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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

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Tomorrow (June 27) is the memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria.  Here’s what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said about St. Cyril in his General Audience in 2007:

Cyril’s writings – truly numerous and already widely disseminated in various Latin and Eastern translations in his own lifetime, attested to by their instant success – are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the New and Old Testament Books are important, including those on the entire Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke. Also important are his many doctrinal works, in which the defence of the Trinitarian faith against the Arian and Nestorian theses recurs. The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great Predecessor in the See of Alexandria. Among Cyril’s other writings, the books Against Julian deserve mention. They were the last great response to the anti-Christian controversies, probably dictated by the Bishop of Alexandria in the last years of his life to respond to the work Against the Galileans, composed many years earlier in 363 by the Emperor known as the “Apostate” for having abandoned the Christianity in which he was raised.

The Christian faith is first and foremost the encounter with Jesus, “a Person, which gives life a new horizon” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 1). St Cyril of Alexandria was an unflagging, staunch witness of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, emphasizing above all his unity, as he repeats in 433 in his first letter (PG 77, 228-237) to Bishop Succensus: “Only one is the Son, only one the Lord Jesus Christ, both before the Incarnation and after the Incarnation. Indeed, the Logos born of God the Father was not one Son and the one born of the Blessed Virgin another; but we believe that the very One who was born before the ages was also born according to the flesh and of a woman”. Over and above its doctrinal meaning, this assertion shows that faith in Jesus the Logos born of the Father is firmly rooted in history because, as St Cyril affirms, this same Jesus came in time with his birth from Mary, the Theotò-kos, and in accordance with his promise will always be with us. And this is important: God is eternal, he is born of a woman, and he stays with us every day. In this trust we live, in this trust we find the way for our life.

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Cyril was, of course, a theologian, engaged in discourse concerned with theological precision.

We are often told these days that such concerns are nothing but casuistry.  Theology, it is sometimes said or at least implied, is an obstacle to faith.

And it can be.

This is of course, not a new discussion, and is indeed reflective of an authentic dynamic and tension within Christian discourse since….the beginning.

But as anyone with an understanding of what it means to be Catholic in its breadth and depth understands the danger of sweeping generalizations that sweep out one side of the either/or.

Catholicism is the expression of the loving Presence of Jesus Christ in the world. But the human beings Jesus encounters are intelligent, reasonable, and seek to understand.

Precision matters.  As time goes on, the precision might harden, become brittle and lifeless, and finally crack, but that doesn’t mean that the search for the closest words and ideas – even in negation – should be scoffed at or cast aside.  The process is important, and more than that, inevitable.  You can dismiss theological discourse, you can go on and on, talking in a “pastoral” way but do you know what?

Stubbornly, the questions will be raised.

How do you know this?

Where do your words come from?

Who is God?

Why is this a sin, but this not?

Who are you to tell me all about this, anyway?

Son of God? Mother of God? What? 

Questions that deserve answers with language as precise as possible, humble and so aware of the limitations of that language.

But yes, that deserve answers.  Which is what Catholic theology is all about, and what it’s for.

We keep talking, thinking, searching, in faith, aware of our limitations but also aware of who we are as rational beings created in the image of God.

Logos and agape.

Not either, not or.

Both.

— 3 —

Some interesting reading and listening this week.  The listening first.

As I said this past week on Twitter – spend  less time on Facebook this week and listen to some good podcasts instead.  As long time readers know, my favorites are those from BBC Radio 4, particularly In Our Time.  There is simply nothing like it on American radio.  A brisk jaunt through some topic led by Melvyn Bragg and three academics.  It’s very tightly structured, and not a free-for all, but it’s always interesting and disagreements are certainly aired.

It’s also very non-American in that it’s absolutely free from PC cant or snideness when addressing issues of religion.  Historical figures’ religious faith is taken seriously and respectfully.  So refreshing.

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This week I listened to an episode on Jane Eyre, which I confess….I’VE NEVER READ.  I have no idea how that happened, since as a teen, I read most of Austen, Hardy and even Middlemarch. 

That said, I think I’ll read it now….probably over this weekend.

The program examined Bronte’s life, particularly as it might have inspired various aspects of the book, her process of writing it, the plot and major themes, its reception and, at the end, its religious themes….as was pointed out, the last word in the novel is “Jesus.”

