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

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

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

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

Just start there.

And for sure..

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

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

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

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

My point?

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

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

I don’t know. There! That solves it!

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where do we start? Where we always do.

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

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

For what have we all experienced?

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

My life on earth is transitory. Ephemeral.

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

Suffering and death are real. Unintended consequences are real.

Human beings stumble as they attempt to solve problems.

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

Maybe I need to change.

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

 

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

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

Essentially:

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

and

What is God teaching me right now? 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks!

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

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

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Ahem.

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

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

Hmmm. I’m thinking..

…thinking..

…something’s coming….

…I think I can conjure that up…

 

 

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

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

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

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

There is wisdom in tradition. 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

today’s first reading from Mass. 

Not, we hope, one of the boring parts. 

****

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

******

Today is the commemoration of St. George.

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

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"amy Welborn"

 

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

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

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

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

 

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This is a bit of a repeat, but I took the time to transcribe some of this from a scan of the book, so I thought it merited a separate post.

I wrote about Quinquagesima Sunday, and shared scans on the day from the 1935 7th-grade religion textbook, With Mother Church, from the Christ Life Series in Religion.  I’ve rescanned in a larger format and transcribed part of the text, for easier reading and quoting.

Remember – this is written for 7th graders. These days, we appeal to 7th graders by anxiously assuming that we must entertain them and constantly assure them of how fantastic they are and assure them that we’re offering them something appealing – as consumers, in other words. This is not the case here, is it? The 7th graders are treated respectfully, as full members of the Body of Christ with responsibilities and a role that contributes to the good of the whole, and are encouraged to be attentive to the Scriptures and prayers of the day’s liturgy, see their relationship to their lives and daily struggles, and to live in their framework.

Also note, belying the stereotype of those bad-old-days of-rules-and-rigidity, the theme of charity, aka, love. Also, the sensible, Gospel-rooted understanding of love – which is not about feeling awesome, excited, warm or …anything, but all about living in communion with God’s will – responding in love to His love. 

(Remember the first reading would have been Paul’s words on charity from 1 Corinthians 13) 

Thus we find that the perfect observance of the law of charity will make us perfect Christians. But how can we know that we have charity? Perhaps we do not feel a sensible love for God such as we feel toward our parents. Our Lord Himself has told us, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). This is the test. The first three commandments, you know, relate directly to God; the others, to our neighbor. Hence, “if any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar” (I John 4 : 20).

In time of temptation do we pray and resist because we do not want to break God’s commandments? Then we have charity. If, through weakness, we fall but are sorry and resolve not to sin again, then we have charity. If we are longing always to do the will of God, we shall certainly please Him by loving and bearing with our neighbor. God created and redeemed him and loves him in the same manner as He loves us. During Lent frequently offer the eucharistic Sacrifice, in which you are intimately united with Christ and with your neighbor in Christ through the sweet bond of charity.

Today is the final part of our preparation for Lent. Let us remember that our penances and good works depend for their value on our charity. On the last Sunday before Lent Christ Himself invites us to go up to Jerusalem with Him, and He says, “All things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of man, for he shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon; and after they have scourged him, they will put him to death; and the third day he shall rise again” (Gospel). Face to face with the mystery of suffering, we must pray for light to understand and charity to endure. With the blind man in the Gospel let us cry out, “Lord, that I may see.”

This program of suffering and penance must not cause us to be fearful or sad. If it does, our repentance does not spring from charity or love of God. In the Tract today we join King David in saying: “Sing joyfully to God all the earth; serve ye the Lord with gladness. . . . He made us, and not we ourselves; but we art his people and the sheep of his pasture.” Only through frequent union with Christ in His Sacrifice, can we expect the grace to be generous and joyous in our Lenten penances. In the Postcommunion we are shown where to expect to find the light and strength necessary for victory. “We beseech thee, almighty God, that we who have received this heavenly food may by it be safe-guarded from all adversities.”

 

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This is an adapted reprint from previous years. Last year, I’d gone to Mass that Saturday evening thinking, “Wow, it’s almost Lent,” and expecting some kind of mention of the fact…which never came…which brought this to mind again. Perhaps you’ll appreciate it. 

