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Archive for the ‘Matthew 25’ Category

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Today is the feast day of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, a Capuchin who lived in the Counter-Reformation period.

His story offers the open-minded an opportunity to learn more about the course and form of the Church throughout the ages and the varied forms that sanctity takes….

The best brief-ish biography I found of this saint is, not surprisingly on a Capuchin site. Here. 

Language scholar, humanist, philosopher, theologian, biblicist, preacher, missionary, professor, international administrator, confidant of Popes, Emperors, Kings and Princes, diplomatic envoy, army chaplain, military strategist and morale builder, polemicist, prolific writer – these are but some of the key skills and professional assets you might find on the CV of Julius Caesar Russo.Few modern multinational corporations would not vie to have this practical academic, influential publicist and versatile polyglot as part of their dream team.

But career chosen by this gifted sixteenth century man involved becoming part of a different kind of dream team, an alternative dream team, namely the ‘troubadours of the King of Heaven’ founded by Saint Francis of Assisi and called ‘the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor’. As part of this band of Brothers and as their servant-leader, he travelled barefoot all over Europe and founded churches and religious houses throughout the Holy Roman Empire. He evangelized and encouraged people. When necessary, corrected them while always inspiring them.  He washed dishes and said Mass humbly. He prayed almost incessantly and he willingly lent a listening ear to his Brothers and to all who turned to him for help. In the end, he would die among strangers, while undertaking a mission of mercy far from his native land. This epitome of a Renaissance man, this multi-talented genius and learned Capuchin Brother was none other than Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, one-time Vicar General of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor.

Beatified by Pope Pius VI in 1783, he was canonized by Pope Leo XIII on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 1881, and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1959 by Blessed Pope John XXIII. At the command of the King of Spain, his body is enshrined in the monastery church of the Discalced Franciscan Sisters at Villafranca del Bierzo in Galicia, Spain.

The basics:

  • Born in Brindisi, Italy and named “Julius Caesar” by his father!
  • Both parents died fairly early, he became associated with the Franciscans and then with their branch the Capuchins.
  • A brilliant student known for his mastery of languages, including Hebrew, a rare feat at that time.
  • An accomplished preacher, who, in the Franciscan model, traveled widely.

Brother Lawrence prepared his preaching through prolonged prayer and penance, meditating for hours on the Gospel before preaching a homily. The following quotation may help to give us an insight into how Brother Lawrence’s studied the scriptures, going beyond the literal meaning to the deeper spiritual meaning. The text also gives us a taste of his style of preaching. “When Christ decided to give sight to a man, blind from birth, he placed mud in the man’s eyes – an action that was much more suited to blinding those who see than giving sight to the blind who could not see! So too the Passion and Death of Christ was more likely to destroy the faith of those who believed that He was the Only-begotten Son of God than to commend faith to non-believers. Christ came into this world to do battle with Satan, to turn the world to faith and the true worship of God. He could have accomplished this by using the weapons of His Might and coming as He will come to judge – in glory and majesty just as he manifested himself in his Transfiguration. Who would not then have believed in Christ? But in order that His Victory might be the more glorious, He willed to fight Satan in our weak flesh. It is as if an unarmed man, right hand bound, were to fight with his left hand alone against a powerful army. If he emerged victorious, his victory would be regarded as all the more glorious. So Christ conquered Satan with the Right Hand of His Divinity bound and used against him only the Left Hand of his weak Humanity.”

Already in 1599, three years prior to his election as General Vicar, Brother Lawrence was sent to Austria and the present-day Czech Republic as a missionary to establish the Order in those lands and help buttress the Catholic faith against the constant onslaught of Protestantism. Taking with him with him twelve other Brothers, some of whom had German roots, he established local Fraternities at Vienna, Prague, and Graz a city of in south-east Austria. When the Brothers arrived in Prague they first lived in a hospital caring for the plague victims and preaching to the locals on Sundays and other Church festivals. Their sermons were effective in touching the hearts of many lukewarm Catholics who returned to the practice of the Faith. But at the same time they also were met with derision, which turned at times to life-threatening violence, from Protestants and hostile lapsed Catholics. The citizens scoffed at their poor dress-sense and the fact they went around in their bare feet. Their long beards too became the subject of mockery. Lutheran soldiers in the Imperial Army would call Brother Lawrence “the Wolf-monk’. On another occasion, a Protestant mob tried to push Brother Lawrence off a bridge in Prague and throw him into the river below. But he was rescued at the last minute by the Papal Nuncio’s nephew who happened to be passing by in the company of some of his friends.

Varied Evangelizing Approaches Adapted to Meet Local Needs
In the lands ruled by the Habsburg Emperors at the time there were Anti-Catholics, Non-Catholics, wavering Catholics and pious Catholics; some lived in thriving cities, others lived in isolated country farmhouses. Different audiences required different evangelizing methods. So Capuchins would use what they called “Apostolic Missions’ to visit the country people in their homes or work places and teach them the basic truths of the faith. In the cities they promoted devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and especially the devotion of ‘Forty Hours Adoration’ as well as setting up penitent confraternities dedicated to honouring the Passion and Death of Christ. Brother Lawrence relished every opportunity to engage Protestant Pastors in lively debate and used his writings to persuasively convince them and their adherents of their mistaken way of thinking. Seeing that this mission band was very successful, a new band of Capuchin missionaries was invited to help out. Blessed Benedict to Urbino was one of this second group of missionaries.As Provincial Vicar of Venice, Brother Lawrence began establishing a chain of Capuchin friaries connecting Venice, Trent, and the Tyrol. With an influx of native vocations, these houses of presence and mission would later mushroom, becoming in time six independent Provinces of the Capuchin Order.

  • He engaged with secular leaders at many levels for many purposes.
  • And then…there is that battle:

In 1601 the large Turkish army invaded the lands of the Holy Roman Emperor and were threatening to overrun the Habsburg-ruled lands before going to Rome to stable their horses in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Pope and Emperor were alarmed and patched together an army to block the Turkish threat. Brother Lawrence’s skills as a diplomat were used to cement together a Christian allied force which also included Protestants. At the Emperor’s request Capuchins served as army chaplains to the soldiers and Lawrence was among those appointed. However the small and badly equipped Imperial forces were no match for the invading Turkish army which with 80,000 men was more than four times larger than the 18,000 Christian soldiers who tried to block them.

