Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we have a piano that is new to us. It is, strangely enough, about the same age as the one we used to have, but it’s much better, and after some drama, it lives upstairs, rather than in the basement.

Having it upstairs means it gets played more often, including by me, which is one of the reasons I wanted it up instead of down and mostly out of sight. I thought that I might play it more, and that seemed to me to be a good thing, even though I didn’t know why. I have enough to do, I have interests and work. On paper, I don’t need to play the piano more, and it wasn’t a conscious burning desire, but nonetheless, it nudged and became a reason.

It’s been about three weeks, and in that time, I have realized something: I had forgotten how much I enjoy playing the piano.


— 2 —


I think what happened was that as decades passed and I got rusty, I checked “piano” off the list. That’s over. I was never very good anyway. My personality is not that of the perfectionist. When it seems good enough, I move on to something else, and combined with the fact that I lead life mostly on intuition and response, that means everything I do only goes so far until I decide something else is more worth my time.

For most of my adult life – well, since my 30’s, I guess – I’ve had a piano in the house, but it was that old Storey and Clark, it wasn’t fun to play, I was busy, and every time I did sit down, I fumbled on those unresponsive keys, it was a strain to see the music and reading glasses didn’t help, so yes, that’s what I figured. That’s over.

— 3 —

Here’s my piano history.

When I was in second grade, we lived in an apartment in Arlington, Virginia. My father was doing some sort of year-long commitment with the Department of the Interior. They rented a piano, and started me on group lessons at the public school. In 1967, long before electronic keyboards, group piano lessons in a public school meant a classroom full of children, each with a wood board painted like a keyboard in front of us. I don’t recall anything about it, except the recital, in which I played this, from this book.


I don’t keep a lot of things, but music, I keep. But I didn’t know until I just now found it and opened it up that – gulp – almost fifty years later, I could read the kind words of congratulations from that first piano teacher right there.

The next year, we moved to Lawrence, Kansas. During third and fourth grade, we lived in an apartment, but moved into a house, where we were through seventh grade. At some point during that time, my parents convinced my paternal grandmother to buy a piano for me, and so that Storey and Clark entered our lives (used you can get one for a couple hundred bucks now – that’s why I didn’t even bother to put ours on Craigslist, and let the piano delivery guy take it away instead) and private lessons began.

There was a catch, though. The catch was that my parents were frugal and my mother didn’t drive, so when they looked for at teacher, they looked only as far as the KU music department, and a student who could drive to our house. I don’t remember much of anything about my teachers – I think I had a young woman one year and a man the next. I don’t think there were recitals (which was fine with me), just these music students showing up at our house to give me lessons.

 — 4 —


When eighth grade came around, we had moved again – to Knoxville. That first year, of course, we lived in an apartment, but then for high school, we settled into a house in an area called Holston Hills, in east Knoxville. It’s that kind of hilly neighborhood with no sidewalks, full of 1950’s ranches and some Tudors built on half-acres, set well back from the road. A few months after we moved, we figured out that the woman who lived across the road and two houses down taught piano out of her home. So I started. Again.

At the time, I intuited that it was an odd situation, but didn’t know how odd until later. She wasn’t the most rigorous teacher in the world, but she wasn’t terrible. She had me play Bach and such, but she also let me play things I wanted – like Summertime. I was never really comfortable in her home, and I reached a tipping point when, for a winter “recital,” she insisted I play a duet of Rudolph with her daughter at their Baptist church’s Christmas program. I didn’t like recitals anyway, I was a senior in high school playing Rudolph in the basement of the Macedonia Baptist Church, so I was done.

Oh, and why was it odd? As we learned a few years later, both the woman and her husband were serious alcoholics. They both ended being hospitalized, the kids did nothing with the house, the parents died from their alcoholism, and last time I was there – probably four years ago to see to the sale of my parents’ home – the house was in complete collapse and disrepair, overgrown, a notice of condemnation on the door.

— 5 

And that was it. Maybe five years of instruction all together, spread out over ten years?