I have been on a bit of a hobby horse about pre-Lent. And yes, I am still on it.

In reading over some older devotional materials (more on that in the next post) and thinking about this Sunday’s Mass readings, the problem (one of them) clicked into place in a very simple way.

Lent begins next Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. Which means tomorrow is the last Sunday before Lent begins. What are the Mass readings?

They are the readings from the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) – the Gospel being from the Sermon on the Mount.  Mt. 5:38-48.

How about last year? 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C).   Jesus heals a leper, from Mark 1:40-45.

And the year before? 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B: Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:24-34

Quinquagesima Sunday readings, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, everywhere in the Catholic world before the Second Vatican Council?

(Remember there were only two readings at Sunday Mass)

Corinthians 13:1-13 – ….but do not have love…

Gospel: Luke 18:31-43

At that time Jesus took unto Him the twelve and said to them: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man. For He shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and scourged and spit upon: and after they have scourged Him, they will put Him to death, and the third day He shall rise again.

And they understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said.

Now it came to pass, when He drew nigh to Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the wayside, begging. And when he heard the multitude passing by, he asked what this meant. And they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying: Jesus,  son of David, have mercy on me. And they that went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace. But he cried out much more: Son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus standing, commanded him to be brought unto Him. And when he was come near, He asked him, saying: What wilt thou that I do to thee? But he said: Lord, that I may see. And Jesus said to him: Receive thy sight, thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he saw and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.

So the entire Catholic world would hear these Scriptures , not just whatever happens to be the readings of that last Sunday of Ordinary Time, but these Scriptures (and Propers and prayers) specifically and organically evolved with the coming of Lent in view.

(Catholics who participate in the Extraordinary Form or the Anglican Ordinariate still experience this form of pre-Lent, and of course Eastern Rite Catholics have their own form as well, with set readings that don’t change from year to year.)

In that older post I highlight the work of scholar Dr. Lauren Pristas, who wrote an essay detailing the thought and politics that went into the elimination of pre-Lent in the Latin Rite. As I say there, the conclusion is essentially that it was too hard for us poor lay folk to keep it all straight and stay focused.

Unintended consequences, anyone? Not to speak of weirdly wrong thinking. Pistas entitled her essay “Parachuting into Lent” and that is exactly the effect, isn’t it?

The best-intentioned post-Conciliar reformers (in contrast to those who simply didn’t believe any of the stuff anymore) seemed to me to be operating from the assumption that the  Church’s life and practice as it had developed over time functioned as an obstacle to deeply authentic faith, and that what was needed was a loosening of all this so that Catholics would develop a more adult faith, rooted in free response rather than adherence to structures.

Well, you know how it is. You know how it is when, on one day out of a million you have a blank slate in front of you? No rigid walls hemming you in? No kids to pick up, you don’t have to work, no one’s throwing obligations and tasks at you? And you think, Wow…a whole day free. I’m going to get so much  done! 

And then it’s the end of the day, and you realize that maybe what you had thought were restrictions were really guides and maybe not so bad because you look back on your Day Without Walls and you wonder…wait, how many cat videos did I watch today? Do I even want to know?

Yeah. That.

Where’s my parachute?


 

All right then, now that I have vented, some reading. And perhaps the reading will make more sense having read the venting and knowing that these writers have a common reference point: the Scripture readings for Quinguasesima Sunday, which are 1 Corinthians 13 on love and Jesus’ speaking of his coming passion and healing of a blind man.

Reading Vintage Lent, you might come away with a slightly different sense of self than much contemporary Spiritual-Speak delivers. You – the person embarking on this Lenten journey – are not a Bundle of Needs whose most urgent spiritual agenda is to feel accepted, especially as your energy is consumed by staring sadly at walls erected by rigid hypocritical churchy people.

No. Reading Vintage Lent, you discern that you’re a weak sinner, but with God’s grace for which your Lenten penance makes room, you are capable of leaving all that behind, and you must, for Christ needs you for the work of loving the world.

