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Archive for the ‘Mission’ Category

Fabulous conversation between Jane Clare Jones, and Helen Joyce, the author of Trans reviewed here.

Jones is the author of a darkly humorous, but essentially accurate mock dialogue I’ve linked to before called The Annals of the TERF Wars.

It seems that I link to “must-reads” regularly, so perhaps the impact has been dissipated, but yeah, this is a must-read – if you want a relatively succinct look at the current conversation on this issue. Of course, you’d want to read the book – or one of several others out there – but if you don’t have time, this is a decent introduction – with the added value of Joyce explaining how she got interested in the issue, which includes the trajectory many of us have traveled – from puzzlement to sputtering rage at the stupidity of it all.

Helen: When I started writing the book, I could imagine that the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ meant something that’s not quite the same as ‘adult human female’ and ‘adult human male.’ But you can’t do that with ‘male’ and ‘female.’ They have really very specific meanings which are by no means just human meanings. When you say that a male person can be female, you can get to literally anything from that, because that’s like ‘zero equals one.’ During the research I was reading philosophy papers, and I remember [in] one paper I got to page 20 or something, and then there was a sentence: “I take it as axiomatic that trans women are women.” I actually shouted out loud, “For fuck’s sake!” How can you do that? That’s just like saying, ‘I take it as axiomatic that zero equals one.’ You’d have to do a lot of work, at the very least, to say that trans women are women. When I started writing the book, I thought that I was going to have to put in an entire appendix on arguments [that] ‘trans women are women’ and why they don’t work. And in the end, I just thought: “You know what, these are so shit.” These people are not debating, they’re not talking about their ideas; they’re just putting it out there. And people aren’t saying anything, because they’re afraid they’ll say something wrong. So unsurprisingly, this is the most pathetically weak, appalling, stupid body of work I’ve ever seen. You know that I’m not an academic philosopher, I’m not a philosopher at all, and I can look at this, and say, “Oh, that’s where you went wrong. That’s where you said zero equals one.”

So the intellectual reason was just how appalling this stuff was. It actually intellectually offended me. And then the personal reason was seeing these girls. That night after the Detransition Advocacy Network, I sat there and I couldn’t sleep and I just thought, “Yeah, I’ve got to write the book.” Suddenly there were no more questions. It was very straightforward: “They are sterilizing gay kids. And if I write this book, they might sterilize fewer gay kids.” So that’s simple.

Jane: My perception is that the trans rights project isn’t being driven primarily by pharmaceutical interests, but rather by the desire for validation. But by this point these interests have very strongly attached themselves to it, because of the money in it.

Helen: Of course; that’s the way they work. The two biggest lobby groups in America are hospitals and pharma companies, so of course they’re lobbying on this now. But that’s opportunistic. They come in afterwards. The first impulse is definitely middle-aged men whose desire for validation as women is greater than anything else; that’s the ‘zero equals one.’ They’re the people who insist that you say that they’re women. And once you say that lie, everything else follows.

Jane: Yeah, everything else is collateral damage. I mean, I think women’s spaces are a prime target, because they serve this validation function … but the kids are collateral damage, because they serve as evidence for the notion that gender identity is an essence.

……

Jane: Maybe this is a good place to end, because I think this is one of the great accomplishments of your book. As you say, one of the ways that this entire thing has been enabled is because what they’re trying to do is so bonkers that it’s taken us a very long time to convince people that they are actually trying to do what we say they are. It’s very easy to just go, ‘Oh, those are crazy women, they’re screaming about nothing. They’re hysterical. They just hate trans people.’ And one of the great achievements of your book is that you’ve managed to document this movement and its objectives, and you’ve done it with such lucidity and grace that it’s very compelling, and convincing, and it doesn’t sound like it’s you being the bonkers one.

Helen: Yeah, and on the other side as well, it’s very hard for a woman to decide, *deep sigh,* ‘I’m now going to dedicate two years of my life to something that’s mad.’ I know you can sympathize because you’ve done it too, but can [the] general [public] sympathize with somebody who has a million better things to be doing with their time and actually has to spend time writing down why we shouldn’t be putting rapists in women’s prisons?

Jane: That’s what makes me so angry, that we have to spend all this energy explaining …

Helen: I. Have. Better. Things. To. Do. With. My. Life.

