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Archive for the ‘Mass’ Category

I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

Lots of travel in June – to England and Scotland. Those posts are here.

All June posts here.


There is a temptation, when considering these experiences – the ecstatic concerts (or sporting events), the immersive, interactive games and other kinds of role-playing experiences like cosplay on which people spend untold hours of their time and lots of money – and to think that religion is missing out, in a way. That feeling at the Garth concert? Do you ever get anything like that in church? What the larping and gaming and cosplaying experience adds to your life? Shouldn’t church give that to you instead – or at least, also?

Questions which then can inspire church leaders to either condemn or – more likely these days – jump on bandwagons, something we’ve seen over and over (through history, not just recently) – taking what seems to grab people in the culture, baptizing it, hoping to bring that same kind of engagement, investment, and emotion to the Lord – where it properly belongs, right?

Maybe not. Maybe the better answer is to observe all of this – and whatever it is that people seem to feel connected to and inspired by – and ask questions instead.

So, when consumers of mass media and spiritual seekers and tourists virtually approach the online evanginfluencers expecting and demanding “openness” and “authenticity” and almost claiming a place in their role model’s lives, they’re putting them in a spot. Yes, it’s a spot most of them have cleared out for themselves and settled in, happily, Patreon button at the ready, but everyone has a role to play here, everyone’s responsible in their own way.

Keep saying we’re one body in Christ, sure. Keep saying we take care of each other, that we’re here to help each other to sainthood and holiness.

How is encouraging, expecting, and paying for another person to put their lives on public display as your spiritual food helping them?

As I have said many times, I’m a student of social movements – my graduate work was focused on 19th century feminism and American Christianity – and I am no stranger to the ins and outs and evolution and fractures in any and all movements, including the pro-life movement. In any movement, you will always have disagreements on process, emphasis and goals. In the American pro-life movement, the serious disagreements have been centered on support of legislation and politicians: is supporting half-measures a sell-out or just realistic politics? And of course, a fundamental disagreement about process: should politics or culture be emphasized? You can trace these disagreements back decades.

But there’s never been any disagreement that helping women and their children is central to the pro-life movement. And this is what is so annoying about those in the Catholic world who are busy declaring, Well, ackshually, pro-lifers (eew) you DO know that just because Roe is gone…that doesn’t mean abortion is going to end tomorrow, RIGHT? Ackshually….you DO know that the REAL work starts now, right?

They were handing out cards to those on the street (and there were a lot – this was one of Oxford’s main streets on a busy Sunday afternoon) – cards which explained what this was all about, with contact information.

As Pope Benedict said on nearly every occasion of a Corpus Christi procession during his papacy – this is a moment in which we do what we are called to do all the time – take Christ out into the world that needs Him so badly. Taking that one, very small step further – of actively inviting and engaging the curiosity and interest witnessing the procession might inspire – is, yes, brilliant.

But do you know what else these homilies had in common, aside from being just good, substantive, practical and oh yes, under fifteen minutes long?

They were both written.

Oh, there were moments in which the homilist did a bit of improv and added a thought or two, but for the most part, both seem to have kept to what they had written.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never heard an off-the-cuff homily that was worth a dime. I know that homilists can be all Oh, the Holy Spirit will guide me and it will be awesome…but real talk here. Most of the time, guys…it’s not. The risk of meandering self-indulgence is super high if the homily isn’t written down and presented pretty much exactly as planned.


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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

All March 2022 posts here.

(As you can see from the images below, it was also the month we saw Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakum within a 2-week span. I didn’t write at length about either concert, but the pics are there for my memory’s sake.)


Do you or any of the adults that you know want to talk to other people’s kids about either sexual matters or even your own personal lives? Is making sure that any kids in your circle understand you or even know what you did last weekend important?

Is it even normal for a 40-year old to want a bunch of 11-year olds to “know who I really am?” much less to want to dig into their personal lives?

Um, no.

It would seem to me that after decades of discussing how the “fun mom” and the “cool coach” and the “drama teacher who lets us hang out at his apartment” and the “priest who drinks beer with us” are all basically emotionally arrested groomers and often abusers – we would be determined to insist on more walls between the adults who care for and educate young people and their charges, not fewer.

If Mom is always “doing her best” just because she’s Mom – why the heck are so many of us still grappling with Mom and Dad issues into adulthood?

We waited for the carrier, and when it came, she asked the baggage handler, Maleta? – referring to her checked bag, so now my Spanish vocabulary has been expanded by one more word, and then her phone rang while the baby was fussing a bit, so I took the baby – Jose! – and ended up carrying him through the airport while she talked on the phone, I presume to her relatives who were, indeed, there to meet her, with the women immediately swarming over the baby and everyone saying gracias and buenas noches and some of us…. phew.