Here, as per usual, is an excerpt from my favorite vintage Catholic text book, originally published in 1935 for 7th graders:

 

 

 

Then this, from a book of meditations tied to the Sunday Scripture readings, published in 1904. It’s called The Inner Life of the Soul, and it really is quite a nice book. Not all older spiritual writing is helpful to us – the writing can be florid or dense in other ways, it can reflect concerns that perhaps we don’t share. This isn’t like that, and the reason, I think, is that the chapters were originally published as columns in a periodical called Sacred Heart Review.  The author is one S.L. Emery, and contemporary reviews of the book indicate that many readers assumed that the author was male, but a bit more research shows that this is not true. Susan L. Emery was, obviously, a woman, and is cited in other contemporary journals for her work in translating Therese of Liseux’s poetry. 

Anyway, Emery’s reflections, which tie together Scripture readings, the liturgy, the lives and wisdom of the saints and the concerns of ordinary experience, are worth bookmarking and returning to, and, if I might suggest to any publishers out there…reprinting.

What I think is important to see from this short reading, as well as the Ash Wednesday reflection that follows, is how mistaken our assumptions and stereotypes of the “bad old days” before Vatican II are. Tempted to characterize the spirituality of these years as nothing but cold-hearted rigidity distant from the complexities of human life, we might be surprised at the tone of these passages. The call to penance is strong. The guidelines are certainly stricter and more serious than what is suggested today. But take an honest look – it is not about the law at the expense of the spirit or the heart. Intention is at the core, and there are always qualifications and suggestions for those who cannot or are not required to follow the strictest reading of the guidelines: those who are young, old, or sick, or, if you notice, the laborer who must keep his or her strength up.

And the second paragraph? The description of the pressures upon the self in the modern world of 1904?

Don’t be fooled by the purveyors of novelty, especially of the spiritual kind – the very profitable kind – which would have you think that everything is so different now that nothing of the past is useful.

The season of Lent is at hand; in three days Ash Wednesday will be here; our Mother the Church calls upon us to fast, and pray, and to do penance for our sins. Each one who cannot fast should ask for some practical and methodical work of piety to do instead ; and perhaps few better could be found than ten minutes’ serious meditation, every day, upon the Passion of our Lord. This practice can be varied in many ways, some of them being so simple that a child might learn them ; and God alone knows of what immense value to us this practice, faithfully continued through one Lent, would be. Let us consider, then, by His assisting grace, that most helpful spiritual devotion called meditation.
In our day the necessity is really extreme of keeping the minds of Christians filled and permeated with an abiding sense of the love and care of Almighty God for each individual soul. The ceaseless hurry and worry prevalent amongst us, to become rich, to be counted intellectual, to know or to have as much as our neighbor, tends to destroy that overruling sense of spiritual things which would give ballast and leisure to our souls. Then, when earthly props fail us, and loneliness, sickness, or great trouble of any kind confronts us, the utter shallowness of our ordinary pursuits opens out in its desert waste before us, and our aching eyes see nothing to fill the void. The ambition dies out of life. If we have means, people begin to talk of change of scene and climate for tired souls who know but too well that they cannot run away from the terrible burden, self ; though their constant craving is, nevertheless, to escape somehow from their “ waste life and unavailing days.” The unfortunate, introspective and emotional reading of our era fosters the depression, and suicide has become a horribly common thing.
Even a Christian mind becomes tainted with this prevailing evil of despondency, which needs to be most forcibly and promptly met. Two weapons are at hand, — the old and never to be discarded ones of the love of God and the love of our neighbor. …
…. Oh, if in our dark, dark days we could only forget our selves ! God, Who knows our trials, knows well how almost impossible to us that forgetfulness sometimes seems ; perhaps He ordains that it literally is impossible for a while, and that it shall be our hardest cross just then. But at least, as much as we can, let us forget ourselves in Him and in our suffering brothers; and He will remember us.