At the The Battle of Székesfehérvár in Hungary the hopelessly outnumbered Christian army’s field commanders counselled retreat. but Brother Lawrence would not hear of this. Instead he urged the Imperial Forces on to victory, encouraging the flagging soldiers with his fiery words and personally leading the army into the thick of battle with his cross raised aloft for all to see. “Advance! Advance! Victory is ours!” he shouted over and over again and in the end a revitalized Christian army totally routed the Turks. Even the Lutheran soldiers were impressed by this and Brother Lawrence’s morale-boosting efforts were deemed pivotal in snatching a surprising last minute major victory over the invading Turkish forces.

In this noble and excellent two things are especially outstanding: his apostolic zeal, and his mastery of doctrine. He taught with his word, he instructed with his pen, he fought with both. Not deeming it enough to withdraw into himself, and dedicate himself to prayer and study in the refuge of his monastery, and occupy himself only with domestic matters, he leaped forth as if he could not contain the force of his spirit, wounded with the love of Christ and his brothers. Speaking from many pulpits about Christian dogma, about morals, the divine writings, and the virtues of the denizens of heaven, he spurred Catholics on to devotion, and moved those who had been swallowed up by the filth of their sins to wash away their crimes, and undertake the emendation of their lives. … outside the sacred precincts, when preaching to those who those who lacked the true religion, he defended it wisely and fearlessly; in meetings with Jews and heretics, he stood as the standard-bearer of the Roman church, and persuaded many to renounce and foreswear the opinions of false teaching. …

In the three volumes called “A Sketch of Lutheranism” (Lutheranismi hypotyposis), this defender of the Catholic law, mighty in his great learning, seeks to disabuse the people of the errors which the heretical teachers had spread. Therefore, those who treat of the sacred disciples, and especially those who seek to expound and defend the catholic faith, have in him the means to nourish their minds, to instruct themselves for the defense and persuasion of the truth, and to prepare themselves to work for the salvation of others. If they follow this author who eradicate errors, who made clear what was obscure or doubtful, they may know they walk upon a sure path.

With a fine theological sensitivity, Lawrence of Brindisi also pointed out the Holy Spirit’s action in the believer’s life. He reminds us that the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity illumines and assists us with his gifts in our commitment to live joyously the Gospel message.

“The Holy Spirit”, St Lawrence wrote, “sweetens the yoke of the divine law and lightens its weight, so that we may observe God’s commandments with the greatest of ease and even with pleasure”.

I would like to complete this brief presentation of the life and doctrine of St Lawrence of Brindisi by underlining that the whole of his activity was inspired by great love for Sacred Scripture, which he knew thoroughly and by heart, and by the conviction that listening to and the reception of the word of God produces an inner transformation that leads us to holiness.

“The word of the Lord”, he said, “is a light for the mind and a fire for the will, so that man may know and love God. For the inner man, who lives through the living grace of God’s Spirit, it is bread and water, but bread sweeter than honey and water better than wine or milk…. It is a weapon against a heart stubbornly entrenched in vice. It is a sword against the flesh, the world and the devil, to destroy every sin”.

St Lawrence of Brindisi teaches us to love Sacred Scripture, to increase in familiarity with it, to cultivate daily relations of friendship with the Lord in prayer, so that our every action, our every activity, may have its beginning and its fulfilment in him. This is the source from which to draw so that our Christian witness may be luminous and able to lead the people of our time to God.

The sketch offered here is just that…a sketch.  Go to the Capuchin site I linked above for more, or this one – is also good.

I think the life and proclaimed sanctity of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, even as sketched here, points out the inadequacy of some approaches to the Catholic questions and issues.

It is easy, it seems, to read the Gospels and proclaim:  Engaging with power is bad. War is bad. Simplicity is good. Tolerance is good. Embrace. Mercy. Welcome. 

But read this saint’s story carefully. A man who apparently found it not at contradictory to give himself to Christ, hold up St. Francis of Assisi as the emblematic disciple, devote himself to attempt to convert – not simply dialogue with – non-Christians and non-Catholics, move among the corridors of power, minister to the powerful, and inspire an army to go to battle.

Does that fit with what you’ve been hearing about what a “true Christian” does and doesn’t do?

This is why simplistic, The Gospels – n – Me – n- the Holy Spirit Today – doesn’t work.  It can’t coherently account for the complexity of Catholic history because there’s no systematic thinking brought to the table.  There is certainly plenty of space to talk about the shape of the Church and the vision of sanctity through the centuries, but without principles and systematic thinking, we really have nowhere to go.  Simplistic, idealistic thinking cuts us off from the breadth, depth, complexity and even ambiguity of human history and Christ’s church and saints within that history and offers us only the present moment in however those in authority choose to frame the present moment.

Oh…and slightly off topic, as I was reading, a concise expression of how saints deal with church office and authority came to me.

Saints don’t seek office; they seek mission. 

(And the hard part for most saints happens when the mission comes in the form of an office.)

(If you’d like a quick, interesting read – go to archive.org and check out this short book called The Saints of 1881 written by a British priest, about the saints canonized by Leo XIII that year.  Catholic publishing – always looking to build on current events, even then!)

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This is one of my favorite stained glass windows in town.

It was, for a long time, just a blur of colors on my right when I attended Mass at this parish. But last year, we had occasion to spend a lot of time in this church building as the parish staff graciously allowed my son to practice piano and organ there, and I finally paid attention to it.

So, take a look.

It’s a Pentecost window, of course. At the center top is the Holy Spirit, showering down those gifts on those gathered in the upper room.

And then, to the right, you have another figure – who is it? St. Paul, preaching, receiving the same light of the Spirit. St. Paul, of course, being the patron of the Diocese of Birmingham and the namesake of our Cathedral.

To the left is another figure – St. Francis Xavier, the patron of this very parish. He’s surrounded by symbolic respresentations of the Far East and the people whom he served.

The same Spirit, the same gifts, the same courage given to every link in the chain, from the upper room, through the various branches of the Communion of Saints that leads us to this spot here, in this church building, in this community, on this planet at this moment in time. And this is where you start – right here – and then keep moving, led by that same Spirit to speak – where ever you land.

Come, O Holy Spirit, come!
From your bright and blissful Home
Rays of healing light impart.

Come, Father of the poor,
Source of gifts that will endure
Light of ev’ry human heart.

Repeats below, but as long as you’re here…..

Yes, this is largely a repeat from Friday. But hey, not everyone comes here every day. Don’t blame you.