Over the years, when passing the keyboard, I might sit down and pound out a few measures of Maple Leaf Rag or Alla Turca. I remember those. Probably about twenty years ago, I went through a stage when I thought I would try to get serious again, took out the Gershwin, and worked at it. Not too bad, but then we probably moved again and life took over again.

Now we have this new-old piano, it’s in the dining room, and since it cost a lot of money and it’s sitting there, I might as well play it, I think. So I do. And I’m not bad. And I’m getting better.

And as I said at the beginning, what has come back to me in a startling rush is how much I like it, and how much I actually don’t mind practicing. I don’t think I ever did, either. I don’t remember practicing being an agony. I say I’m not a perfectionist, and I’m not, but I do want to get it basically right, and for some reason, even though in most things I have the attention span of a gnat, when I play piano, I can play the same few measures over and over again and not tire of it.

Perhaps it’s just a new way to procrastinate and put off work. I think it’s going to be helpful in keeping mentally sharp as I age: my version of my father and his crossword puzzles, taken up with intense commitment in his 60’s. Who knows.



I have goals, and they are the same goals I’ve had during every other return to the instrument. Right now, it’s The Maple Leaf Rag – the first page has been in my memory for forty years, but I never really went beyond that, and now I am, and I want to learn the whole thing. And then there’s the Gershwin.

Gershwin’s piano music – his variations on his songs, and his stand-alone pieces like the Preludes – have always been favorites of mine. As a teen, I played the William Bolcom recordings over and over, and tried my hand at several, but could never get beyond a certain point: too many accidentals, I felt my hands weren’t big enough. Again: not a perfectionist.

Somewhere along the way, my book went missing – I suspect it’s either in a sorority house in Williamsburg, Virginia or a resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. So I bought a new one, and am working hard. I started with Rialto Ripples, have almost got ‘S Wonderful down and really really want to conquer Prelude 1. I think I can do it.

So I play. I play during the day when the boys are gone, and I play in the evening, after Michael has his time. I enjoy it, but it’s also part of my determination for them to see me doing and reading real books and making real things instead of scrolling through one more damn screen. And it works. An adult doing this in a household is an invitation for interaction and community in a way that an adult staring at a screen is not. It might be a joke, right? The minute I get interested in doing something…there they are, all around me.  But I don’t mind. I sit down to play, and before I know it, one’s on the futon behind me, flipping through a magazine or drawing, and the other is standing at my side, leafing through music, wanting his turn again.

I also think it’s good for them to watch me take on something I’m not so great at, then work and improve. We lecture them all the time on how that’s what you have to do, but how often do they actual see us at this task, making mistakes, learning and growing and having to resist the temptation to give up?

— 7 —

My experience with piano explains why I am torn about children’s activities. On the one hand, I’m mostly against them. I am famous among my friends for asserting “I won’t be held hostage by my children’s activities,” by which I mean that there’s more to life than weekends at soccer fields allows many of us with children to experience. My kids do activities when they have an interest. My daughter was intensely involved with forensics and drama – but in high school. My youngest son has exhibited some musical talent and likes it, so I am investing in some pretty high level instruction for him. They know that if they are interested and serious, I’ll support them. But I do draw a line, and in the end, a weekend just hanging out, relaxing around home or taking a day trip is, I think, more valuable than most activities.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine posted an impassioned Facebook post after her family had spent a Saturday morning doing some really good volunteer work. She wondered why they didn’t do this kind of thing more? And then she answered her own question: because of sports, dance and homework projects that absorbed every second of their family’s free time and energy. Then she asked another question: what would the world be like if everyone made more time to help others instead of spending so much time watching 4 year olds play soccer?

But yet.

I only had five years of haphazard instruction, and..I’m not bad and I like it. I think I can get a lot better.