In other words, our instinctive reaction to some Catholic moment from the past might be: Wow, that’s pretty crazy. And it might have been! But we might consider a follow-up as we consider our own lives: Wow, that’s pretty crazy, too, to be honest.

As I said, ours is not to point and laugh and bask in our superiority. Because we don’t have anything to brag about.

That is not to argue that the past is golden, ossified and preserved in amber for our devotion and emulation. The Catholic past is a riotous dynamic which includes moments worth reverencing and moments worth critiquing.

For the history of the Church may not be properly understood by the secular definition of “progress” but it certainly has the dynamic of reform baked into it – that is indeed, our history: Establishing a thought or practice or other reality that is faithful to the Gospel, and then, invariably, that moment drifting, corrupting and being an example, no longer of love, but of human pride and folly. And so we pray, discern, perhaps painfully tear down what have become idols, and begin again.

I was once at a Mass celebrated by a bishop, who was very happy at the end of Mass. He crowed, “We were really Church tonight!” I got it. I understood. On an emotional level, it was not an unreasonable reaction. But the point is: no matter how freaking boring it may seem to you– it’s still Church.

So there’s where ritual comes in.


January 2022 Highlights

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May 2022 Highlights

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September 2022 Highlights

October 2022 Highlights

November and December 2022 Highlights

Books of 2022

Movies and Television of 2022

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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here. Book and movie takes at the end of this post.

All January posts here.

I’ll knock off 2 or 3 a day until we’re done. So let’s go:


How radical.

To respect other people’s time.

To understand the addictive nature of activities like this and just online life in general and not exploit it.

None of us are saints. None of our movements are pure. None of our “progress” comes without someone else, somewhere, paying a price.

I appreciated Jones-Rogers’ work here – and am interested that her next project focuses on women’s involvement in the slave trade – because I am up for anything that shakes the mythos that women are inherently kinder and more fair than men, and that “if women ran the world…..”

Yeah.

Watch Yellowjackets and contemplate its popularity to see how much people actually buy that claptrap.

I first encountered Illich early, as we like to say, in my homeschool journey. Reading Deschooling Society was an exhilarating confirmation of all of my intuitions about the mess that is modern education.

I later encountered more via the technology-contemplating newsletter of L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society – also deeply inspired by Illich.

Last week, I read Medical Nemesis – available in pdf form here. It had a similar effect.

If I could summarize both works, I’d say Illich’s theme is: Institutional forces take over these needs – education and health care – in the name of justice, efficiency and the common good of society. What ends up happening, not surprisingly, is that the institutional definitions and processes become determinative and definitive with an ultimate net loss to human freedom and, paradoxically, the needs they claimed to address.

There are a lot of ways we can say that the Second Vatican Council “failed,” but it’s always seemed to me that the greatest failure was that, unintentionally, the move to reform, which was offered as a way of equipping the Church to go into the world with more power and credibility, ended up severely handicapping that effort as “reform” became, unsurprisingly, decades of internal, inward-looking conversations and infighting.

Instead of the go out that’s packed into every word of the Gospel, every breath of even just this Sunday’s readings, we end up with: talk and fight about territory, role, organization and process.

I am always writing about today, this moment, the present. For the truth is that yes, Jesus has arrived in your district. At this moment. He’s here. Healing, calling, inviting, challenging, sending.

The townspeople are watching, fearful. What are they afraid of? Why do they want Jesus to just depart?

What does this mean practically?

It will mean different things to different people, depending on where you are. Your temptations, the voices discouraging and fearful, will vary.

It can come from nothing more than life’s responsibilities, distracting us from the goodness and grace of the present moment.

It might come from the walls we’ve put up ourselves – I’m undeserving, I’m too far gone, no way I can be changed, no way things can be different. These are the tombs, and this is where I live, chained.

One of the great puzzles to me about the past now almost seventy years is how those who make the biggest noise about a church from the ground up and sensus fidelium are not willing to critique an event that transformed the Church and was engineered from beginning to end, from the top down, and reflected the concerns of clerics and academics.

Certainly, the argument can be made that these clerics were acting on concerns emerging from engagement with the lived experience of the Church as a whole – that is obviously the stance we see in the motivation for the Council and its documents. Modernity, post-war crises, concerns about a detachment between professed faith, practice and everyday life among the laity were all real concerns.

But the jump from there to we know what’s best rooted mainly in contemporary philosophical and theological trends and a total disregard for the psychological and spiritual impact of dramatic, rapid change is huge. And worth examining and critiquing.

One can argue – and probably correctly – that these religious cultures that developed these devotions were actually heavily clerical – that is, cultures in which the word of the ordained was law, wielded often with an authoritarian hand. Well, yes – and devotional life was the space in which the laity could operate, relatively free of that. My point: it’s no different now. And in fact, the focus on the Mass (legitimately, yes) and the loss of popular devotional life intensifies that clerical focus. It may not be with such a heavy hand these days, but it’s still there.

