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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

Several post-V2-music related posts (in prep for the Substack, which will revive from winter dormancy this Friday), some pre-Advent thoughts, and, in travel, summing up the Mexico trip and a Thanksgiving trip to Colorado.

All November posts here.

In December? Lots of movie, book and gender-related posts, as well as saints, Advent and Christmas. Go here for all of them. A couple of highlights below.


Anyway, my point of disagreement with Douthat has to do with his core notion – in this column at least – that Vatican II was about making the practice of Catholicism easier. Okay, he does qualify this:

The idea was not simply to make Catholicism easier, of course; the hope was that a truer Christianity would flourish once rote obedience diminished.

But then proceeds to point out that the results are what matter, not the stated intentions. I disagree. I think it’s important to get the intentions right – as right as we can, given the fog of history.

And what were the intentions, if not just to “make it easier?” Too much for a mere blog post, but the core of it seemed to be a conviction that vibrant, authentic faith rooted in a free response to God’s invitation – was impeded by legalistic language and practice, as well as by the accretion of tradition and an “outdated” human anthropology and medieval Eurocentricism, blah, blah, blah. Yes, there’s even more – I would suggest the boredom, stupidity and loss of faith of religious professionals played more of a part than we like to admit – as well as other more complex, nuanced, factors, but when you read the documents and those that came afterwards, this is the clear, stated intention.

Secondly, if you go to these videos and read the comments, you will read many, may fond memories people have of this music.

I don’t necessarily have fond memories of this era’s music, but I certainly do have memories. Listening to the podcast, I was shocked by how much I could just join right in on after not having sung any of it for decades.

Of my hands, I give…to you….Oh Lord….

As several have pointed out in the comments, as simplistic and even annoying as some of this early music was, a great deal of it was at least Scripture based. That core was forgotten at certain points – as we see below – but then picked up again by the St. Louis Jesuits who, even their detractors admit, wrote music rooted in Scripture texts.

There are a number of striking, weird aspects to this corner of history, but one of the most pressing questions to me is why the course taken for the sake of lay “active participation” and the cause of restoring ancient forms completely ignored the Eastern liturgical tradition which involves a relatively high degree of possible lay participation, is musical (chanted) from beginning to end, and is, yes ancient.

Of course Latin churchmen still at that time undoubtedly harbored disdain for the East and since the agenda was centered on ModernNewProgressSignsoftheTimes I guess dudes in crowns chanting behind icon screens didn’t exactly fit that model, but still.

One more road – one more – not taken. Tragically.

Hence the Christian is not afraid of the clock, nor is he in cunning complicity with it. The Christian life is not really a “victory over time” because time is not and cannot be a real antagonist. Of course, the Christian life is a victory over death: but it is a victory which accepts death and accepts the lapse of time that inevitably leads to death. But it does this in a full consciousness that death is in no sense a “triumph of time.” For the Christian, time is no longer the devourer of all things. Christian worship is at peace with time because the lapse of time no longer concerns the Christian whose life is “hidden with Christ in God.”

That’s Thomas Merton, not me.

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

From a friend who was also at that Mass, I learned that a parish near me had added a 7am Sunday Spanish Mass to the lineup. Since, due to old age I suppose, early morning Masses are starting to be my jam, I decided to check it out, not expecting a big crowd since the Sunday afternoon Spanish Mass was still in place.

Wrong!

The place was packed!

This is a marvelous piece about the effect and importance of singing the Torah.

Although obviously from a Jewish context and perspective, it might be enlightening for any of us who think about prayer and liturgy, no matter what tradition.


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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

Lots more to share this month, with a big trip at the end – to Guanajuato, Mexico. Posts related to that trip here. All October posts here.


As has been noted by…everyone…the emphasis (and hope) was that by cracking things open, the core truths would be more accessible to a world that, to use a minor example, did not respond in the same way to, say, concepts of kingship that previous generations did, or could peak into galaxies that may not have been fashioned in seven literal days after all or examine the bones of ancestors who might not, after all, have had names.