I wonder sometimes what would have happened if my parents had seen my moderate level of talent and interest and made the effort to get me more consistent instruction – even as we moved about – at a higher level. Why didn’t they? They had their own problems which dominated the home, that’s true, and I would imagine that’s a big part of why as long as I didn’t present problems – and I didn’t – I was left to myself. Perhaps back in the 70’s people didn’t pursue Excellence in Extra-Curriculars as they do now. That’s certainly true. And it also never occurred to me to ask for something different, or even that there might be the possibility. Who knows. And who knows what would have happened if they had done anything different. I might have had intense music instruction, excelled, and then grown to hate it and never take it up again, even here in middle age, when I am hankering for it and appreciating it again.

We parents do what we can do with the information we have. I won’t say “we do our best,” because we don’t. We just do what we do. It’s what I have done, it’s what my parents did. So I’m not resentful. I just wonder.

And then I sit down to play.

"amy welborn"


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

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Earlier this week, I read the book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons, a former Newsweek tech writer and editor and now a writer on HBO’s and Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley. I picked it up from the “new books” section mostly because I have a like-hate relationship with Silicon Valley – I think it’s brilliant satire at times, but at other times it’s just stupid and too filthy for its own good.

I enjoyed Disrupted. It’s an entertaining and even enlightening evening read – a longish Atlantic article could have probably covered most of the same ground, and Lyons’ Disrupted by Dan Lyonsidealization of journalism is annoying but that’s fine, and the time I spent with the book was more entertaining and fruitful than a couple of hours furiously scanning furious political commentary online. Although almost as frustrating, considering the insanity Lyons is writing about.

Short version: Lyons was fired from Newsweek in his early 50’s – the story of so many journalists – and eventually landed at HubSpot, a company that sells marketing software to other companies – as a “marketing fellow,” a title which sounds kind of cool but actually, as he discovers is expressive of the shadows of this tech-based economy in which no one is really committed to anything or anyone and everyone is landing somewhere for just a bit, until the next thing.

The book is very funny, not only because Lyons is funny, but because the culture he describes is so deeply insane and he’s a 50-something thinking he might be able to fit in, just a little bit.  HubSpot’s workplace is culture is just what you expect: 20-somethings brought in to have meetings and stare at screens for not a lot of money, but hey – there’s a music room! And a candy wall! And Tequila Tuesday!

Moving past the employees – er, team members – Lyons takes a look at those behind all of this craziness, from the founders of start-ups who sometimes have an idea for a product or service, but just as often don’t – to the venture capitalists.  Lyons’ description of DreamForce – a huge networking/pep rally/afterhours orgy sponsored by Salesforce.com  in which literally tens of thousands of online marketers get together in San Francisco – is jaw-dropping.

The whole thing makes me depressed, in part because Benioff is a buffoon, a bullshit artist, and such an out-of-control egomaniac that it is painful to listen to him talk. He lives in Hawaii and signs his emails “Aloha.” He’s a Buddhist and hangs out with Zen monks from Japan, and he gave his golden retriever the title “chief love officer” at his company. He is the Ron Burgundy of tech…”have you transformed the way you innovate?’ was Benioff’s big line at the 2012 Dreamforce show. Note that you can switch the two buzzwords in the sentence and it still sounds good and still means nothing.

And Dreamforce continues with Huey Lewis and the News, Green Day, Alec Baldwin, Tony Bennett, Jerry Seinfels, CEO’s of Dropbox, Facebook and Yahoo, and the President of Haiti. It’s crazy.

If you’ve watched Silicon Valley, you’ll recognize some of the types and quirks, but I have to say – I think the world Lyons describes is even wackier than its fictional version.

Lyons’ critique is of an economy built on non-profitable entities selling intangibles – again, at a loss, most of the time – so that a few people can profit from this weird transfer of wealth going on. It’s of workplace cultures that are not only lame and distracting, but attract and sustain immaturity and are among the least diverse workplaces in the country. It’s about deception all around, about claiming, “no, we don’t send spam,” when actually, you facilitate sending millions of pieces of spam every day, it’s about calling aggressive selling “lead nurturing” and selling “lovable marking content.” That you’re not selling product, you’re leading a revolution…a movement.

