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Archive for the ‘Pope Benedict XVI’ Category

(Follow me on Instagram & Snapchat – amywelborn2 –  to get timely updates. I have no-extra cost data overseas, so….yeah.)

Okay, the last we met, it was early afternoon Bologna time on Monday, and now it’s about 10pm Tuesday Bologna time. I feel as if I have been here forever. (In a good way)

My older son had a more difficult time adjusting to the time difference and toil of travel this time, and ended up sleeping most of the day on Monday.  After I returned from my morning walk, the younger son and I went out, returned, saw the brother was still out, and went back again…and then finally around 4, went out to wander one last time with the now rested brother.

It actually was good because I really got my bearings that way and could plot out an efficient day today.

First, even though Bologna is not so much on the American tourist route, there are a lot of tourists here – other Italians, French, and lots of Brits. It’s a busy, busy city with an interesting vibe – probably even more so over around the university, and I’ve enjoyed the time.

So today, I got up first, of course, and walked back down to Piazza Maggiore, where I shot a little video. 

The big church is the Basilica of St. Petronius, an early bishop of Bologna and the city’s patron saint. Obviously, the marble facade was never finished. The interior is huge and expansive – it was hoped to be larger than St. Peter’s in Rome, but the Pope squashed that notion. The interior is not terribly interesting except for its size – there are a few pieces of artwork I took note of – an enormous fresco of St. Christopher, for example – and I think the most prized fresco set was roped off and is only open to special tours or something. It was odd.

I found some really wonderful croissants at this bakery. Most Italian croissants that you find in a typical corner bakery are not so great. Obviously mass-produced, dry and too sweet for my taste, they are not a favorite. But these were lovely, baked out of some sort of (probably) organic/natural/Slow Food ethos. As good as you would find in France. And cheaper than anything you find in America – 6 Euros for five exceptional pastries.

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Once everyone was up and fed we got out the door and took the bus down to find the Corpus Domini convent. It is where St. Catherine of Bologna’s body is on display for reverencing. Yes, her whole body, sitting up. The story of why is here. And while the nature of her final earthly resting place seems weird and grotesque to some, her life story is anything but. A fascinating woman, born into wealth and privilege, she sacrificed it all to become a Poor Clare and left some very sound spiritual advice. You can read what Benedict XVI said about her, including that advice here.

In her autobiographical and didactic treatise, The Seven Spiritual Weapons, Catherine offers in this regard teaching of deep wisdom and profound discernment. She speaks in the third person in reporting the extraordinary graces which the Lord gives to her and in the first person in confessing her sins. From her writing transpires the purity of her faith in God, her profound humility, the simplicity of her heart, her missionary zeal, her passion for the salvation of souls. She identifies seven weapons in the fight against evil, against the devil:

1. always to be careful and diligently strive to do good; 2. to believe that alone we will never be able to do something truly good; 3. to trust in God and, for love of him, never to fear in the battle against evil, either in the world or within ourselves; 4. to meditate often on the events and words of the life of Jesus, and especially on his Passion and his death; 5. to remember that we must die; 6. to focus our minds firmly on memory of the goods of Heaven; 7. to be familiar with Sacred Scripture, always cherishing it in our hearts so that it may give direction to all our thoughts and all our actions. A splendid programme of spiritual life, today too, for each one of us!

In the convent Catherine, in spite of being accustomed to the court in Ferrara, served in the offices of laundress, dressmaker and breadmaker and even looked after the animals. She did everything, even the lowliest tasks, with love and ready obedience, offering her sisters a luminous witness. Indeed she saw disobedience as that spiritual pride which destroys every other virtue. Out of obedience she accepted the office of novice mistress, although she considered herself unfit for this office, and God continued to inspire her with his presence and his gifts: in fact she proved to be a wise and appreciated mistress.

Later the service of the parlour was entrusted to her. She found it trying to have to interrupt her prayers frequently in order to respond to those who came to the monastery grill, but this time too the Lord did not fail to visit her and to be close to her.

With her the monastery became an increasingly prayerful place of self-giving, of silence, of endeavour and of joy.

(By the way, I was under the impression that some sort of secret handshake was involved in getting into the side chapel with the body, but no – the door was wide open, and there she sat.)