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Next was an episode on the Curies.  I read a children’s biography of Marie Curie as a child and was quite inspired by it (obviously not to be a scientist, but there was a time around 5th grade when I thought I would be a doctor…so, sort of inspired, I guess).

Religion entered the discussion as the differences between Curie’s mother (observant Catholic) and father (atheist scientist) were touched on and brought back into play in the later French context.  Good discussion of the family dynamics, especially after Pierre’s death, and a clarifying section on Marie’s scientific achievements and the distinction between her chemistry and physics Nobel prizes. 

— 6 —

Speaking of 19th century women, over the past couple of days, I read a very good book called Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice Nimura.   It’s a very well-told history of five young Japanese women (really girls – ranging in age from 7 to young teens) who were sent from Japan to the United States to live and study in 1871.  Two returned fairly soon, but the three who remained ended up studying at Vassar and Bryn Mawr, Daughters of the Samuraiand each, in her own way, eventually made tremendous contributions to the cause of the education of Japanese women.

The author was blessed with fantastic resources – the women were faithful correspondents, some of which has been published, the American and eventually Japanese press covered various aspects of their lives, and they made speeches and wrote articles. 

Through the prism of these women’s lives, we learn quite a bit about late 19th century Japanese history and the sense that women in both countries had of themselves.

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And once again….religion. And again, religion treated respectfully and honestly, since Christian faith motivated many of the women’s American benefactors, and one of the Japanese women converted to Christianity herself.  What is clear is something that anyone who has studied the history of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity both in the context of Europe and in its encounters with other non-European cultures:

Christianity elevates the status of women. And it was understood to do so.

This is one of the rarely-discussed reasons that Christianity was resisted in some traditional patriarchal cultures.  It was a profound motivator, especially for female Protestant missionaries. Everything happens within a particular context, of course.   The Japanese women of Nimura’s tale had, in our view, a “limited” understanding of what education should accomplish, and expressed

dissatisfaction with later more “radical” (in the 1910’s!) visions being expressed by younger women.  But in their own time, their work on behalf of women’s education was certainly radical in and of itself.

A really enjoyable, rich read.

 As I was pouring over this book last night, I was thinking about why historical fiction doesn’t interest me. I mean…the minute I pick up a novel and see that it has a real historical figure at its center, I lose interest. (Not necessarily events, of course, just a novel built around a particular real person.) I think part of that is because historians today have access to such rich sources, they can put their hand to it and pull out a narrative that’s as intriguing as any novel – more so.

(That said, I also resisted history that embroiders in any way – that sets up scenes not derived directly from sources or enters an historical figure’s mind. Hate that.  I thought there might be a bit of that at  the beginning of this book, but turning to the notes, I saw that she pulled the scenes I was questioning directly from correspondence. )

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

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From Be Saints!

I also have a chapter of St. Thomas More in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.

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I’m not sure how to present this, but let’s give it a shot.

Many, me included, have said for years to not depend on media reports – especially secular media – when it comes to understanding Church matters. This is especially true, and easy to fix, when it comes to statements by Church officials, since the vast majority of the time, their words  – in their homilies or speeches – are available for any of us to read.  Translation issues complicate matters, but the point remains.  We can access this stuff for ourselves, most of the time.

So we come to Pope Francis. (Not the encyclical, which is for later consideration)  Every day, it seems, there’s a new sound byte coming at us, a sound byte that is pounced on, debated, held up for scrutiny.

Today the contested quote regards something the Pope said about weapons manufacturers, a statement, as reported, which has pleased some people and distressed others.

I went to the only source I could find at this point – a transcript at Asia News.  I would encourage you to read it. I don’t know what you will take away from the transcript of this talk or the transcript of the talk he gave to Salesians, but I’m thinking it might clarify things.  Sort of.

It won’t necessarily clarify what the Pope meant by bringing up this subject or Marian devotion or youth unemployment or the Freemasons. But reading the entirety of these talks (not long – just a few paragraphs each), might clarify for you the nature of the discourse being offered in these settings and give you a way to think about..thinking about them.