It’s about this new thing, but it’s also about the old thing that has always characterize most workplaces, everywhere: Egomaniacs with tunnel vision exercising power over other human beings just because, whether those egomaniacs be CEO’s, department managers or the two blog editors twenty years your junior who have declared war against you – the turf being a blog run by a company that’s read by no one except a few hundred customers. Because that’s worth a war, definitely.

The stupid workplace trends that Lyons eviscerates are amusing to read about, but raise some serious points. First, what Lyons himself constantly points out – it’s almost like a shell game. Employees being given treats instead of more pay and greater job security. He tries to point this out to the employees three decades his junior: that instead of the treats they could actually be paid more..but they will have none of it. They prefer the candy.

The whole scene also made me think (of course) of (surprise!) church and faith and such.

The appeal of new management and marketing trends, bursting with buzzwords and exclamation points is strong for churches. Evangelical churches, with their emphasis on, well, evangelization, have always been particularly strongly tempted by American business culture, narrowing that line between evangelism and marketing to the point of invisibility. And because American Catholicism doesn’t trust or understand its own tradition of evangelization, and might even despise it, a few years after the evangelicals have pounced and wrung a trend dry, you can trust that the Catholics will be along to mop up the puddles and squeeze out what’s left in lameness that is no less lame for being two generations removed from the original and having schematized rosaries on the Awesome!
Engagement! Materials! with which they can hack  and blow UP this ministry. 

Not to speak of the management stuff, which too many Catholic school systems, in my experience, embrace. I mean…this was…familiar, even if the characters we encounter in the church world have a bit more years on them.

Try to imagine the calamity of that: Zack, age twenty-eight, with no management experience, gets training from Dave, a weekend rock guitarist, on how to apply a set of fundamentally unsound psychological principles as a way to manipulate the people who report to him.

And then, there is the question of the soul and what seeks to bind it and what it mean to be truly counter-cultural.

It is not a new story: in seeking security in this world, we find ourselves bound to entities that want to claim more than our labors, that set themselves up as idols demanding our highest loyalties. That might be the lord of the manor, the factory owner, the farmer, the office manager. That might be elements of a culture that don’t demand our labor but rather the fruits of that labor as they work hard to convince us that our wholeness and happiness depends on how well we fit.

It just seems to me that it’s the role of this Church of Jesus Christ to stand astride all of these idols, knock them over and quietly, constantly, faithfully point to the truth. Yes, this the world in which we live and work requires running and doing, and sometimes all of that is creative and interesting, but most of the time it’s not, and most of the time it just is. Work hard, give your best, make good things, no matter how small they are, and build each other up. But don’t be fooled. If this entity – this job, this organization, this culture – asks the world of you so it can save the world – remember that it can’t do that, you don’t have to and only God is God, and yeah, well, he’s…awesome.

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Everyone should note that today is the feast of the North American Martyrs. Jogues, Brebeuf, etc. Read Black Robe in celebration! Well, “celebration” doesn’t quite capture it. Remembrance, maybe?

Or, perhaps you might read Parkman’s The Jesuits in North America

Mosaic from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Or, you could really go to town and take a look at the Jesuit Relations which are, amazingly, all online right here

This site contains entire English translation of the The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, originally compiled and edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites and published by The Burrows Brothers Company, Cleveland, throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century. Each file represents the total English contents of a single published volume. The original work has facing pages in the original French, Latin or Italian, depending on the author.

Of particular interest might be Brebeuf’s Instructions to the MIssionaries. I am going to reproduce it in full here. We are hearing a lot these days about “meeting people where they are.”