The maddest bit of the whole book – there were many mad bits, but the maddest bit was saying, ‘Darwin actually worked out why there are two sexes.’ Sexual selection caused there to be two reproductive strategies, two reproductive pathways, bodies shaped by and directed towards two types of reproductive strategies. That’s it. There’s no other definition. It’s the same definition right across the animal and plant kingdom. That’s that. And I think that saved me a lot of time and stupid effort, although, God knows, I had to put a lot of time and stupid effort into this book. I mean, in a way, it’s been intellectually very interesting. But it’s also been ridiculous. And quite a lot of people in journalism have said to me, ‘Look, this is all so stupid, why are you wasting your time on it? Is this what you want to be known for?’ But the thing is, it’s all very well to think that this is so mad that someone will stop it. Well, someone has to be the someone.

There are also interesting observations about how American culture and feminism have contributed to this movement.

Of course, I don’t agree with every iota of every point, and you know that I’d say there are dots that are not being connected in ways that would clarify a lot – but that’s the case with any discussion of any issue, isn’t it?

More of my posts on this here.

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—1 —

First off, new book this week – the Great Adventure Kids Catholic Bible Chronicle. More on it here.

— 2 —

Today? A funeral. No, not for anyone I know – Musician Son is playing organ at a funeral in a parish across town. Blessed Sacrament, which is, in my mind, the most beautiful church in this diocese. It’s the home of the main Latin Mass community.

(Forgive the Instagram captions – from Thursday’s practice.)

— 3 —

Here’s a page with the parish’s history. Construction was finished in 1930, but the interior decor dates to the mid-1950’s.

— 4 —

Last night we headed to our local independent film venue, Sidewalk Film, to see The Killing of Two Lovers produced by and starring Clayne Crawford, who was a featured role in one of the best television series of the decade, Rectify. He also had an ill-fated stint on the television reboot of Lethal Weapon, co-starring Daman Wayans from which he was, er, fired.

Crawford is from Alabama – Clay, which is east of here. And he was there at the screening and did a Q & A afterwards – which is why I wanted to go and take, especially, one of the two still living here, who has a strong interest in film and filmmaking. And it was worth it – this was an extremely low-budget production (30K) filmed over 12 days in a tiny town in Utah – and most valuable was Crawford’s exploration of the limits – but also the benefits – of working on a shoestring.

— 5 –

I’m going to have some Catholic-related Juneteenth content coming up later today, I hope. But until then, here’s a link from 2019 featuring interviews conducted by the Federal Writer’s Project/ WPA in the 1930’s, with formerly enslaved people – the article ran in the Montgomery paper on Jefferson Davis’ birthday that year, a day which, absurdly, is still celebrated as a state holiday in Alabama.

— 6 —

Here’s more about the project from the Atlantic.

— 7 —

Okay, let’s end with this. As much hate as I direct towards social media, yeah, yeah, I know good can come of it. Lots of good. Of course!

Here’s an example – a local (Birmingham area) young woman who fosters teens. Her TikTok is a treasure trove of advocacy and information – her philosophy about fostering teens, what she does, how she provides for them, why she fosters and lots of encouragement to others. Really worth checking out – the world is full of folks doing really good things for other humans. To the extent that social media can share their good news – okay, okay, it can be a good thing. I guess.

For more Quick Takes, Visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

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The first and last page of my retelling of the narrative, the Gospel for this Fifth Sunday of Lent, in the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. 

Jesus had just demonstrated that he had more power than anything, even death. No person has that kind of power. Only God does. Only God can conquer death, and in Bethany that day, Jesus revealed that power.
Death has no power over Jesus, and when we are friends with him, death and sin have no power over us, either. Jesus’ power over evil and darkness doesn’t begin at our tombs, though. When we sin, even a little bit, we choose death over life. Refusing to love or give or show kindness to others gives darkness a bit more power in our lives.

We were not made for this. We were made for light and love!

We can think of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the moment when we, like Lazarus, are brought back to life by Jesus. Jesus stands outside the little tombs we live in—the tombs made out of selfishness, anger, sadness, and pain. He knows we are not lost forever, even if it seems like that to us. The worst sins and bad habits? Jesus has power over them. Jesus doesn’t want us to live in darkness. He wants us in the light with him, unbound—free and full of joy.

The book is structured around the liturgical year. In planning it, I asked myself, “When do most Catholic children and families encounter Scripture?” The answer is – in a liturgical context. This context is, in addition, expressive of the more general context in which all Catholics – and most Christians since apostolic times – have encountered, learned about, understood and embraced Scripture – in the context of liturgy, which is, in the most general terms, the context of the Church.

So the stories in the book are organized according to the liturgical season in which they would generally be heard, and the stories are retold with that liturgical context in view, as well as any specific and age-appropriate theological and spiritual themes – so, for example, here, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

For more about the book from the Loyola Press site.

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There’s a substantial excerpt here. 

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In him the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment. What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to them, he held in his arms.  – from a homily of St. Bernardine of Siena. 