I did a search for “Quinquagesima” on Archive.org and came up with lots of Anglican results, but here’s a bit of an interesting Catholic offering – an 1882 pastoral letter from the Archbishop of Westminster to his Archdiocese. The first couple of pages deal specifically with Lent, and the rest with Catholic education, which is interesting enough. But for today, I’ll focus on the Quinquagesima part. He begins by lamenting a decline in faith – pointing out the collapse of Christian culture. And then turns to Lent:

We are once more upon the threshold of this
sacred time. Let us use it well. It may be our last Lent, our
last time of preparation and purification before we stand in the
light of the Great White Throne. Let us, therefore, not ask
how much liberty may we indulge without positive sin, but how
much liberty we may offer to Him who gave Himself for us.
” All things to me are lawful, but all things edify not ; ” and
surely in Lent it is well to forego many lawful things which
belong to times of joy, not to times of penance.

The Indult of the Holy See has so tempered the rule of
fasting that only the aged, or feeble, or laborious, are unable to
observe it. If fasting be too severe for any, they may be dis-
pensed by those who have authority. But, if dispensed, they are .
bound so to use their liberty as to keep in mind the reason and
the measure of their dispensation. A dispensation does not
exempt us from the penitential season of Lent. They who use
a dispensation beyond its motives and its measures, lose all
merit of abstinence, temperance, and self-chastisement. If you
cannot fast, at least abstain. If you cannot abstain, use your
dispensation as sparingly as can be, and only as your need re-
quires. If in fasting and abstinence you cannot keep Lent,
keep it by prayer, and Sacraments, and alms, and spiritual
mortifications. Chastise the faults of temper, resentment, ani-
mosity, vanity, self-love, and pride, which, in some degree and
in divers ways, beset and bias if they do not reign in all our
hearts. In these forty days let the world, its works and ways,
be shut out as far as can be from your homes and hearts. Go
out of the world into the desert with our Divine Redeemer.
Fast with Him, at least from doing your own will ; from the
care and indulgence of self which naturally besets us. Examine
th^ habits of your life, your prayers, your confessions, your
communions, your amusements, your friendships, the books
you read, the money you spend upon yourselves, the alms you
give to the poor, the offerings you have laid upon the Altar, and
the efforts you have made for the salvation of souls. Make a
review of the year that is past ; cast up the reckoning of these
things ; resolve for the year to come on some onward effort,
and begin without delay. To-day is set apart for a test of your
charity and love of souls. We may call it the commemoration
of our poor children, and the day of intercession for the orphans
and the destitute.

Finally…do you want to be correct? Well, here you go.

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Some related images from my books.

 

More on the root of Jesse here. 

More on the books here. 

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Post on Sunday Mass is here – short version – there was a wedding!

After a late breakfast at the B & B, we began a slow walk out to the Copan Ruins. We could have taken a mototaxi (tuk-tuk), but it was a bit more than a mile, we’d just eaten a substantial breakfast, so why not walk?

There’s a walking path by the road that leads out there, and it was pleasant. Weather report: It’s very mild here. 70’s, a little humid. It rained last night for a while. I get a sense that the mountains shield this valley from any intense level of rain – which is good and bad, I guess.

We arrived at the site, bought our tickets, and waited for our guide. You don’t have to have a guide, of course, and my son knows a lot  – but I had no doubt that a knowledgeable guide would add to the experience and my son’s understanding (the goal), so I asked our hotel proprietor for the name of a guide who could offer information a level above what your normal guide would, addressing those with out the deep  background my son has. And he delivered – our guide for the afternoon was archaeologist David Sedat.

If you want to read more about Copan and why it’s important, go here. 

Most North Americans have little understanding of the Maya, ancient or modern, and tend to assume that the ancient Mayan civilization disappeared because of European conquerers. But that’s not the case – all of those temples and pyramids had been overgrown for hundreds of years by the time the Spanish arrived. And why? What happened? There’s a mystery about that, and that question, as well as any continued memory of the ancient civilization among the Maya, is what interests me.

But my son is, of course, primarily interested in that civilization itself, so that’s why we’ve been to the sites in the Yucatan, as well as many in Guatemala.

Some shots from the tour, and then last night’s dinner – tacos pastor and something else – just a different arrangement of tortillas, meat and in this case, cheese.

The photo of the large colored temple is from the museum – it’s a reproduction of a temple found within another larger structure on the site – called Rosalila – you can read more about it here. 

