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Archive for the ‘Pope Benedict XVI’ Category

Advent brings with it great saints. Over the next week, we have Francis Xavier, John Damascene, Nicholas, Ambrose, and today, St. Andrew, brother of Peter, fisherman, disciple, martyr.

(Would you like a study guide accompanying all of Pope Benedict XVI’s talks on the apostles? Here’s a pdf of one I wrote for OSV. Seriously – feel free to print, copy and use in whatever way you’d like. Zoom small group study!)

Who, what, when, where, why….

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The first striking characteristic of Andrew is his name:  it is not Hebrew, as might have been expected, but Greek, indicative of a certain cultural openness in his family that cannot be ignored. We are in Galilee, where the Greek language and culture are quite present. Andrew comes second in the list of the Twelve, as in Matthew (10: 1-4) and in Luke (6: 13-16); or fourth, as in Mark (3: 13-18) and in the Acts (1: 13-14). In any case, he certainly enjoyed great prestige within the early Christian communities.

The kinship between Peter and Andrew, as well as the joint call that Jesus addressed to them, are explicitly mentioned in the Gospels. We read:  “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men'” (Mt 4: 18-19; Mk 1: 16-17).

From the Fourth Gospel we know another important detail:  Andrew had previously been a disciple of John the Baptist:  and this shows us that he was a man who was searching, who shared in Israel’s hope, who wanted to know better the word of the Lord, the presence of the Lord.

He was truly a man of faith and hope; and one day he heard John the Baptist proclaiming Jesus as:  “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1: 36); so he was stirred, and with another unnamed disciple followed Jesus, the one whom John had called “the Lamb of God”. The Evangelist says that “they saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day…” (Jn 1: 37-39).

Thus, Andrew enjoyed precious moments of intimacy with Jesus. The account continues with one important annotation:  “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus” (Jn 1: 40-43), straightaway showing an unusual apostolic spirit.

Andrew, then, was the first of the Apostles to be called to follow Jesus. Exactly for this reason the liturgy of the Byzantine Church honours him with the nickname:  “Protokletos”, [protoclete] which means, precisely, “the first called”.

And it is certain that it is partly because of the family tie between Peter and Andrew that the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople feel one another in a special way to be Sister Churches. To emphasize this relationship, my Predecessor Pope Paul VI, in 1964, returned the important relic of St Andrew, which until then had been kept in the Vatican Basilica, to the Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop of the city of Patras in Greece, where tradition has it that the Apostle was crucified.

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The Gospel traditions mention Andrew’s name in particular on another three occasions that tell us something more about this man. The first is that of the multiplication of the loaves in Galilee. On that occasion, it was Andrew who pointed out to Jesus the presence of a young boy who had with him five barley loaves and two fish:  not much, he remarked, for themultitudes who had gathered in that place (cf. Jn 6: 8-9).

In this case, it is worth highlighting Andrew’s realism. He noticed the boy, that is, he had already asked the question:  “but what good is that for so many?” (ibid.), and recognized the insufficiency of his minimal resources. Jesus, however, knew how to make them sufficient for the multitude of people who had come to hear him.

The second occasion was at Jerusalem. As he left the city, a disciple drew Jesus’ attention to the sight of the massive walls that supported the Temple. The Teacher’s response was surprising:  he said that of those walls not one stone would be left upon another. Then Andrew, together with Peter, James and John, questioned him:  “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?” (Mk 13: 1-4).

In answer to this question Jesus gave an important discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and on the end of the world, in which he asked his disciples to be wise in interpreting the signs of the times and to be constantly on their guard.

From this event we can deduce that we should not be afraid to ask Jesus questions but at the same time that we must be ready to accept even the surprising and difficult teachings that he offers us.

Lastly, a third initiative of Andrew is recorded in the Gospels:  the scene is still Jerusalem, shortly before the Passion. For the Feast of the Passover, John recounts, some Greeks had come to the city, probably proselytes or God-fearing men who had come up to worship the God of Israel at the Passover Feast. Andrew and Philip, the two Apostles with Greek names, served as interpreters and mediators of this small group of Greeks with Jesus.

The Lord’s answer to their question – as so often in John’s Gospel – appears enigmatic, but precisely in this way proves full of meaning. Jesus said to the two disciples and, through them, to the Greek world:  “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. I solemnly assure you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (12: 23-24).

Jesus wants to say:  Yes, my meeting with the Greeks will take place, but not as a simple, brief conversation between myself and a few others, motivated above all by curiosity. The hour of my glorification will come with my death, which can be compared with the falling into the earth of a grain of wheat. My death on the Cross will bring forth great fruitfulness:  in the Resurrection the “dead grain of wheat” – a symbol of myself crucified – will become the bread of life for the world; it will be a light for the peoples and cultures.

Yes, the encounter with the Greek soul, with the Greek world, will be achieved in that profundity to which the grain of wheat refers, which attracts to itself the forces of heaven and earth and becomes bread.

In other words, Jesus was prophesying about the Church of the Greeks, the Church of the pagans, the Church of the world, as a fruit of his Pasch.

Some very ancient traditions not only see Andrew, who communicated these words to the Greeks, as the interpreter of some Greeks at the meeting with Jesus recalled here, but consider him the Apostle to the Greeks in the years subsequent to Pentecost. They enable us to know that for the rest of his life he was the preacher and interpreter of Jesus for the Greek world.

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Peter, his brother, travelled from Jerusalem through Antioch and reached Rome to exercise his universal mission; Andrew, instead, was the Apostle of the Greek world. So it is that in life and in death they appear as true brothers – a brotherhood that is symbolically expressed in the special reciprocal relations of the See of Rome and of Constantinople, which are truly Sister Churches.

A later tradition, as has been mentioned, tells of Andrew’s death at Patras, where he too suffered the torture of crucifixion. At that supreme moment, however, like his brother Peter, he asked to be nailed to a cross different from the Cross of Jesus. In his case it was a diagonal or X-shaped cross, which has thus come to be known as “St Andrew’s cross”.