The experience was not as odd as I thought it would be. For one, I couldn’t get close because a woman was deep in prayer in front of the body. But secondly…it just wasn’t. You get in there, are initially a little bit freaked out, and then you pray, and it all makes sense – why you are there and what you need to be saying.

It seems to me that St. Catherine is still filling that role – the service of the parlour – as she welcomes outsiders to the prayerful silence of the convent, of focused spiritual life.

Then we walked just a few blocks over to the complex of San Domenico – where St. Dominic died in 1221, after having sent his friars to the university town in 1217  –  and where his body rests – not sitting up behind glass, but in a large , stunning sarcophagus. Unfortunately, as per usual, we arrived to see it right before they shut off close access to it – I don’t know if it was for the afternoon break or because of Mass, but whatever the case, we only had a couple of minutes close to the tomb – enough time to pray for Dominicans we know, including future teachers of some of us from the Nashville Dominicans, as well as other friends and acquaintances, and in general thanksgiving for this wonderful order.

So if you want to see good photos and learn more about the art…go here.  I’m no help.

As we walked over, large groups of schoolchildren started streaming in from various streets in the same direction, and when we walked in the church, it was clear there was going to be some sort of Mass. More and more children – teens to tiny ones – kept coming, and as we left before Mass began, here came a bishop.

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(I’m using Snapchat a lot this trip – find me as amywelborn2)

We were then just a few blocks from San Stefano, where we’d attempted to go the previous day before being kicked out after 97 seconds. We headed over there and it was interesting – the complex is a set of churches (more like chapels) intended to evoke Jerusalem.  The problem is that the signage is terrible, there is no guidebook available at the entrance – only at the gift shop which is in the back and staffed by chatty (with each other)  but otherwise indifferent Benedictines. Some evocative Romanesque, but I’m still not sure what it evoked.

san stefano, Bologna

We then returned to the Archiginnasio of the University of Bologna, where, again, we had ventured the previous day, but of course, right before closing time. It is an fascinating structure – one of the original sections of the University of Bologna. What makes it so memorable is the tradition of students’ coats of arms being painted or erected on the walls and the ceilings – seven thousand.

Right up the street was Santa Maria della Vita , in which I wanted to stop to see the other terracotta grouping – the 15th century Lamentation over Dead Christ by Niccolò dell’Arca .  There is a small charge to see it (3 euros for me, 1 each for the boys), and it is worth it. It’s a stunning piece of work. Probably overwrought, but no matter. It’s hard to stop looking, and a privilege to be able to do so at such close range.

It was then time for lunch. I decided we would check off “Traditional Bolognese Cuisine” from the list and so we went to Da Nell0 – just a block from Piazza Maggiore – and had a good meal centered on cured meats, then tortellini en brodo (tortellini in broth) and tagliatelle Bolognese – which is not what you might think of when you think “Spaghetti Bolognese.” First it is made with the flat, ribbony pasta called tagliatelle, and secondly real Bolognese sauce is basically meat. It has been cooked down and is intensely flavorful (I made a simpler version a few weeks ago, via Marcella Hazan), and it is so much better than any tomato-sauce drenched dish you’d find on the menu in the US.

We had great service, which is obviously the norm, not only for humans, either. We must have been seated next to the canine table, for the party sitting there when we arrived had a dog with them, and the next group and another, even larger dog. No, we weren’t outdoors, and as we had learned in France, Europeans don’t seem to mind dogs in restaurants…

By then, the older kid needed a break, and what the younger one had his sights on held no interest for him – the Archaeological Museum.  So we walked him back to the apartment and then headed back out to the museum, taking the bus for most of it. It is not that far, but at this point, I was, uncharacteristically, dragging. I say “uncharacteristically” because I am blessed with great health and stamina and hardly every get tired. But not today.  The reason being that I had awakened at about 4 am and not been able to get back to sleep. So yes, after having been awake for 12 hours, eaten a heavy lunch (also uncharacteristic), and walked about 4 miles…I could have easily dozed off in the midst of the mummies. In fact, I might have.

For that was the special exhibit – on Egypt. And, as we discovered, it was the only exhibit. the museum was all Egypt, top to bottom for the moment. It was okay – the kid was fascinated, and there was an audio guide which made it even better.