Again, not a concept of recent origin:

(From Vol. XII of the Relations, 1637)

Let us say a few words more before concluding this chapter. Father Brebeuf sent me some instructions, which I have all our Fathers read whom I send to the Hurons. I thought it would be wise to place them here, so that those who should be appointed to this mission [232 i.e., 228] might see from France the trials with which they will have to contend. I know very well that the greater these trials are made, the more ardor we see in our Fathers, who [page 115] even go so far as to wish for them too eagerly. It is better, in my opinion, while one is still in France, not to think either of the Hurons, or of the Algonquins, or of the Montagnez, or of Kebec, or of Miskou, or even of converting the Savages, but to take up the Cross wherever Jesus Christ shall offer it to us. Let us come to the point.


HE Fathers and Brethren whom God shall call to the Holy Mission of the Hurons ought to exercise careful foresight in regard to all the hardships, annoyances, and perils that must be encountered in making this journey, in order to be prepared betimes for all emergencies that may arise.

You must have sincere affection for the Savages, looking upon them as ransomed by the blood of the son of God, and as our brethren, with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives.

To conciliate the Savages, you must be careful never to make them wait for you in embarking.

You must provide yourself with a tinder box or with a [233 i.e., 229] burning mirror, or with both, to furnish them fire in the daytime to light their pipes, and in the evening when they have to encamp; these little services win their hearts.

You should try to cat their sagamité or salmagundi in the way they prepare it, although it may be dirty, half-cooked, and very tasteless. As to the other numerous things which may be unpleasant, they must be endured for the love of God, without saying anything or appearing to notice them. [page 117]

It is well at first to take everything they offer, although you may not be able to eat it all; for, when one becomes somewhat accustomed to it, there is not too much.

You must try and eat at daybreak unless you can take your meal with you in the canoe; for the day is very long, if you have to pass it without eating. The Barbarians eat only at Sunrise and Sunset, when they are on their journeys.

You must be prompt in embarking and disembarking; and tuck up your gowns so that they will not get wet, and so that you will not carry either water or sand into the canoe. To be properly dressed, you must have your feet and legs bare; while crossing the rapids, you can [234 i.e., 230] wear your shoes, and, in the long portages, even your leggings.

You must so conduct yourself as not to be at all troublesome to even one of these Barbarians.

It is not well to ask many questions, nor should you yield to your desire to learn the language and to make observations on the way; this may be carried too far. You must relieve those in your canoe of this annoyance, especially as you cannot profit much by it during the work. Silence is a good equipment at such a time.

You must bear with their imperfections without saying a word, yes, even without seeming to notice them. Even if it be necessary to criticise anything, it must be done modestly, and with words and signs which evince love and not aversion. In short, you must try to be, and to appear, always cheerful.

Each one should be provided with half a gross of awls, two or three dozen little knives called jambettes [pocket-knives], a hundred fishhooks, with some beads [page 119] of plain and colored glass, with which to buy fish or other articles when the tribes meet each other, so as to feast the Savages; and it would be [235 i.e., 231] well to say to them in the beginning, ” Here is something with which to buy fish.” Each one will try, at the portages, to carry some little thing, according to his strength; however little one carries, it greatly pleases the Savages, if it be only a kettle.

You must not be ceremonious with the Savages, but accept the comforts they offer you, such as a good place in the cabin. The greatest conveniences are attended with very great inconvenience, and these ceremonies offend them.

Be careful not to annoy any one in the canoe with your hat; it would be better to take your nightcap. There is no impropriety among the Savages.

Do not undertake anything unless you desire to continue it; for example, do not begin to paddle unless you are inclined to continue paddling. Take from the start the place in the canoe that you wish to keep; do not lend them your garments, unless you are willing to surrender them during the whole journey. It is easier to refuse at first than to ask them back, to change, or to desist afterwards.

Finally, understand that the Savages [236 i.e., 232] will retain the same opinion of you in their own country that they will have formed on the way; and one who has passed for an irritable and troublesome person will have considerable difficulty afterwards in removing this opinion. You have to do not only with those of your own canoe, but also (if it must be so stated) with all those of the country; you meet some to-day and others to-morrow, who do not fail to inquire, from those who brought you, what sort of [page 121] man you are. It is almost incredible, how they observe and remember even to the slightest fault. When you meet Savages on the way, as you cannot yet greet them with kind words, at least show them a cheerful face, and thus prove that you endure gayly the fatigues of the voyage. You will thus have put to good use the hardships of the way, and have already advanced considerably in gaining the affection of the Savages.

