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Ash Wednesday 2019

And you know – Lent is coming up. Two weeks from today!

Last Sunday: Septuagisima Sunday

Next up – Sexagesima Sunday. 

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Here’s a page on Lent. 

Here are some Lent resources from me. 

Also – if you’re looking for a Lenten read, either as an individual or for a group – consider The Words We Pray. 

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Bunch of links this week. First – check out my posts on gender issues from earlier this week. To be continued either today or over the weekend. (Just click backwards on the post links above.)

Also – I have a bunch of mostly book-centered posts over at Medium. 

I was in Living Faith on Wednesday. Read that devotional here. 

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Preparing dinner at a local shelter Monday night.

— 2 —

My hilarious and brilliant friend Dorian is blogging again – it’s a trend! Blogging is back!

—3–

Another friend, Villanova prof Chris Barnett has refashioned his blog – Theology + Culture. 

–4–

Good piece on the “Unfulwilled Promise of the Synod on Young People.”  I’d be more cynical than the author, but all that means is that he’s more charitable, and therefore a better person.

–5 —

Did you know that there’s been a spate of serious church vandalism incidents in France? Yup. 

–6–

Our Cathedral rector with an excellent post on “morbid introspection” as a spiritual danger. Spot.  On. 

A classic paradigm for prayer is ACTS — adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication. Where does morbid introspection fit into this? It doesn’t. Adoration centers mostly around praise. Contrition involves introspection, but turned back to God for his mercy and healing. Thanksgiving perhaps also involves introspection, as we thank God for the ills from which he has already delivered us and for all the other blessings he has given. Indeed, thanksgiving often involves praise. And supplication may involve some introspection as we ask for what we need — but praying for ourselves should usually be secondary to praying for others and the world, lest we end up becoming too self-involved.

If you struggle with a tendency to grow sad by focusing on your problems/difficulties, the advice that Fr. Kirby gives is right on, and I’ll paraphrase: cut it out, and praise God instead.

I’m reminded of some passages from St. Jane de Chantal that I’ve highlighted in the past:

Pray what does it matter whether you are dense and stolid or over-sensitive ? Any one can see that all this is simply self-love seeking its satisfaction. For the love of God let me hear no more of it: love your own insignificance and the most holy will of God which has allotted it to you, then whether you are liked or disliked, reserved or ready-tongued, it should be one and the same thing to you. Do not pose as an ignorant person, but try to speak to each one as being in the presence of God and in the way He inspires you. If you are content with what you have said your self-love will be satisfied, if not content, then you have an opportunity of practising holy humility. In a word aim at indifference and cut short absolutely this introspection and all these reflections you make on yourself. This I have told you over and over again.

–7–

Septuagesima Sunday! Check out this post!

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I’ve created a Lent page here.

And don’t forget – .99 for my short story The Absence of War  – here. 

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

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Reading: Well, I finished The Woman in White. It was..quite the read. Now, you know that if you don’t have a taste for dense Victorian melodrama, you wouldn’t even consider Mondaypicking this up. But if you do have an interest in such things – you might like this. Or you might tire of it, as I did. I liked Collins’ No Name much better. As absurd as it was at times, it was still more grounded in reality than The Woman in White – it explored a more varied landscape of English society and it expressed a more focused outrage – at the helplessness of women within the British legal system.

The Woman in White is fascinating, however, from the perspective of history and literature. For Collins is quite creative in constructing the tale and in the narrative. He uses many different points of view and is meticulous in building a very complex structure of events.

One of the key differences between the two books has to do with perspective. No Name is essentially told from the narrative perspective (in the third person) of the wronged woman, the woman who has been deprived of any rights – and it is told as she is amy-welbornrecouping what morality, if not the legal and social system owe her. The Woman in White‘s events are described in two stages: 1) what happened  and 2) one character’s attempts to discover what happened and bring the perpetrators to some sort of justice. I found the narrative stage of the No Name more compelling.

Both books are interesting for anyone – like me – who thinks about women’s issues as well as the nature of human freedom and action. When you read Victorian-era fiction – from Collins to Dickens to Trollope and the scores of others – you are struck at every turn by this question: human beings are born into structured environments. Of some sort. How do these legal and social structures restrict human freedom, how do they shape choices? Are they just or unjust? Would these characters be better off without them or do these structures reflect anything real about human nature – do they shape human activity in ways directed toward the good?

When you read fiction of this era, you might be tempted to take a condescending view: Oh, those Victorians, bound by complex legalities and oppressive social mores. We’re so much better off today!

Really?