Perhaps you would disagree, but consider:

  • In these talks, one of which even the National Catholic Reporter described as “rambling,” the Pope is essentially offering his own personal opinions and impressions.  Compare this discourse to the act of teaching, especially in the context of a Catholic pastoral paradigm, which pulls deeply from Scripture and tradition, applying revealed truth to new situations in a systematic way. The teacher’s gifts and opinions naturally impact this act of teaching, but in the Catholic tradition, the teacher, preacher, and yes, pastor, knows that he is subject to something greater, and attempts to communicates that  in the act of teaching.  A pope or bishop’s authority is a teaching authority.
  • If you have ever attempted to teach religion, in any form, even within your own family, you have experienced this and understood this delicate dynamic which requires the continual challenge to teach out of a place of humility. Anyone who has ever attempted this understands that “what I think” is irrelevant to the responsibility at hand.
  • In these talks, Pope Francis talks about weapons manufacturers, wonders why the Allies didn’t bomb Nazi train lines, muses on the reasons for teen suicides, wonders if the Salesians could be teaching kids how to be plumbers, his family background, and Freemasons.
  • He has views on all of it. Everyone can pick and choose pleasing phrases or points of view and then spend the rest of the day arguing about them on Facebook or Twitter.
  • I am not sure that’s a great use of time.
  • Memes like “The Pope’s Five Tips for Happy Family Life” or “Three Ways Pope Francis wants you to start helping the Planet” don’t help, especially when offered by Catholic media.  Because you know what? Pope Francis’ or Pope Benedict’s or Pope Pius’ “tips” for anything …don’t matter.  
  • My small point here is that the details of what he says in these remarks don’t matter as much as the bigger questions they raise about the nature of papal teaching authority, how the office is used, what it means to actually teach the Faith – a good question for all of us engaged in catechesis, yes?

Let us now turn to the wars. I sometimes said that we are in the middle of World War Three, but piecemeal. There is war in Europe. There is war in Africa. There is war in the Orient. There is war in other countries. Can I trust such a world? Can I trust world leaders? When I vote for a candidate, can I trust that he or she will not lead my country to war?

If you trust only people, you have lost. [Laughter and applause] One thought comes to mind: people, CEOs, business people who call themselves Christian and [yet] manufacture weapons. [Applause] This leads to a loss in trust. They call themselves Christian! “As a matter of fact, Father, I don’t make weapons. I just have investments in companies that manufacture weapons. Right! Why? Because of higher earnings.” Being two-faced is so conventional. Doing one thing and saying another. [Applause]. What hypocrisy! Let us see what happened the last century.

There was a great tragedy in Armenia in 1914 and 1915. [Applause] Many, millions died. Where were the great powers of that time? They turned the other way, and were interested in their war, and in those deaths. They [the Armenians] were third class human beings [Applause]. Later, in the 1930s and 1940s [came] the tragedy of the Holocaust. The great powers had photographs of the railway routes that brought the trains to the concentration camps, to Auschwitz, to kill Jews, Christians, Roma, homosexuals . . . Tell me then, why did they not bomb them? [Out of] interests, eh? [Applause]. A little later, in almost the same period, there were concentration camps in Russia. Stalin! How many Christians suffered and were killed? The great powers divided up Europe, like a pie. It took many years before we got some freedom.

It is hypocritical to talk about peace and make weapons, or sell them to the two warring sides. [Applause] I understand when you talk about the loss of trust in life. Even today, I like to say that we are living in a culture of exclusion, because what is not economically useful is excluded; children because either they are not born or are killed before they are born; seniors because they are no longer useful and are left to die, a sort of hidden euthanasia; and now young people when considering that 40 per cent is jobless. This is true exclusion! [Applause]

But why? Because, contrary to God’s will, men and women are not at the centre of the world’s economic system. The mighty buck is. Everything is done for money. [Applause] In Spanish there is a saying, “The little monkey will dance for money.” [Applause]. In this culture of exclusion, can we trust life or does the loss of trust grow? Young people who cannot study, who do not work, who feel ashamed and unworthy because they have no job and earn no living . . . How often do they become addicts or commit suicide? We don’t have clear statistics about suicide among young people. How many times do they go to fight with the terrorists, at least to do something for an ideal? I understand this challenge.  Source

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Today is his feastday!

First, a General Audience from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from 2011:

It is only the prayerful soul that can progress in spiritual life: this is the privileged object of St Anthony’s preaching. He is thoroughly familiar with the shortcomings of human nature, with our tendency to lapse into sin, which is why he continuously urges us to fight the inclination to avidity, pride and impurity; instead of practising the virtues of poverty and generosity, of humility and obedience, of chastity and of purity. At the beginning of the 13th century, in the context of the rebirth of the city and the flourishing of trade, the number of people who were insensitive to the needs of the poor increased. This is why on various occasions Anthony invites the faithful to think of the true riches, those of the heart, which make people good and merciful and permit them to lay up treasure in Heaven. “O rich people”, he urged them, “befriend… the poor, welcome them into your homes: it will subsequently be they who receive you in the eternal tabernacles in which is the beauty of peace, the confidence of security and the opulent tranquillity of eternal satiety” (ibid., p. 29).