Pages above are (left) from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols  and (right) from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.  Click on images for larger versions. Remember that for the Signs and Symbols entry, there’s another page –  a full page of more detailed text.

Here we are –  For help in preparing the kids, let’s go to one of my favorite sources – this wonderful  old Catholic religion textbook.

The short chapter on Pentecost is lovely and helpful.

EPSON MFP image

This volume is for 7th graders.

What I’m struck by here is the assumption that the young people being addressed are responsible and capable in their spiritual journey. They are not clients or customers who need to be anxiously served or catered to lest they run away and shop somewhere else.

What is said to these 12 and 13-year olds is not much different from what would have been said to their parents or grandparents. God created you for life with him. During your life on earth there are strong, attractive temptations to shut him out and find lasting joy in temporal things. It’s your responsibility to do your best to stay close to Christ and let that grace live within you, the grace that will strengthen you to love and serve more, the grace that will lead you to rest peacefully and joyfully in Christ.

Pentecost is one of the events in The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

(The book is structured around the virtues. Each section begins with an event from Scripture that illustrates one of those virtues, followed by stories of people and events from church history that do so as well)

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Finally, hopefully today you’ll be hearing/singing/praying Veni Creator Spiritus today.  I have a chapter on it in The Words We Pray. A sample:

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Well, here we are, just about one week and counting from, we hope, The Return to College. Out of five classes, all but one will be (as far as we can tell) face-to-face, and I don’t mind paying for that.

What a ride.

So, next week: Hopefully get his old car sold (anyone in Alabama want a 2006 Mazda Miata?) get serious about lists and shopping and such. I’m not anxious about it because he’ll have a car with him and in case he needs toothpaste, he can just pop out to Wal-Mart and…go get some. There isn’t that concern to Buy All The Things because he won’t be able to restock for weeks or months.

But we do want to get most of the stuff before we go. Added to the usual this year: Masks? Check. Sanitizer? Check. Thermometer? Check. Etc. He has all of this textbooks. He’ll be in a single room, so no roommate concerns, and that also lessens the Pandemic Prevention Pressure.

— 2 —

I’m in Living Faith today. Here ’tis. 

Before this – here. 

— 3 —

My new favorite Twitter account. Language alert, blah, blah, blah.

 — 4 —

Working hard here, every day. Process?

In the evening, take a look at the material to be written about the next day. Read any unfamiliar Scripture passages. Let it simmer.

Get up the next morning, first thing revise the two or three chunks written the day before. Then write two-three new chunks.

Done by 10 am, usually.

Onward!

— 5

In case you missed it earlier this week:

I’ll Fly Away – The Sister Servants from Sister Servants on Vimeo.

Learn more about the Sister Servants here. 

 

6–

Here’s a really excellent article on Hemingway and O’Connor, turning on the imagery of blood and yes, bulls. It’s very, very good. 

It is also noteworthy here that Mrs. May is described as being “pierced”—that word associated with suffering and with the cross—and that the piercing coincides with a kind or rapture or “ecstasy,” a word whose Greek root means “to stand outside of oneself” and suggests a transcendence of self. O’Connor’s heroine is cast as a modern-day version of Bernini’s St. Teresa in Ecstasy, who is pierced, in the midst of her visionary rapture, by a visiting angel.

Along similar lines, Hemingway associates the violence of the bullring with ecstasy, particularly the faena—the final third of the bullfight wherein the matador performs his capework with the bull before killing him. In Death in the Afternoon he writes of this rapture, describing the faena as a ritual

That takes a man out of himself and makes him feel immortal while it is proceeding, that gives him an ecstasy, that is, while momentary, as profound as any religious ecstasy; moving all the people in the ring together . . . in a growing ecstasy of ordered, formal, passionate, increasing disregard for death (206-207).

The ecstasy O’Connor and Hemingway describe—and that Bernini depicts— is the culmination of intense bodily sensation leading to enlightenment of the soul. The natural leads to the supernatural. Time becomes one with eternity. Suffering is redeemed. It is mystical, transcendent, and deeply Catholic.

The uses of violence by both Hemingway and O’Connor remind us of the reality human life is grounded in: we are all living “on the verge of eternity” (O’Connor, Mystery and Manners, 114), and the way we conduct our lives in the here and now has a spiritual dimension. Violence reminds us of our unceasing proximity to death, and this knowledge can serve as a conduit to grace.

 

— 7 —

Tomorrow? St. Dominic, here in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.  Only a page is available  online, so here it is. He’s in “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray” section.

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

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Thoughts, of course, are leaning towards the fall and a new school year. As families drive by and drop off books, tablets and laptops at school, you can’t avoid the question, what next?

Some systems and schools in some areas probably won’t change much of what they were doing. Others will institute new policies directed at greater cleanliness and distancing – which, I’m going to say, for a school, is not a bad thing. Schools – as is the case with all public places – are probably going to be a lot safer, health-wise, now that we’re plunged into this sanitizing craze. More thoroughly clean those spaces inhabited by six-year olds all day? I’m for that. Make sure they keep their grimy hands off each other? Spacing in buses, giving less proximity to the bullies? Good idea.

There are various graphics circulating which purport to summarize CDC recommendations on this score. I don’t know how accurate those are, but this is the CDC’s actual page on recommendations for schools – and it’s updated regularly, it seems. 

Looking through it, I’m struck by some of the same thoughts that I’ve had in considering back-to-Mass regulations. As in: all those innovations we’ve been pushing on you for decades?

Never mind. 

In this case, for example: “Turn desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other)”

File:Queensland State Archives 1640 Kelvin Grove State School ...

Hah.

Of course, they’re not six feet apart.

But. 

This is for parents.

If your school – private or public – or system starts instituting procedures and rules that strike you as over-the-top, guess what….you can check out. Leave. Walk away. Don’t have to send the kid there.

It will be hard. It’s hard. You will have to rethink so much about your life.

You don’t have to be a part of it.

You just don’t.

Yes, your child needs an education. He’s a human being with a mind and soul that naturally wants to learn and figure things out. School is not the only place that can happen.

And guess what – a school environment filled with rules and regulations and loads of invisible lines is not, to say the least, one friendly to learning.

School  – while it can be great – can also be very hard  for children and families. It can be stressful and harmful to a child’s sense of self. Peers can be brutal. A highly competitive atmosphere can skew a child’s understanding of what it means to be human. A  chaotic atmosphere can lead to days and days of nothing but frustration and wasted time. From a parent’s perspective, the hassle of understanding school procedures, keeping up with pedagogical fads and demands, and just signing all those damn forms can be exhausting and alienating.