So yeah, fight clericalism: Throw yourself into those Works of Mercy,  celebrate the feasts, make things for God’s glory and then build a shrine, process to it with your friends, and keep the candles burning.


January 2022 Highlights

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April 2022 Highlights

May 2022 Highlights

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July/August 2022 Highlights

September 2022 Highlights

October 2022 Highlights

November and December 2022 Highlights

Books of 2022

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This is a repeat, but in the Internet Age, readers come and go constantly, so….

There’s a lot you could read today on any number of subjects, but  the life of St Anthony Mary Claret is probably one of the best things you could spend time with, especially if you are engaged in ministry of any sort.

Seemingly indefatigable. What interests me, as always with the saints, is the shape of their response to God. In hindsight, we often think of the lives of the saints and other holy people as a given, as if they knew their path from the beginning and were just following a script.

Such is not the case, of course, and their lives are as full of questions and u-turns as anyone else’s – the difference between them and most of the rest of us is God’s central place in their discernment, rather than their own desires or those of the world’s.

We usually, and quite normally, look to the saints for wisdom in how to act. I tend to be most interested in the wisdom they offer me in how to discern.

So it is with Anthony Claret. He began working in textiles, like his father and pursued business, then felt the pull to religious life, which at first he thought would be Carthusian – his vigorous missionary life tells us that this didn’t happen. All along the way, he listened and responded and moved forward. From his autobiography, reflecting on these matters in general, and specifically in relation to his time at the Spanish court – probably the place he least wanted to be in the world:

I can see that what the Lord is doing in me is like what I observe going on in the motion of the planets: they are pulled by two forces, one centrifugal, the other centripetal. Centrifugal force pulls them to escape their orbits; centripetal force draws them toward their center. The balance of these two forces holds them in their orbits. That’s just how I see myself. I feel one force within me, which I’ll call centrifugal, telling me to get out of Madrid and the court; but I also feel a counterforce, the will of God, telling me to stay in court for the time being, until I am free to leave. This will of God is the centripetal force that keeps me chained here like a dog on his leash. The mixture of these two forces, namely, the desire to leave and my love for doing God’s will, keeps me running around in my circle.

624. Every day at prayer I have to make acts of resignation to God’s will. Day and night I have to offer up the sacrifice of staying in Madrid, but I thank God for the repugnance I feel. I know that it is a great favor. How awful it would be if the court or the world pleased me! The only thing that pleases me is that nothing pleases me. May you be blessed, God my Father, for taking such good care of me. Lord, just as you make the ocean salty and bitter to keep it pure, so have you given me the salt of dislike and the bitterness of boredom for the court, to keep me clean of this world. Lord, I give you thanks, many thanks, for doing so.

********

We wonder a lot about evangelization these days and fret about how to do it in new ways because, of course, we have our New Evangelization. 

Read the life of St. Anthony Claret. And if you have even just an hour sometime, you have time to at least skim is autobiography, a version of which is here.

There is no fussing, focus groups or market research. There is just responding vigorously to Matthew 28. He preaches, preaches, preaches. He teaches, hears confessions, provides the corporeal works of mercy on a massive scale, he forms clergy, he builds fellowship, he forgives:

The would-be assassin was caught in the act and sent to jail. He was tried and sentenced to death by the judge, not-withstanding the deposition I had made, stating that I forgave him as a Christian, a priest, and an archbishop. When this was brought to the attention of the Captain General of Havana, Don Jose de la Concha, he made a trip expressly to see me on this matter. I begged him to grant the man a pardon and remove him from the island because I feared that the people would try to lynch him for his attack on me, which had been the occasion both of general sorrow and indignation as well as of public humiliation at the thought that one of the country’s prelates had actually been wounded.

584. I offered to pay the expenses of my assailant’s deportation to his birthplace, the island of Tenerife in the Canaries. His name was Antonio Perez,382 the very man whom a year earlier, unknown to me, I had caused to be freed from prison. His parents had appealed to me on his behalf, and, solely on the strength of their request, I had petitioned the authorities for their son’s release. They complied with my request and freed him, and the very next year he did me the favor of wounding me. I say “favor” because I regard it as a great favor from heaven, which has brought me the greatest joy and for which I thank God and the Blessed Virgin Mary continually

How to evangelize and lead and serve and such:

anthony mary claret antonio

Back in a parish of Catalonia, Claret began preaching popular missions all over. He traveled on foot, attracting large crowds with his sermons. Some days he preached up to seven sermons in a day and spent 10 hours listening to mi

The secret of his missionary success was LOVE. In his words: “Love is the most necessary of all virtues. Love in the person who preaches the word of God is like fire in a musket. If a person were to throw a bullet with his hands, he would hardly make a dent in anything; but if the person takes the same bullet and ignites some gunpowder behind it, it can kill. It is much the same with the word of God. If it is spoken by someone who is filled with the fire of charity- the fire of love of God and neighbor- it will work wonders.” (Autobiography #438-439).