Is not this, dear friends, perhaps a very important teaching today too, when the financial crisis and serious economic inequalities impoverish many people and create conditions of poverty? In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate I recall: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred” (n. 45).

Anthony, in the school of Francis, always put Christ at the centre of his life and thinking, of his action and of his preaching. This is another characteristic feature of Franciscan theology: Christocentrism. Franciscan theology willingly contemplates and invites others to contemplate the mysteries of the Lord’s humanity, the man Jesus, and in a special way the mystery of the Nativity: God who made himself a Child and gave himself into our hands, a mystery that gives rise to sentiments of love and gratitude for divine goodness.

Not only the Nativity, a central point of Christ’s love for humanity, but also the vision of the Crucified One inspired in Anthony thoughts of gratitude to God and esteem for the dignity of the human person, so that all believers and non-believers might find in the Crucified One and in his image a life-enriching meaning. St Anthony writes: “Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are…. Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).

In meditating on these words we are better able to understand the importance of the image of the Crucified One for our culture, for our humanity that is born from the Christian faith. Precisely by looking at the Crucified One we see, as St Anthony says, how great are the dignity and worth of the human being. At no other point can we understand how much the human person is worth, precisely because God makes us so important, considers us so important that, in his opinion, we are worthy of his suffering; thus all human dignity appears in the mirror of the Crucified One and our gazing upon him is ever a source of acknowledgement of human dignity.

Dear friends, may Anthony of Padua, so widely venerated by the faithful, intercede for the whole Church and especially for those who are dedicated to preaching; let us pray the Lord that he will help us learn a little of this art from St Anthony. May preachers, drawing inspiration from his example, be effective in their communication by taking pains to combine solid and sound doctrine with sincere and fervent devotion. In this Year for Priests, let us pray that priests and deacons will carry out with concern this ministry of the proclamation of the word of God, making it timely for the faithful, especially through liturgical homilies. May they effectively present the eternal beauty of Christ, just as Anthony recommended: “If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if you read of him he will satifsfy your intellect” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, p. 59).

Secondly, for children, an excerpt from my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

Then one day something happened that was almost as strange as the ship wandering off course. There was a large meeting of Franciscans and Dominicans, but oddly enough, the plans for who would give the sermon at the meeting fell through. There were plenty of fine preachers present, but none of them were prepared.

"amy welborn"Those in charge of the meeting went down the line of friars. “Would you care to give the sermon, Brother? No? What about you, Father? No? Well, what about you, Fr. Anthony—is that your name?”

Slowly, Anthony rose, and just as slowly, he began to speak. The other friars sat up to listen. There was something very special about Anthony. He didn’t use complicated language, but his holiness and love for God shone through his words. He was one of the best preachers they had ever heard!

From that point on, Anthony’s quiet life in the hospital kitchen was over. For the rest of his life, he traveled around Italy and France, preaching sermons in churches and town squares to people who came from miles around.

His listeners heard Anthony speak about how important it is for us to live every day in God’s presence. As a result of his words, hundreds of people changed their lives and bad habits, bringing Jesus back into their hearts.

Next, some photos of the huge Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua from our trip in 2012.

(I’m guessing there were no photos allowed inside…since I don’t have any of the interior)

(Sigh. I loved Padua -it is one of those mid-sized Italian cities that I find tremendously appealing – a vibrant, sophisticated interesting buzz around the carefully, but not fussily maintained medieval core. I could live there. Maybe, someday, I will!)

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(or Ephraim or Ephream)

One of today’s optional memorials.

From Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s lengthy General Audience series on great figures in Christianity. November 28, 2007.