Also read chunks of The Comedy of Errors  – alone and with boys. We’ll be seeing a production of it soon. Must prepare!

Also reading up on Spain. We’ll be heading there, not really soon – but before the end of the year.

Watching: I’ve been rewatching chunks of Mad Men this past week. I don’t really know why. I first rewatched much of the pilot and was struck – as I had been the first time around – how weak it was. Gorgeous to look at, of course, but the cultural stage-setting was so awkwardly obvious and condescending: Look at all the people smoking! The doctor is smoking! Much misogyny! 

I didn’t rewatch a lot more of that first season, which, as I recall, took time to get over that condescension toward the past (some critics claim it never did – I disagree). But I have been skipping through subsequent episodes – I fast forward through most of the domestic drama, and focus on the office material, which I always really enjoyed. I had problems with Mad Men – I always felt that the core of it was Matthew Weiner working out his negative feelings about his mother (Betty) – and there were a few weak casting choices (aka Weiner’s deeply untalented son) and, as I said, most of the domestic angst bored me, but there were so many great characters, it was a world I always enjoy settling into, the trajectory of the Peggy character was one of the most well-done I’ve ever seen on television, and there was that one episode where Roger made witty remarks – you remember that one?

Listening: Just found out that a drummer who played in my son’s jazz recital ensemble was part of a recording that won a Grammy last night! So I’ll be searching for that to listen to today.

Writing: Not enough. Never enough. Aargh.  Maybe look for another blog post coming up later.

Blog post on Lourdes – it’s Our Lady of Lourdes today. 

Well, I’ll be in Living Faith later this week. Wednesday, I think.

My son posted a review of Glass. 

One element of the film that’s received some derision is the buildup of the idea of the Osaka Tower and the great fight that will come. However, I think that buying into that premise is the audience missing the point of Glass’s philosophy. It’s not that comic books are real, but that they are born from events that then get blown up into something else. Superman couldn’t fly in the beginning Casey reminds Dr. Staple at one point. So, what we end up getting is the beginning of belief, the extraordinary feats of extraordinary people, far removed from the spotlight of a huge crowd. The final fight takes place in a parking lot in much the same way that, if Glass’s philosophy is correct, the inspiration for Superman lifting the car on the front of Action Comics #1 must have. It wouldn’t have been with millions of eyes on him, but with a small crowd.

And that’s the origins of belief. To take this in an explicitly religious direction for a quick moment, it wasn’t a multitude that witness Jesus’ transfiguration or resurrection, but a handful of believers who went on to spread the word from there. It’s an interesting idea, explored in an interesting fashion, and told well.

 

And then…preparing…I guess?

Next Sunday is Septuagesima Sunday, the first of the pre-Lent Sundays – the loss of pre-Lent is one of the most ridiculous changes that occurred in the wake of Vatican II.  When you read about it – say in this blog post I wrote – you see why. I always highlight this page from a 7th grade catechism – read the part to which the arrow leads. I love the lack of condescension towards young people. The assumption that they are simply part of the Body of Christ, with a mission. No catchy banners or t-shirts needed. Just the assumption, because they are baptized, that they are a part of this great journey.

 

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Today, of course is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

If you would like to share the story of St. Bernadette with your children, Loyola has my entry on her from The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints online here. 

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Bernadette was afraid, of course, but it wasn’t the kind of fear that made her want to run away. She stayed where she was and knelt down. She reached into the pocket of her worn-out dress, found her own rosary, and started to pray with the girl. When she finished, the girl disappeared.

Bernadette didn’t know who or what she had seen. All she knew was that being there had made her feel happy and peaceful. On their way back to Lourdes, she told her sister and friend saintswhat had happened, and soon the whole village knew.

Over the next few weeks, Bernadette returned to the grotto and saw the beautiful girl several times. Each time she went, more people went with her. Although only Bernadette could see the girl in white, when the other villagers prayed with her in the grotto, they felt peaceful and happy too. Those who were sick even felt that God had healed them while they prayed.

During those moments in the grotto, the girl spoke to Bernadette only a few times. She told her that a pure, clear spring flowed under the rocks. She told her that people needed to be sorry for their sins. And near the end, the girl said one more thing: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Bernadette had no idea what this meant. She repeated it to herself over and over on her way back to the village so she wouldn’t forget the strange, long words. When she told her parish priest what the girl had said, he was quite surprised.

Almost seven years ago, we spent a few days at Lourdes, as part of our 2012 Grand Tour.

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We had just spent a few days at a gite near Montignac and the next stop would be another rental in the Pyrenees.

I didn’t know what to expect, since much of what I had read treated Lourdes with a dismissive air, describing it as “Catholic Disneyland.”