His popularity spread; people sought him for spiritual and physical healing. By the end of 1842, the Pope gave him the title of “apostolic missionary.” Aware of the power of the press, in 1847, he organized with other priests a Religious Press. Claret began writing books and pamphlets, making the message of God accessible to all social groups. The increasing political restlessness in Spain continued to endanger his life and curtail his apostolic activities. So, he accepted an offer to preach in the Canary Islands, where he spent 14 months. In spite of his great success there too, he decided to return to Spain to carry out one of his dreams: the organization of an order of missionaries to share in his work.

*****

On July 16, 1849, he gathered a group of priests who shared his dream. This is the beginning of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, today also known as Claretian Fathers and Brothers. Days later, he received a new assignment: he was named Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. He was forced to leave the newly founded community to respond to the call of God in the New World. After two months of travel, he reached the Island of Cuba and began his episcopal ministry by dedicating it to Mary. He visited the church where the image of Our Lady of Charity, patroness of Cuba was venerated. Soon he realized the urgent need for human and Christian formation, specially among the poor. He called Antonia Paris to begin there the religious community they had agreed to found back in Spain. He was concerned for all aspects of human development and applied his great creativity to improve the conditions of the people under his pastoral care.

Among his great initiatives were: trade or vocational schools for disadvantaged children and credit unions for the use of the poor. He wrote books about rural spirituality and agricultural methods, which he himself tested first. He visited jails and hospitals, defended the oppressed and denounced racism. The expected reaction came soon. He began to experience persecution, and finally when preaching in the city of Holguín, a man stabbed him on the cheek in an attempt to kill him. For Claret this was a great cause of joy. He writes in his Autobiography: “I can´t describe the pleasure, delight, and joy I felt in my soul on realizing that I had reached the long desired goal of shedding my blood for the love of Jesus and Mary and of sealing the truths of the gospel with the very blood of my veins.” (Aut. # 577). During his 6 years in Cuba he visited the extensive Archdiocese three times…town by town. In the first years, records show, he confirmed 100,000 people and performed 9,000 sacramental marriages.

Here, at archive.org, is the text of his autobiography.

In past years, I’ve run a series of posts on his life on this day. This year, I’ll just link to those past posts.

His childhood

On ministry

On evangelization

On why he emphasized short books and pamphlets – proof that nothing changes.

In our day, then, there is twice the need for circulating good books. But these books must be small because modern people rush about so much and are pressed on all sides by a thousand different demands–not to mention the concupiscence of the eyes and ears that has reached such a point that people have to see and hear everything and travel everywhere –so that a thick tome is just not going to be read. It will merely sit around gathering dust on the shelves of bookstores and libraries.

Finally, on the importance of poverty for those in ministry….and dogs.

 The dog watches by day and redoubles his vigilance by night. He guards the person and the property of his master. He barks at and bites all those he knows or suspects are planning to harm his master or his master’s interests. I should strive to be always vigilant, and denounce vices, faults, and sins, and cry out against the enemies of the soul.

 The dog’s greatest joy is to be in his master’s presence and walk along beside him. I shall strive always to walk joyfully in the presence of God, my dear Master. 

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Over the weekend I headed up to Louisville to celebrate another family birthday. There was no sightseeing along the way, as there had been last time, but I did get to Mass at another Louisville parish – the beautiful St. Martin de Tours.

(For a little bit of music, go here.)

(More on the parish here – the history indicates it faced “certain closure” back in 1979, when the decision was made to emphasize sacred music.)

It was the 10am Ordinary Form (the parish also offers EF and Ordinariate). The church was pretty full, with tons of families and children. Music was beautiful and reverently simple.

And yes, in this land of chant and motets, families with children were explicitly welcomed in the music supplement, saying: To parents with young children: may we suggest….relax! God put the wiggle in children. Don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house….If you have to leave Mass with your child, feel free to do so, but PLEASE COME BACK. Let them know that they have a place in God’s house! To other members of the parish: the presence of children is a gift to the Church and a reminder that our parish and faith is alive! Please welcome our children and give a smile of encouragement to their parents!

It can be done.

Anyway – that’s not my point. Here’s the point:

I’ve been to Mass in quite a few Catholic churches across the country, from New York City to New Mexico, over the past couple of months, and it’s interesting to note:

This is the third parish I’ve been in where the altar rail was used for Communion: also in Louisville, at St. Louis Bertrand and at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC.