This is what the Apostle is claimed to have said on that occasion, according to an ancient story (which dates back to the beginning of the sixth century), entitled The Passion of Andrew: 
“Hail, O Cross, inaugurated by the Body of Christ and adorned with his limbs as though they were precious pearls. Before the Lord mounted you, you inspired an earthly fear. Now, instead, endowed with heavenly love, you are accepted as a gift.

“Believers know of the great joy that you possess, and of the multitude of gifts you have prepared. I come to you, therefore, confident and joyful, so that you too may receive me exultant as a disciple of the One who was hung upon you…. O blessed Cross, clothed in the majesty and beauty of the Lord’s limbs!… Take me, carry me far from men, and restore me to my Teacher, so that, through you, the one who redeemed me by you, may receive me. Hail, O Cross; yes, hail indeed!”.

Here, as can be seen, is a very profound Christian spirituality. It does not view the Cross as an instrument of torture but rather as the incomparable means for perfect configuration to the Redeemer, to the grain of wheat that fell into the earth.

Here we have a very important lesson to learn:  our own crosses acquire value if we consider them and accept them as a part of the Cross of Christ, if a reflection of his light illuminates them.

It is by that Cross alone that our sufferings too are ennobled and acquire their true meaning.

The Apostle Andrew, therefore, teaches us to follow Jesus with promptness (cf. Mt 4: 20; Mk 1: 18), to speak enthusiastically about him to those we meet, and especially, to cultivate a relationship of true familiarity with him, acutely aware that in him alone can we find the ultimate meaning of our life and death.

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First, from my 2020: A Book of Grace-filled Days from Loyola Press.

Tried to embed, but WordPress won’t let me. So just go here to access he link to the entry from today. (Just click on the middle entry that pops up)

Of course you can still buy the book – and the devotionals go all the way to 12/31/20 – you could still get plenty of use from it! (And note – I don’t make royalties from sales of this book. It was a for-hire project, meaning I’m paid for doing the work, and then that’s it – which makes sense for a book that’s only going to sell for a few months.)

Next:

A piece I wrote for the National Review years ago on these feasts that fall after Christmas, including St. Stephen.

We might forget, we might wrap up Christmas in good cheer, but Christian tradition doesn’t. It’s striking that the next day–the very next day–after Christmas, the Church remembers not glad tidings, angels, and shepherd boys, but a bloody death by stoning. St. Stephen it is, the first Christian martyr. St. Stephen is followed by St. John on December 27th, who may not have met a violent death, but who, the tradition tells us, died in a prison of sorts, in exile for his faith, far away from the “civilized” powers that had sent him there. December 28th brings us back to babies, but with no relief–it is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, remembering the children Herod ordered slaughtered, according to Matthew’s gospel, in his rabid fear of the rival king.

The message is clear and hard: Following this baby, as he reaches to us from the resin manger, looking out at us with the soft-eyed cattle and docile sheep, comes at a price.

From past Angelus addresses by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

2005:

Yesterday, after solemnly celebrating Christ’s Birth, today we are commemorating the birth in Heaven of St Stephen, the first martyr. A special bond links these two feasts and it is summed up well in the Ambrosian liturgy by this affirmation: “Yesterday, the Lord was born on earth, that Stephen might be born in Heaven” (At the breaking of the bread).

Just as Jesus on the Cross entrusted himself to the Father without reserve and pardoned those who killed him, at the moment of his death St Stephen prayed: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”; and further: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (cf. Acts 7: 59-60). Stephen was a genuine disciple of Jesus and imitated him perfectly. With Stephen began that long series of martyrs who sealed their faith by offering their lives, proclaiming with their heroic witness that God became man to open the Kingdom of Heaven to humankind.

In the atmosphere of Christmas joy, the reference to the Martyr St Stephen does not seem out of place. Indeed, the shadow of the Cross was already extending over the manger in Bethlehem.
It was foretold by the poverty of the stable in which the infant wailed, the prophecy of Simeon concerning the sign that would be opposed and the sword destined to pierce the heart of the Virgin, and Herod’s persecution that would make necessary the flight to Egypt.

It should not come as a surprise that this Child, having grown to adulthood, would one day ask his disciples to follow him with total trust and faithfulness on the Way of the Cross.

2006

It is not by chance that Christmas iconography sometimes depicts the Divine Newborn carefully lain in a little sarcophagus in order to indicate that the Redeemer is born to die, is born to give his life in ransom for all.

St Stephen was the first to follow in the footsteps of Christ with his martyrdom. He died, like the divine Master, pardoning and praying for his killers (cf. Acts 7: 60).

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Carlo Crivelli, 1476

In the first four centuries of Christianity, all the saints venerated by the Church were martyrs. They were a countless body that the liturgy calls “the white-robed army of martyrs”,martyrum candidatus exercitus. Their death did not rouse fear and sadness, but spiritual enthusiasm that gave rise to ever new Christians.

For believers the day of death, and even more the day of martyrdom, is not the end of all; rather, it is the “transit” towards immortal life. It is the day of definitive birth, in Latin, dies natalis. The link that exists then between the “dies natalis” of Christ and the dies natalis of St Stephen is understood.

2008

Dear brothers and sisters, in St Stephen we see materializing the first fruits of salvation that the Nativity of Christ brought to humanity: the victory of life over death, of love over hate, of the light of truth over the darkness of falsehood. Let us praise God, for this victory still enables many Christians today to respond to evil not with evil but with the power of truth and love.