Understanding how this concept – that there’s a core of faith that can be expressed in diverse culturally-formed ways – was used and abused is a key to tracking the path that leads up to this synod.

I suppose the point on which much of it turns is the small step from: the core of faith might be expressed in a culturally-bound way to —> the core of faith is, because of its essentially mystery and the way humans live and communicate, always and necessarily expressed in culturally-bound ways, so…let’s go for it.

What struck me, and not for the first time, was the sense in this liturgy that I was entering into something. That there was something present and real and solid in whose presence I had entered and was free to approach or not, from whatever place I was in. It was there yesterday, it would be there tomorrow. As a congregation, we responded to that presence in our own ways, speaking, chanting, silently. But it was always there, waiting.

Yeah, it’s broad (but startlingly knowing) satire, but it’s not a bad reminder, either: when someone has made the effort to ask you a question – even it’s how do I get him to use his magic powers to help me score? – take a moment and mind the gap, as we say, between what you’re hearing, what’s really being asked – and whatever comfortable nonsense you’re tempted to reflexively pull out of your answer bag first.

It just seems to me that whenever we suggest that our self-proclaimed weirdness, our quirkiness, our tattoos, our use of language, our family size, our role as employed outside the home or working within it, our pop culture choices, our political views, and even – yes – even our self-identified sinfulness – makes us “different” from those others, and worth some kind of special attention, no matter how “humbly” it’s articulated, what I hear, every time, is simply:

O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest….

Now, I love a good vintage travel account, so I thought I would take a look. One of the aspects I always dig into in these kinds of books is what the writer says about Catholic Things. I find that reading what contemporary travelers say about their encounters with Catholic popular traditions, liturgies, figures and cultures is illuminating, more helpful in regard to helping me understand Catholics of the past than many academic historical studies.

This author only mentions Catholic Things once, but it’s fascinating. He has landed in Malta, and, as are all the other travelers, is required to quarantine for time before entering the country. The place of quarantine in the harbor there – as well as around the world at the time, was called a lazaretto. There’s one, for example, outside of Philadelphia, built to protect the city from yellow fever.

Here’s what he sees on Sunday…

For decades I have thought, “Wow, I can’t believe that was my sophomore religion text in a Catholic high school, crazy times, right?” but last night I transitioned fully to: I CANNOT BELIEVE THEY USED THIS AS A TEXT IN A CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL. WHAT THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE.

Who were, I don’t hesitate to say, very nice, well-meaning people. Most of them.


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Hahaha. I have no highlights for July.

I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

Why no July highlights? I certainly posted – here are all the July posts, including those on books, movies, saints and gender issues – but beyond that most were travel related – the last chunk of the England/Scotland trip, then Nashville, then driving from Alabama to Wyoming, then at the end a couple of stops on the way to Charleston.

August saw travel as well – back to Charleston for a bit, and then a big solo driving trip to New Mexico and back.

But I did write about other matters in August. Here are all the August posts and then some highlights below.


A space opens up…what do you do?

Whether it be in terms of your career or personal life or just the day, what’s the question you ask?

Is it What do I want to do? How can I follow my dreams today? What are my dreams, anyway?

Or is it…

What is my duty right now? What does love invite, call or even require me to do in this moment?

And one of the points you hear being made about the current situation with the TLM is that it’s a return to the days right after the promulgation of the current Mass, even the days (it is feared) before the establishment of groups like the FSSP, before the indult. It’s an attempt to re-create a moment in time that occurred about forty years ago. It’s a desperate attempt to reclaim a hope and a dream rooted, not in the present with all of its nuances and developments, but in a nostalgic vision of that immediate post-Vatican II era , when all seemed so simple and clear.

You know, those last decades of … the last century.

But I did see and hear for myself how contentious the question was among Catholics. I had one fascinating evening where I went from one parish-related event to another and heard two completely different takes on the situation – one set of conversations assuming that the parish in question was moving too fast towards “normality” and as a consequence, these people would be attending another parish where there were more restrictions in place – and then an hour later, another conversation among many people from the same parish who were happy with minimal restrictions and would prefer none at all.