Common opinion today supposes Christianity to be a European religion which subsequently exported the culture of this Continent to other countries. But the reality is far more complex since the roots of the Christian religion are found in the Old Testament, hence, in Jerusalem and the Semitic world. Christianity is still nourished by these Old Testament roots. Furthermore, its expansion in the first centuries was both towards the West – towards the Greco-Latin world, where it later inspired European culture – and in the direction of the East, as far as Persia and India. It St_Ephraim_The_Syrianthus contributed to creating a specific culture in Semitic languages with an identity of its own. To demonstrate this cultural pluralism of the one Christian faith in its origins, I spoke in my Catechesis last Wednesday of a representative of this other Christianity who is almost unknown to us: Aphraates, the Persian sage. Today, along the same lines, I would like to talk about St Ephrem the Syrian, who was born into a Christian family in Nisibis in about 306 A.D. He was Christianity’s most important Syriac-speaking representative and uniquely succeeded in reconciling the vocations of theologian and poet. He was educated and grew up beside James, Bishop of Nisibis (303-338), and with him founded the theological school in his city. He was ordained a deacon and was intensely active in local Christian community life until 363, the year when Nisibis fell into Persian hands. Ephrem then emigrated to Edessa, where he continued his activity as a preacher. He died in this city in 373, a victim of the disease he contracted while caring for those infected with the plague. It is not known for certain whether he was a monk, but we can be sure in any case that he remained a deacon throughout his life and embraced virginity and poverty. Thus, the common and fundamental Christian identity appears in the specificity of his own cultural expression: faith, hope – the hope which makes it possible to live poor and chaste in this world, placing every expectation in the Lord – and lastly, charity, to the point of giving his life through nursing those sick with the plague.

St Ephrem has left us an important theological inheritance. His substantial opus can be divided into four categories: works written in ordinary prose (his polemic works or biblical commentaries); works written in poetic prose; homilies in verse; and lastly, hymns, undoubtedly Ephrem’s most abundant production. He is a rich and interesting author in many ways, but especially from the theological point of view. It is the fact that theology and poetry converge in his work which makes it so special. If we desire to approach his doctrine, we must insist on this from the outset: namely, on the fact that he produces theology in poetical form. Poetry enabled him to deepen his theological reflection through paradoxes and images. At the same time, his theology became liturgy, became music; indeed, he was a great composer, a musician. Theology, reflection on the faith, poetry, song and praise of God go together; and it is precisely in this liturgical character that the divine truth emerges clearly in Ephrem’s theology. In his search for God, in his theological activity, he employed the way of paradoxes and symbols. He made ample use of contrasting images because they served to emphasize the mystery of God.

He continues, giving examples of Ephrem’s works, then concludes:

The figure of Ephrem is still absolutely timely for the life of the various Christian Churches. We discover him in the first place as a theologian who reflects poetically, on the basis of Holy Scripture, on the mystery of man’s redemption brought about by Christ, the Word of God incarnate. His is a theological reflection expressed in images and symbols taken from nature, daily life and the Bible. Ephrem gives his poetry and liturgical hymns a didactic and catechetical character: they are theological hymns yet at the same time suitable for recitation or liturgical song. On the occasion of liturgical feasts, Ephrem made use of these hymns to spread Church doctrine. Time has proven them to be an extremely effective catechetical instrument for the Christian community.

Ephrem’s reflection on the theme of God the Creator is important: nothing in creation is isolated and the world, next to Sacred Scripture, is a Bible of God. By using his freedom wrongly, man upsets the cosmic order. The role of women was important to Ephrem. The way he spoke of them was always inspired with sensitivity and respect: the dwelling place of Jesus in Mary’s womb greatly increased women’s dignity. Ephrem held that just as there is no Redemption without Jesus, there is no Incarnation without Mary. The divine and human dimensions of the mystery of our redemption can already be found in Ephrem’s texts; poetically and with fundamentally scriptural images, he anticipated the theological background and in some way the very language of the great Christological definitions of the fifth-century Councils.

Ephrem, honoured by Christian tradition with the title “Harp of the Holy Spirit”, remained a deacon of the Church throughout his life. It was a crucial and emblematic decision: he was a deacon, a servant, in his liturgical ministry, and more radically, in his love for Christ, whose praises he sang in an unparalleled way, and also in his love for his brethren, whom he introduced with rare skill to the knowledge of divine Revelation.

Links to the writings of St. Ephrem.

Image source.

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Today is the feastday of St. Boniface, Apostle to the Germans.  Let’s take a look at what our German Pope Emeritus had to say about him:

Today, we shall reflect on a great eighth-century missionary who spread Christianity in Central Europe, indeed also in my own country: St Boniface, who has gone down in history as “the Apostle of the Germans”. We have a fair amount of information on his life, thanks to the diligence of his biographers

….