Some images for you, first from the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. Recall the structure: left side page has an image and a basic description. Right side page goes into more depth.

Secondly, the first and last page of the entry on Joseph’s dream from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. First page, to give you a sense of the narrative style and the image, the last page, to help you see how each entry concludes: circling around to some aspect of Catholic practice or teaching, along with a reflection question and a prayer prompt. Also remember that the stories in this book are organized according to when they would generally be heard in Mass during the liturgical year. So this story is in the “Advent” section. Also, links go the publisher’s site, not to Amazon.

Next, a vintage holy card from the Shrine of St. Joseph in Montreal that interests me because it predates the construction of the large basilica:

From the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.  

I just love the blues on the card above and the not-quite Art-Noveauishness of it.

At the shrine featured in the vintage holy cards.  Summer 2011. 

The sign says “Reserved for pilgrims climbing on their knees.”

The wonderful Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui, whose depiction of St. Joseph dreaming is above, has  a blog. It is an absolute treasure trove of wisdom, whether you are an artist or not. Please go visit, bookmark, get on his mailing list, and support his work.  Easter’s coming. Surely there’s someone out there who’d appreciate the gift of one his prints?

From 2019, a St. Joseph celebration at a local Catholic school:

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Also, here’s “Saint Joseph” as he manifested in 2010 or so on my front porch.

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As promised and expected, rescinded today by executive order.

Here is a factsheet on the policy from the Population Research Institute.

Basically, every president, very early on, stakes out a position on this. It was instituted during Reagan’s administration, in 1984.

In response, the Senate voted (in the typically complicated Senatorial way) on an amendment to an amendment to a bill to table an expression of support for the policy, and Senator Joe Biden voted in support of Reagan’s Mexico City Policy.

Clinton, after running as, if not quite pro-life, but in a way that made pro-lifers think he might not be their enemy, was on record, in a 1986 letter to Arkansas Right to Life, as opposing government funding for abortion….reversed the Mexico City Policy on his first day in office, as the crowds were gathering for the March for Life. I vividly remember that because the Catholic circles I ran in at the time were all very up on Clinton and how he was really big-tent-pro-life-and-not-just-anti-abortion-because-justice. And then, his first day,  not only this, but more:

With a stroke of a pen, President Clinton marked the 20th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade Friday by dismantling a series of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Administration abortion restrictions, only hours after tens of thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators rallied across the street from the White House.

* Ended a five-year ban on fetal tissue research, which scientists believe holds the possibility of benefiting patients with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, Huntington’s disease, spinal cord injuries and other conditions.

* Overturned the so-called gag rule that restricted abortion counseling at 4,000 federally funded family planning clinics nationwide.

* Revoked prohibitions on the importation of RU486–known as the French “abortion pill”–for personal use, if the Food and Drug Administration determines that there is no justification for the prohibitions.

* Allowed abortions at U.S. military hospitals overseas, if they are paid for privately.

* Reversed a 1984 order which prevented the United States from providing foreign aid to overseas organizations that perform or promote abortion.

Abortion rights advocates said Clinton’s actions were nothing short of historic.

It was eye-opening, to say the least.

And then, of course, Bush reinstated the Mexico City Policy on his first day, and then Obama reversed it on his.

And then Trump:

The executive order was signed January 23, one day after the anniversary of the far-reaching Roe v. Wade decision that mandated legal abortion throughout the U.S.

Originally instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Mexico City Policy states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

From USCCB testimony back in 2001:

The argument has been made by abortion proponents that the Mexico City Policy is nothing more than “powerful” U.S. politicians forcing their policies on poor nations. But, frankly, the opposite is true. First, the policy forces nothing: Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may choose to apply for U.S. tax funds, and to be eligible, they must refrain from abortion activity. On the other hand, NGOs may choose to do abortions or to lobby foreign nations to change their laws which restrict abortion, and if they choose that path they render themselves ineligible for U.S. money. As we saw last time the policy was in place, only two out of hundreds of organizations elected to forfeit the U.S. money for which they were otherwise eligible. (1) But it was and will be entirely their choice.

Far from forcing a policy on poor nations, the Mexico City Policy ensures that NGOs will not themselves force their abortion ideology on countries without permissive abortion laws in the name of the United States as U.S. grantees.

And as we have learned from our experience in international conferences on population, it is not the Mexico City Policy but the United States’ promotion of permissive abortion attitudes through funding of such programs that is likely to cause resentment.(2) This is especially true when it is perceived as a means by which the West is attempting to impose population control policies on developing nations as conditions for development assistance.