I think my appreciation of it this time is directly due to other recent (as in over the past year or so) experiences I’ve had – recounted here – of super dramatic praying of the Eucharistic Prayer. I mean – just almost to the point of parody.

What are you doing? Why are you talking like that?

Well, I think the reason the presider in those cases is talking like that – which varied, but in general, amounted to drama – was because he knew he needed to communicate that this moment was special, and all of his formation and (importantly) the assumptions of the congregation in front of him led him to a point of assuming the burden of communicating that sacredness via his personal demeanor.

Kind of like….he’s trying to sell us something.

Huh.


January 2022 Highlights

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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

Lots of travel in June – to England and Scotland. Those posts are here.

All June posts here.


There is a temptation, when considering these experiences – the ecstatic concerts (or sporting events), the immersive, interactive games and other kinds of role-playing experiences like cosplay on which people spend untold hours of their time and lots of money – and to think that religion is missing out, in a way. That feeling at the Garth concert? Do you ever get anything like that in church? What the larping and gaming and cosplaying experience adds to your life? Shouldn’t church give that to you instead – or at least, also?

Questions which then can inspire church leaders to either condemn or – more likely these days – jump on bandwagons, something we’ve seen over and over (through history, not just recently) – taking what seems to grab people in the culture, baptizing it, hoping to bring that same kind of engagement, investment, and emotion to the Lord – where it properly belongs, right?

Maybe not. Maybe the better answer is to observe all of this – and whatever it is that people seem to feel connected to and inspired by – and ask questions instead.

So, when consumers of mass media and spiritual seekers and tourists virtually approach the online evanginfluencers expecting and demanding “openness” and “authenticity” and almost claiming a place in their role model’s lives, they’re putting them in a spot. Yes, it’s a spot most of them have cleared out for themselves and settled in, happily, Patreon button at the ready, but everyone has a role to play here, everyone’s responsible in their own way.

Keep saying we’re one body in Christ, sure. Keep saying we take care of each other, that we’re here to help each other to sainthood and holiness.

How is encouraging, expecting, and paying for another person to put their lives on public display as your spiritual food helping them?

As I have said many times, I’m a student of social movements – my graduate work was focused on 19th century feminism and American Christianity – and I am no stranger to the ins and outs and evolution and fractures in any and all movements, including the pro-life movement. In any movement, you will always have disagreements on process, emphasis and goals. In the American pro-life movement, the serious disagreements have been centered on support of legislation and politicians: is supporting half-measures a sell-out or just realistic politics? And of course, a fundamental disagreement about process: should politics or culture be emphasized? You can trace these disagreements back decades.

But there’s never been any disagreement that helping women and their children is central to the pro-life movement. And this is what is so annoying about those in the Catholic world who are busy declaring, Well, ackshually, pro-lifers (eew) you DO know that just because Roe is gone…that doesn’t mean abortion is going to end tomorrow, RIGHT? Ackshually….you DO know that the REAL work starts now, right?

They were handing out cards to those on the street (and there were a lot – this was one of Oxford’s main streets on a busy Sunday afternoon) – cards which explained what this was all about, with contact information.

As Pope Benedict said on nearly every occasion of a Corpus Christi procession during his papacy – this is a moment in which we do what we are called to do all the time – take Christ out into the world that needs Him so badly. Taking that one, very small step further – of actively inviting and engaging the curiosity and interest witnessing the procession might inspire – is, yes, brilliant.

But do you know what else these homilies had in common, aside from being just good, substantive, practical and oh yes, under fifteen minutes long?

They were both written.

Oh, there were moments in which the homilist did a bit of improv and added a thought or two, but for the most part, both seem to have kept to what they had written.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never heard an off-the-cuff homily that was worth a dime. I know that homilists can be all Oh, the Holy Spirit will guide me and it will be awesome…but real talk here. Most of the time, guys…it’s not. The risk of meandering self-indulgence is super high if the homily isn’t written down and presented pretty much exactly as planned.