It’s the second parish in a week in which I’ve been to the OF Mass celebrated ad orientem – last week was at Stella Maris in Sullivan’s Island, SC.

All were Ordinary Form.

(Two points: I think Sunday Mass at Old St. Patrick’s is generally celebrated ad orientem – and I’m just saying that based on photos from their Instagram. But this was a daily Mass, and was celebrated facing the people. Secondly, also judging from photos of other liturgies, St. Martin’s does seem to have another altar they bring out – I don’t know what merits its use. But it was nowhere in evidence yesterday, a Sunday Mass.)

Of the two practices, seeing the altar rail in use for Communion three times surprises me the most. I can’t even remember the last time I’d seen it, but it seems completely normal in these settings – with a mix of modes of reception, most on the tongue, but some on the hand.

I’m actually a fan of the communion rail, not for any high flown theological reasons, but simply because I prefer the mode of congregation approach that seems to accompany it – basically no ushers directing traffic. I suppose you could have them doing the solemn-row-by-row thing in this context, but it doesn’t seem to happen.

As I have mentioned before, when you go to Mass outside of the United States, you generally (in my limited experience) don’t see the Usher Brigade. People just…drift up to receive. There might be an organic front-to-back progression, but there is definitely not the standing-up by row and trudging-up-when-the-usher-allows. My home parish ditched that habit during Covid, which was nice, but sadly reinstituted it at some point last year.

The drift-up-when-the-Spirit-moves-you paradigm is more amenable to a sense of spiritual freedom, I think, does not put pressure on anyone internally or externally.

A contrast: at Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Santa Fe, the distribution of Communion began with the cantor immediately ordering, “Please stand and sing….”

My observation: Some obeyed, more than a few remained kneeling in prayer until they went up (when directed by the usher, of course.)

I’ve often noted that the pre-conciliar liturgy was all about precise rubrics for the celebrant. The focus of the post-conciliar liturgy in practice was more – especially from the 70’s on – about micro-managing precise rubrics for the congregation, which previously had been allowed to engage with the liturgy at their own pace, as it were.

(For a sense of the difference, go to an Eastern Catholic or Orthodox liturgy, where the same traditional energy prevails still)

As I get older and reflect more and more on what I’ve seen and experienced, I can’t help but keep reflecting on the quite unsurprising replacement of the purported V2 goal of “worship as an organic expression of the community’s sensibilities” with the reality of “a few employees and volunteers telling everyone else what to do based on their own preferences.”

Anyway, in a time in which some bishops are ridiculously, weirdly and even cruelly fixating on the Grave Threat of the Traditional Latin Mass – you’d think they’d have more important matters to tend to – and even attempting to suppress practices like ad orientem and the altar rail – I thought you might appreciate these snapshots in which these apparently super dangerous practices are in use and it is…not a big deal.

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Well, I am pretty tired tonight, and I hardly ever get tired. Which perhaps means that hard work is not a part of my life, but we’ll put that aside for the moment.

No, I’m tired because I had my usual pre-travel insomnia last night, then I got up, packed, went to 7:15 Mass, and started driving. It’s been a good day, but I’m still tired. Nonetheless, I will forge on with this blog post since it’s not going to write itself, these photos won’t post themselves, and there are only going to be more, not fewer, tomorrow if I put it off.

I am on a trip by myself, and if you ask my why I am going where I’m going, my response would be vague because I am vague about the matter myself. Perhaps I will sort it out later, but let’s just say that I’m not driven by any particular motive for this trip, other than to just go. I didn’t want to fly, because flying is a mess right now and rental cars are insanely expensive. I wanted to go in a direction where I really didn’t know anyone – no need to stop by or check in. So – shrug – here I go.

Heading west, here’s what I saw today.

First, I saw Oxford, Mississippi. Oxford was one of those places I’ve been intending to go for years, intended to do as a day trip in the Homeschooling Era, but never managed to do. (Tuskegee is another one, in the other direction.)

So I stopped by today. It’s a lovely little town – definitely the prettiest of all the SEC-related towns that I’ve been in – and I’m sure the residents know it, if you know what I mean. And I’ll be you do. They named it Oxford, for heavens’ sake.

I wasn’t there long. I stopped by Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s grave, the famed Square Bookstore and the James Meredith statue on campus.

No whiskey bottles on Faulkner’s grave today.

Here’s my thought as I stood and beheld Rowan Oak (it didn’t open until 1 and I had to keep moving, but you could get on the grounds) – I thought: Well, if I lived in a place like this and had people to take care of my needs, I could probably write some great books, too.