The Mexico City Policy is needed because the agenda of many organizations receiving U.S. population aid has been to promote abortion as an integral part of family planning – even in developing nations where abortion is against the law.(3) So, far from being perceived as an imposition on developing nations, the Mexico City Policy against funding abortion programs has been greeted by those nations as a welcome reform. The vast majority of these countries have legal policies against abortion, and virtually all forbid the use of abortion as merely another method of birth control.(4)

Two other pieces on the policy from the PRI. Here, on the Trump administration’s extension of it, and then here, on the impact of the policy.

And now, like clockwork, the pendulum swings back. Almost 40 years ago, Joe Biden expressed support of the Mexico City Policy (consistent with his views for many years opposing government funding of abortion – he didn’t flip on Hyde until 2019), and today, as promised and expected, he signed an executive order rescinding the Mexico City Policy.

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It’s her day today.

You can find any number of vintage treatments of St. Angela Merici at the Internet Archive, including this mod repackaging, if you like.


Gee, if only she’d used a vision board or a dream life journal, she could have actually accomplished something with her life!

My point? Saints are made not, at base through planning and endlessly thinking about what they want or what they want their life to look like, but by living deeply in the moment and in that same moment listening to God and being led by him. St. Francis of Assisi didn’t set out to found a religious order with a certain charism. He heard Rebuild my church and so he literally….started to rebuild a church. And his brothers came, and a mission slowly developed in tension, in response.

So with St. Angela. She didn’t set out, envisioning a teaching order. She simply listened to God, saw the great needs in the world around her – poverty, corruption, confusion – and set out to help in a way both completely ordinary but also quite new.

The age in which Angela lived and worked (the 16th Century), was a time which saw great suffering on the part of the poor in society. Injustices were carried on in the name of the government and the Church, which left many people both spiritually and materially powerless and hungry. The corruption of moral values left families split and hurting. Wars among nations and the Italian city-states left towns in ruins.

In 1516, Angela came to live in the town of Brescia, Italy. Here she became a friend of the wealthy nobles of the day and a servant of the poor and suffering. Angela spent her days in prayer and fasting and service. Her reputation spread and her advice was sought by both young and old, rich and poor, religious and secular, male and female. But still, Angela had not yet brought her vision to fruition.

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After visiting the Holy Land, where she reportedly lost her sight, Angela returned to Brescia, which had become a haven for refugees from the many wars then wracking Italy. There she gathered around her a group of women who looked toward Angela as an inspirational leader and as a model of apostolic charity. It was these women, many of them daughters of the wealthy, some orphans themselves, who formed the nucleus of Angela’s Company of St. Ursula. Angela named her company after St. Ursula because she regarded her as a model of consecrated virginity.

Angela and her original company worked out details of the rule of prayer, and promises, and practices by which they were to live. The Ursulines opened orphanages and schools. In 1535, the Institute of St. Ursula was formally recognized by the Pope and Angela was accorded the title of foundress.

During the five remaining years of her life, Angela devoted herself to composing a number of Counsels by which her daughters could happily live. She encouraged them to “live in harmony, united together in one heart and one will. Be bound to one another by the bond of charity, treating each other with respect, helping one another, bearing with one another in Christ Jesus; if you really try to live like this, there is no doubt that the Lord our God will be in your midst.”

In 1580, Charles Borromeo, Bishop of Milan, inspired by the work of the Ursulines in Brescia, encouraged the foundation of Ursuline houses in all the dioceses of Northern Italy. Charles also encouraged the Ursulines to live together in community rather than in their own homes. He also exhorted them to publicly profess vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These actions formalized Angela’s original “company” into a religious order of women.

You can find St. Angela Merici’s writings all over the place – there aren’t that many, only three: the Counsels, the Rule and the Testament.

Here’s an excerpt from the Counsels, good advice for all of us, whether we are Ursulines or not:

Love your dear daughters equally; and do not prefer one more than another, because they are all creatures of God. And you do not know what he wants to make of them.

For how do you know, you, that those who seem to you to be the least and lowest are not to become the most generous and most pleasing to his Majesty? And then, who can judge the heart and the innermost secret thoughts of any creature?

And so, hold them all in your love and bear with them all equally, for it is not up to you to judge the handmaids of God; he well knows what he wants to make of them, Who (as Scripture says) can turn stones into children of heaven.

As for you, do your duty, correcting them with love and charity if you see ~ them fall into some fault through human frailty, and thus you will not cease to prune this vine which has been entrusted to you.

And after that, leave it to God; he will do marvellous things in his own time, and when it pleases him.