2009

Stephen is also the Church’s first deacon. In becoming a servant of the poor for love of Christ, he gradually enters into full harmony with him and follows Christ to the point of making the supreme gift of himself. The witness borne by Stephen, like that of the Christian martyrs, shows our contemporaries, who are often distracted and uncertain, in whom they should place their trust in order to give meaning to their lives. The martyr, in fact, is one who dies knowing with certainty that he is loved by God, who puts nothing before love of Christ, knowing that he has chosen the better part. The martyr is configured fully to the death of Christ, aware of being a fertile seed of life and of opening up paths of peace and hope in the world. Today, in presenting the Deacon St Stephen to us as our model the Church likewise points out to us that welcoming and loving the poor is one of the privileged ways to live the Gospel and to witness credibly to human beings to the Kingdom of God that comes.

2011

This is why the Eastern Church sings in her hymns: “The stones became steps for you and ladders for the ascent to heaven… and you joyfully drew close to the festive gathering of the angels” (MHNAIA t. II, Rome 1889, 694, 695).

After the generation of the Apostles, martyrs acquired an important place in the esteem of the Christian community. At the height of their persecution, their hymns of praise fortified the faithful on their difficult journey and encouraged those in search of the truth to convert to the Lord. Therefore, by divine disposition, the Church venerates the relics of martyrs and honours them with epithets such as: “teachers of life”, “living witnesses”, “breathing trophies” and “silent exhortations” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 43, 5: PG 36, 500 C).

Dear friends, the true imitation of Christ is love, which some Christian writers have called the “secret martyrdom”. Concerning this St Clement of Alexandria wrote: “those who perform the commandments of the Lord, in every action ‘testify’, by doing what he wishes, and consistently naming the Lord’s name; (Stromatum IV, 7,43,4: SC 463, Paris 2001, 130). Today too, as in antiquity, sincere adherence to the Gospel can require the sacrifice of life and many Christians in various parts of the world are exposed to persecution and sometimes martyrdom. However, the Lord reminds us: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).

2012

On St Stephen’s Day we too are called to fix our eyes on the Son of God whom in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas we contemplate in the mystery of his Incarnation. Through Baptism and Confirmation, through the precious gift of faith nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has bound us to him and with the action of the Holy Spirit, wants to continue in us his work of salvation by which all things are redeemed, given value, uplifted and brought to completion. Letting ourselves be drawn by Christ, as St Stephen did, means opening our own life to the light that calls it, guides it and enables it to take the path of goodness, the path of a humanity according to God’s plan of love. Lastly, St Stephen is a model for all who wish to put themselves at the service of the new evangelization. He shows that the newness of the proclamation does not consist primarily in the use of original methods or techniques — which of course, have their usefulness — but rather in being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting ourselves be guided by him.

The newness of the proclamation lies in the depth of the believer’s immersion in the mystery of Christ and in assimilation of his word and of his presence in the Eucharist so that he himself, the living Jesus, may speak and act in his messengers. Essentially, evangelizers can bring Christ to others effectively when they themselves live in Christ, when the newness of the Gospel is reflected in their own life.

And then, two more, from other occasions.  The first from the General Audience of 1/10/2007, in which Benedict discusses Stephen as a part of the series he did on great figures in Christianity (collected in several books):

Stephen’s story tells us many things: for example, that charitable social commitment must never be separated from the courageous proclamation of the faith. He was one of the seven made responsible above all for charity. But it was impossible to separate charity and faith. Thus, with charity, he proclaimed the crucified Christ, to the point of accepting even martyrdom. This is the first lesson we can learn from the figure of St Stephen: charity and the proclamation of faith always go hand in hand.

Above all, St Stephen speaks to us of Christ, of the Crucified and Risen Christ as the centre of history and our life. We can understand that the Cross remains forever the centre of the Church’s life and also of our life. In the history of the Church, there will always be passion and persecution. And it is persecution itself which, according to Tertullian’s famous words, becomes “the seed of Christians”, the source of mission for Christians to come.

I cite his words: “We multiply wherever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed…” (Apology 50, 13): Plures efficimur quoties metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis christianorum. But in our life too, the Cross that will never be absent, becomes a blessing.

And by accepting our cross, knowing that it becomes and is a blessing, we learn Christian joy even in moments of difficulty. The value of witness is irreplaceable, because the Gospel leads to it and the Church is nourished by it. St Stephen teaches us to treasure these lessons, he teaches us to love the Cross, because it is the path on which Christ comes among us ever anew.

And then from 2012, as he was discussing prayer in the General Audiences, and in particular the relationship between Scripture and prayer:

Dear brothers and sisters, St Stephen’s witness gives us several instructions for our prayers and for our lives. Let us ask ourselves: where did this first Christian martyr find the strength to face his persecutors and to go so far as to give himself? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from his communion with Christ, from meditation on the history of salvation, from perceiving God’s action which reached its crowning point in Jesus Christ. Our prayers, too, must be nourished by listening to the word of God, in communion with Jesus and his Church.

A second element: St Stephen sees the figure and mission of Jesus foretold in the history of the loving relationship between God and man. He — the Son of God — is the temple that is not “made with hands” in which the presence of God the Father became so close as to enter our human flesh to bring us to God, to open the gates of heaven. Our prayer, therefore, must be the contemplation of Jesus at the right hand of God, of Jesus as the Lord of our, or my, daily life. In him, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can address God and be truly in touch with God, with the faith and abandonment of children who turn to a Father who loves them infinitely.

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Image: Zenit. Article here. 

 

Today, four women and one man were canonized as new saints – we all know about the man (more about him at the end of this post) – how about the women?

 

Dulce Lopes Pontes

Not long after joining the missionary sisters, Dulce became determined to shelter the many ill people she encountered on the streets of Salvador. She would house them in abandoned buildings and bring them food and medical care.

Eventually she and her more than 70 patients were kicked out of the building. Left with nowhere to take them, she asked her mother superior for help, and was given the convent’s chicken yard to turn into an improvised hotel.

As part of the agreement, Sr. Dulce was asked to care for the chickens, which she did by butchering them and feeding them to her patients.

This eventually became the site of the Santo Antonio Hospital, which continues to serve Brazil’s poor and disabled.