This was a good introduction to the site, but we’ll be returning here, to the museum, as well as trying to get to some other smaller sites in the area.

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Yeah, I’m fed up. 

Time to return to trans issues. Why now? Because while it seems to be something that’s sucking all the air out of every single room every single day, over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen an uptick in the news:

But the general picture is being painted in pretty bright colors, isn’t it? (Although pastel – not bright – blue is the trans color).

Here’s what I have to say – resist. 

This is a bizarre, deeply damaging moment we’re living in, driven by a tiny minority of people suffering various forms of mental illness. And yes, there are various forms. Once you start looking into this world, you come to understand that there is really no such thing as a monolithic gentle group of “trans folks” we’re gently reminded to welcome by gentle Fr. Martin, all gently seeking understanding for their differences.

No – there’s a little more to it than that.

There are different iterations and roots of this type of dysphoria, obviously, like any mental illness, not all understood.  There are men who experience this desire, frankly, as a fetish. It’s called autogynephilia, and it’s a thing – a male being aroused by the idea of himself as a woman. There are young people who have been abused, who are on the spectrum, who are deeply influenced by what they see online, there are pre-teen and teen girls who are confused, disturbed and revolted by the physical changes they’re experiencing. There are teen girls and boys, young adults, who look at this weird world of strict gender conformity, the land of pink and the world of blue, and think…I don’t fit here. I’m different. Maybe I fit….there. 

There’s a lot to say and lot to do and much to resist, but here’s where it starts – here’s the bottom line:

Resist and reject gender self-identity in all spheres of life, including the law. 

That is to say: You are not a woman because you believe you are. You’re not a boy because you’ve decided you are.

Don’t let the law budge an inch on this score. 

This – the notion that one can simply decide what gender you are and then merit treatment and rights on that score – is the root of all current trans activism, including political activism, embodied in this country in the so-called Equality Act – endorsed by all the current Democratic candidates for president and passed by the House last spring. (You know your constitution, so you know that “passed by the House” means nothing unless it’s also “passed by the Senate” and signed by the President. But still – it’s there.) Most people don’t understand this. They think that transing is all about people who have gone through counseling and years of medical treatment and surgery – right? Nope. Not at all.

At the core of the Equality Act and similar efforts in England, a person should be treated according to the gender he or she (?) claims, even if they are still physically intact, have never had surgery – and maybe never even intend to. It doesn’t matter if they “pass” or not or what they look like to you.

You’re a girl because you say you are.

Image result for rachel mckinnon

No. Resist.

Resist attempts to change the law, resist the intrusion of this into your schools, your public spaces  – snort derisively  when you’re asked your pronouns – and never stop being deeply and annoyingly logical. So if your community passes some sort of Self-ID in terms of gender, the next time you go to the DMV or have to fill out a form indicating your identifying characteristics – go crazy. If you’re Asian with straight black hair, demand to be accepted as an Irish redhead. If you’re obviously a woman, calmly claim that you’re a dude. If you’re 60, put down 1982 as your birthdate. And don’t let go – demand to know why – if that guy over there can be named “woman of the year,” can win women’s sporting events, can be awarded a woman’s spot on a committee – it is perfectly logical that I, too, can self-identify in any way, respect or category I decide. 

There is no logical argument. None. 

It is mostly misogynistic, crowd-driven, profit-fueled gnosticism. 

And those of you who call yourselves feminists, take note here. The greatest energy in the trans movement is of biological males demanding access to women’s spaces: restrooms, athletics, locker rooms, shelters, prisons and honors. You do not see female–to-male individuals making the same demands. As I’ve said before, I see this movement in part as Peak Misogyny, enabled by medical technology and profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies. (Because if you do physically transition, guess what? You’re on medication…for the rest of your life.)  Peak Misogyny which is trying to create a world in which actual girls and  women hopefully commit to their own erasure and the best women always turn out to be  men.

Yes. Erasure of actual women, is what it all seems to be about, in the end.

From a great column in the UK Telegraph a few days ago, by Celia Walden:

“This cloakroom may be used by any person regardless of gender identity or expression,” reads a notice on the toilet door of the bar I’m in on Saturday night. This is designed to give me a hit of self-importance. I have choices, options, both in terms of who I am and how I decide to express that all-important self to the world: a world waiting with bated breath for me to tell them why I’m special.