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Happy New Year to you. Just a note on how life changes, and how time goes on in case you are wondering if you will ever be out of this or that stage of life…

Our New Year’s Eve? Well, besides the far-flung in NYC, Charleston and Louisville, all celebrating in their own ways, the three of us here spent the evening, first at Mass – two of us downtown at the Cathedral, and then the youngest playing at his parish job, driving himself now. After our Mass, College Guy drove off to meet up with friends, youngest drove from church to a friend’s house, then drove back here and walked down to a neighborhood friend’s house for the rest of the night.

And I sat and read Gogol and Don Quixote and listened to Mary Lou Williams.

How about that.

Just as no time is tricky to navigate, so, when it surprises you is so much…time.

— 2 —

Not much writing in this space this week. Te Deum is here. I was in Living Faith on Tuesday – and will return there in a couple of weeks. A new set of those is due Monday (for the July-August issue), so I’ll be working on those over the weekend, as well as planning out at least the first part of American Literature for the high schooler.

Although we might start with The Overcoat for some general work in symbolism and such. I spent so much time thinking about it…why let it just rest in my head? Might was well share the bounty…

I will say that I’ve been gratified and humbled over the past few days as I’ve received several notes regarding my 2020: A Book of Grace-Filled Days that wrapped up yesterday. Folks said they were actually sorry it had come to an end, and they appreciated what I had to share. So kind! It was not a super-fun book to write (just imagine writing almost 400 individual devotional entries…..) and I don’t plan on doing it again any time soon. Maybe in another ten years when more life has happened.

But it is so nice when people take time to write and let you know that your work was helpful to them in some way. Thank you!

(And I’ll just mention that it’s not out of print – still for sale, as are all past editions by other writers – including 2021, of course. No, the dates won’t match, but you can still buy it and match the feast days yourself. And no, I don’t profit from your purchase in any way – it’s the kind of work for which you’re paid a flat fee – no royalties. Just making the suggestion!)

— 3 —

Are you making resolutions? Well, here’s a Twitter thread featuring some of Dorothy Day’s New Year’s resolutions over the years.

Here’s 1960:

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More.

— 4 —

I recently discovered the Public Domain Review, which is such a treasure chest of fascinating, beautiful, interesting images and information.

Here’s a link to their top ten posts of the year. Including this post on 19th century Japanese firemen’s coats. Gorgeous.

— 5 —

What a lovely video this is, on Etsuro Sotoo, the Japanese stonemason who is now the Chief Sculptor at Sagrada Familia.

“Sotoo was motivated mainly by the opportunity to be exposed to stone,” says director David Cerqueiro, “and later by the admiration of the genius of Antoni Gaudí—back then a still-to-be-recognized figure of outstanding universal value.”

Known as quite a guarded and private character, Sotoo only granted Cerqueiro the opportunity to profile his life’s work after the director made several attempts to meet with him in person and over email. “Some of those attempts included having to attend mass at the basilica several times,” says the director. “The film briefly explores, tactfully but sincerely, the emotional inner workings behind a forty-year career devoted to one project.” 

Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece continues to exercise its charms over Sotoo who converted to Catholicism so he could gain a deeper understanding of Gaudí’s genius and his relationship with God through architecture. “I discovered an artist profoundly driven by faith. Although encased by organized religion, his faith is more closely related to the transcendental aspirations of genuine art,” says the director. “That’s how I ended up with a subtle portrayal of an ontological inquiry, personified by a surprisingly little-known major artist who seems to be more preoccupied with the intrinsic moral legacy of his work than by its formal expression or its public recognition.”

Gaudi talked with God about something very big and profound. To this day, no one really knows what it was about.

-Etsuro Sotoo, Chief Sculptor, Sagrada Familia

— 6 —

Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know about the Sister Servants of Casa Maria here in Birmingham. A small order dedicated to prayer (of course) and retreat ministry – the also do catechesis of various kinds in parishes in the area.

They provided music for one of our Cathedral’s Sunday Vespers during Advent. You can listen here.

Both of my younger sons spent a few years serving Mass and Benediction at the convent, and we have another connection, as well – my college roommate from UT (the real one, in Knoxville) is a sister there.

They haven’t been able to have public Mass or retreats since March, of course, but I thought you’d enjoy reading their latest newsletter and taking a look at a couple of their videos – you might remember I posted a link to their offering of “I’ll Fly Away” a few months ago. This is simply of their Christmas preparation, with more at the linked Vimeo page.

— 7 —

Therefore, we can ask ourselves: what is the reason why some men see and find, while others do not? What opens the eyes and the heart? What is lacking in those who remain indifferent, in those who point out the road but do not move? We can answer: too much self-assurance, the claim to knowing reality, the presumption of having formulated a definitive judgment on everything closes them and makes their hearts insensitive to the newness of God. They are certain of the idea that they have formed of the world and no longer let themselves be involved in the intimacy of an adventure with a God who wants to meet them. They place their confidence in themselves rather than in him, and they do not think it possible that God could be so great as to make himself small so as to come really close to us.