January 2022 Highlights

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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

All March 2022 posts here.

(As you can see from the images below, it was also the month we saw Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakum within a 2-week span. I didn’t write at length about either concert, but the pics are there for my memory’s sake.)


Do you or any of the adults that you know want to talk to other people’s kids about either sexual matters or even your own personal lives? Is making sure that any kids in your circle understand you or even know what you did last weekend important?

Is it even normal for a 40-year old to want a bunch of 11-year olds to “know who I really am?” much less to want to dig into their personal lives?

Um, no.

It would seem to me that after decades of discussing how the “fun mom” and the “cool coach” and the “drama teacher who lets us hang out at his apartment” and the “priest who drinks beer with us” are all basically emotionally arrested groomers and often abusers – we would be determined to insist on more walls between the adults who care for and educate young people and their charges, not fewer.

If Mom is always “doing her best” just because she’s Mom – why the heck are so many of us still grappling with Mom and Dad issues into adulthood?

We waited for the carrier, and when it came, she asked the baggage handler, Maleta? – referring to her checked bag, so now my Spanish vocabulary has been expanded by one more word, and then her phone rang while the baby was fussing a bit, so I took the baby – Jose! – and ended up carrying him through the airport while she talked on the phone, I presume to her relatives who were, indeed, there to meet her, with the women immediately swarming over the baby and everyone saying gracias and buenas noches and some of us…. phew.

In other words, our instinctive reaction to some Catholic moment from the past might be: Wow, that’s pretty crazy. And it might have been! But we might consider a follow-up as we consider our own lives: Wow, that’s pretty crazy, too, to be honest.

As I said, ours is not to point and laugh and bask in our superiority. Because we don’t have anything to brag about.

That is not to argue that the past is golden, ossified and preserved in amber for our devotion and emulation. The Catholic past is a riotous dynamic which includes moments worth reverencing and moments worth critiquing.

For the history of the Church may not be properly understood by the secular definition of “progress” but it certainly has the dynamic of reform baked into it – that is indeed, our history: Establishing a thought or practice or other reality that is faithful to the Gospel, and then, invariably, that moment drifting, corrupting and being an example, no longer of love, but of human pride and folly. And so we pray, discern, perhaps painfully tear down what have become idols, and begin again.

I was once at a Mass celebrated by a bishop, who was very happy at the end of Mass. He crowed, “We were really Church tonight!” I got it. I understood. On an emotional level, it was not an unreasonable reaction. But the point is: no matter how freaking boring it may seem to you– it’s still Church.

So there’s where ritual comes in.


January 2022 Highlights

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September 2022 Highlights

October 2022 Highlights

November and December 2022 Highlights

Books of 2022

Movies and Television of 2022

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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

All February posts here.


I got to church a little late, and left a little early as is my probably unfortunate habit these days. I was surprised because the church was more full than I’d seen it ages. The music was as mediocre as always, but the preaching was good and there were no narcissistic liturgical shenanigans. A crowd of teens sat in the front, I’m thinking at the end of a Confirmation retreat. A man in the back pew smiled and graciously made room for my latecoming self. A mentally disabled man limped past me after Communion. The deacon brought the Eucharist to an elderly woman in a wheelchair, and the mother in front of me pointed to the words of the Creed in her little boy’s Magnifikid.

It is not easy to be a person, to be a human, to be a Catholic. I don’t think it ever has been, and the institution and the people help sometimes and hurt quite a bit.

I don’t know what to make of it all, and have not yet figured out how to say what I do make of it, but I think I do know that nothing begins until you open the door, take that uphill walk, find your place with the rest of the broken, no matter when you arrive, and try to listen.

This is conjecture on my part, and I’m generally not a fan of conjecture or scene-construction when it comes to Jesus words and activities in the Gospels, but this simple possibility – that Jesus could have told similar stories and made similar points in many different contexts  – might point to, for some of you, perhaps, a more helpful way to the presence of Jesus in the Gospels than the constant focus on intra-Gospel differences and authorial intention does.