Then back to the apartment where, unbelievably, people asked for food.  I won’t eat again until tomorrow at some point, and have no desire or need to, but, them..what is up with these people and their thing about eating meals?

Well if you are going to insist, then you are going to get streetfront pizza, which is just fine and super cheap. So.

We then walked around a bit, ending up strolling through the 11 Settembre Park – a small park where there were teens and students congregated at one end smoking and drinking, and parents and children on the other, smoking and drinking. The main attraction for us was an enclosed dog park in which an Great Dane was holding court with a resounding, basso, yet friendly  bark.

What’s a little sad is that at 11 and 15, my own kids are now too old to join the playground scrum. Some of our greatest travel memories have been made on playgrounds in foreign countries, including in Paris one day when the then-7 year old ran up to me breathlessly saying, “The kids keep asking me what my name is and all I keep saying is, ‘Je suis Americain, je suis Americain,‘ but they keep wanting to talk to me!”

But..time passes and different pleasures take the old ones’ places.

One more stop: the train station to  buy tickets for tomorrow. We are going to Parma, and it’s not necessary to buy tickets ahead of time from an availability standpoint, but since the train is pret-ty early, I thought it would be a good idea to have them in hand for my own peace of mind.

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On the way to buy train tickets. This is the Porta Galleria, a gate built at the old medieval city walls in the 17th century. 

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Some reflections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In 2008, Benedict made a pastoral visit to Savona and Genoa over Trinity Sunday weekend. He preached two homilies, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

First, from Saturday in Savona:

On this Solemnity, the liturgy invites us to praise God not merely for the wonders that he has worked, but for who he is; for the beauty and goodness of his being from which his action stems. We are invited to contemplate, so to speak, the Heart of God, his deepest reality which is his being One in the Trinity, a supreme and profound communion of love and life

Then, in Genoa:

There is contained, therefore, in these Readings, a principal that regards God and in effect today’s Feast invites us to contemplate him, the Lord. It invites us in a certain sense to scale “the mountain” as Moses did. This seems at first sight to take us far from the world and its problems but in fact one discovers that it is precisely by coming to know God more intimately that one receives fundamental instructions for this our life: something like what happened to Moses who, climbing Sinai and remaining in God’s presence, received the law engraved on stone tablets from which the people drew the guidance to continue, to find freedom and to form themselves as a people in liberty and justice. Our history depends on God’s Name and our journey on the light of his Face. From this reality of God which he himself made known to us by revealing his “Name” to us comes a certain image of man, that is, the exact concept of the person. If God is a dialogical unity, a being in relation, the human creature made in his image and likeness reflects this constitution: thus he is called to fulfil himself in dialogue, in conversation, in encounter.

…In a society fraught between globalization and individualism, the Church is called to offer a witness of koinonìa, of communion. This reality does not come “from below” but is a mystery which, so to speak, “has its roots in Heaven”, in the Triune God himself. It is he, in himself, who is the eternal dialogue of love which was communicated to us in Jesus Christ and woven into the fabric of humanity and history to lead it to fullness.

…The high standard of discipleship alone fascinates and gives joy. I urge all to grow in the missionary dimension which is co-essential to communion. Indeed, the Trinity is at the same time unity and mission: the more intense love is, the stronger is the urge to pour it out, to spread it, to communicate it. Church of Genoa, be united and missionary to proclaim to all the joy of faith and the beauty of being God’s Family.

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Fr. James V. Schall, SJ, pulled all of Benedict’s Trinitarian allusions of that visit together in this article. 

 

 

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His feast day is today, May 10.

This webpage at EWTN has a good introduction as well as links to a series of blog posts Joan Lewis wrote about a pilgrimage to Molokai. 

From Pope Benedict’s homily at his canonization:

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”. The brief conversation we heard in the Gospel passage, between a man identified elsewhere as the rich young man and Jesus, begins with this question (cf. Mk 10: 17-30). We do not have many details about this anonymous figure; yet from a few characteristics we succeed in perceiving his sincere desire to attain eternal life by leading an honest and virtuous earthly existence. In fact he knows the commandments and has observed them faithfully from his youth. Yet, all this which is of course important is not enough. Jesus says he lacks one thing, but it is something essential. Then, seeing him well disposed, the divine Teacher looks at him lovingly and suggests to him a leap in quality; he calls the young man to heroism in holiness, he asks him to abandon everything to follow him: “go, sell what you have, and give to the poor… and come, follow me” (v. 21).