Bl. Dulce founded the Sao Francisco’s Worker’s Union, the first Christian worker’s movement in the Brazilian state of Bahia, which she later transformed into the Worker’s Center of Bahia.

She also founded the Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce (Obras Sociais Irma Dulce) in 1959, which continues to be one of the most well-known and well-respected charitable organizations in Brazil.

In 1988, Sr. Dulce was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the President of Brazil, Jose Sarney.

She died in 1992, at the age of 77, after battling lung problems for 30 years. 

From the homily at her 2011 beatification Mass, by Cardinal Geraldo Majella:

Thus today we contemplate the holy life of Sister Dulce, with all the fruits in favor not only those lacking everything, especially health, but also as witness of her union with God, across the hearing and contemplation of his Word and of daily communion of his Body and his Blood in the celebration of the Eucharist that is the offering of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ the celestial Father.

But dear brothers and sisters, living holiness as I have already said not is the privilege for some person, but it is the duty of all baptized Christians. In the first Letter of Peter 1:15-16, the apostle tells us: “As he is holy that calls you, making you saints, also you in your conduct. For it is written: ‘Be holy because I am holy’ (Lv 11:44ss; 19:2)”. The Word of God does not say some, but all that hear the Word of God, converted themselves in following Jesus.

Some stand out more clearly by a special gift to become an example and challenge to society that lives without caring about the disadvantaged and needy. Sister Dulce was privileged in thisrespect, not to put limits on the Love of God and neighbor.

Marguerite Bays:

In 1853, when she was 35, Marguerite was operated on for intestinal cancer. The treatments were very invasive, and she prayed to Our Lady for healing and for a different understanding of suffering.

When Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, on 8 December 1854, both of her prayers were answered. From then on, Marguerite was forever bound to the figure of the suffering Christ on the cross.

She developed the stigmata, the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, on her hands, feet and chest. At first she kept it secret, but the news soon leaked out. On Fridays and during Holy Week, she would fall ill or experience moments of ecstasy. Gradually the pain became more and more intense, and on 27 June 1879, Marguerite died.

John Paul II’s homily at her 1995 beatification:

Some of her contemporaries found that her long moments in prayer were a waste of time. But, more her prayer was intense, more she approached God and more she was devoted to serving her brethren. For, only he who prays really knows God and, by listening to the heart of God, he is also close to the heart of the world.

Thus we discover the important place of prayer in secular life. It does not drive one away from the world. On the contrary, it enlarges the internal being, it opens one to forgiveness and fraternal life.

The mission lived by Marguerite Bays is the mission which behoves to each Christian.

In catechism, she endeavoured to present to the children of her village the message of the Gospel, using words that the young could understand. She devoted herself generously to the poor and the sick.

Without leaving her country, she had nevertheless an open heart towards the dimensions of the universal Church and the world. With the missionary spirit which characterised her, she implanted in her parish the Propagation of the faith and of the Holy Childhood.

In Marguerite Bays, we discover what Our Lord did to make her achieve saintliness: she walked humbly with God, in accomplishing each action in her daily life with love.

Giuseppina Vannini

Giuseppina Vannini is a 19th century religious sister from Rome known for founding the congregation of the Daughters of St. Camillus dedicated to serving the sick and suffering. She is the first Roman woman to be canonized in more than 400 years, according to ACI Stampa.

Vannini spent much of her childhood in an orphanage near St. Peter’s Square after losing her father when she was four, and her mother when she was seven. She grew up among the Daughters of Charity sisters, who ran the orphanage. On the day of her first communion, young Giuseppina felt that she was called to a religious vocation.
This desire was not realized until 1892 when she was 33 because she was rejected by the Daughters of Charity after her novitiate due to her poor health.

Despite her own health problems, Vannini went on to found the Daughters of St. Camillus, whose charism is to serve the sick, even at the risk of their own lives. However she did not live to see the congregation fully recognized by the Vatican. She died at the age of 51 in 1911.]

Here’s the Italian text of John Paul II’s homily at her (and others’) beatification. Can’t find an English text. 

Mother Mariam Thresia

Mother Mariam Thresia (1876-1926) was an Indian mystic and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family. Her prayer life was characterized by frequent ecstasies in which she would sometimes levitate above the ground. In 1909, Thresia received the stigmata, after which she also suffered from demonic attacks.

Mother Thresia cared for the poor, sick, and dying in Kerala, visiting those with leprosy and measles. She also preached to the poor and the rich alike the importance of happy, healthy families to uplift all of society.  In 1914 Thresia founded the Congregation of the Holy Family, which has grown to have 176 houses around the world with 1,500 professed sisters.

Cardinal Newman is featured in Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series. I wrote a prayer/meditation companion book for the series Praying with the Pivotal Players.  Below are pages from a chapter on “The Idea of the University.” Note that this book is designed to aid the reader in personal reflection, so the chapter leads from Newman’s general points to suggestions on how his thought in this area might lead and challenge us in our spiritual growth.

Here is a website dedicated to Mother Mariam Thresia

John Paul II’s homily at her 2000 beatification. 

“Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest” (Jn 12: 24). From childhood, Mariam Thresia Mankidiyan knew instinctively that God’s love for her demanded a deep personal purification. Committing herself to a life of prayer and penance, Sr Mariam Thresia’s willingness to embrace the Cross of Christ enabled her to remain steadfast in the face of frequent misunderstandings and severe spiritual trials. The patient discernment of her vocation eventually led to the foundation of the Congregation of the Holy Family, which continues to draw inspiration from her contemplative spirit and love of the poor.

Convinced that “God will give eternal life to those who convert sinners and bring them to the right path” (Letter 4 to her Spiritual Father), Sr Mariam devoted herself to this task by her visits and advice, as well as by her prayers and penitential practice. Through Bl. Mariam Thresia’s intercession, may all consecrated men and women be strengthened in their vocation to pray for sinners and draw others to Christ by their words and example.