The assumption of certain narratives as normative, deviations as heresy and honest discussion and exploration of data, evidence and experience as a threat is not what I call progress.

I’m thinking about this, not just because I happily stir-fried some asparagus the other day, but also because it’s time to start thinking again about the Gallery of Regrettable Lenten Food and how much even home cooking has changed over the years, mostly thanks to access to higher quality ingredients – and also because I made salmon cakes last night. I’ve never made salmon cakes or loaf or croquettes in my life, but it was also a regular part of our menus growing up (not with fresh salmon, but with canned, of course) – and also because as I was making the slaw to go with the salmon cakes, I pulled out some powdered mustard and some celery seeds, saw they were from Kroger’s, which meant they’d come from my parents’ house, looked at the sell-by dates, saw they were….. 2004 and 2009 – since my parents died in 2001 and 2011, that was not surprising, and well, I guess it’s time to toss them. Finally.

It’s worth a read, always, and perhaps especially as we live in a time in which government and corporate solutions are not only proposed and suggested but mandated by our betters who assert that the evidence is sound and settled and who present it all with the highest confidence in their own expertise and the deepest contempt for their skeptics’…skepticism.

Even with the post-Conciliar anxiety about “participation,” I have always felt that one of the great strengths of the Catholic Mass has been the sense that we do, indeed, come as we are to this place, and that’s okay. We are joyful and mourning, curious, doubtful, restless, fearful and content. God has gathered us here, and we trust that in the liturgy, in this point in space and time, he will meet us where we are, as we are. The liturgy – in its objective nature, its traditional formality and even its silence – gives us all room to celebrate, to grieve, to wonder, to praise, to drift.

This entertains me because all three takes are very expressive of our respective personalities: Careful and usually accurate assessment of the landscape, then making a decision based on that; A willful determination not to be wrong, ever; and, er…hope something works, be glad when it does, but you know, whatever happens happens, so let’s move on.

Back to music. We’ve never been on the High Performance Road. But we’ve also been blessed because from the beginning, his excellent teacher has understood this kid, accepted his goals, made sure that if he changed his mind he had the tools to take those steps, but if he doesn’t – well, even if you don’t want to practice three hours a day and try for Julliard, you can still go deep into the music, play it beautifully, grow from the experience, and bring some of that beauty with whoever happens to be listening at the moment, whether it’s the fifty parents and grandparents at the recital, or if it’s the elderly woman and her daughter, walking quiet, steady laps around the church after their rosary while you practice in there.

I think I made her cry again.

And hopefully, all of this will bear fruit in that no matter where he goes, he’ll always find a keyboard when his fingers start itching, and maybe even find others to jam with, not because there’s a big audience to please or a scholarship on the line, and to certainly use his gifts for God’s glory and the service of others when called to, but in the end, to sit at the piano, most of all, for the pure, absolute joy, in communion with that mystery in your own soul, expressed in musical language gifted to you by a riot of brilliant, quirky friends across time.


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First, on this Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas, we encounter Simeon again.

Back in 2020, this was a Living Faith day for me and I wrote this – written and turned in during the spring when “just two weeks to stop the spread” was still being hopefully and trustingly bandied about, btw

Another calendar year is drawing to an end. When I look back, what do I see? What emotions do the events of this year’s journey around the sun bring? Perhaps the year has been dominated by sadness or discord, and we won’t be sorry at all to see it go.

Perhaps 2020 will stand out in our memories for unexpected and surprising moments of joy. Maybe we’ll be glad for what we learned, even if that schooling was difficult and unwelcome.

In that moment in the Temple, Simeon knew he was in the presence of someone special. He knew God was at work. My challenge, as I reflect back and look forward, is to remember that this child who Simeon welcomed was with me every moment of this past year. And because of that, no matter what, because of him, I can move on the journey—in peace.

Remember Art & Theology? This link takes you to posts tagged “Simeon” – at which you will find some wonderful art, including the piece below from a Bolivian artist and what the blogger says is the painting that was on Rembrandt’s easel when he died.