This is a lesson which is easy enough to learn, but very difficult to put into practice; for, leaving a highly civilized community, you fall into the hands of barbarous people who care but little for your Philosophy or your Theology. All the fine qualities which might make you loved and respected in France [237 i.e., 233] are like pearls trampled under the feet of swine, or rather of mules, which utterly despise you when they see that you are not as good pack animals as they are. If you could go naked, and carry the load of a horse upon your back, as they do, then you would be wise according to their doctrine, and would be recognized as a great man, otherwise not. Jesus Christ is our true greatness; it is he alone and his cross that should be sought in running after these people, for, if you strive for anything else, you will find naught but bodily and spiritual affliction. But having found Jesus Christ in his cross, you have found the roses in the thorns, sweetness in bitterness, all in nothing. [page 12

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints – under “Saints are People Who are Brave.”  I’ve got the last page here for you. 


Stephanie Mann has an excerpt from a Willa Cather novel in which a character speaks of one of the lesser-known martyrs.

“But through all these physical sufferings, which remained as sharp as on the first day, the greatest of his sufferings was an almost continual sense of the withdrawal of God. All missionaries have that anguish at times, but with Chabanel it was continual. For long months, for a whole winter, he would exist in the forest, every human sense outraged, and with no assurance of the nearness of God. In those seasons of despair he was constantly beset by temptation in the form of homesickness. He longed to leave the mission to priests who were better suited to its hardships, to return to France and teach the young, and to find again that peace of soul, that cleanliness and order, which made him the master of his mind and its powers. Everything that he had lost was awaiting him in France, and the Director of Missions in Quebec had suggested his return.

“On Corpus Christi Day, in the fifth year of his labours in Canada and the thirty-fifth of his age, he cut short this struggle and overcame his temptation. At the mission of Saint Matthias, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, he made a vow of perpetual stability (perpetuam stabilitatem) in the Huron missions. This vow he recorded in writing, and he sent copies of it to his brethren in Kebec.

“Having made up his mind to die in the wilderness, he had not long to wait. Two years later he perished when the mission of Saint Jean was destroyed by the Iroquois,–though whether he died of cold in his flight through the forest, or was murdered by a faithless convert for the sake of the poor belongings he carried on his back, was not surely known. No man ever gave up more for Christ than Noël Chabanel; many gave all, but few had so much to give.


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Today is her feastday, and 2015 was  the 500th anniversary of her birth (3/28).

When we went to Spain last year, we were not able to go to Avila, unfortunately (chose Segovia as our day trip from Madrid instead), but we did encounter Teresa in an exhibit  at the Biblioteca Nacional – the national library of Spain. This lovely video gives a sense of what it was all about:

The exhibit itself was amazing. We stumbled upon it – I had no idea it was happening until we walked by the library – so our time there was limited.  Nonetheless, even that short time gave us a chance to see manuscripts written in Teresa’s own hand. 

A manuscript of “The Way of Perfection” in Teresa’s own hand. Gulp.

Featuring real Carmelites checking out the exhibit.

Back in 2011, as part of his series of General Audience talks on great figures in the Church (beginning with the Apostles), he turned to Teresa.  It’s a wonderful introduction to her life.  After outlining her biography and achievements, he turns to the impact of her life and work:

In the first place St Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life and in particular, detachment from possessions, that is, evangelical poverty, and this concerns all of us; love for one another as an essential element of community and social life; humility as love for the truth; determination as a fruit of Christian daring; theological hope, which she describes as the thirst for living water.


Secondly, St Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical figures and eager listening to the word of God. She feels above all closely in tune with the Bride in the Song of Songs and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with Christ in the Passion and with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Saint then stresses how essential prayer is. Praying, she says, “means being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us” (Vida 8, 5).