Here’s a story about Shelby Foote convincing Walker Percy that they should go to Rowan Oak and drop in on Faulkner who was not on Percy’s Uncle Will’s Good List because of the time he’d showed up at a party drunk and barefoot.

The Meredith statue was very powerful and just right, I thought. Have you watched Eyes on the Prize? You should.

Clarksdale was the next destination. I could have headed to where I was going in a more direct fashion, but I wanted to see Clarksdale, another meant to do this earlier situation. Specifically, I’d meant to take my musician son there for a weekend of blues, but then he got the weekend organist job, so that was that.

So an early Sunday afternoon isn’t going to get you any blues, but it will get you some interesting nuggets nonetheless.

It will get you lunch, first of all. You might not be aware of it but one of the food items that folks in the Delta are proud of are their tamales. They are supposed to be different from Mexican tamales, but I’m not sure how. The main Clarksdale spot for tamales was closed on Sunday, so I settled for Abe’s Bar-b-q, which was of course busy, but the tamales were quick and cheap ($5 for the plate, including good, vinegar-based cole slaw and crackers, which I guess are a side in the Delta.). They were doused in a spicy sauce and they were good, but didn’t rock my world.

But I ate them at the Crossroads – the site of Robert Johnson’s mythic sale of his soul. My favorite, though, was the way that the history of Abe’s Bar-b-q builds on the myth. We don’t know if and where Johnson sold his soul, but we do know that It is a fact that Abe Davis surrendered his soul to God, and his family business still prospers even today.

Tennessee Williams had deep connections to Clarksdale, so I took some of that in, as well. His grandfather was the rector of the Episcopal church in town, and as a child, Williams lived in Clarksdale for a couple of stints, and spent vacations there. The area and it people pervade his writing. There’s a festival (one of several Williams festivals around the country, it seems.)

There’s a little museum in the church rectory (open by appointment)

This mansion, the Cutrer House, as well as one of its inhabitants, inspired elements of A Streetcar Named Desire. You can read about the connection here.

But here you go – you can’t escape the Catholic connection. In 1946, the mansion was purchased by St. Elizabeth Catholic Church and used as a school for several decades. By the 1990’s it required too many repairs to continue to be useful, and after some controversy, it was sold – this is an article from the time about the issues, including an interview with the very practical Irish pastor. It’s now being used by local government as an educational center. But the grounds are open – you can walk around – and the Lourdes grotto is still standing.

Moon Lake is also important in Williams’ work, so I took a quick detour – no one else was around on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, which made me wonder.

Then across the river to Helena, Arkansas, which has a very weird forest situation jutting up around it, and, in a neighborhood on the way out of town, a statue of Marquette.

And then, tonight, a safe landing, with Vespers.

(For video see Instagram).

I thought I had no idea that Subiaco existed here in the middle of Arkansas, but my son reminded me that one of his friends had gone there, and while I vaguely recalled that, I also thought he’d been talking about somewhere in Louisiana when he told me that. But now I know. I will have more photos tomorrow, with better light. I am heading out early, but will try to get some pictures nonetheless.

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Lots of places had Corpus Christi processions this past weekend.

So back in Alabama – my parish of the Cathedral of St. Paul. These are wonderful photos – go check them out!

Then down in Mobile:

And then in Oxford, England – where we continued our tradition of seeing a Corpus Christi procession in a another country (well, if by “tradition” you mean “we were in Seville for Corpus Christi in 2019”).

We didn’t process – but I knew that it began at 2, and would be passing by the Ashmoleon Museum while we were there. So we popped out and there they were:

(Remember that with a gallery in these posts – you can click on the individual photos and you’ll get a larger version)

Here’s what I particularly liked:

They were handing out cards to those on the street (and there were a lot – this was one of Oxford’s main streets on a busy Sunday afternoon) – cards which explained what this was all about, with contact information.

As Pope Benedict said on nearly every occasion of a Corpus Christi procession during his papacy – this is a moment in which we do what we are called to do all the time – take Christ out into the world that needs Him so badly. Taking that one, very small step further – of actively inviting and engaging the curiosity and interest witnessing the procession might inspire – is, yes, brilliant.

We’re hearing about the “need” for a Eucharistic Revival which, in the United States, is animating much of the energy for the Corpus Christi processions and 40 Hours devotions this year. The “need,” though, is often articulated in terms of Catholic identity and not much more. Well, there is much more – and it’s what this card expresses. The “need” for the Eucharistic revival is, at its simplest, the need of every person in the world for Christ.

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Long-time readers will probably remember this post. But given the nature of the Internet and how quickly readers come and go, I thought it was worth reprinting here.

Mother’s Day is a few days away, but I thought I’d toss this out there, especially for any priests, deacons or other preachers who might wander by.

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 who 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 there now.

Because, indeed, 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 and even Super-Authentic-and-Relatable-Instagram-Influencers 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.