“Come, follow me”. This is the Christian vocation which is born from the Lord’s proposal of love and can only be fulfilled in our loving response. Jesus invites his disciples to give their lives completely, without calculation or personal interest, with unreserved trust in God. Saints accept this demanding invitation and set out with humble docility in the following of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Their perfection, in the logic of faith sometimes humanly incomprehensible consists in no longer putting themselves at the centre but in choosing to go against the tide, living in line with the Gospel. This is what the five Saints did who are held up today with great joy for the veneration of the universal Church: Zygmunt Szczęsny Feliński, Francisco Coll y Guitart, Jozef Damien de Veuster, Rafael Arnáiz Barón and Mary of the Cross (Jeanne Jugan). In them we contemplate the Apostle Peter’s words fulfilled: “Lo, we have left everything and followed you” (v. 28), and Jesus’ comforting reassurance: “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time… with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (vv. 29-30)….

Jozef De Veuster received the name of Damien in the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. When he was 23 years old, in 1863, he left Flanders, the land of his birth, to proclaim the Gospel on the other side of the world in the Hawaiian Islands. His missionary activity, which gave him such joy, reached its peak in charity. Not without fear and repugnance, he chose to go to the Island of Molokai to serve the lepers who lived there, abandoned by all. Thus he was exposed to the disease from which they suffered. He felt at home with them. The servant of the Word consequently became a suffering servant, a leper with the lepers, for the last four years of his life. In order to follow Christ, Fr Damien not only left his homeland but also risked his health: therefore as the word of Jesus proclaimed to us in today’s Gospel says he received eternal life (cf. Mk 10: 30). On this 20th anniversary of the Canonization of another Belgian Saint, Bro. Mutien-Marie, the Church in Belgium has once again come together to give thanks to God for the recognition of one of its sons as an authentic servant of God. Let us remember before this noble figure that it is charity which makes unity, brings it forth and makes it desirable. Following in St Paul’s footsteps, St Damien prompts us to choose the good warfare (cf. 1 Tim 1: 18), not the kind that brings division but the kind that gathers people together. He invites us to open our eyes to the forms of leprosy that disfigure the humanity of our brethren and still today call for the charity of our presence as servants, beyond that of our generosity.

He’s in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

(written when he was still a Blessed)

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We’ll start with the more confusing one – James. As is the case with (in English) “Mary” – there are a lot of “James” in the New Testament narratives, so sorting them out is a challenge. And perhaps not even really possible.

Today’s feast celebrates James “the Lesser” – as opposed to James the Greater, brother of John, one of the first four apostles called by Jesus, present at the Transfiguration, feast June 25, etc.

This James, son of Alphaeus, is often identified with the James who was head of the Church in Jerusalem and the author of the New Testament letter.  That’s what Pope Benedict went with in his 2007 General Audience talk: 

Thus, St James’ Letter shows us a very concrete and practical Christianity. Faith must be fulfilled in life, above all, in love of neighbour and especially in dedication to the poor. It is against this background that the famous sentence must be read: “As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead” (Jas 2: 26).

At times, this declaration by St James has been considered as opposed to the affirmations of Paul, who claims that we are justified by God not by virtue of our actions but through our faith "amy welborn"(cf. Gal 2: 16; Rom 3: 28). However, if the two apparently contradictory sentences with their different perspectives are correctly interpreted, they actually complete each other.

St Paul is opposed to the pride of man who thinks he does not need the love of God that precedes us; he is opposed to the pride of self-justification without grace, simply given and undeserved.

St James, instead, talks about works as the normal fruit of faith: “Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit”, the Lord says (Mt 7: 17). And St James repeats it and says it to us.

Lastly, the Letter of James urges us to abandon ourselves in the hands of God in all that we do: “If the Lord wills” (Jas 4: 15). Thus, he teaches us not to presume to plan our lives autonomously and with self interest, but to make room for the inscrutable will of God, who knows what is truly good for us.