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It’s amazing to realize that Lourdes has been a pilgrimage site for a century and a half.  If you ever get a chance, read a good history of the apparition and its consequences and uses by various parties within France and the Church.  It’s really one of the most fascinating events of modern Catholicism in which every aspect of this crazy, mysterious life on God’s earth comes to bear: God’s unexpected grace and movement among us; God’s power; our receptivity; our temptation to manipulate and distort; our fears; our hopes – answered in God’s grace.  Full circle.

(Also, if you have time and the inclination, peruse Zola’s Lourdes. Yes, he has his point of view, but as an account of what 19th century pilgrimage to Lourdes was like, it’s fascinating.)

Anyway, the town of Lourdes isn’t that bad.  Yes, close to the shrine, the religious souvenir shops selling the exact same goods (always a mystery to me) are crammed in shoulder to shoulder – but that’s what you find at Assisi and Rome around St. Peter’s as well. No different, just more concentrated here. The town, as I told someone going the next year, isn’t at all picturesque – if that’s what you’re expecting, forget it.  It’s a busy, ordinary modern mid-sized French town, not a picture-book charming village tucked in the mountains.

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The view from the hotel roof, looking down on the river and the (mostly) hotels lining it. The green-lit building on the bridge was a bar, inhabited by Irish football fans – there for a match v. a Lourdes team – until *very* late.

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But then the shrine.

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I pointed out to the boys the presence of the sick and the pride of place given them.  For every Mass, every procession, every prayer service, the sick are brought in first by the volunteer attendants.  On the walkways, there are specially marked lanes for wheelchairs.  One night, we saw an older man in a wheelchair (being pushed by a young man) get so frustrated with an unaware pedestrian strolling along in the marked lane, he almost poked him with a cane, and would have if the walker hadn’t been alerted Monsieur, pour les malades by someone (er…me).

When I mentioned the place of les malades to the boys, they asked me, “Why?”  I was startled that I had to explain – well, I said, besides being simply polite and compassionate, it’s also a response to the presence of Jesus in those in need, it’s honoring that presence and obeying his command to see him there.  It’s a living expression of what Jesus said: the last shall be first – the sick and weak – like Bernadette herself –  being the last in the world’s eyes.

Les Malades.

They are first to the waters, first to the light, first to the Body because in their physical condition, we can see them, we Christ, and we can even see ourselves.  For we are all the sick, we are all weak, crippled, deaf, paralyzed, suffering, in pain, we are all dying and every one of us yearn to be whole.

And so every night at Lourdes, the darkness illuminated by our thousands of tiny lights, we walk, shuffle, stride, limp and are pushed toward that water. We go on, just as we have always done across time, everywhere  led by the One who bound Himself to this weak, suffering Flesh, awash in the womb of a mother

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This was the line to go into the grotto. Just as he got there…this fellow was turned away. Pas du chien.

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I bought the picture below at a shop well off the beaten path.  The artist made pictures like this and hand-crafted rosaries.  She said to me, “Now you can say that you bought something that actually came from Lourdes.”

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(As opposed to..China.)

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As I’ve mentioned several times, the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Storiespublished in 2017, presents Scripture to children and families in the way most Catholics encounter the Bible: through their placement in the liturgical year.

Generally. 

Because, as you know, there are going to be exceptions. But in general – for example – we hear the messianic prophecies of Isaiah during Advent. We hear account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert on the first Sunday of Lent. And somewhere in the beginning of Ordinary Time, we’ll hear this:

After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.

So this narrative is in the section – surprise – “Ordinary Time.”

I’ve included the first and the last page, so you can also get a sense of how I wrote each story. (Click on the images for larger versions)

 

The bulk of it, of course, is just a retelling of the Scripture.

And then, after the narrative, I tie the Scripture into some aspect of Catholic faith and life – as you can see here, the role of the apostles in the Church, as well as the call to all of us to follow Christ. And each entry ends with a suggestion for thinking and conversation, as well as a prayer.

Presenting the Bible to children is not a simple task. I really think that in this – as is the case with so much catechesis – it’s a good idea to trust the experience and presence of the Spirit in the Church and organize our Scriptural catechesis according in line with that experience: putting the Psalms at the center of our daily prayer life with children – instead of constantly inviting them to make up their own prayers, or offering them our weak, pedantic efforts – as well as letting our Scripture reading be guided by how the Church lives with God’s Word. Yes, the contemporary lectionary has flaws – including selective editing of passages that make modern people uncomfortable – so, yes, it’s good to start with what’s in the lectionary, but then turn right to the Bible itself to get the whole picture. But even with that weakness, it’s far more sensible to use Scripture  – especially in catechesis and formation – according to the experience of the Body of Christ instead of presenting it as a handy personal guidebook to be cherry-picked according to my Feelings of the Day.