7. “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31: 33). God is our only Lord and we are his people. This indissoluble covenant of love between God and humanity was brought to its fulfilment in Christ’s paschal sacrifice. It is in him that, despite belonging to different lands and cultures, we become one people, one Church, one and the same spiritual building whose bright and solid stones are the saints.

 

Pope Francis’ homily from today:

To cry out. To walk. To give thanks. Today we give thanks to the Lord for our new Saints. They walked by faith and now we invoke their intercession. Three of them were religious women; they show us that the consecrated life is a journey of love at the existential peripheries of the world. Saint Marguerite Bays, on the other hand, was a seamstress; she speaks to us of the power of simple prayer, enduring patience and silent self-giving. That is how the Lord made the splendour of Easter radiate in her life. Such is the holiness of daily life, which Saint John Henry Newman described in these words: “The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not… The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretence… with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, V, 5).

Let us ask to be like that, “kindly lights” amid the encircling gloom. Jesus, “stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as Thou shinest: so to shine as to be a light to others” (Meditations on Christian Doctrine, VII, 3). Amen.

As I’ve mentioned before, Cardinal Newman is featured in Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series. I wrote a prayer/meditation companion book for the series Praying with the Pivotal Players.  Below are pages from a chapter on “The Idea of the University.” Note that this book is designed to aid the reader in personal reflection, so the chapter leads from Newman’s general points to suggestions on how his thought in this area might lead and challenge us in our spiritual growth.

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There are four more chapters on Newman in the book. 

More Newman in a book I’ve had a hand in:

My book Be Saints!  – illustrated by the artist Ann Engelhart – was inspired by a talk to young people that Pope Benedict XVI gave on his visit to England in 2010. 

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 Benedict XVI’s homily at the beatification Mass for Newman:

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).    .…more

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Today’s the memorial for Blessed John Henry Newman – and of course this coming Sunday, he’ll be canonized.

As I mentioned, yesterday, Church Life Journal published an essay of mine on the novels of David Lodge, particularly those that excavated the lives of young midcentury English Catholics, trying to figure out life and faith around the time of the Second Vatican Council. One thing I noticed on this most recent reading, but could not elegantly work into the essay, was that Newman – whom we see today as a titan of English Catholicism – plays no role in these young Catholics’ lives. None. He’s not mentioned, not he – nor any of those 19th century Catholics, Oxford Movement or outside of it – not a one. Graham Greene is a touchstone – he’s the public Catholic that this crew, particularly Michael (whom I suspect is the most autobiographical character)keeps tabs on, tracking his perceived faith perambulations on a regular basis. Which brings us back to my theme of narratives – our contemporary narrative of engaged English Catholicism is dominated by Newman – but even a few decades ago, were most engaged, self-consciously Catholic Catholics even thinking about him at all?

Cardinal Newman is featured in Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series. I wrote a prayer/meditation companion book for the series Praying with the Pivotal Players.  Below are pages from a chapter on “The Idea of the University.” Note that this book is designed to aid the reader in personal reflection, so the chapter leads from Newman’s general points to suggestions on how his thought in this area might lead and challenge us in our spiritual growth.

 

amy welborn

amy_welbornamy welborn

There are four more chapters on Newman in the book. 

More Newman in a book I’ve had a hand in:

My book Be Saints!  – illustrated by the artist Ann Engelhart – was inspired by a talk to young people that Pope Benedict XVI gave on his visit to England in 2010. 

amy welborn

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI beatified Newman on that visit. So naturally, on that visit, he had many interesting things to say about him:

In an interview on the plane to England:

He was a man of great spirituality, of humanity, of prayer, with a profound relationship with God, a personal relationship, and hence a deep relationship with the people of his time and ours. So I would point to these three elements: modernity in his life with the same doubts and problems of our lives today; his great culture, his knowledge of the treasures of human culture, openness to permanent search, to permanent renewal and, spirituality, spiritual life, life with God; these elements give to this man an exceptional stature for our time.

At the prayer vigil before the beatification:

Let me begin by recalling that Newman, by his own account, traced the course of his whole life back to a powerful experience of conversion which he had as a young man. It was an immediate experience of the truth of God’s word, of the objective reality of Christian revelation as handed down in the Church. This experience, at once religious and intellectual, would inspire his vocation to be a minister of the Gospel, his discernment of the source of authoritative teaching in the Church of God, and his zeal for the renewal of ecclesial life in fidelity to the apostolic tradition. At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly. The truth that sets us free cannot be kept to ourselves; it calls for testimony, it begs to be heard, and in the end its convincing power comes from itself and not from the human eloquence or arguments in which it may be couched. Not far from here, at Tyburn, great numbers of our brothers and sisters died for the faith; the witness of their fidelity to the end was ever more powerful than the inspired words that so many of them spoke before surrendering everything to the Lord. In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied. And yet, the Church cannot withdraw from the task of proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth, the source of our ultimate happiness as individuals and as the foundation of a just and humane society.

Finally, Newman teaches us that if we have accepted the truth of Christ and committed our lives to him, there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives. Our every thought, word and action must be directed to the glory of God and the spread of his Kingdom. Newman understood this, and was the great champion of the prophetic office of the Christian laity……more.

And then, of course the homily at the Mass:

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).    .…more

This site offers more quotes from Benedict on Newman:

Conscience for Newman does not mean that the subject is the standard vis-à-vis the claims of authority in a truth less world, a world which lives from the compromise between the claims of the subject and the claims of the social order. Even more, conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself. It is the overcoming of mere subjectivity in the encounter of the interiority of man with the truth from God. The verse Newman composed in 1833 in Sicily is characteristic: “I loved to choose and see my path but now, lead thou me on!” Newman’s conversion to Catholicism was not for him a matter of personal taste or of subjective, spiritual need. He expressed himself on this even in 1844, on the threshold, so to speak, of his conversion: “No one can have a more unfavourable view than I of the present state of Roman Catholics.” Newman was much more taken by the necessity to obey recognized truth than his own preferences – even against his own sensitivity and bonds of friendship and ties due to similar backgrounds. It seems to me characteristic of Newman that he emphasized the priority of truth over goodness in the order of virtues. Or, to put it in a way which is more understandable for us, he emphasized truth’s priority over consensus, over the accommodation of groups

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The Greater one…

Patron of Spain and pilgrims.