In 716, Winfrid went to Frisia (today Holland) with a few companions, but he encountered the opposition of the local chieftain and his attempt at evangelization failed. Having returned home, he did not lose heart and two years later travelled to Rome to speak to Pope Gregory ii and receive his instructions. One biographer recounts that the Pope welcomed him “with a smile and a look full of kindliness”, and had “important conversations” with him in the following days (Willibaldo, [Willibald of Mainz], Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. Levison, pp. 13-14), and lastly, after conferring upon him the new name of Boniface, assigned to him, in official letters, the mission of preaching the Gospel among the German peoples.

Comforted and sustained by the Pope’s support, Boniface embarked on the preaching of the Gospel in those regions, fighting against pagan worship and reinforcing the foundations of human and Christian morality. With a deep sense of duty he wrote in one of his letters: “We are united in the fight on the Lord’s Day, because days of affliction and wretchedness have come…. We are not mute dogs or taciturn observers or mercenaries fleeing from wolves! On the contrary, we are diligent Pastors who watch over Christ’s flock, who proclaim God’s will to the leaders and ordinary folk, to the rich and the poor… in season and out of season...” (cf. Epistulae, 3,352.354: mgh).

….In addition to this work of evangelization and organization of the Church through the founding of dioceses and the celebration of Synods, this great Bishop did not omit to encourage the foundation of various male and female monasteries so that they would become like beacons, so as to radiate human and Christian culture and the faith in the territory. He summoned monks and nuns from the Benedictine monastic communities in his homeland who gave him a most effective and invaluable help in proclaiming the Gospel and in disseminating the humanities and the arts among the population. Indeed, he rightly considered that work for the Gospel must also be work for a true human culture. Above all the Monastery of Fulda founded in about 743 was the heart and centre of outreach of religious spirituality and culture: there the monks, in prayer, work and penance, strove to achieve holiness; there they trained in the study of the sacred and profane disciplines and prepared themselves for the proclamation of the Gospel in order to be missionaries. Thus it was to the credit of Boniface, of his monks and nuns for women too had a very important role in this work of evangelization that human culture, which is inseparable from faith and reveals its beauty, flourished. Boniface himself has left us an important intellectual corpus. First of all is his copious correspondence, in which pastoral letters alternate with official letters and others private in nature, which record social events but above all reveal his richly human temperament and profound faith.

…..

SAINT-BONIFACE-antique-holy-cardCenturies later, what message can we gather today from the teaching and marvellous activity of this great missionary and martyr? For those who approach Boniface, an initial fact stands out: the centrality of the word of God, lived and interpreted in the faith of the Church, a word that he lived, preached and witnessed to until he gave the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. He was so passionate about the word of God that he felt the urgent need and duty to communicate it to others, even at his own personal risk. This word was the pillar of the faith which he had committed himself to spreading at the moment of his episcopal ordination: “I profess integrally the purity of the holy Catholic faith and with the help of God I desire to remain in the unity of this faith, in which there is no doubt that the salvation of Christians lies” (Epist. 12, in S. Bonifatii Epistolae, ed. cit., p. 29). The second most important proof that emerges from the life of Boniface is his faithful communion with the Apostolic See, which was a firm and central reference point of his missionary work; he always preserved this communion as a rule of his mission and left it, as it were, as his will. In a letter to Pope Zachary, he said: “I never cease to invite and to submit to obedience to the Apostolic See those who desire to remain in the Catholic faith and in the unity of the Roman Church and all those whom God grants to me as listeners and disciples in my mission” (Epist. 50: in ibid., p. 81). One result of this commitment was the steadfast spirit of cohesion around the Successor of Peter which Boniface transmitted to the Church in his mission territory, uniting England, Germany and France with Rome and thereby effectively contributing to planting those Christian roots of Europe which were to produce abundant fruit in the centuries to come. Boniface also deserves our attention for a third characteristic: he encouraged the encounter between the Christian-Roman culture and the Germanic culture. Indeed, he knew that humanizing and evangelizing culture was an integral part of his mission as Bishop. In passing on the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he grafted on to the Germanic populations a new, more human lifestyle, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were more widely respected. As a true son of St Benedict, he was able to combine prayer and labour (manual and intellectual), pen and plough.