Now, Philip. I think this GA talk really highlight’s B16’s catechetical skills. We don’t know that much about Philip, but Benedict takes what we do know, and hones it down in the most practical…pastoral way:

The Fourth Gospel recounts that after being called by Jesus, Philip meets Nathanael and tells him: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (Jn 1: 45). Philip does not give way to Nathanael’s somewhat sceptical answer (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”) and firmly retorts: “Come and see!” (Jn 1: 46).

In his dry but clear response, Philip displays the characteristics of a true witness: he is not satisfied with presenting the proclamation theoretically, but directly challenges the person addressing him by suggesting he have a personal experience of what he has been told.

The same two verbs are used by Jesus when two disciples of John the Baptist approach him to ask him where he is staying. Jesus answers: “Come and see” (cf. Jn 1: 38-39).

We can imagine that Philip is also addressing us with those two verbs that imply personal involvement. He is also saying to us what he said to Nathanael: “Come and see”. The Apostle engages us to become closely acquainted with Jesus.

In fact, friendship, true knowledge of the other person, needs closeness and indeed, to a certain extent, lives on it. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that according to what Mark writes, Jesus chose the Twelve primarily “to be with him” (Mk 3: 14); that is, to share in his life and learn directly from him not only the style of his behaviour, but above all who he really was.

Indeed, only in this way, taking part in his life, could they get to know him and subsequently, proclaim him."amy welborn"

Later, in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, one would read that what is important is to “learn Christ” (4: 20): therefore, not only and not so much to listen to his teachings and words as rather to know him in person, that is, his humanity and his divinity, his mystery and his beauty. In fact, he is not only a Teacher but a Friend, indeed, a Brother.

How will we be able to get to know him properly by being distant? Closeness, familiarity and habit make us discover the true identity of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Philip reminds us precisely of this. And thus he invites us to “come” and “see”, that is, to enter into contact by listening, responding and communion of life with Jesus, day by day.

Then, on the occasion of the multiplication of the loaves, he received a request from Jesus as precise as it was surprising: that is, where could they buy bread to satisfy the hunger of all the people who were following him (cf. Jn 6: 5). Then Philip very realistically answered: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (Jn 6: 7).

Here one can see the practicality and realism of the Apostle who can judge the effective implications of a situation.

We then know how things went. We know that Jesus took the loaves and after giving thanks, distributed them. Thus, he brought about the multiplication of the loaves.

It is interesting, however, that it was to Philip himself that Jesus turned for some preliminary help with solving the problem: this is an obvious sign that he belonged to the close group that surrounded Jesus.

On another occasion very important for future history, before the Passion some Greeks who had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover “came to Philip… and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus’. Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus” (cf. Jn 12: 20-22).

Once again, we have an indication of his special prestige within the Apostolic College. In this case, Philip acts above all as an intermediary between the request of some Greeks – he probably spoke Greek and could serve as an interpreter – and Jesus; even if he joined Andrew, the other Apostle with a Greek name, he was in any case the one whom the foreigners addressed.

This teaches us always to be ready to accept questions and requests, wherever they come from, and to direct them to the Lord, the only one who can fully satisfy them. Indeed, it is important to know that the prayers of those who approach us are not ultimately addressed to us, but to the Lord: it is to him that we must direct anyone in need. So it is that each one of us must be an open road towards him!

There is then another very particular occasion when Philip makes his entrance. During the Last Supper, after Jesus affirmed that to know him was also to know the Father (cf. Jn 14: 7), Philip quite ingenuously asks him: “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14: 8). Jesus answered with a gentle rebuke: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father: how can you say, “Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?… Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me” (Jn 14: 9-11).

These words are among the most exalted in John’s Gospel. They contain a true and proper revelation. At the end of the Prologue to his Gospel, John says: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (Jn 1: 18).

Well, that declaration which is made by the Evangelist is taken up and confirmed by Jesus himself, but with a fresh nuance. In fact, whereas John’s Prologue speaks of an explanatory intervention by Jesus through the words of his teaching, in his answer to Philip Jesus refers to his own Person as such, letting it be understood that it is possible to understand him not only through his words but rather, simply through what he is.

To express ourselves in accordance with the paradox of the Incarnation we can certainly say that God gave himself a human face, the Face of Jesus, and consequently, from now on, if we truly want to know the Face of God, all we have to do is to contemplate the Face of Jesus! In his Face we truly see who God is and what he looks like!