And yet I don’t feel reassured by this open-minded toilet, because everyone in the bar is drunk, the corridor it’s situated in is dimly-lit – and the only other people queuing outside it are men. So instead what I feel is uneasy, undignified, un-safe.

I’m guessing younger women are getting used to the feeling of vulnerability I felt so acutely on Saturday night. Just as British schoolgirls are getting used to their Mao-esque, gender-neutral uniforms, and “holding it in” all day at school (with the risk of contracting infections): anything to avoid using the gender-neutral toilets.

****

But this is an attack on women. And I don’t think the leading feminist campaigner, Julie Bindel, was exaggerating when she said on Sunday: “We’re now moving towards the total elimination of women’s biology.”

This isn’t about feminists, activists, sociologists and the deliberately impenetrable jargon they all choose to use in their very public duels. And it’s not about who gets to claim periods, with all their paraphernalia, either (but have them, please, along with stretch marks, the menopause, and the certainty that you’ve been ripped off by every MOT guy you’ve come across).

This is about fragile young girls still struggling to come to terms with their own changing bodies being forced into preposterous intimacy with boys. It’s about transgender athletes like Rachel McKinnon – who won the Masters Track Cycling World Championships on Saturday for the second year running – killing women’s sports.
It’s about the series of future crimes, assaults and intimidations that will have to happen before someone works out that having a load of drunk men and women using the same toilets in bars and clubs was Not A Smart Move. It’s about rapists being indulged and coddled by the police while their victims are effectively mocked.

And it’s about knowing when we’ve reached peak gender insanity. Please God, let this be it.

“This” will not be “it” all by itself. It won’t be “it” unless human beings stop it.

And it needs to stop – and the law could play a part in stopping it – or opening up the floodgates. Either way. The citizens of this country – who make the laws, remember – could demand, for a start, that their state and federal representatives ban medical transitioning of minors – no drugs, no puberty blockers, no hormones, and God help us, no surgery. No teen girls lining up for binders and mastectomies, no boys, their genitals shrunk by years of puberty blockers and estrogen, having their penises and testicles sliced off, the remaining skin tucked in to form what amounts nothing more than an open wound that must, for the rest of their lives – the rest of their lives  – be dilated daily for….what? 

Start with banning that in your state. Don’t allow it and run the medical professionals who profit from it out of business. And then stand firm against the Equality Act. If you have the opportunity to interact with one of the Democratic candidates, ask them about it and don’t let go. Don’t accept platitudes. Ask, over and over – Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms? Well, we need to be an inclusive society, welcoming of all people. Great. Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms and restrooms? Trans folks experience a lot of discrimination, you know. That’s too bad. Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms, restrooms and prisons? I’m for equality for all people. Good for you. Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms, restrooms, prisons and shelters for abused women?

As noted above, I’ve written about this before – links at the bottom of this post. I want to end, though, with a lengthy excerpt from a column by Janice Turner in a September issue of the UK Times, reproduces here at the Fair Play for Women FB page:

The Oscar-winning singer Sam Smith, a gay man, has “come out” as non-binary because, rehearsing a dance routine, he discovered a “vivacious woman inside my body”. He said of his fat-deposits: “There’s a bit of a woman in me who won’t let me look like that. I put on weight in places women put on weight. That spring-boarded everything.” So Smith knew his “gender identity” wasn’t male because he frets about his figure like us ladies. Just as Eddie Izzard believes that he has “girl genetics” because he paints his nails.

This is progress, I’m told. Feminists must embrace the idea that womanhood is predicated upon hoary old stereotypes while flamboyant or “vivacious” gay men must accept they are not really male. That I refuse to call Sam Smith “they” is not from disrespect (I never misgender trans people) but because the concept “non-binary” is sexist, homophobic and, above all, damaging to the mental health of fragile young people. And we should have the courage to say so.

Yet because policymakers and broadcasters prefer to surf rainbow flag approval than suffer a Twitter storm, in just a few years, with zero debate, public institutions have converted to a new state religion: the magical, wholly unscientific belief that biological sex does not exist while “gender identity” is real.