Let Benedict XVI give you the basics:

We are continuing the series of portraits of the Apostles chosen directly by Jesus during his earthly life. We have spoken of St Peter and of his brother, Andrew. Today we meet the figure of James. The biblical lists of the Twelve mention two people with this name: James, son of Zebedee, and James, son of Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3: 17,18; Mt 10: 2-3), who are commonly distinguished with the nicknames “James the Greater” and “James the Lesser”.

These titles are certainly not intended to measure their holiness, but simply to state the different importance they receive in the writings of the New Testament and, in particular, in the setting of Jesus’ earthly life. Today we will focus our attention on the first of these two figures with the same name.

The name “James” is the translation of Iakobos, the Graecised form of the name of the famous Patriarch, Jacob. The Apostle of this name was the brother of John and in the above-mentioned lists, comes second, immediately after Peter, as occurs in Mark (3: 17); or in the third place, after Peter and Andrew as in the Gospels of Matthew (10: 2) and Luke (6: 14), while in the Acts he comes after Peter and John (1: 13). This James belongs, together with Peter and John, to the group of the three privileged disciples whom Jesus admitted to important moments in his life.

Since it is very hot today, I want to be brief and to mention here only two of these occasions. James was able to take part, together with Peter and John, in Jesus’ Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the event of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Thus, it is a question of situations very different from each other: in one case, James, together with the other two Apostles, experiences the Lord’s glory and sees him talking to Moses and Elijah, he sees the divine splendour shining out in Jesus.

On the other occasion, he finds himself face to face with suffering and humiliation, he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, making himself obedient unto death. The latter experience was certainly an opportunity for him to grow in faith, to adjust the unilateral, triumphalist interpretation of the former experience: he had to discern that the Messiah, whom the Jewish people were awaiting as a victor, was in fact not only surrounded by honour and glory, but also by suffering and weakness. Christ’s glory was fulfilled precisely on the Cross, in his sharing in our sufferings.

This growth in faith was brought to completion by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so that James, when the moment of supreme witness came, would not draw back. Early in the first century, in the 40s, King Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, as Luke tells us, “laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword” (Acts 12: 1-2).

The brevity of the news, devoid of any narrative detail, reveals on the one hand how normal it was for Christians to witness to the Lord with their own lives, and on the other, that James had a position of relevance in the Church of Jerusalem, partly because of the role he played during Jesus’ earthly existence.

A later tradition, dating back at least to Isidore of Seville, speaks of a visit he made to Spain to evangelize that important region of the Roman Empire. According to another tradition, it was his body instead that had been taken to Spain, to the city of Santiago de Compostela.

As we all know, that place became the object of great veneration and is still the destination of numerous pilgrimages, not only from Europe but from the whole world. This explains the iconographical representation of St James with the pilgrim’s staff and the scroll of the Gospel in hand, typical features of the travelling Apostle dedicated to the proclamation of the “Good News” and characteristics of the pilgrimage of Christian life.

Consequently, we can learn much from St James: promptness in accepting the Lord’s call even when he asks us to leave the “boat” of our human securities, enthusiasm in following him on the paths that he indicates to us over and above any deceptive presumption of our own, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of life.

Thus James the Greater stands before us as an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ. He, who initially had requested, through his mother, to be seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion and to share martyrdom with the Apostles.

And, in the end, summarizing everything, we can say that the journey, not only exterior but above all interior, from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mount of the Agony, symbolizes the entire pilgrimage of Christian life, among the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, as the Second Vatican Council says. In following Jesus, like St James, we know that even in difficulties we are on the right path.

Hmmm…that might be a good start for a discussion, yes? It’s got some good content, then veers over into some personal reflection. What a good idea!

Back when he was giving these addresses, various publishers collected them into book form and sold them. You can still find those, but of course, since all these talks are online, you don’t have to pay a dime for them. You also don’t have to pay for a study guide on these talks on the Apostles – the one I wrote for OSV is available here in a pdf form.

The unapologetic reflex of Catholic parishes to charge fees for religious education is unfortunate and a hindrance to evangelization. One answer is to encourage a culture of parish stewardship that says, “We don’t want to charge anyone a fee for catechesis or formation. Let’s all give enough so that we don’t have to.”  Another is to find quality free source materials…and here you go.

 

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Yes, it’s a thing. I’m amazed and gratified to report this: it’s a thing.

No, we didn’t start the blessing of the Bambinelli – I still am not sure who did, but it’s currently sponsored in Rome by a group called the Centro Oratori Romani. Here’s their poster for this year’s event:

Bambinelli Sunday

And somewhere along the line, Ann Engelhart heard about it, connected the practice with her own childhood appreciation of the Neapolitan presipi, particularly as experienced through the Christmas displays at the Met -and suggested a book.

More about how the book came to be. 

So here we are!

Every year, I try to note some of the places doing Bambinelli Sunday – here’s this year’s partial list – which starts, right here, with the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham. The only order in this list is the order of search results. So here we go:

The Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis 

Divine Mercy, Hamden CT

St. Joseph, Mechanicsburg, PA

Liverpool Cathedral

Holy Spirit, Lubbock TX

St. Jude, Sandy Springs, GA

St. Gabriel School, Ontario, CA

Quinn Clooney Maghera Parish, Ireland

St. Francis of Assisi, St. Louis

Sacred Heart, Coronado, CO

Middleton Parish, Ireland

St. Catherine of Siena, Clearwater, FL

All Saints, Diocese of Plymouth, England

St. Senan’s, Diocese of Killaloe, Ireland

St. Augustine, Spokane

St. Bernadette, Westlake, OH

Ennis Cathedral Parish, Ireland

Nativity, Cincinnati

Killbritain Parish, Ireland

St. Edith, Livonia, MI

St. Brendan, Avalon, NJ

St. Brigid, Westbury, NY

St. Ferdinand, PA

St. Ignatius Loyola, NYC

St. Anne’s, Peterborough ON

Our Lady of Perpetual Succor, somewhere in Scotland

…And that’s all I have time to link.