The Evangelist does not tell us whether Philip grasped the full meaning of Jesus’ sentence. There is no doubt that he dedicated his whole life entirely to him. According to certain later accounts (Acts of Philip and others), our Apostle is said to have evangelized first Greece and then Frisia, where he is supposed to have died, in Hierapolis, by a torture described variously as crucifixion or stoning.

Let us conclude our reflection by recalling the aim to which our whole life must aspire: to encounter Jesus as Philip encountered him, seeking to perceive in him God himself, the heavenly Father. If this commitment were lacking, we would be reflected back to ourselves as in a mirror and become more and more lonely! Philip teaches us instead to let ourselves be won over by Jesus, to be with him and also to invite others to share in this indispensable company; and in seeing, finding God, to find true life.

 

Many years ago, I wrote a study guide for B16’s collected General Audience talks on the Apostles and other early Church figures. The study guide is available online in pdf form – so if you have a church discussion group and would like to use it, or even just for yourself  – there it is. 

Both images from St. John Lateran in Rome. 

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Today, May 2, we remember St. Athanasius. Fr. Steve Grunow says it best:

The witness of St. Athanasius clarifies just how much theology matters. How we conceive of the truths of the Faith is of pressing importance. The great truths we profess in our creed and celebrate in our liturgy are not to be taken lightly or dismissed as abstractions that are best left to experts. We have a responsibility as disciples to know the Church’s teachings at a measure of depth, or the mission Christ gives us will be imperiled. A disciple cannot be content with a spiritual life that is built on the sandy foundations of platitudes or slogans. Christ comes into this world as a man so that we might know him as God. The Christian spiritual life is a continual intensification of our experience and understanding of this revelation. 

The tendency to dilute or deny the truth of the Incarnation has been a temptation in every age of the Church’s life. Some prefer that Christ’s divinity be emptied of all significance and meaning. Others would make his humanity incidental to his revelation. Neither option is congruent with the Apostolic Faith or expresses who the Lord Jesus truly is “for us and for our salvation.” 

The world may prefer another kind of Christ, but if that is the world’s preference, Athanasius invites us to stand with him “contra mundi.”

 

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From a 2007 General Audience, Benedict XVI:

As you read, note how Benedict pulls out the core of what is at stake in Arianism. As Fr. Grunow says above, theology matters. It doesn’t matter to us because we are attached to words or formulas. It doesn’t matter to us because we are focused on human intellectual constructs rather than human life. It doesn’t matter because we are afraid to get down into the messiness of human life in favor of the cool, dry safety of walled-in libraries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Today is the feast of St. Anselm, medieval philosopher and theologian.

I will always, always remember St. Anselm because he was the first Christian philosopher/theologian I encountered in a serious way.

As a Catholic high school student in the 70’s, of course we met no such personages – only the likes of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Man of La Mancha.

(That was a project senior year – do a visual project matching up the lyrics of “Impossible Dream” with the Beatitudes. JLS had been Sophomore year. It was a text in the class. It was  also the year my religion teacher remarked on my report card, “Amy is a good student, but she spends class time sitting in the back of the room reading novels.” )

Anyway, upon entering the University of Tennessee, I claimed a major of Honors History and a minor of religious studies. (Instapundit’s dad, Dr. Charles Reynolds, was one of my professors). One of the classes was in medieval church history, and yup, we plunged into Anselm, and I was introduced to thinking about the one of whom no greater can be thought, although more of the focus was on his atonement theory.

So Anselm and his tight logic always makes me sit up and take notice. From B16’s General Audience talk on him:

A monk with an intense spiritual life, an excellent teacher of the young, a theologian with an extraordinary capacity for speculation, a wise man of governance and an intransigent defender of libertas Ecclesiae, of the Church’s freedom, Anselm is one of the eminent figures of the Middle Ages who was able to harmonize all these qualities, thanks to the profound mystical experience that always guided his thought and his action.

