really matters. What matters is the pronounced lack of chill in the world these days. Geez, people. Relax. It’s a joke. Everything’s a mess. Cry, then laugh.

(But, as Ann Althouse frequently points out, we’re in the Era of That’s Not Funny, so what can you do?)

So. I’ve been following the news, as I do, and particularly following the Catholic news related to the pandemic. Over the past few days, hints have come from various bishops and dioceses that we, the laity, might be permitted to attend public Masses again.

Thanks!

You can search for the various policies that are being proposed and promulgated, but the conditions that seem to be most common involve:

  • Asking the vulnerable to stay home. Which I generally have no problem with because, of course, the vulnerable are never obligated to attend Mass. My only issues are two: First I trust – I trust that all of these vulnerable, sick and elderly people who are being told to stay away from the parish grounds are also being told that pastoral ministry will certainly be coming to them because FieldHospitalAccompanimentLoveYa.  Secondly, these dioceses are…suggesting a cutoff age to define these vulnerable populations.Fort Worth, for example, has put it at…60. SIXTY. SIX-TY.

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Ahem.

  • Also, social distancing.
  • Masks, sometimes.
  • No touching. No hand-holding at the Lord’s Prayer, no Sign of Peace.
  • No singing.
  • People should super cautious about receiving Communion. No Communion from the shared chalice for the congregation. Congregants maybe don’t take for granted that they will receive, or no Communion distributed during Mass, or only in the hand.

So, I’m reading through all of these, and I’m getting the picture: a Mass where’s there’s more silence, where social aspects are minimized, people sort of keep to themselves, where they’re not touching, there’s no Sign of Peace in the congregation, and people aren’t looking at each other and constantly talking or singing and aspirating material all over each other, and it’s not taken for granted that you’ll receive Communion…

Hmmm. I’m thinking..

…thinking..

…something’s coming….

…I think I can conjure that up…

 

 

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Hahahaha. Come on. Laugh. You can do it. 

It sort of reminds me of a few months back, when a parish in these parts started advertising regular sensory-friendly Masses. I read about what that would be like, and I thought, “So, a traditional low Mass, right?”

The point about the Mass pictured above is made even more sharply when you understand that it was quite common for Communion to be distributed outside of Mass, during this time. I wrote about that here, in this post on the sociological study, St. Denis – a small Quebec community in which the laity would go to Confession and receive Communion before Mass, and then attend the Mass itself.

Look. Here’s what this is about. It’s about what I point out over and over and over AND OVER.

There is wisdom in tradition. 

Traditional practices grew out of human experience – human experiences of joy, sorrow, difficulty and challenge. Human experiences of trying to obey Christ, bring his presence into the world as it is –  in peace, war, plenty, famine, health and disease.  I wrote a bit about this earlier this week., Yes, tradition and traditional practices are always subject to reform and development. But it helps if, as we reform, we keep the wisdom of the tradition in mind and are realistic about life in this world as well.

Short version: Maybe they knew what they were doing, after all.

 

As promised, here’s the smarter take from a slightly different angle, from  Joseph Shaw of the UK Latin Mass society on “Epidemic and Liturgical Reform.”

Clearly, a carefully controlled approach to distributing Holy Communion outside Mass will place a limit on the numbers able to receive, and even on the most optimistic view Catholics will have to get used to another aspect of standard past practice: infrequent Communion. Today, not only is Communion outside Mass hard to imagine, but for many Catholics so is attendance at Mass without the reception of Communion. This implies a casual attitude towards the reception of Holy Communion which perfectly accords with the placing of the meal-symbolism ahead of other considerations, but is not a positive development from other points of view.

It certainly would not have been the way I would have chosen to do it — I have previously argued for the restoration of a longer Eucharistic fast — but the enforced infrequency of Holy Communion will do much to restore the fame eucharistica, “eucharistic hunger,” the lack of which Pope John II so lamented. It is to be hoped that priests will encourage the Faithful who are able to receive less frequently to make the most of it when it is possible, by careful preparation, ideally including fasting, an act of perfect contrition (or, if possible, sacramental Confession), and prayer, and to follow it with a serious thanksgiving.

It is dangerous to speculate too early about the long-term consequences of the current epidemic, but it will certainly have some. It seems likely that among them will be a shedding of the naivety about hygiene which characterizes modern liturgical practice. It is to be hoped that this will be accompanied by a restoration of a more acute awareness of spiritual realities, and of the practices which have historically served to nurture that awareness.