Very simply: if it looks to you as if school this fall is going to be a stressful, ridiculous mess in which your child will be spending eight hours a day being told don’t get so close – don’t touch that – don’t talk, just listen – no you can’t play catch because you’ll be touching the same ball – no you can’t sing because that spreads the virus – 

….Get. Out. 

Getting out can mean any number of things. Depending on the situation in your particular area, it definitely doesn’t have to mean what it’s meant for so many over the past months:  an “education” based on isolation, with your kid’s work reflecting someone else’s educational priorities and philosophies, with little contact with friends or activity outside the home.

It can mean anything. I’m not going to do a rehash of what it means to homeschool. You can go here in case you’re interested in my perspective and (limited) experience.

But what I hope is that if, indeed a school or a system embraces extreme, stress-inducing procedures for this fall, parents and families will, yes, #resist and engage, creatively with each other and find the will and strength to create alternatives – which can be all over the map, ranging from online classes to individual tutoring to small-scale co-ops or tutoring groups.

As I say over and over again – this is hard. People have to work. Hopefully, they’ll be able to work in greater numbers by the fall, which makes taking a kid out of school daunting and perhaps near-impossible. Supervising a child’s education responsibly takes far more effort that switching on a laptop at the beginning of the day. I’ve written over and over about this – I’m not anti-school in general.greatly appreciate what a quality school and dedicated teachers give my children.

But….

am anti-schools that restrict, restrain and limit a child’s experience and horizons. I’m anti-schools that present a child with a single vision of “success,” “achievement” and “accomplishment” based on the current pedagogical fads and social expectations. I’m anti-schools that don’t respect family time and a child’s need for unstructured time.

My fear is that this pandemic will only lead to more of what’s most damaging about the school experience and will just encourage the worst, control-freak instincts of educational administrators and that parents, stressed-out, fearful and seeing only very limited options, will just say yes, convinced that this is the only way.

It’s not. 

***

Kerry McDonald writes:

We should care deeply about children’s health and safety, but like much about this pandemic, it’s important to make sure that the response isn’t more damaging than the virus itself. Many parents and educators are rightfully concerned about children’s mental health during these lockdowns, but when lockdowns end and schools reopen, children’s mental health could be worsened with extreme social distancing measures that remove any of the potentially enjoyable pieces of schooling, such as playground time, extracurriculars, and gathering with friends.

Stripped of these accessories that can often compensate for the more oppressive parts of conventional schooling, it’s not surprising that some parents and students would choose to continue with homeschooling or virtual learning until the pandemic ends.

****

Now, as I was writing this, something else occurred to me.  We could actually go either way on this, right?

This situation could encourage megalomaniac school administrators to, indeed, go even deeper into their authoritarian fantasies, making everyone’s life hell – or….

…just as the work-from-home situation has alerted employers to the efficiencies and cost-saving aspects of increased working from home, so might those engaged in education, from families to churches to schools, be forced, by circumstance, to a different way.

That is: maybe we can best protect everyone by getting students in and out of this place as quickly as possible. 

Minimizing social aspects of the day. Moving away from the ideal of school-as-community and simply focusing on what needs to get done. No meals served on campus, no extraneous group activities.

Get ’em in. Sit ’em down (all facing the same way!). Teach them some stuff. Everyone’s on the clock, since we’re in smaller groups, perhaps one half of the school here in the morning, the other half in the afternoon. No time to waste. And then, after three or four hours of focused work – off you go, back home.

The only glitch being, of course, that no one would trust that this 3-4 hours (the actual instruction time in a typical school day these days anyway)  would actually be “enough.” The kids would be followed home by all sorts of assignments and websites to check in with at home. And it would be endless. 

Or maybe not. Maybe the challenges and of these past few weeks will have soured the taste for that sort of thing, too, as teachers and families reflect on the fact that one of the meanings of online school is that….school’s never out. 

And who wants that?

1967, SCHOOL LAST DAY SCENES | Historic Images

 

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—1 —

Well, that was interesting. Somehow, this post went viral, as we say, yesterday, with thousands more hits than I usually get around here. Very odd. I still don’t know why or how.

This also got a big bump, mostly because Ross Douthat retweeted a reference to it. Just glad to get the message out there!

Click back for other posts – on how 9th grade homeschooling ended up and on season 2 of Fargo. 

The other “extended reach” story of the week involved musician son-in-law, who had a song featured at the end of Tony Kornheiser’s podcast. 

— 2 —

The Real Lord of the Flies. A fascinating piece.

 

The kids agreed to work in teams of two, drawing up a strict roster for garden, kitchen and guard duty. Sometimes they quarrelled, but whenever that happened they solved it by imposing a time-out. Their days began and ended with song and prayer. Kolo fashioned a makeshift guitar from a piece of driftwood, half a coconut shell and six steel wires salvaged from their wrecked boat – an instrument Peter has kept all these years – and played it to help lift their spirits. And their spirits needed lifting. All summer long it hardly rained, driving the boys frantic with thirst. They tried constructing a raft in order to leave the island, but it fell apart in the crashing surf.

Worst of all, Stephen slipped one day, fell off a cliff and broke his leg. The other boys picked their way down after him and then helped him back up to the top. They set his leg using sticks and leaves. “Don’t worry,” Sione joked. “We’ll do your work, while you lie there like King Taufa‘ahau Tupou himself!”

They survived initially on fish, coconuts, tame birds (they drank the blood as well as eating the meat); seabird eggs were sucked dry. Later, when they got to the top of the island, they found an ancient volcanic crater, where people had lived a century before. There the boys discovered wild taro, bananas and chickens (which had been reproducing for the 100 years since the last Tongans had left).

Much more hopeful turn of events than in the novel.

— 3 —

America ran a very nice piece on Wyoming Catholic College:

The first class every student takes is an introduction to the Experiential Leadership Program, ELP 101. In the summer before the start of the new school year, freshmen take a wilderness first aid course, then embark on a 21-day backpacking trip in the Wyoming backcountry. Like most everything at W.C.C., the course is grounded in Western philosophy. “The term ‘gymnastic,’” the Philosophical Vision Statement of the college reads, “comes from the Greek gymnos, meaning ‘naked.’ Gymnastics, broadly speaking, refers to the naked or direct experience of reality.” Through their direct encounter with the grandeur of nature, the founders believed, students would grow in virtue.