St. Anselm Of Canterbury Painting; St. Anselm Of Canterbury Art Print for sale

St Anselm was born in 1033 (or at the beginning of 1034) in Aosta, the first child of a noble family. His father was a coarse man dedicated to the pleasures of life who squandered his possessions. On the other hand, Anselm’s mother was a profoundly religious woman of high moral standing (cf. Eadmer, Vita Sancti Anselmi, PL 159, col. 49). It was she, his mother, who saw to the first human and religious formation of her son whom she subsequently entrusted to the Benedictines at a priory in Aosta. Anselm, who since childhood as his biographer recounts imagined that the good Lord dwelled among the towering, snow-capped peaks of the Alps, dreamed one night that he had been invited to this splendid kingdom by God himself, who had a long and affable conversation with him and then gave him to eat “a very white bread roll” (ibid., col. 51). This dream left him with the conviction that he was called to carry out a lofty mission. At the age of 15, he asked to be admitted to the Benedictine Order but his father brought the full force of his authority to bear against him and did not even give way when his son, seriously ill and feeling close to death, begged for the religious habit as a supreme comfort. After his recovery and the premature death of his mother, Anselm went through a period of moral dissipation. He neglected his studies and, consumed by earthly passions, grew deaf to God’s call. He left home and began to wander through France in search of new experiences. Three years later, having arrived in Normandy, he went to the Benedictine Abbey of Bec, attracted by the fame of Lanfranc of Pavia, the Prior. For him this was a providential meeting, crucial to the rest of his life. Under Lanfranc’s guidance Anselm energetically resumed his studies and it was not long before he became not only the favourite pupil but also the teacher’s confidante. His monastic vocation was rekindled and, after an attentive evaluation, at the age of 27 he entered the monastic order and was ordained a priest. Ascesis and study unfolded new horizons before him, enabling him to rediscover at a far higher level the same familiarity with God which he had had as a child.

When Lanfranc became Abbot of Caen in 1063, Anselm, after barely three years of monastic life, was named Prior of the Monastery of Bec and teacher of the cloister school, showing his gifts as a refined educator. He was not keen on authoritarian methods; he compared young people to small plants that develop better if they are not enclosed in greenhouses and granted them a “healthy” freedom. He was very demanding with himself and with others in monastic observance, but rather than imposing his discipline he strove to have it followed by persuasion. Upon the death of Abbot Herluin, the founder of the Abbey of Bec, Anselm was unanimously elected to succeed him; it was February 1079. In the meantime numerous monks had been summoned to Canterbury to bring to their brethren on the other side of the Channel the renewal that was being brought about on the continent. Their work was so well received that Lanfranc of Pavia, Abbot of Caen, became the new Archbishop of Canterbury. He asked Anselm to spend a certain period with him in order to instruct the monks and to help him in the difficult plight in which his ecclesiastical community had been left after the Norman conquest. Anselm’s stay turned out to be very fruitful; he won such popularity and esteem that when Lanfranc died he was chosen to succeed him in the archiepiscopal See of Canterbury. He received his solemn episcopal consecration in December 1093.

Anselm immediately became involved in a strenuous struggle for the Church’s freedom, valiantly supporting the independence of the spiritual power from the temporal. Anselm defended the Church from undue interference by political authorities, especially King William Rufus and Henry I, finding encouragement and support in the Roman Pontiff to whom he always showed courageous and cordial adherence. In 1103, this fidelity even cost him the bitterness of exile from his See of Canterbury. Moreover, it was only in 1106, when King Henry I renounced his right to the conferral of ecclesiastical offices, as well as to the collection of taxes and the confiscation of Church properties, that Anselm could return to England, where he was festively welcomed by the clergy and the people. Thus the long battle he had fought with the weapons of perseverance, pride and goodness ended happily. This holy Archbishop, who roused such deep admiration around him wherever he went, dedicated the last years of his life to the moral formation of the clergy and to intellectual research into theological topics. He died on 21 April 1109, accompanied by the words of the Gospel proclaimed in Holy Mass on that day: “You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom…” (Lk 22: 28-30). So it was that the dream of the mysterious banquet he had had as a small boy, at the very beginning of his spiritual journey, found fulfilment. Jesus, who had invited him to sit at his table, welcomed Anselm upon his death into the eternal Kingdom of the Father.