Go here for more information on the Loyola series, including this book.

 

 

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Today’s the feast of St. Blaise (yes, it’s a Sunday, but let’s talk about him anyway!)

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who help in ordinary ways.”

(Click on images for larger versions. I just grabbed these screenshots from whatever is available online. I don’t have any copies of the book at home at the moment!)

 

 

St. Blaise is the figure standing in the cave to the left.

It seems to me that this is such a vital point – saints are people who help in ordinary ways – to remember, especially in these days of empowerment and awesomeness.

Mass, instant communication, mobility and relative prosperity and political and social freedom have had an interesting impact on the way we think about and present spirituality. It’s something I think about a lot. It’s something I wonder about.

In short: even in spiritually-minded circles, the spiritually-fulfilled life is presented as one in which you are doing the amazing, world-changing things that God put you on earth to do and – although this part might go unsaid, it’s certainly implicit in the way this is hustled: in doing the amazing, world-changing things and not hiding your light under a bushel, you’ll find satisfaction, make a living and be known and affirmed. 

This isn’t the Gospel.

The Gospel, as concretely expressed in the crucifix hanging in front of you as you go to Mass this morning, and as you’ll hear articulated in the second reading from Paul is, Let God love others through you. They might kill you for it. It doesn’t matter. Keep loving.

Not “fulfillment.” Sacrifice.

As St. Francis of Assisi emphasizes over and over again – the Christian life is rooted in love that calls, bottom line, for sacrificing our own will to the will of God. That’s the poverty to which St. Francis aspired: a poverty of will. That’s why Philippians 2 was one of his primary Scriptural reference points.

We like to refashion the saints as model 21st century achievers and doers, but Christian virtue and the power of the Christian life isn’t about using the circumstances of your life to build yourself up or feel fulfilled. It’s about being in the midst of the circumstances of your life, surrounded by the people that God has put there, and trying to love them as Jesus loves us: sacrificially and obediently.

In ordinary ways, here in Ordinary Time.

 

 

 

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We have a crazy weekend coming up, one involving a very quick, intense, tight trip and various arrangements. Next week won’t be too much better, but things should calm down by this time next week. We’ll see.

First quick take: Son #4 playing at the school talent show. Just a short clip.

— 2 —

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Presentation – Candlemas. Here are some links I’ve found helpful in the past.

From Dappled Things:

On Candlemas, the prayers said by the priest as he blesses the candles with holy water and incense include the symbols of fire and light as metaphors for our faith and for Christ Himself. The choir sings the Nunc Dimittis or Canticle of Simeon with the antiphon “Lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuæ Israel” (“Light to the revelation of the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel”) after each verse. A solemn procession may be made into the church building by the clergy and the faithful carrying the newly blessed candles to reenact the entry of Christ, the Light of the World, into the Temple.

—3–

From a sermon by Saint Sophronius, bishop in today’s Office of Readings.

In honour of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.
  Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil candlemasand to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.
  The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.
  The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

 

–4–

From a 1951 book of family faith formation:

Finally on the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple, we put the light of Christ into our children’s hands for them to carry still further into the world. The Church has never been reluctant to place her destiny in the hands of the rising generations. It was once the custom at Candlemas for her to give each of her members a blessed candle to hold high and bear forth to his home. It was a beautiful sign of our lay priesthood and its apostolate in action. Now the blessed candles seldom get beyond the altar boys who are wondering whether to turn right or left before they blow them out.

Because the ceremony has died of disuse in many places, because we want our family to appreciate the great gift of light as a sign of God’s presence, because we all must have continual encouragement to carry Christ’s light of revelation to the Gentiles on the feast of Hypapante (Candlemas), we meet God first at Mass and then we meet Him again in our home in the soft glow of candles relighted and carried far.

 

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Is your parish blessing candles? Here’s the Cathedral of St. Paul’s notice:

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Interesting – new Florida governor Ron DeSantis has said he’s going to attempt to toss Common Core from Florida’s educational standards. Good luck – and here’s to re-evaluating the whole standards/testing regime, period.

–7–

I’ve created a Lent page here.

The page of the articles I’ve published on Medium here. 

Including one, yesterday, on Walker Percy’s very timely The Thanatos Syndrome.

Son #2 has started publishing more of his film commentary on his webpage. 

And don’t forget my story!

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

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