Do a search for “Benedizione dei bambinelli” as well – you’ll come up with a slew. 

The point is that Advent and Christmas are about welcoming the Word of God into our lives – which means our homes. The blessing of the Bambinelli – which we bring from our homes and return there – is an embodiment of this.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict said in his 2008 prayer for the event:

God, our Father 
you so loved humankind 
that you sent us your only Son Jesus, 
born of the Virgin Mary, 
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing 
these images of Jesus, 
who is about to come among us, 
may be a sign of your presence and 
love in our homes.

Good Father, 
give your Blessing to us too, 
to our parents, to our families and 
to our friends.

Open our hearts, 
so that we may be able to 
receive Jesus in joy, 
always do what he asks 
and see him in all those 
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus, 
your beloved Son 
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever. 
Amen.

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I’ve been rambling about tech all week.

Here – Introductory Thoughts

Here – Contrarian thoughts on new media and evangelization – Dom Bettinelli has a response here. 

Here – Thoughts on tech and education

More on educational tech. 

I have one more to go – I don’t know if I’ll get to it today (Friday) – my original plan. I’ll try, but you never know.

Computers 1979

Source

 — 2 —

Also on this here blog, I’ve started a more or less daily digest of what I’m reading, watching, listening to, cooking…etc. It’s really for myself more than for you people, a way Image result for vintage exerciseof getting myself going in the morning – the mornings of this new kind of day in which I have hours stretching in front of me, hours of uninterrupted work time, hours during which I have no excuses any more…early morning writing calisthenics, I suppose.

So:  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday….(none today – this post counts for Friday)

 

— 3 —

Charter schools have had a very hard row to hoe down here in Alabama. They have only been  permitted in the last couple of years – vigorously opposed by the Alabama Education Association –  and there are just a few open at this point. Here’s an article about an interesting effort in northwest Alabama – a charter school that’s the only racially integrated school in the county:

At 7:50 on Monday morning, when school started at the University Charter School in Livingston, in west Alabama’s Sumter County, students in kindergarten through eighth grade began a new era, hardly aware of the history they were making.

For the first time, black students and white students are learning side-by-side in integrated public school classrooms. More than half of the school’s 300-plus students are black, while just under half are white.

While not fully representative of the county’s split—76 percent black, 24 percent white, no public school in the county has come close to reaching the percentage at UCS, according to historical enrollment documents.

— 4 —

At some point in the recent past, I reminded you of the case of Fr. James Coyle, murdered in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Birmingham in 1921. Every year the Cathedral holds a memorial Mass for him and has a program – it happened last Friday, and here’s a local newspaper article about it:

St. Paul’s Cathedral held its annual memorial Mass on Friday to remember its former pastor, a priest who was killed 97 years ago at the front of the cathedral.

The Rev. James E. Coyle, who had been pastor of St. Paul’s Cathedral since 1904, was shot to death on the porch of the wood-frame rectory, the priest’s house next to the cathedral, on Aug. 11, 1921.

The murder trial was historic, partly because of the role played by future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. Black defended the accused killer, the Rev. Edwin R. Stephenson, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan paid the legal expenses of Stephenson, who was acquitted by a jury that included several Klan members, including the jury foreman, according to Ohio State University law professor Sharon Davies, author of “Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America,” about the Coyle case.

“The Klan held enormously successful fundraising drives across Alabama to raise money for the defense,” Davies said. “They portrayed it as a Methodist minister father who shot a Catholic priest trying to steal his daughter away from her religion, to seduce his daughter into the Catholic Church.”

Stephenson, who conducted weddings at the Jefferson County Courthouse, was accused of gunning down Coyle after becoming irate over Coyle’s officiating at the marriage of Stephenson’s daughter, Ruth, to a Puerto Rican, Pedro Gussman.

— 5 –

NYTimes story on the hollowing out of Christian life in Syria:

The number of Christians across the Middle East has been declining for decades as persecution and poverty have led to widespread migration. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, considered Christians infidels and forced them to pay special taxes, accelerating the trend in Syria and Iraq.

In this area of Syria, the exodus has been swift.

Some 10,000 Assyrian Christians lived in more than 30 villages here before the war began in 2011, and there were more than two dozen churches. Now, about 900 people remain and only one church holds regular services, said Shlimon Barcham, a local official with the Assyrian Church of the East.

Some of the villages are entirely empty. One has five men left who protect the ruins of the Virgin Mary Church, whose foundations the jihadists dynamited. Another village has only two residents — a mother and her son.

amy-welborn

— 6 —

Look for me in Living Faith on Sunday. 

Sunday is, of course Sunday – which takes precedence over any feasts and memorials, but it’s worth noting nonetheless that the day (August 19) is the memorial of St. John Eudes, dedicated in  part to the reform of diocesan clergy. Certainly worth attending to any time, but perhaps particularly in these times:

 In 1563 the Council of Trent issued norms for the establishment of diocesan seminaries and for the formation of priests, since the Council was well aware that the whole crisis of the Reformation was also conditioned by the inadequate formation of priests who were not properly prepared for the priesthood either intellectually or spiritually, in their hearts or in their minds. This was in 1563; but since the application and realization of the norms was delayed both in Germany and in France, St John Eudes saw the consequences of this omission. Prompted by a lucid awareness of the grave need for spiritual assistance in which souls lay because of the inadequacy of the majority of the clergy, the Saint, who was a parish priest, founded a congregation specifically dedicated to the formation of priests.