Lastly, what they lack is authentic humility, which is able to submit to what is greater, but also authentic courage, which leads to belief in what is truly great even if it is manifested in a helpless Baby. They lack the evangelical capacity to be children at heart, to feel wonder, and to emerge from themselves in order to follow the path indicated by the star, the path of God. God has the power to open our eyes and to save us. Let us therefore ask him to give us a heart that is wise and innocent, that allows us to see the Star of his mercy, to proceed along his way, in order to find him and be flooded with the great light and true joy that he brought to this world. Amen.  Source

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

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The temptation to be performatively meditative and thoughtful about Advent will run strong this year, I’m guessing.

It’s natural. 2020 has been a strange year for everyone and a hard year for many. Tragic, even.

Not surprising then, that as the calendar year draws to a close and Advent begins, it seems a proper moment for stock-taking and pondering. What do all of these disruptions, changes and challenges mean? What is this new world and how do we live in it?

Well, when I read through this Sunday’s readings, I was struck, most of all by the old news, once again, that all this disruption, change and challenge is not new at all.

For most of human history, most people, even the wealthy, have lived on the edge of earthly existence, with very little sense of control. Life was precarious. High maternal mortality, high childhood mortality, high mortality, period. Populations subject to the vagaries of climate and natural disaster, without benefit of satellite or radar to know what’s coming. Famine, floods and pestilence always on the horizon of possibility, which meant, not that you’d have to put off a trip to the store and consider a week or month-long disruption of the supply chain, but that you, your children and maybe your whole village would  starve.  Brutal rulers, punishments and restrictions, pogroms and genocide.

And you don’t even have to reach back to the Middle Ages to find it.

In such a context, it is not difficult to remember that you yourself are not God, or even a god, that you don’t create your own destiny. With that understanding, it’s not so much of a challenge to live in the knowledge that any joy or contentment you can grab from life on earth will not – and cannot – be tied to material prosperity and peak physical health, for neither of those things will probably ever come to you at all.

For most of human history, it hasn’t been the full, satisfied college degree holder looking to scratch a vague itch of existential despair who’s been hearing the Good News. It’s been the peasant nursing constantly aching teeth, squinting to see through weakened eyes, middle-aged at thirty, working hard from dawn to dusk, remember dead children, hearing rumors of war, studying the skies, waiting and praying for rain, subject to the whims of human authorities.

If they could see us, reeling from our present-day troubles, they might well ask us, “Well…what did you expect?”

Listen to today’s first reading, from Isaiah. Better yet, read the entire context – Isaiah 63-64. It’s an astonishing outcry of a people in exile, a wild mix of all that every person feels in time of loss and crisis: What did we do to do deserve this? Why are we suffering so? Have we done wrong? Are we suffering consequences of that wrong? God is so harsh with us! God seems to be silent, hidden and absent? But….you know what? He’s our Father. We trust him. He’s like a potter, we’re clay. Go ahead, Shape us.

The voices come to us from 2700 years ago – 2700 years – questioning, railing and ultimately trusting – and it’s as if they could be speaking today

Well, they are.

Same human race, same struggle, same veil we yearn to lift, same ache in our hearts for peace, wholeness, life and love.

Same cry for a savior.


I’ve attached this poem to another Advent post in the past, but it seemed fitting here. Written at the end of World War II, the poet says of it:

This poem, ‘Expectans Expectavi’, which is the title of a psalm, “I waited patiently for the Lord”, is about waiting, written at the end of the last war when the whole world, really, seemed to be holding its breath for the return of ordinary life, and all the soldiers from overseas, and I thought of it in the wintertime, at Christmas, with the carols and the children’s faces, recalling the refugees of the time. The poem happened to be chosen to be posted up on the underground, so although I never saw it myself, several of my friends have been surprised by it in the middle of a crowd of people standing up in the tube train.

Expectans Expectavi

The candid freezing season again:
Candle and cracker, needles of fir and frost;
Carols that through the night air pass, piercing
The glassy husk of heart and heaven;
Children’s faces white in the pane, bright in the tree-light.

And the waiting season again,
That begs a crust and suffers joy vicariously:
In bodily starvation now, in the spirit’s exile always.
O might the hilarious reign of love begin, let in
Like carols from the cold
The lost who crowd the pane, numb outcasts into welcome.

Advent is a reset, yes, but if we listen carefully to God’s Word and the lives of others beyond our own bubble of time and space, it can be a reset that anchors us more deeply in communion with the reality of the ebb, flow and crashing and burning of human experience, an experience that our privileged houses of sand manage to hide from us – those houses of sand Jesus warned us about for just that reason: they trick us, the rich man of the Gospel, into thinking we don’t need God.