Simeon in the Temple by Rembrandt

And a poem by Richard Bauckham, on waiting:

…Two aged lives incarnate
century on century
of waiting for God, their waiting-room
his temple, waiting on his presence,
marking time by practicing

the cycle of the sacrifices,
ferial and festival,
circling onward, spiralling
towards a centre out ahead,
seasons of revolving hope.

Holding out for God who cannot
be given up for dead, holding
him to his promises—not now,
not just yet, but soon, surely,
eyes will see what hearts await.


It’s also the optional memorial of St. Thomas Becket.

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It is from a small book by Anglo-Catholic Enid Chadwick called My Book of the Church’s Year.  Reprint edition available here but can be viewed online here.

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints in the section “Saints are people who tell the truth.”

Here’s the last page of the entry, so you have a sense of the content.


A couple of years ago, the British Museum had a special exhibit on Becket. Here’s the website for the exhibit and here’s a playlist of associated videos.

And here’s an episode of a BBC series called Pilgrimage centered on the Canterbury pilgrim path. It’s quite good – charming.


Of course, we read The Canterbury Tales in the homschool. Here’s my take – well, really quoting someone else’s take – on why everyone in the Church should read it right now.

He is the great poetic ecclesiologist of a Church marked by sin and so repentance. He is a voice for our times because he can act as a guide to living together, confessing our sins, telling our tales, and sometimes laughing on our way through the vale of tears towards Jerusalem.

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As the calendar year draws to a close and Advent begins, it seems a proper moment for stock-taking and pondering. What do all of these disruptions, changes and challenges we seem to be constantly experiencing mean? What is this new world and how do we live in it?

Well, when you take time to sit with the Scriptures of Advent, you might be struck, most of all by the old news, once again, that all this supposedly unprecedented disruption, change and challenge is not new at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, they are.

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

Same cry for a savior.


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

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

Expectans Expectavi

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

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

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

…that we don’t need a savior.

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

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

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

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

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Time for the traditional end-of-trip summary!

Where: Guanajuato, Mexico

When: October 26 – November 2, 2022

How: Flew from BHM-DFW-BJX. Left Birmingham at 5:30 am or thereabouts, arrived at the airport in Leon at 11am. Got from the airport to the B & B in Guanajuato with a driver recommended by the B & B, but there are plenty of taxis and drivers and buses to get you the 18 miles from the airport to Guanajuato.

Return was the same route, but the flights were not as smooth. Oh, BJX-DFW was fine, but there was a never-really-explained and definitely never-apologized-for 3.5 hour delay in DFW. I had been psyched to get home by 5, but…that didn’t work out.

Airline: American (I have no airline loyalty. I go with whatever’s cheapest with the best routing.)

Why: As I explained in this post, I have been to Mexico a few times, really like the country, and have several areas which I look forward to visiting in the future. I had seen those iconic panoramic photos of Guanajuato with its brilliantly colored houses and churches for years and decided when some time opened up – it was time to go.

Many travelers who go to that part of Mexico hone in on San Miguel de Allende. There is certainly a lot to see there, but it is also has a very high number of ex-pat permanent or semi-permanent residents. Don’t quote me on this, but I’ve read it’s as high as 25% Americans and Canadians living there now. I’ll go someday, but didn’t want that kind of experience this time.

Where 2.0: As in…where did I stay?

I usually go for apartments first when I travel, and I did look at several in Guanajuato and almost bit…but I’m glad I didn’t. In looking at hotels and such, the Casa Zuniga popped up with such stellar reviews and such reasonable pricing, I decided to go with it, and I’m very glad I did, partly because before I went, I really didn’t understand the layout of the city, and I might have ended up with an apartment high on a hill on the other side of town from where the funicular runs. No bueno.