 

— 7 —

 

Don’t forget – The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols.

NOTE: If you really want a copy soon – I have them for sale at my online bookstore (price includes shipping)  Email me at amywelborn60 AT gmail if you have a question or want to work out a deal of some sort. I have many copies of this, the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, the Prove It Bible and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days on hand at the moment.

Also – my son has been releasing collections of short stories over the summer. He’s currently prepping his first (published) novel, The Battle of Lake Erie: One Young American’s Adventure in the War of 1812.  Check it out!

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

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This will be quick. Mostly photos. And notes. That will be quick.

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Started pipe organ lessons this week. Toe in the water kind of thing. Seeing what we think about it all.

 

 — 2 —

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Bald eagles come down this way during the winter. They flock to Lake Guntersville (a dammed segment of the Tennessee River). The state park up there hosts Eagle Awareness Weekends during January and February. Because of basketball – and when there isn’t basketball, serving Mass, and when Scouts were a part of life, because of Scouts – we’d never made it up to check it out. But last Saturday, a stretch of free time made itself available, so we went up. To look at eagles.

Well, we got there too late for the presentation by the Auburn raptor center – the room was full and they were not doing any sort of lurk at the back nonsense, no sir. So we headed out to where they told us we’d have a good chance of seeing eagles. There were quite a few people out there, and we did see a couple flying around from a distance – but…nothing arresting.

So we moved on to other parts of the park and had an encounter of a little closer kind.

— 3 —

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Completely nonplussed and obviously used to furless creatures on two legs.

 

 

–4–

Earlier on Saturday morning, I had opened up some praise eggs from Aldi.

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–5 —

 

We have another kind of wildlife living in the house at the moment.

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We look at them under the microscope and have attempted to cut them up so they regenerate. About half of the cut-up pieces are still with us, so we’ll wait a couple of days and look and see what has, er, developed.

— 6 —

Thursday evening, we did some quick culture hits: first at the brewery down the road, which was hosting a pop-up “Opera Shots” from the local opera company. (To see a clip with sound, go to my Instagram Stories – if you read this before about 8 pm Friday, since they’re only live for 24 hours.)

And then to the Birmingham Museum of Art, which was hosting a free annual piano concert, this year from 20-year old Daniel Hsu, who played spectacularly and sensitively, and yes, you can do both.

Overheard behind me before the concert:

“Well, you must have had a lot of worried phone calls today.”

“Oh, yes. It’s the most anticipated and expected correction ever, but it’s still a correction, so people are concerned.”

 

— 7 —

Well, let’s turn our hearts away from the material, shall we?

In case you didn’t read it, do check out Thursday’s post on St. Josephine Bakhita. What Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote about her in Spe Salvi and her own account of her struggle to stay in Italy and keep her worldly freedom, even as she had already found freedom in Christ – are well worth a few minutes of your time. So moving.

And…Lent! 

 

 

 

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

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Pope Emeritus Benedict’s birthday is this coming Sunday..if you’d like an simple, free introduction to his thought, take a look at the book I wrote a few years ago, now out of print, but available in a pdf version at no cost. Did I mention, “free?”

Here. 

Pope Benedict 90th birthday

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From my favorite old-school 7th grade catechism, With Mother Church. 

EPSON MFP image

From B16 in 2007

It is a moving experience each year on Palm Sunday as we go up the mountain with Jesus, towards the Temple, accompanying him on his ascent. On this day, throughout the world and across the centuries, young people and people of every age acclaim him, crying out: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But what are we really doing when we join this procession as part of the throng which went up with Jesus to Jerusalem and hailed him as King of Israel? Is this anything more than a ritual, a quaint custom? Does it have anything to do with the reality of our life and our world? To answer this, we must first be clear about what Jesus himself wished to do and actually did. After Peter’s confession of faith in Caesarea Philippi, in the northernmost part of the Holy Land, Jesus set out as a pilgrim towards Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. He was journeying towards the Temple in the Holy City, towards that place which for Israel ensured in a particular way God’s closeness to his people. He was making his way towards the common feast of Passover, the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt and the sign of its hope of definitive liberation. He knew that what awaited him was a new Passover and that he himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross. He knew that in the mysterious gifts of bread and wine he would give himself for ever to his own, and that he would open to them the door to a new path of liberation, to fellowship with the living God. He was making his way to the heights of the Cross, to the moment of self-giving love. The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being.

Our procession today is meant, then, to be an image of something deeper, to reflect the fact that, together with Jesus, we are setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God. This is the ascent that matters. This is the journey which Jesus invites us to make. But how can we keep pace with this ascent? Isn’t it beyond our ability? Certainly, it is beyond our own possibilities. From the beginning men and women have been filled – and this is as true today as ever – with a desire to “be like God”, to attain the heights of God by their own powers. All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free. Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months.

The Fathers of the Church maintained that human beings stand at the point of intersection between two gravitational fields. First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God’s love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards. Man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us and grants us true freedom.

Following the Liturgy of the Word, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer where the Lord comes into our midst, the Church invites us to lift up our hearts: “Sursum corda!” In the language of the Bible and the thinking of the Fathers, the heart is the centre of man, where understanding, will and feeling, body and soul, all come together. The centre where spirit becomes body and body becomes spirit, where will, feeling and understanding become one in the knowledge and love of God. This is the “heart” which must be lifted up. But to repeat: of ourselves, we are too weak to lift up our hearts to the heights of God. We cannot do it. The very pride of thinking that we are able to do it on our own drags us down and estranges us from God. God himself must draw us up, and this is what Christ began to do on the cross. He descended to the depths of our human existence in order to draw us up to himself, to the living God. He humbled himself, as today’s second reading says. Only in this way could our pride be vanquished: God’s humility is the extreme form of his love, and this humble love draws us upwards.

Seems appropriate that this will be my reading for the week:

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