Bring it!

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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Today, May 2, we remember St. Athanasius.

But what possible value can there be in even taking three seconds to think about a 4th-century fellow who spent his adult life fighting battles over words and formulations and theories?

Wouldn’t it be better to spend our time thinking about real life and real problems?

Well, sorry but theology matters. It doesn’t matter to us because we are attached to words or formulas. It doesn’t matter to us because we are focused on human intellectual constructs rather than human life. It doesn’t matter because we are afraid to get down into the messiness of human life in favor of the cool, dry safety of walled-in libraries.

Theology matters because it is an attempt to understand and express what is real.   Have you ever taught religion, catechism or theology? If so, then you might understand that a great part of what you were doing in that classroom was helping students dig deeply and understand how the teachings of the Church do not stand opposed to the realities of life, but in fact accurately express How Life Is.  You find this in so many conversion stories: the realization, sudden or gradual, that what has been fought or rejected for so long in fact expresses what is real and true, not just about some transcendent sphere, but about your life. 

From a 2007 General Audience, Benedict XVI

"amy welborn"

…it was not by chance that Gian Lorenzo Bernini placed his statue among those of the four holy Doctors of the Eastern and Western Churches – together with the images of Ambrose, John Chrysostom and Augustine – which surround the Chair of St Peter in the marvellous apse of the Vatican Basilica.

Athanasius was undoubtedly one of the most important and revered early Church Fathers. But this great Saint was above all the impassioned theologian of the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God who – as the Prologue of the fourth Gospel says – “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).

For this very reason Athanasius was also the most important and tenacious adversary of the Arian heresy, which at that time threatened faith in Christ, reduced to a creature “halfway” between God and man, according to a recurring tendency in history which we also see manifested today in various forms.

In all likelihood Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in about the year 300 A.D. He received a good education before becoming a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, the great Egyptian metropolis. As a close collaborator of his Bishop, the young cleric took part with him in the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council, convoked by the Emperor Constantine in May 325 A.D. to ensure Church unity. The Nicene Fathers were thus able to address various issues and primarily the serious problem that had arisen a few years earlier from the preaching of the Alexandrian priest, Arius.

With his theory, Arius threatened authentic faith in Christ, declaring that the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained for ever inaccessible to us. The Bishops gathered in Nicaea responded by developing and establishing the “Symbol of faith” [“Creed”] which, completed later at the First Council of Constantinople, has endured in the traditions of various Christian denominations and in the liturgy as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

In this fundamental text – which expresses the faith of the undivided Church and which we also recite today, every Sunday, in the Eucharistic celebration – the Greek term homooúsios is featured, in Latin consubstantialis: it means that the Son, the Logos, is “of the same substance” as the Father, he is God of God, he is his substance. Thus, the full divinity of the Son, which was denied by the Arians, was brought into the limelight.

In 328 A.D., when Bishop Alexander died, Athanasius succeeded him as Bishop of Alexandria. He showed straightaway that he was determined to reject any compromise with regard to the Arian theories condemned by the Council of Nicaea.

His intransigence – tenacious and, if necessary, at times harsh – against those who opposed his episcopal appointment and especially against adversaries of the Nicene Creed, provoked the implacable hostility of the Arians and philo-Arians.

Despite the unequivocal outcome of the Council, which clearly affirmed that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, these erroneous ideas shortly thereafter once again began to prevail – in this situation even Arius was rehabilitated -, and they were upheld for political reasons by the Emperor Constantine himself and then by his son Constantius II.

Moreover, Constantine was not so much concerned with theological truth but rather with the unity of the Empire and its political problems; he wished to politicize the faith, making it more accessible – in his opinion – to all his subjects throughout the Empire.

Thus, the Arian crisis, believed to have been resolved at Nicaea, persisted for decades with complicated events and painful divisions in the Church. At least five times – during the 30 years between 336 and 366 A.D. – Athanasius was obliged to abandon his city, spending 17 years in exile and suffering for the faith. But during his forced absences from Alexandria, the Bishop was able to sustain and to spread in the West, first at Trier and then in Rome, the Nicene faith as well as the ideals of monasticism, embraced in Egypt by the great hermit, Anthony, with a choice of life to which Athanasius was always close.

St Anthony, with his spiritual strength, was the most important champion of St Athanasius’ faith. Reinstated in his See once and for all, the Bishop of Alexandria was able to devote himself to religious pacification and the reorganization of the Christian communities. He died on 2 May 373, the day when we celebrate his liturgical Memorial.

The most famous doctrinal work of the holy Alexandrian Bishop is his treatise: De Incarnatione, On the Incarnation of the Word,the divine Logos who was made flesh, becoming like one of us for our salvation.