That we don’t need a savior.

And so we listen to the Scriptures proclaimed at Mass and in the Church’s prayer, we listen to the saints whose words are given to us during this season, and we’re reminded that none of this is about hoping and dreaming that someday life will get “back to normal” or that this particular type of suffering and difficulty will end and then peace on earth will reign right now, in its fullness.

It’s about acknowledging the mess – the mess that’s now and the mess that came before the present mess – and lifting up that mess to God, trusting that he will take it and somehow make good come out of it, a type of rescue, if you will. It doesn’t diminish a bit of our current suffering. It simply situates it and puts us into communion with others who have suffered – which is everyone.

And then, as the weeks of Advent pass, we listen to the cries and questions asked and answered over centuries past in the context of Word, prayer, song and art – it becomes clearer and clearer: Yesterday and today, the human family speaks from the same broken, suffering heart – and yes, He hears us. And look right here in the mess, just look: here he is.

Others have found him. Keep looking. So can you.

Korean nativity
Source

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What was St. Anthony Mary Claret’s approach to evangelizing? Let’s take a look:

Despite all I knew about the predominant local vices, I didn’t begin talking about them at the very outset; on the contrary, I saved such topics for later. I waited until I had won my audience over, and then instead of being offended when I told them about their vices and little idols, they took my advice and mended their ways. I had noticed that at the beginning of a mission many came for the novelty of it, to see what I was going to talk about. If they had heard me reprehending them for their cherished vices, they would have been cut to the quick, and in their irritation they would have gone off upset, never to return, wishing a plague on the missionary, the mission, and everyone attending it. 

It seems to me that in these troubled times a missionary has to act like a man cooking snails. He starts by putting the snails on the stove in a pot of cold water. Sensing the coolness of the water, the snails come out of their shells. Then, as the water heats up gradually to the boiling point, the snails are killed and cooked. But if an imprudent person were careless enough to throw them at once into boiling water, they would retreat so deeply into their shells that no one would be able to get them out. This was the line I had to follow when dealing with sinners steeped in all sorts of vices, errors, blasphemies, and impieties.

The first few days I would present virtue and truth in the brightest and most winsome colors, without saying so much as a word against vice and sinners. Seeing that they were being treated with tolerance and kindness, people would come back time and time again, so that afterwards, when I was more outspoken with them, they took it well, were converted, and confessed their sins. I met quite a few who came to the mission only out of curiosity, as well as others who came out of mischief, to see whether they could catch me in some slip; yet they were converted and made good confessions.
291. When I started preaching missions, in 1840, we were in the midst of a civil war between the royalists and the constitutionalists, and so I had to be on my guard not to make any political remarks pro or con regarding either party.There were members of each party in all the towns I preached in. I had to be very careful because some people came to the mission only to catch me in some slip of the tongue, like the spies who were sent to Jesus, our Redeemer: Ut caperent in sermone. But, thank God, they never succeeded. 

292. The times were so troubled that I not only had to avoid talking politics, but also I had to avoid calling the service I was holding a “mission.” I had to call it, instead, a “novena” in honor of All Souls, or Our Lady of the Rosary, or the Blessed Sacrament, or a saint, so as not to upset the constitutionalists, who were in power in the towns I was preaching in. If the town was so large that nine days were not enough, I would lengthen the “novena” by as many days as I thought necessary.

Both St. Anthony Claret and we moderns believe that conversion is needed. We all believe that the human beings to whom we are ministering and speaking lack something, are in need, are incomplete.

St. Anthony Claret believed that human beings lived in need of salvation: that if one lived and believed in a way that was objectively separated from God’s will, revelation and plan, you would be unhappy on earth and for eternity. Conversion was about setting aside the old self and conforming to Christ.

And if that doesn’t happen – you can’t dwell with Christ in eternity. You’ll be eternally separated from Love – you’ll be in Hell. 

If you take a look at the contemporary paradigm, you can see that the definitions have shifted.

Yes, we are still called to conversion by preachers, both clerical and lay, but it’s different, for the argument is that the source of our unhappiness and alienation is different. As I said, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to pin this down. I’m getting closer, I think. I’m not there, but I’m closer.

We’re in need of salvation – we still seem to believe that – but it’s the salvation of knowing that God loves us and accepts us as we are.

Conversion then, in the dominant modern paradigm, means figuring out that God loves you as you are, that he gave you gifts and that you’re meant for great things on earth.