Casa Zuniga is unique in its origins and design, and an absolute delight. Owners – and builders, and cooks, and managers – Rick and Carmen are fascinating, knowledgeable and helpful hosts. My room was the “Ari” – and it was perfect for me. Breakfast was every morning at 9, and it was a time not only to enjoy great food (fruit salad, juice, eggs, guacamole, beans every morning, plus a unique entree – breakfast enchiladas, a quiche/frittata…etc.) but interesting company in conversation with fellow travelers (who, during my time, included, in weird small world moments – a couple from north Alabama, a couple from Charleston, a couple who’d been in Birmingham a two weekends before for work, as well as on the last days, two players from the LA Philharmonic, staying for some extra time after their Saturday evening concert.)

There are plenty of photos on the website – and here are a few of mine. The overlook view is from the patio.

How did I get around? Walked, walked, walked A lot.

The core of Guanajuato – and even a bit beyond the core – is very walkable – if you are in good shape. You can see a lot while staying on the (relatively) flat path through the middle of town – the bottom of the valley – but even venturing a bit beyond that necessitates climbing up, down and around. Casa Zuniga is located a good way up one of the hills, right next to the iconic “La Pipila” statue – and very conveniently, next to the funicular, which takes you up and down the hill at a low price (of course everything in Guanajuato is reasonably priced from a US perspective). The only problem is that it does operate according to specific hours, so if you’re out extra late…you’ll have to walk up (or take a taxi or Uber/Lyft from the bottom up to the top.)

(B & B is near the statue at the top of the hill in the photo on the far left)

What did I eat? Besides a great breakfast every morning at Casa Zuniga, mostly street food – I think I only ate two meals in restaurants: at the B & B recommended and very good Los Campos, and then at the B & B – guest recommended Los Huacales, also tasty. At Los Campos, aside from the guacamole, I had the Camarónes al ajillo which was delicious and which I am going to learn to cook right now. Los Huacales, chilaquiles verde.

Other than that it was tacos and variations of such, eaten from food stands, hole-in-the-wall takeout places and the market. All fantastic and all cheap, of course.

Mercado De Gavira – three levels of deliciousness
By far the most popular food stands were for elote – on the cob or in cups. Always the longest lines.

Health precautions: I’ve been to Mexico four times now, Honduras and Guatemala, with none of those stays being in protected, all-inclusive resort situations. We stay in small hotels, B & Bs and apartments, and eat where everyone else eats, and I’ve only gotten sick once, and I’m pretty sure I know why – that story here.

Before I go, I make an extra effort with probiotics for a couple of weeks. I don’t know if it helps, but I’ll just believe it does. And then…..I DO NOT DRINK THE TAP WATER. Not even to brush my teeth. Not even accidentally in the shower. I talked to a young woman on an airplane once years ago whose Mexico honeymoon had been ruined because her husband brushed his teeth or rinsed his mouth out in a shower in Mexico. I think it was a Sex in the City storyline, as well.

I’m also paranoid about eating the fresh fruit from street stands. They wash the fruit..but in what? It all looks great, but it seems risky to me.

(The tap water at Casa Zuniga is purified and softened, btw)

Did I feel safe? Absolutely. There was some violence in Guanajuato state a week or so before I left, but it was in another small town. Guanajuato city (the capitol of the state) was packed with tourists from all over, had a substantial police presence, and always felt very safe to me, even at night, trudging up those stupid stairs alone when I missed the funicular.

Regrets? I had intended – fully intended – to go to Dolores Hidalgo, which was the center of the movement for Mexican independence. But after my day trip to Leon, I felt…that was enough. There was plenty to see and do in Guanajuato itself. Another time hopefully. (And named, in case you don’t know, after the priest who was one of the movement’s primary leaders.)

The city was a small town known simply as Dolores when Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla uttered his famous cry for the independence of Mexico (the Grito de Dolores) there in the early hours of September 16, 1810, in front of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores parish church. After Mexico achieved independence, the town was renamed Dolores Hidalgo in his honor.

Is that it? I think so. You can find all the Guanajuato-related posts here, but below are the individual links detailing the trip in order. It was great! You should go! Tell Rick I sent you!

Day 1 – October 26, 2022: Travel day, wandering.