Let’s start with the Office for National Statistics, whose definition of “sex” includes “something that is assigned at birth”: ie a child being male or female is not an observable fact even in utero but randomly allocated and therefore provisional. The ONS also notes “gender is increasingly understood as not binary but on a spectrum . . . along a continuum between man and woman”.

“Increasingly understood” suggests some scientific breakthrough when it is merely a fashionable theory. Because postmodern academics such as Judith Butler believe sex can be erased, the government may change the census question from birth sex to “lived sex”, thus undermining the very integrity of government data.

Gender religion has now swept into schools as shown in a leaked Equality and Human Rights Commission report, which proposes that male pupils who identify as female should be taught sex education with girls. Not only would they remain ignorant of their own developing bodies, but such classes are supposed to spare shy girls from talking about periods among boys.

The EHRC states that natal male trans pupils must use girls’ changing rooms: any girl upset about this should use, say, the disabled lavatory. Sports should be divided by gender identity, even if girls will no longer win their own races. All these plans breach the 2010 Equality Act where sex is a protected characteristic — but they preach the new gender liturgy.

Even more zealous is the BBC Teach website which provides classroom materials. In a film for key stage 2 pupils — seven to 11-year-olds — a small child asks a teacher: “How many gender identities are there?” The teacher replies that it’s a really exciting question: “We know we have male and female, but there are over 100 if not more gender identities now.” (Note the “now”, implying cutting-edge new research.) The unease and puzzlement on these kids’ faces — what are all these genders? which one am I? — made me furious.

The government’s own No Outsiders programme simply teaches primary kids that some families have gay parents, and boys can like mermaids just like girls. Yet the BBC believes nine-year-olds should go googling the supposed 100 genders. Which include “Perigender: identifying with a gender but not as a gender” or “Vapogender: a gender that feels like smoke”. In other words, they are made up, mystical nonsense: gender Pokemons.

At puberty, developing a new sexed body can distress many children. Girls, especially, hate their breasts, are appalled by periods, loathe the sudden attention from men. Ruth Hunt, the former head of Stonewall, told me she thought teenage girls often declare themselves “non-binary” as a temporary holding bay, while they come to terms with their bodies and a world which expects them to look like Love Island babes. A fair point.

Watching videos by “non-binary” young people, I was struck by their reasoning. “I can avoid beauty standards of either sex,” one crop-haired girl said. “I always hated rough sports but my dad made me play,” a fey boy said. They saw the problem: a constricting world, but their solution was to identify out of it. Instead of challenging rigid ideas about masculinity, say you’re not a man.

The non-binary fad would be as harmless as goths or punks, if social media and peer pressure weren’t pushing so many towards medical transition: if you don’t fit with society’s gender rules, change your pronouns or ultimately, via hormones, your body. Besides, is it wise to send vulnerable young people out to battle against our very language, telling them that anyone who fails to call them “they” is hateful, has even committed a crime? How can this not amplify, rather than lessen, your anxiety and alienation?

Better to understand that your sex is immutable, that you don’t need some off-the-shelf gender identity because instead you have a complex, unique personality. “I’m not male or female,” says Sam Smith. “I think I flow somewhere in between.” Darling, don’t we all.

My posts:

An introductory post.

The Feminine Genius of the Cowgirl in Red

But Look How Much I Gained

Peaked?

Peaked yet? – if you want to read a shorter summary and skip all my meanderings, go here.

It’s called dysphoria. It’s about not feeling quite right. It’s about not feeling at home in your body or even in the world.

I am careful in speaking about mental illness, because it really is a challenge to understand and discuss. Who among us is “normal” or “whole?” Who relates to themselves and to the world with complete clarity? None of us. Not a one.

So I am not sure how to talk about this – what is not normal, what is clearly mental illness – without being required to define what normal is. You feel as if you are not a woman? Well, let me tell you what you should feel like.

Who can do that? I don’t think it’s possible. That was one of my points in those previous posts.