Students continue their outdoor education all four years at W.C.C.: a week of winter camping after the first Christmas break; week-long hiking, rafting or rock-climbing excursions once a semester; and a required course in horsemanship. But it is the 21-day trip that forms the foundation of what will follow in and out of the classroom.

“There’s nothing more empowering than when those students can go backpacking in wolf country and grizzly bear country by themselves without an instructor,” Mr. Zimmer says. “And that allows them to know that [when they take] the final they’re going to have in humanities or Euclid or Latin, they’re going to be fine. Just like their 21-day trip, they have to put effort and energy and time into their training.”

Ms. Stypa agrees. “There are so many nights out there where you’re freezing or it’s raining, and your sleeping bag got wet and someone has a blister that needs to get taken care of. And it’s 11 p.m. and you’re supposed to get up at 6 a.m., and it’s just hard,” she says. “That toughness that it gives you sticks with you when you come back into the semester when you’re slammed by paper after paper.”

She also described a more subtle connection to the classroom. “You’re just thrust into the wilderness, into the mountains and these mountain lakes, snow and wildlife and lightning storms. It’s terrifying, and it’s beautiful,” she says. “And then we come back, and we study poetry, and we talk about ancient Greece and ancient Rome. And I think you really draw on your experience and fill your imagination as you’re reading the Great Books.”
Jason Baxter, an associate professor of fine arts and humanities, also finds a deep resonance between the freshmen expedition and the Great Books curriculum. “There’s something severely beautiful about ancient texts, which are not trying to accommodate us in any way,” he tells me over tea at Crux, the corner coffee shop staffed by students and frequented by faculty and local residents alike. “And there’s something fascinatingly analogous to the Wyoming landscape, which is severely beautiful but does not exist in order to accommodate human beings. Without railroads or now interstates, we would not be here.”

 

— 4 —

You know the tune Tuxedo Junction? 

Well….Tuxedo Junction is actually here in Birmingham, Alabama. I did not know that until this week.

The second floor of the Belcher-Nixon building located in Ensley was the dance hall and center of all The Junction happenings. Many talented performers hailing from Birmingham got their beginnings by entertaining there.

Among these was the acclaimed musician and performer Erskine Hawkins. In 1939, Hawkins released the Birmingham favorite “Tuxedo Junction” in honor of his hometown. He writes about the magical place that he can count on to raise his spirits, where he can lose himself by dancing the jive all night to his favorite jazz.

 

— 5 –

A really, really good piece on fear and faith, taking off from Cyprian or Carthage’s work On Mortality – written in a time of plague. 

The paradoxical nature of a Christian view of life and death shows up remarkably in Cyprian of Carthage’s treatise On Mortality. Written only a few years after he became bishop in 248, in the midst of a ravenous plague that nearly destroyed the Roman Empire, Cyprian reflects on what it means for Christians to be alive to God, and so not to fear death.

The plague broke out in Egypt around 249 (the “exotic” East for a Roman) and had reached Carthage by 250 or 251. Historian Kyle Harper suggests either pandemic influenza (like the Spanish Flu) or a viral hemorrhagic fever (like Ebola). Ancient sources say that it could have carried away 5,000 persons a day, decimating the population by as much as 60% in some cities. Another source says that it seemed to spread through contact with clothing or even simply by eyesight. It is often called “The Plague of Cyprian” because it is the Carthaginian bishop who provides one of the most graphic accounts of its effects: severe diarrhea (“As the strength of the body is dissolved, the bowels dissipate in a flow”), fever (“a fire that begins in the inmost depths, in the marrow, burns up into wounds in the throat”), and incessant, “intestine-rattling” vomiting (§14). In some cases, a person’s hands or feet were putrefied to the point of falling off, resulting in disfigurement or a loss of hearing and sight.

It was not a physical loss of sight, however, that worried Cyprian most. It was rather a loss of spiritual sight. 

 

— 6 —

Cyprian invites his hearers to see the plague as revelatory for how we view our life in reference to God. As an occasion for Christian sanctification, a time of plague reveals what we really care about, what we really love. The plague, in other words, makes visible what normally remains hidden in our ordinary lives of comfort and distraction. 

What a significance, beloved brethren, all this has! How suitable, how necessary it is that this plague and pestilence, which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the justice of each and every one and examines the minds of the human race—whether those who are well care for the sick, whether relatives dutifully love their kinsmen as they should, whether masters show compassion to their ailing slaves, whether physicians do not desert the afflicted begging their help, whether the violent repress their violence, whether the greedy, even through the fear of death, quench the ever insatiable fire of their raging avarice, whether the proud bend their necks, whether the shameless soften their affrontery, whether the rich, even when their dear ones are perishing and they are about to die without heirs, bestow and give something!

Although this mortality has contributed nothing else, it has especially accomplished this for Christians and servants of God: that we have begun gladly to seek martyrdom while we are learning not to fear death. These are trying exercises for us, not deaths; they give to the mind the glory of fortitude; by contempt of death they prepare for the crown. (§16)

The plague is a test, a spiritual exercise, not a death. 

 

— 7 —

"amy welborn"Here’s a short story for you. It was a finalist for the Dappled Things J. F. Powers competition, but not the winner. So here it is – I wanted to put it on a platform that was not my blog, and Wattpad was the quickest way to go. It undoubtedly does not quite fit the site, but it was easy and let me keep my italics, so it won.

It may not be there forever, as I’ll still keep looking.

And here’s a novel  –     from Son #2! (Check out his other writings here)

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From previous years, but still worth a read!


How did I happen up on this? In the usual, wandering way. I went to archive.org and typed in “ash wednesday” in the search box, and after wading through a bunch of sermons and pamphlets (including one had written!), I happened upon this, and stumbled into a huge rabbit hole.

In that rabbit hole I was introduceed to one Baron Ferdinand de Geramb, (probably) born in Lyons, but of Hungarian descent. An adventurer, a soldier, a prisoner of Napoleon, and eventually…a Trappist. From the old Catholic Encyclopedia:

In 1808 he fell into the hands of Napoleon, who imprisoned him in the fortress of Vincennes until 1814, the time when the allied powers entered Paris. After bidding farewell to the Tsar and Emperor of Austria, he resolved to leave the world. It was at this time that he providentially met the Rev. Father Eugene, Abbot of Notre Dame du Port du Salut, near Laval (France), of whom he begged to be admitted as a novice in the community. He pronounced his vows in 1817.