Boniface’s courageous witness is an invitation to us all to welcome God’s word into our lives as an essential reference point, to love the Church passionately, to feel co-responsible for her future, to seek her unity around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, he reminds us that Christianity, by encouraging the dissemination of culture, furthers human progress. It is now up to us to be equal to such a prestigious patrimony and to make it fructify for the benefit of the generations to come.

His ardent zeal for the Gospel never fails to impress me. At the age of 41 he left a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and teacher, in order to proclaim the Gospel to the simple, to barbarians; once again, at the age of 80, he went to a region in which he foresaw his martyrdom.

By comparing his ardent faith, this zeal for the Gospel, with our own often lukewarm and bureaucratized faith, we see what we must do and how to renew our faith, in order to give the precious pearl of the Gospel as a gift to our time.

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(This will be quick)

The show had quite a bit.  Style, 2/3 excellent acting, great humor and did I mention style?

The most powerful, pointed works of art reach both outward and inward.  A character is recognizable as both a symbol of some telling aspect of the world around him and as a human being.

The problem with Don Draper was that, in the end, he was all symbol, and not, as written, recognizable as a real human person.

What did he symbolize?

The modern man’s lack of identity and roots. His willingness to slip in and out of roles with no deep sense of who he is.  The resultant endless search and treatment of other people as non-persons as well.

The endless circle of materialism that we exploit and dig into as we search, search, search.

Interpersonal exploitation and exploiting what one learns in the exploitation so one can dream up ads for crap that no one needs but now thinks they do because they, too, are searching, dreaming, and yearning.

But Mad Men, unlike, say, Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, ultimately, I think fails in this regard (while it succeeded in many other) for two reasons:

First, the absence of any real satirical edge.  I wrote about this before.  Mad Men gives us all these interesting people tossing about occasionally interesting ideas and recognizing certain truths in service of….ads for stuff. And if you look at advertising in the 1960’s, it’s mostly goofy and ridiculous and lame and doesn’t match the pseudo-elevated tone of the creative strivings of the characters.  There were flashes here and there, but the whole series would have been more honest if there had been at least one character who consistently grappled with the moral questions that arise from striving for wealth and using one’s gifts to produce awkward clips that  seek to manipulate consumers into buying things.

Secondly, as I began this post…Don Draper is ultimately not a real person.  And perhaps that is the point? Okay, but again, here’s where irony and satire comes in play.  If the ending had been satirical, I would have bought it with great enthusiasm.  And perhaps it was?  But…I don’t think so.  It’s presented as the completion of a circle of sorts in terms of Draper’s relationship with himself and advertising as an extension of himself.  Fine.  There’s a point to that that is consistent with the entire series.

But. It’s coy and unsatisfying as well because it doesn’t address the fact that Don Draper has failed as a human being. This failureis symbolized most powerfully and even ironically, in terms of the whole series, by the fact that cigarettes, where he made his mark, killed the woman who became his ex-wife because of his lies about his identity and his infidelity. That’s no secret, and yeah, Betty’s still smoking in that last shot, lung cancer or no.

It’s not unrecognized in the episode, either, that failure.  When he tries to give the same “You won’t believe how easy it is to walk away from your child” speech to Anna’s niece as he had given to Peggy, she rejects it out of hand, and in that, he is forced to confront the falsity of his entire life of walking away from his children.

And he does, breaking down into really nothing.

Then he meditates, cut to Coke.

Which, as I said, works on a certain level…when you have had a character development trajectory that has been dosed with a knowing satirical and ironic critical edge all along.  Yup, here we go, we’d be able to say.  One more con.  One more attempt to compensate for your moral failure by creating an advertisement that expresses what you should be bringing to your actual life, but aren’t.

But we haven’t had that edge, testing and teasing Don.  We’ve been immersed in Don’s endless agonizing and victimization of others as a serious human quest for identity and acceptance, and therefore, the resolution should be consistent with that path.

It wasn’t.  The bare facts of it could have been, but structurally, it didn’t work and wasn’t satisfying, not because we “need to know what happens” regarding Don and his kids, for example, just because we’re curious, but because that along with all of Don’s personal problems, was an issue. 

In the end, Weiner couldn’t create a character that held all of this in the right sort of tension, balancing truth about human life and choices with a knowing, ironic look at all we throw out there as a distraction and ultimately fruitless compensation.

But yeah, I’d watch The Campbells of Wichita.  In a heartbeat.

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