“I pray, O God, to know you, to love you, that I may rejoice in you. And if I cannot attain to full joy in this life may I at least advance from day to day, until that joy shall come to the full” (Proslogion, chapter 14). This prayer enables us to understand the mystical soul of this great Saint of the Middle Ages, the founder of scholastic theology, to whom Christian tradition has given the title: “Magnificent Doctor”, because he fostered an intense desire to deepen his knowledge of the divine Mysteries but in the full awareness that the quest for God is never ending, at least on this earth. The clarity and logical rigour of his thought always aimed at “raising the mind to contemplation of God” (ibid., Proemium). He states clearly that whoever intends to study theology cannot rely on his intelligence alone but must cultivate at the same time a profound experience of faith. The theologian’s activity, according to St Anselm, thus develops in three stages: faith, a gift God freely offers, to be received with humility; experience,which consists in incarnating God’s word in one’s own daily life; and therefore true knowledge, which is never the fruit of ascetic reasoning but rather of contemplative intuition. In this regard his famous words remain more useful than ever, even today, for healthy theological research and for anyone who wishes to deepen his knowledge of the truths of faith: “I do not endeavour, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, that unless I believed, I should not understand” (ibid., 1).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the love of the truth and the constant thirst for God that marked St Anselm’s entire existence be an incentive to every Christian to seek tirelessly an ever more intimate union with Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. In addition, may the zeal full of courage that distinguished his pastoral action and occasionally brought him misunderstanding, sorrow and even exile be an encouragement for Pastors, for consecrated people and for all the faithful to love Christ’s Church, to pray, to work and to suffer for her, without ever abandoning or betraying her. May the Virgin Mother of God, for whom St Anselm had a tender, filial devotion, obtain this grace for us. “Mary, it is you whom my heart yearns to love”, St Anselm wrote, “it is you whom my tongue ardently desires to praise”.

And from a letter to the Church in Aosta, on the occasion of the 900th anniversary of his birth there:

To Anselm “a boy who grew up in the mountains” as his biographer Eadmer describes him (Eadmer, Vita Sancti Anselmi, I, 2) it seemed impossible to imagine anything greater than God: gazing since childhood at those inaccessible peaks may have had something to do with this intuition. Indeed, already as a child he considered that to meet God it was necessary “to climb to the top of the mountain” (ibid.). Indeed, he was to understand better and better that God is found at an inaccessible height, situated beyond the goals that man can reach since God is beyond the thinkable. For this reason the journey in quest of God, at least on this earth, will be never-ending but will always consist of thought and yearning, a rigorous process of the mind and the imploring plea of the heart.

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Today is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s birthday.  He’s 89.

If you would like an simple introduction to this thought written for a popular audience, try my Come Meet Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI.  

It’s out of print, but you can by inexpensive used copies here.

AND you can download a free (pdf file) copy of it here.

This book is centered on Christ as the center of Pope Benedict’s thought and work as theologian and vocation as Pope.   It seemed to me that he is “proposing pope benedict XVIJesus Christ” both to the world and to the Church.  He was about reweaving a tapestry that has been sorely frayed and tattered:

  • Offering the Good News to a broken humanity and a suffering world that in Jesus Christ, all of our yearnings and hopes are fulfilled and all of our sins forgiven.  We don’t know who we are or why we are here. In Christ, we discover why.  But it is more than an intellectual discovery. In Christ – in Christ – we are joined to him, and his love dwells within us, his presence lives and binds us.
  • Re-presenting Jesus Christ even to those of us who are members of the Body already.  This wise, experienced man has seen how Christians fall. How we forget what the point is. How we unconsciously adopt the call of the world to see our faith has nothing more than a worthy choice of an appealing story that gives us a vague hope because it is meaningful.   He is calling us to re-examine our own faith and see how we have been seduced by a view of faith that puts it in the category of “lifestyle choice.”
  • Challenging the modern ethos that separates “faith”  and “spirituality” from “religion” – an appeal that is made not only to non-believers, but to believers as well, believers who stay away from Church, who neglect or scorn religious devotions and practices, who reject the wisdom of the Church –  one cannot have Christ without Church.

And of course, there are the children’s books – still timely, with the typical great quotes that offer the typical B16-ian reassurance and respectful nudge to something more. 

Friendship with Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI

"amy welborn"

Be Saints 

"amy welborn"

Get signed copies of both of these books (signed by Ann & me,….not Benedict, unfortunately…here.)

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