Day 2 – October 27, 2022: Churches, museums, tacos

Day 3 – October 28, 2022: Churches, museum, hike up to old silver mine, lunch at Los Huacales

Day 4 – October 29, 2022: La Valenciana church, day trip to Leon, Mass, dinner at Los Campos

Day 5 – October 30, 2022: Two concerts, lots of other music. Enchiladas.

Day 6 – October 31, 2022 Hike up to La Bufa. Parade. Volcanes tacos

Day 7 – November 1, 2022 Shopping, wandering, Mass, 2 saints’ processions, La Catrina parade, tacos

Many other travel-related posts here

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I repeat this post yearly – as I’ve said, readers come and go here, so why not?

It’s one of my favorite posts, along with, of course, the Gallery. 

New for 2022: St. Martin de Porres from the church of San Diego in Guanajuato, Mexico:

With Pope Pius X behind him, for some reason…

I love that the first saint we remember in a specific way after All Saints’ Day is St. Martin. He’s a strong reminder of what discipleship is: as followers of Christ, our call is to live like this – in deepest communion with Christ, risking all, bringing the love and mercy of Christ not only to all we meet, but, to extent our station in life permits it, to those outside, abroad, and outcast.

Civil governmental and social and cultural structures can enhance that or put up obstacles. That doesn’t change anything about how we’re called to meet our day, every day – like Martin and all the saints.

Canonization-of-St-Martin-de-Porres

We’ll start with the  July 1962 issue of Ebony and read about the canonization:

(Click on image for a larger version, or just go to the archives site and read it there.)

martin de porres
martindeporres1
porres3
porres4
porres5
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Complete with sweet mid-century ads!

(Honestly, those back issues of Ebony…don’t know about you, but they put me at great risk of rabbit-hole exploring..fascinating. So be warned.)

From John XXIII’s homily at the canonization:

The example of Martin’s life is ample evidence that we can strive for holiness and salvation as Christ Jesus has shown us: first, by loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind; and second, by loving our neighbours as ourselves.

When Martin had come to realize that Christ Jesus suffered for us and that He carried our sins in his body on the cross, he would meditate with remarkable ardour and affection about Christ on the cross. Whenever he would contemplate Christ’s terrible torture he would be reduced to tears. He had an exceptional love for the great sacrament of the Eucharist and often spent long hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. His desire was to receive the sacrament in communion as often as he could.

Saint Martin, always obedient and inspired by his divine teacher, dealt with his brothers with that profound love which comes from pure faith and humility of spirit. He loved men because he honestly looked on them as God’s children and as his own brothers and sisters. Such was his humility that he loved them even more than himself and considered them to be better and more righteous than he was.

He excused the faults of others. He forgave the bitterest injuries, convinced that he deserved much severer punishments on account of his own sins. He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly he comforted the sick; he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; he helped, as best he could, farm laborers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves: thus he deserved to be called by the name the people gave him: ‘Martin the Charitable.’

The virtuous example and even the conversation of this saintly man exerted a powerful influence in drawing men to religion. It is remarkable how even today his influence can still call us toward the things of heaven.  Sad to say, not all of us understand these spiritual values as well as we should, nor do we give them a proper place in our lives. Many of us, in fact, strongly attracted by sin, may look upon these values as of little moment, even something of a nuisance, or we ignore them altogether. It is deeply rewarding for men striving for salvation to follow in Christ’s footsteps and to obey God’s commandments. If only everyone could learn this lesson from the example that Martin gave us.

From 2012 at the New Liturgical Movement blog, a post on a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the canonization, in Lima

martin de porres

I’ve written in the past about artist Jean Charlot. Among many other things, he illustrated a biography of St. Martin de Porres:

martin-de-porres

Oh. And let’s end with some Mary Lou Williams – jazz artist, Catholic.

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Some background:

Black Christ of the Andes

Suitable for the day, but I much prefer her Anima Christi


Last, and certainly least…he’s in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints – first page here

amy-welborn3

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