After having rendered great services to that monastery, he was sent, in 1827, to the monastery of Mt. Olivet (Alsace). During the Revolution of 1830 de Géramb displayed great courage in the face of a troop of insurgents that had come to pillage the monastery; though the religious had been dispersed, the abbey was at least, by his heroic action, spared the horrors of pillage. It was at this time that Brother Mary Joseph made his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On his return in 1833, he went to Rome, where he held the office of procurator-general of La Trappe. He soon gerambgained the esteem and affection of Gregory XVI, who, though he was not a priest, named him titular abbot with the insignia of the ring and pectoral cross, a privilege without any precedent.

Abbot de Géramb is the author of many works, the principal of which are: “Letters to Eugene on the Eucharist”; “Eternity is approaching”; “Pilgrimage to Jerusalem”; “A Journey from La Trappe to Rome”, besides many others of less importance and of an exclusively ascetical character. They were often reprinted and translated. His style is easy and without affectation. The customs, manners, and incidents of the journey which he describes, all are vividly and attractively given, and the topographical descriptions are of an irreproachable accuracy. Even under the monk’s cowl the great nobleman could occasionally be seen distributing in alms considerable sums of money which he had received from his family to defray his expenses.

I spent a good deal of time skimming through the book to which the search took me: A Pilgrimage to Palestine, Egypt and Syria.  It is quite evocative, as this excerpt about Ash Wednesday shows:

 On the 20th I was awake long before dawn. I went
out of my tent, and seated myself at the entrance. My
Bedouins, at a little distance, were sleeping around some
half-extinct embers. At the slight noise which I made
their camels raised their heads, but laid them down
again immediately on the sand. Silence reigned around
me. It was Ash- Wednesday, a day specially set apart
by the Church, to remind its members of the curse pro-
nounced against the first man after his fall, and in which
his whole posterity is involved. I picked up a handful
of the dust of the desert, marked my brow with it, and,
giving myself the salutary warning which it was not pos-
sible for me to receive at the foot of the altars of Christ,
from the lips of one of his ministers, I pronounced these
words : — ” Recollect, O man, that dust thou art, and
unto dust shalt thou return.”

Then, joining in spirit and in heart the Christian
people, who, on this day more especially, beseech the
Lord ” to have pity upon them according to his great
mercy’ I waited for sunrise, meditating upon that
awful sentence of death pronounced upon the human
race, the execution of which none can escape, and which
it will by and by be my turn to undergo. It has often
been the case, my dear Charles, that I have felt deeply
moved and violently torn from the things of this world,
while listening to the powerful words demonstrating
their nothingness, issuing from the pulpit amidst the
doleful solemnities with which the holy season of penance
commences ; but I declare to you that this desert, where
the plant itself cannot live ; this soil, which is but dust,
and from which the blast sweeps away in the twinkling
of an eye all traces of the footsteps of man, telling him
that thus shall he be swept away by the blast of death;
this universal silence, not even interrupted like that of
the grave by the voice of grief or the song of mourning;
those ruins, and those empty sepulchers ; those carcasses
of kingdoms and of cities, which had just passed before
my eyes ; and that holy Bible, which related to me the
crimes of generations upon the spot where they were
committed, explained to me the transitory nature, the
paltriness, and the term of human life, and showed to
me, as still dwelling in the heavens, Him who will have
man know that he is the Lord, and that He infallibly
overtakes by his justice the presumptuous mortal who
disdains his mercy — all this spake to my soul in much
stronger language, in a language the energy of which
no words can express.


Now…for the 12-year old….

 

…1935 style.

More from a 1935 7th-grade text, part of the The Christ Life Series in Religion.

Note, again, how the child is treated as a full-fledged member of the Body of Christ, with responsibilities and the capacity to know his or herself and receive grace fruitfully and grow in union with Christ. No pandering, no dumbing-down. Nor is it about rule-following or a shallow embrace of external actions, as our caricatures of pre-Vatican II life tell us it must have been.  It is, as the textbook says, about becoming “more intimately united with Christ.”

Read and contrast to the prevalent contemporary understanding of Lent, which is that it’s about focusing my efforts so God can help me get my life together and feel better about it all.

There is a difference between the two emphases. Subtle, but real between “strengthening the soul’s life” and “having a great Lent.” It’s all about the focus. Is it about me or about Jesus, the Gospel and our mission, as parts of his Body, in a broken world?

And news flash: there is not much about Lent in the CCC, but what is there emphasizes that yes, it is still a penetential season. 

(click on graphics for bigger versions)

 

As living members of Christ’s Mystical Body we must participate in all His life. Today this means waging war on those passions which have been gaining ground in our soul and usurping the reign which belongs to Christ alone. Only a coward flees from a call to arms in a just cause. We, who in Confirmation have been sealed with the Spirit as soldiers of Christ, must fight courageously under His leadership. Is there any special self-indulgence weakening our spiritual life? Let us have entire confidence that with God’s grace we can overcome our faults.

Lent is a time of action and spiritual growth—not a time of gloom and repression, but a time of strong positive effort. Through our vigorous efforts of this season, we grow stronger spiritually, for we become more intimately united with Christ. It is in the Mass, above all, that we receive the grace we need in order to be victorious in the struggle upon which we are entering. Is it possible for you to assist at daily Mass during Lent, offering yourself with the divine Victim to atone for sin and to gain renewed vigor? Exactly what spiritual gains will you aim to make during this Lent? Join in the prayer of the Church today “that our fasts may be acceptable to thee and a means of healing to us. Through our Lord”

ashwednesday1

 

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—1 —

Hey, there – I’m in Living Faith today – here you go for that! 

 

— 2 —

Today’s the feast of St. John Bosco. Want to know more about him?  The old Catholic Encyclopedia entry is a good place to start. 

I wrote about him in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

 

(You can click on individual images to get a clearer view.)

— 3 —

Ashwednesday

You know it. 

Here’s a page with many Lent-related posts. 

Next week, I’ll be ranting again about Septuagesima. But if you’re interested, you can catch the gist of it here. 

Short version, to newcomers – used to be that all Catholics (not just Eastern Catholics) celebrated a “pre-Lent” – three Sundays that, through the readings, prayers and practices, prepared your soul and readied your spirit for the sacrifices ahead.

But…well…some people thought they new better. Go here to read the tale. 