Because – let’s be honest that this is what most of us believe  – there are no eternal stakes to speak of. Right? Since almost everyone is going to Heaven, the only thing that Church is needed for is to share the Jesus story – which is a nice story – and assure us that God loves us, and therefore we can be a little happier on earth. 

It’s not so much about changing your life to conform to Christ, but to accept who you are. The act of faith becomes then not so much I believe in you but I believe that you want me to believe in me.

Now, I am the last person in the world to claim that misery and alienation is not a profound issue in people’s lives, and that a way out of this is the firm faith that God created you on purpose – you’re not an accident– to love and flourish now and for eternity with Him. It has always been at the center of my teaching, when I was in the classroom, and anything I write, particularly with young people in mind. I’ve often shared what was a life-altering passage from Andre Dubus’ story, “A Father’s Story:” Belief is believing in God. Faith is believing that God believes in you.” 

But.

What if who I think I am – is not really who I am at all? 

What if sin darkens more than just our sense of self-acceptance?

What then?

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A few interesting points he makes about ministry and influences on him.

You might be interested in what he says about possession and exorcism. Short version: He doesn’t deny that it’s real, but also says that it’s very rare.  

Another kind of infirmity that caused me even greater trouble and took a lot of my time was the cure of those who were possessed or obsessed by the devil. When I began preaching missions, I saw a large number of people who claimed to be possessed. Their relatives would ask me to exorcise them and, since I was duly authorized, I did so. Only one in a thousand could be called a genuine case of possession. There were other causes, physical or moral, that I won’t go into here.

In the course of missions I have met people, converted by the sermons, who have frankly admitted to me that they had never been possessed or even physically ill but had fabricated the whole thing for various reasons, such as to attract attention or to be coddled, pitied, helped, or a thousand other things.
 One woman of this sort told me that everything she had done had been done with full knowledge and willful malice, but that some of the things she did were so striking and bizarre that she began to wonder about them herself. Doubtless the devil was at work with her. Not through diabolical possession, but through the malice in her heart, for she knew that in the natural course of things she couldn’t do some of the things she did.
 Another lady, who lived in a large city, told me that she was so adept at faking possession that she had been having exorcisms performed over a long period of time, during which she had deceived twenty of the wisest, most virtuous, and most zealous priests in that city.

In sections 234- 263, he devotes three chapters to the influence that female saints have had on him. 

In sections 264ff, he discusses prayer – and the reason I highlight this is to remind you that when spiritual teachers of the past spoke of the importance of prayer, they weren’t suggesting a vague, “Stay close to God all day through your stream-of-consciousness thoughts and good intentions.”  It was very specific – it varied according to the particular school of spirituality or context, but the point is that the vision and goal of a strong spiritual life was constructed on a foundation of  – yes – formal prayer.

On catechizing children:

The first thing I saw to was the instruction of children in Christian
doctrine–not only because I have always felt a strong inclination toward this kind of education but also because I have come to realize its prime importance. Knowledge of the catechism is the foundation for the whole edifice of religious and moral instruction. Moreover, children learn readily and are deeply impressed. Catechism preserves them from error, vice, and ignorance and more easily grounds them in virtue because they are more docile than adults. In the case of children, the only work required is that of planting, whereas adults require both weeding and planting. There is yet another advantage: grownups are often won over by the little ones, and parents are won over by their children because children are like so many pieces of their parents’ hearts. When the children receive a little holy card for their attendance and diligence, their parents and other adults read them at home out of curiosity, and this often results in their conversion, as I know from experience.

One of the things that has moved me most to teach children is the example of Jesus Christ and the saints. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14). Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them. There is no doubt that a child whose innocence has been preserved through good instruction is a treasure more precious in God’s eyes than all the kingdoms of this world.

The Apostles, who had been indoctrinated by Christ catechized the small and the great alike, and so their sermon became so many basic statements of the mysteries of faith.
St. Denis, St. Clement of Alexandria–a most erudite man, the teacher of Origen–as well as Origen himself, were catechists, as were St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. St. Jerome, at the very time when he was being consulted from far and near as the oracle of the universe, was not ashamed to teach catechism to children. He spent his last days, which had otherwise been used so well in the service of the Church, in this humble occupation. He once told a widow, “Send me your
children and I’ll babble with them~ I’ll have less glory in men’s eyes, but I’ll be glorious in God’s.”

On adults:

The most productive means I have used has been adult instruction. It has helped me rescue adults from an ignorance that is greater than one might imagine, even in the case of persons who hear sermons frequently. Preachers often take it for granted that their listeners are well instructed, while the fact is that instruction is precisely what most Catholics lack. The use of instruction has the further advantage of informing adults of their respective obligations and teaching them how to go about fulfilling them.

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