But clearly, body and gender dysphoria are forms of mental illness. They are rooted in various factors, they can present in different way for varying lengths of time, and healing, if it comes, is as varied as the individuals involved.

Now, honestly – once you accept that – this is a form of mental illness – much of the present moment clicks into place, especially if mental illness has ever played a part in your life:  the insistence of putting oneself and one’s felt needs in the center of every, single conversation and issue, the unblinkered focus on the self and trying to find a way to feel okay and then being affirmed, from every corner, in that okaynes. No matter how difficult it is to define “healthy” and “ill” we do know that healthy people, in general – don’t act this way. 

So yeah, that’s what’s going to happen. If you’ve ever been part of a group – a class, a workplace, a family, a neighborhood – where there’s someone who’s struggling with mental illness, quite often, those struggles tend to dominate everyone’s lives and every gathering, don’t they?

Understand that, and the pieces of that puzzle – how has the issue of such a tiny, tiny minority come to dominate the culture, and so quickly and why do they act like this? – click right into place.

They’re not well.

***

Finally, to close up this tedious Wall of Text with some philosophizing.

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Add to my list above: an affluent, sterile, leisure-oriented, performative culture – a material one stripped of the transcendent, with no road but an earthly one and no destination but a grave.

And being taught from the beginning of your life on this earth that fulfillment and happiness are not only possible, but expected. That a great deal of this happiness and fulfillment lies in just who you are and the wonderfulness that you are and being accepting of the marvelous being that you are.

But what if you’re not feeling it? What if you’ve had horrendous experiences in life that have made, it seems, a sense of self – much less a contented, whole self – challenging? What if what’s inside doesn’t match what your family, your community or even the big world tells you is correct and normal?

Raised in a material, appearance, emotion and achievement-oriented culture – despair for the dis-oriented might seem to lie just on the other side of every door, around every corner.

But consider another way – formed to value this life and who you are, but also understanding that, because of weighty mystery, you – along with everyone else on earth – is broken, sees through a glass darkly – including yourself – and that as hard as it is, it is also okay, because this is not your home. 

Oh, the suffering remains, and strangeness. But one just might be spared the perceived need to fix oneself right here and right now and make what’s outside “match” what’s inside.

And the older you get, the more true you see this is.

I turned – unbelievably – 59 this week. A few weeks ago, on our way back from Spain, I spent time with my friend Ann Englehart, who also turned 59 this summer. Over great Greek food in Astoria, I looked at her and asked the question that had been weighing on me:

“Do you feel fifty-freaking-nine years old?”

“NO!” she exclaimed, clearly relieved to hear someone else say it.

What does it even mean? we wondered, articulating the same thoughts aloud. What does it mean to be “almost sixty” – but to feel no older than, say forty, and to wonder – was I ever even 45 or 52? I just seem to have leapt from still almost youngish adulthood to AARP discounts without blinking. My appearance is changing, and I look at women two decades older than I and I know – God willing I make it that far – that there will be a day when I, too, will be unrecognizable to my younger self.

It’s very, very weird. It’s challenging. I completely understand why people – especially those in the public eye – get work done to stave off the sagging and the wrinkles. It’s so strange when what you look like on the outside doesn’t match what you feel on the inside. It’s disorienting. You might even say it’s dysphoric, if that’s a word. Centered in those feelings, living as though this were the only reality and all that matters, the temptation to use all the technology at one’s disposal to fix it – to make it all match up – might be very strong.

But understanding that disassociation and sense of dislocation in another way, as an invitation. An invitation, a hint to listen to the heart that seeks and yearns for wholeness and unity, to understand that while it’s not perfectly possible on this earth, the yearning for it is a hint that somewhere, it does exists, and it waits – and the hard, puzzling journey we’re on does not, in fact end where the world tells us.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come.

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It’s what they call them over EWTN way down the road.  Here’s one for you.

 

 

(Yes, posted before – from the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville –  but today’s the remembrance – the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.)

 

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August  – starting tomorrow!  – is devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is an entry in my book, The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

For more on the book, go to the Loyola site here. 

Ask you local Catholic bookstore to order it!

I have copies here – you can get them and some of my other titles here. 

For more on the series, go here. 

amy-welborn3

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