— 4 —

We spent the first part of this week in South Florida: the Everglades, the Upper Keys, and Biscayne, with the quickest of shots through Miami Beach – as quickly as one can do such a thing a few days before the Super Bowl…in Miami.

For the posts and photos, just click back through this week’s entries. And go to Instagram for some video – if you would like to see the highlights of the trip for us which were, respectively: kayaking out to an island in the Gulf; seeing manatees, stumbling into a citizenship ceremony, and watching a large gator munch on a waterfowl of some sort. Yup.

— 5 –

And sure, teachable moments. The emphasis was on history and ecology – we learned about the history of South Florida, focusing on the Seminole presence – where and why – as well as the history of development. (The PBS American Experience episode The Swamp is very good. Long, but good.) Lots of natural sciences and ecological considerations – the flora and fauna, the invasive species, the function of the Everglades and the formation of the Keys.

And manatees!

IMG_20200129_104752

— 6 —

Thanks to Dom & Melanie Bettinelli (on Facebook), I was reminded of P.D.Q. Bach. 

Wow, how could I have forgotten, with a music guy in the house? Well, a couple of weeks ago, it was Flight of the Conchords – this week, we’ll dive into the Maestro.

Music related, also from the Bettinellis – I’ve not yet listened, but we will certainly try out the podcast “How Does Music Do That?” Looks good! 

— 7 —

 I’ve recommended this before – but it bears repeating – of the many digest/newsletter type resources out there, Prufrock News is one of the best. Always good links to follow, and not so many that it’s overwhelming.

Today, he links to a piece on the history of the  Memphis (Tennessee) pyramid – in case you’d ever wondered!

 

 

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—1 —

Apologies for the earlier, incomplete version of this post that a few of you were confused by. I had scheduled it, then gotten too tired to finish writing it…then forgot I’d scheduled it. It’s gone. You’ll never see that again.

— 2 —

Secondly,  welcome Catholic Herald readers and thanks to the Herald for the link to my Young Pope ramblings! Come back on Monday (probably – in the evening) for thoughts on the first three episodes of The New Pope. 

Check out my St. Francis de Sales post from today. 

— 3 —

We’re here in the Ham, as we call it, while Son #4 is up on his March for Life #3 – the first as a college student. What? No dire-threats-not-to-break them curfews? I can head into DC on Saturday…without a chaperone? What is this new life I’m leading?!

Very pleased and proud that he’s there, along with a huge group from his (Catholic) college.

— 4 —

From First Things: The Myth of Medieval Paganism:

When we encounter “pagan-­seeming” images or practices in ­medieval Christianity, we should consider the probability that they were simply expressions of popular Christianity before positing the existence of secret pagan cults in ­medieval Western Europe. Once we accept that most culturally alien practices in popular Christianity were products of imperfectly catechized Christian cultures rather than pockets of pagan resistance, we can begin to ask the interesting questions about why popular Christianity developed in the ways it did. Rejecting the myth of the pagan Middle Ages opens up the vista of medieval popular Christianity in all its inventiveness and eccentricity. After the first couple of centuries of evangelization, there were no superficially Christianized pagans—but there remained some very strange expressions of Christianity.

— 5 –

In my earlier post this week, I focused on things I’ve been wasting my life watching lately.

I forgot one, though:

My 15-year old is a music guy and a fan of odd humor, so I figured it was time to introduce him to these geniuses. Yes, there will be a few moments that we’ll skip over, but for the most part it’s just fine, content-wise. And has prompted one of those much-beloved teachable moments , this one about the difference between New Zealand and Australian accents.

And yes, this particular video has been on replay constantly for the past few days and prompted other teachable moments about French – which was the main language I studied in school (besides Latin) but which he (Spanish and Latin guy) has little understanding of. So those have been decent conversations, too, that end up comparing these two romance languages, with the original, and then with the Craziness that is English…

Another watch, for trip prep, has been the PBS American Experience  – The Swamp– about the Everglades. Running at almost two hours, it’s about thirty minutes too long, but other than that, it’s worth your time if you’re interested in the subject – it’s a history of the conflicts and problems surrounding the Everglades since the late 19th century when people actually started living down in South Florida – both the Seminoles, driven there as they attempted to escape US government forces -and white settlers, followed in the 20’s and 30’s by substantial migrant populations, mostly black from the deep south or the Caribbean.

So yes, that’s where we’re heading soon – a part of the state I’ve never been to. Looking forward to a quick adventure in warmer climes – son is disappointed we’ll probably miss the falling iguanas though – although he’d rather have warmer weather, as well.

— 6 —

Coming tomorrow  – the Conversion of St. Paul.
The event is included in The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories and The Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes. 

 

— 7 —

It’s coming…

Ashwednesday

 

(Feel free to take the graphic and use where ever.)

Next week – some suggestions on resources from my end.

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I’m not taking a stand on that specifically because there’s plenty of related verbiage out there, and most gravitate towards the view that confirms their political views anyway.

But here’s an slightly off-topic take.

Consider this:  for a few decades now, the mainstream view of the narrative in question, among Biblical scholars and those formed by them in seminary and divinity school (which would be most those preaching and teaching at most of you)  is that…wait for it…

none of it actually happened  anyway. 

Right?

Am I right?

Brown, Fitzmyer, Meier, etc., etc.

Now, I don’t want to get simplistic about this. It’s not a matter of Modern Skeptical Absolutism v. Literalist Absolutism. The question, for most scholars and their students is not as simple as: it’s all history and that’s why it’s valuable or it’s all myth and only valuable as such.

Subtle distinctions were made and teased out: the Gospel narratives are testimonies of faith rooted in experience, not 20th century histories, and should be treated and studied as such. There is a difference between exploring what the Gospel writers and their Paperback Jesus of History, Christ of Faith Bookcommunities were pointing to Christologically and saying that one or the other dogma can be “proven” historically. This is what drew questions about Brown and others, most famously,  about the Virginal Conception and the Resurrection. They’d say, “The normal methods of historiography can’t prove that these things happened. They’re in another realm of experience.” And it would be interpreted as “These scholars are saying that the Virginal Conception and the Resurrection weren’t historical events that occurred in the temporal sphere.”

Which sometimes they weren’t – and sometimes they were.

One person’s subtlety is another’s obfuscation.