Update:  An example – the guidelines issued by the Diocese of Wichita. All of what I spoke of above, including specific directives about not greeting each other before or after Mass in the church, and no congregational singing.

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When the officials had brought the apostles in to face the Sanhedrin, the high priest demanded an explanation. ‘We gave you a formal warning’ he said ‘not to preach in this name, and what have you done?

today’s first reading from Mass. 

Not, we hope, one of the boring parts. 

****

Both this first reading from Mass today and the feast of St. George jostle our consciences with reminders of the role of courage in the Christian life – its source and why it is always needed. In other words, there’s always resistance to the Good News, from within and without.

******

Today is the commemoration of St. George.

St. George is in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.  In the first part of the chapter I try to strike the balance between what we think we know about George and the legendary material. But I also always try to respect the legendary material as an expression of a truth – here, the courage required to follow Christ. He’s in the section, “Saints are people who are brave.”

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"amy Welborn"

 

Here’s a bit more on context of this feast from The New Liturgical Movement:

The Byzantine Rite has no such reservations about St George, as is often the case with some of the best loved legends and traditions about the Saints. He is honored with the titles “Great Martyr”, meaning one who suffered many and various torments during his martyrdom, and “Bearer of the Standard of Victory”; in the preparation rite of the Divine Liturgy, he is named in the company of martyrs second only to St Stephen. His feast always occurs in Eastertide, unless it be impeded by Holy Week or Easter week; one of the texts for Vespers of his feast refers to this in a very clever way.

Thou didst suffer along with the Savior, and having willingly imitated His death by death (thanato ton thanaton … mimesamenos), o glorious one, thou reignest with Him, clothed in bright splendor, adorned with thy blood, decorated with the scepter of thy prizes, outstanding with the crown of victory, for endless ages, o Great-Martyr George.

The phrase “having willingly imitated His death by death” makes an obvious reference to words of the well-known Paschal troparion, “Christ is risen from the dead, by death he conquered death (thanato ton thanaton … patesas), and gave life to those in the tomb.”

 

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I’ll be posting snippets and observations from our NYC trip last week over the next few days.

(No, I don’t take a blog/social media break for Lent. This is my work, so…no.)

One of the many highlights of our trip was the opportunity, on Thursday afternoon, for my organist son to meet and play the historic (built in 1868)  Erben Organ in the Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Here’s the website for the organization supporting maintenance and restoration of the organ.

And the Cathedral website.

Lana, of the Friends of the Erben Organ, was very generous with her time. She met us in the afternoon after we’d stuffed ourselves in not one, but two different Chinatown spots, talked to us about the history of the instrument, showed us the distinct factors of this type of tracker organ, led us around the back to see the innards, both in rest and in motion as she played, and then let my son play – no organ shoes were packed, so it was socks on the pedals.

For those of you not familiar with organs – and I don’t claim to be familiar, just vaguely aware – most organs, even pipe organs, that you see and hear today are electric and/or digital – since the two major actions of the organ – the movement of the air through the pipes and the connecting between the keys and the valves – are powered by electricity.

Of course, before the advent of electricity, this wasn’t possible. So organs were entirely mechanical. The key/valve action was by tracker action, and the air moved through the pipes by human-powered bellows.

(You may have seen old, smaller “pump” organs – in which the organist has to manually, with his or her foot, pump a large pedal to keep air flowing through the instrument. In larger organs, it would take another person to do so – in the case of the Erben Organ, there was a large wheel at the back to turn that would activate the bellows. Now, that element is electrically powered.)

There are pros and cons to electrical v. tracker action organs. My limited understanding is that an ideal instrument is a combination of both.

Playing an historic tracker action organ certainly is a different experience than playing a modern digital pipe organ, though. As my son said, he had to work a lot harder to produce sound (because of the force required to push the keys, in contrast to the light touch required for an electrical instrument), and because of that, the experience was more like playing a piano – which he, honestly, prefers to organ – than his usual instrument at church/work.

The pipe organ really is an amazing instrument – when you think about the large pipe organs that were being built even in the 14th and 15th centuries, the level of technological skill and knowledge required is astonishing.

Here’s the Facebook post on the afternoon, and here’s the Instagram post from the Friends, and from me, which includes a bit of video.

Please support them if you can – and support all your local church musicians and sacred music endeavors!

 

 

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