In this work Athanasius says with an affirmation that has rightly become famous that the Word of God “was made man so that we might be made God; and he manifested himself through a body so that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and he endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality” (54, 3). With his Resurrection, in fact, the Lord banished death from us like “straw from the fire” (8, 4).

The fundamental idea of Athanasius’ entire theological battle was precisely that God is accessible. He is not a secondary God, he is the true God and it is through our communion with Christ that we can truly be united to God. He has really become “God-with-us”.

Among the other works of this great Father of the Church – which remain largely associated with the events of the Arian crisis – let us remember the four epistles he addressed to his friend Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, on the divinity of the Holy Spirit which he clearly affirmed, and approximately 30 “Festal” Letters addressed at the beginning of each year to the Churches and monasteries of Egypt to inform them of the date of the Easter celebration, but above all to guarantee the links between the faithful, reinforcing their faith and preparing them for this great Solemnity….

…Yes, brothers and sisters! We have many causes for which to be grateful to St Athanasius. His life, like that of Anthony and of countless other saints, shows us that “those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 42).

As you recall, Benedict’s General Audience talks tended (like John Paul II’s) to be thematic, being really “mini courses” on some aspect of Church history or theology.  For a good long while, Benedict focused on great figures on the Church, beginning with the Apostles and moving forward in time to the early Church Fathers. These were, of course, collected and published by various publishers, including OSV. I wrote study guides for their collections. The pages for Athanasius (and others) are below, and you are welcome to download the entire pdf of the guide here – it’s a great free resource for either personal use or a study group – B16’s talks are online, this pdf is free – you’re good to go, without the ritual Catholics-charging-for-catechetical-materials-must-be-that-New-Evangelization.

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‘As we begin Lent this week, I’ll be reposting condensed versions of previous entries in which I share thoughts on fasting from spiritual masters, from St. Francis de Sales to Dorothy Day.

All of the previous posts are linked here. What I’ll do this week is share briefer versions. Starting with St. Francis:

The whole, original post is here.

To treat of fasting and of what is required to fast well, we must, at the start, understand that of itself fasting is not a virtue. The good and the bad, as well as Christians and pagans, observe it. The ancient philosophers observed it and recommended it. They were not virtuous for that reason, nor did they practice virtue in fasting. Oh, no, fasting is a virtue only when it is accompanied by conditions which render it pleasing to God. Thus it happens that it profits some and not others, because it is not undertaken by all in the same manner.

The first condition is that we must fast with our whole heart, that is to say, willingly, whole-heartedly, universally and entirely.

This is what the Church wishes to signify during this holy time of Lent, teaching us to make our eyes, our ears and our tongue fast. For this reason she omits all harmonious chants in order to mortify the hearing; she no longer says Alleluia, and clothes herself completely in somber and dark colors. And on this first day she addresses us in these words: Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return [Gen. 3:19], as if she meant to say: “Oh man, quit at this moment all joys and merrymaking, all joyful and pleasant reflections, and fill your memory with bitter, hard and sorrowful thoughts. In this way you will make your mind fast together with your body.”

This is also what the Christians of the primitive Church taught us when, in order to spend Lent in a better way, they deprived themselves at this time of ordinary conversations with their friends, and withdrew into great solitude and places removed from communication with people……

The second condition is never to fast through vanity but always through humility. If our fast is not performed with humility, it will not be pleasing to God…

Follow the community then in all things, said the great St. Augustine. Let the strong and robust eat what is ordered them, keeping the fast and austerities which are marked, and let them be content with that. Let the weak and infirm receive what is offered them for their infirmity, without wishing to do what the robust do. Let neither group amuse themselves in looking to see what this one eats and what that one does not eat, but let each one remain satisfied with what she has and with what is given to her. By this means you will avoid vanity and being particular...

The third condition necessary for fasting well is to look to God and to do everything to please Him..

And as he summarizes:

This is all that I had to tell you regarding fasting and what must be observed in order to fast well. The first thing is that your fast should be entire and universal; that is, that you should make all the members of your body and the powers of your soul fast: keeping your eyes lowered, or at least lower than ordinarily; keeping better silence, or at least keeping it more punctually than is usual; mortifying the hearing and the tongue so that you will no longer hear or speak of anything vain or useless; the understanding, in order to consider only holy and pious subjects; the memory, in filling it with the remembrance of bitter and sorrowful things and avoiding joyous and gracious thoughts; keeping your will in check and your spirit at the foot of the crucifix with some holy and sorrowful thought. If you do that, your fast will be universal, interior and exterior, for you will mortify both your body and your spirit. The second condition is that you do not observe your fast or perform your works for the eyes of others. And the third is that you do all your actions, and consequently your fasting, to please God alone, to whom be honor and glory forever and ever.

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