But through the massive popularity of Raymond Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah  – THE authority on the infancy narratives from the time of its original publication in 1977 to perhaps the present –  historical skepticism gained the upper hand over more nuanced theological goals. Brown was “conservative” in a sense –this piece is a fair-minded treatment of his work, I think, but this conclusion, from another paper, authored by a (self-defined) non-conservative scholar, captures the essence of Brown’s project from a (liberal) critical perspective. This fellow says that Brown tried to have it both ways – to undermine the historicity of the infancy narratives, but at the same time saying that the essential Christological truths being communicated weren’t dependent on that historicity.  Brown himself says that the historical-critical method has cast doubt on the historicity of the events in the narratives, and that his project is to show that even if there are questions about historicity by 20th century standards, that doesn’t diminish their value to faith. Dawes disagrees, saying,

In pursuing this question I shall take Raymond Brown’s study of the infancy narratives as exemplary. Let me begin by avoiding some possible misunderstandings. I am not questioning the results of Brown’s exegesis. I shall assume that his results are substantially correct, that he has identified what the authors of these narratives intended to convey to their audiences. In his respect, I greatly admire Brown’s indefatigable detective work. Nor do I wish to dispute Brown’s generally negative judgments regarding the historicity of these stories. He produces excellent reasons to believe that there probably were no magi, that there probably was no star, and so on. I have no personal difficulty with these conclusions. What I wish to dispute is Brown’s assumption that these negative conclusions regarding historicity have no theological significance, that we can embrace the theological significance of these stories while no longer believing that the events they relate really occurred.

I am aware that I am not the only person to question this assumption. There are theologically conservative commentators—with whom I otherwise have little in common—who raise similar concerns. Their conclusion would be that we must regard these stories as reports of actual events, for they would otherwise lose their religious significance. I think that such commentators have sound theological instincts, but I have no desire to embrace their conclusion. I agree with Brown that for the most part we cannot regard these stories as historically accurate. But if it is true that the religious significance of these stories depends on their historicity, what follows? 

Point: There was hedging and tentative language, but honestly, the weight of Catholic Biblical scholarship for the past few decades has assumed that the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke have very, very limited value as history.  It’s a pastiche, a midrash composed, not from the memories of those who were there, but from a mix of Jewish tradition, messianic prophecies and concerns of the communities out of which and for whom the narratives were produced.

And it filtered down, of course.

Consider this summary page from the very popular high school textbook by Thomas Zanzig, Jesus of History, Christ of Faith. 

“In fact, in their infancy narratives, Matthew and Luke may have moved beyond historical concerns altogether, focusing instead on insights into the origins of Jesus that only people of faith would be concerned about.”

amy_welborn-book

Again, let’s not be simpletons about this.  Catholic Biblical interpretation has never been stuck in bare-boned literalism and historicism. That’s not what this is about. In terms of the Flight to Egypt, of course – as the Fathers long observed – the entire narrative in Matthew evokes the life of Moses, beginning here. We observe that, we meditate on it – but does that invariably drive us to conclude that Matthew wove the tale from threads he spun himself, divorced from historical events? It might surprise you to know how many would say “yes.”

So this is simply my typically over-long way of pointing out something that struck me as, well, ironic.

I mean – if we’re characterizing the Holy Family as refugees…does that mean we’re back to saying that the Flight to Egypt actually happened?

Great!

 

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I toss the same general post up every year. I don’t care. No need to search my brain for heartfelt spiritual metaphors from Daily Life™. When we have the Monkees!

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu chiu…

Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hemos redemido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.

Translation:

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.

Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…

He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

River, roaring river…

Here’s a helpful video that someone put up with subtitles. 

And the Kingston Trio:

More from Fr. Steve Grunow on the song and the feast.

Here’s my book on Mary, available in a Kindle version for .99:

 And for even more substance from a homily hB16 gave in 2005 on the feast – it was also the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.  It’s lengthy but SO worth it, an excellent reflection of what he has written elsewhere on it (for example, in this book):

But now we must ask ourselves:  What does “Mary, the Immaculate” mean? Does this title have something to tell us? Today, the liturgy illuminates the content of these words for us in two great images.

First of all comes the marvellous narrative of the annunciation of the Messiah’s coming to Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. The Angel’s greeting is interwoven with threads from the Old Testament, especially from the Prophet Zephaniah. He shows that Mary, the humble provincial woman who comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, is “the holy remnant” of Israel to which the prophets referred in all the periods of trial and darkness.

In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling-place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her he finds the place of his repose. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man. She is the shoot which sprouts from the stump of David in the dark winter night of history. In her, the words of the Psalm are fulfilled:  “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67: 7).

She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary’s time when Israel had become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few recognizable signs of its holiness.

God did not fail. In the humility of the house in Nazareth lived holy Israel, the pure remnant. God saved and saves his people. From the felled tree trunk Israel’s history shone out anew, becoming a living force that guides and pervades the world.

Mary is holy Israel:  she says “yes” to the Lord, she puts herself totally at his disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God.

The second image is much more difficult and obscure. This metaphor from the Book of Genesis speaks to us from a great historical distance and can only be explained with difficulty; only in the course of history has it been possible to develop a deeper understanding of what it refers to.

It was foretold that the struggle between humanity and the serpent, that is, between man and the forces of evil and death, would continue throughout history.

It was also foretold, however, that the “offspring” of a woman would one day triumph and would crush the head of the serpent to death; it was foretold that the offspring of the woman – and in this offspring the woman and the mother herself – would be victorious and that thus, through man, God would triumph.

If we set ourselves with the believing and praying Church to listen to this text, then we can begin to understand what original sin, inherited sin, is and also what the protection against this inherited sin is, what redemption is.

What picture does this passage show us? The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbours the suspicion that in the end, God takes something away from his life, that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God’s love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.

He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God’s level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom:  only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God’s will. For God’s will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

If we live in opposition to love and against the truth – in opposition to God – then we destroy one another and destroy the world. Then we do not find life but act in the interests of death. All this is recounted with immortal images in the history of the original fall of man and the expulsion of man from the earthly Paradise.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated by the images in the Book of Genesis.

We call this drop of poison “original sin”. Precisely on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing from his life:  the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do things on one’s own is part of being truly human; that only then can we make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.

In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles – the tempter – is right when he says he is the power “that always wants evil and always does good” (J.W. von Goethe, Faust I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps even necessary.

If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.

This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception:  the person who abandons himself totally in God’s hands does not become God’s puppet, a boring “yes man”; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.

The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.

For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness.

In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home.

As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son. Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God’s goodness came very close to us.

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