Prayer is life and develops gradually, in pace with the growth of Christian life: it begins with vocal prayer, passes through interiorization by means of meditation and recollection, until it attains the union of love with Christ and with the Holy Trinity. Obviously, in the development of prayer climbing to the highest steps does not mean abandoning the previous type of prayer. Rather, it is a gradual deepening of the relationship with God that envelops the whole of life.


Another subject dear to the Saint is the centrality of Christ’s humanity. For Teresa, in fact, Christian life is the personal relationship with Jesus that culminates in union with him through grace, love and imitation. Hence the importance she attaches to meditation on the Passion and on the Eucharist as the presence of Christ in the Church for the life of every believer, and as the heart of the Liturgy. St Teresa lives out unconditional love for the Church: she shows a lively “sensus Ecclesiae”, in the face of the episodes of division and conflict in the Church of her time.


Dear brothers and sisters, St Teresa of Jesus is a true teacher of Christian life for the faithful of every time. In our society, which all too often lacks spiritual values, St Teresa teaches us to be unflagging witnesses of God, of his presence and of his action. She teaches us truly to feel this thirst for God that exists in the depths of our hearts, this desire to see God, to seek God, to be in conversation with him and to be his friends.

This is the friendship we all need that we must seek anew, day after day. May the example of this Saint, profoundly contemplative and effectively active, spur us too every day to dedicate the right time to prayer, to this openness to God, to this journey, in order to seek God, to see him, to discover his friendship and so to find true life; indeed many of us should truly say: “I am not alive, I am not truly alive because I do not live the essence of my life”.

Therefore time devoted to prayer is not time wasted, it is time in which the path of life unfolds, the path unfolds to learning from God an ardent love for him, for his Church, and practical charity for our brothers and sisters. Many thanks.

Then, in 2012, Benedict sent a letter to the Bishop of Avila on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the beginning of Teresa’s reform. It’s really a wonderful letter:

By distancing herself from the Mitigated Rule in order to further a radical return to the primitive Rule, St Teresa de Jesús wished to encourage a form of life that would favour the personal encounter with the Lord, for which “we have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon him present within us. Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest” (Camino de perfección [the Way of Perfection] 28, 2). The Monastery of San José came into being precisely in order that all its daughters might have the best possible conditions for speaking to God and establishing a profound and intimate relationship with him.


Teresa of Avila’s example is a great help to us in this exciting task. We can say that in her time the Saint evangelized without mincing her words, with unfailing ardour, with methods foreign to inertia and with expressions haloed with light. Her example keeps all its freshness at the crossroads of our time. It is here that we feel the urgent need for the baptized to renew their hearts through personal prayer which, in accordance with the dictates of the Mystic of Avila, is also centred on contemplation of the Most Holy Humanity of Christ as the only way on which to find God’s glory (cf. Libro de la Vida, 22, 1; Las Moradas [Interior Castle] 6, 7). Thus they will be able to form authentic families which discover in the Gospel the fire of their hearths; lively and united Christian communities, cemented on Christ as their corner-stone and which thirst after a life of generous and brotherly service. It should also be hoped that ceaseless prayer will foster priority attention to the vocations ministry, emphasizing in particular the beauty of the consecrated life which, as a treasure of the Church and an outpouring of graces, must be duly accompanied in both its active and contemplative dimensions.

The power of Christ will likewise lead to the multiplication of projects to enable the People of God to recover its strength in the only possible way: by making room within us for the sentiments of the Lord Jesus (cf. Phil 2:5), seeking in every circumstance a radical experience of his Gospel. This means, first of all, allowing the Holy Spirit to make us friends of the Teacher and to conform us to him.


Today, this most illustrious daughter of the Diocese of Avila invites us to this radicalism and faithfulness. Accepting her beautiful legacy at this moment in history, the Pope asks all the members of this particular Church, and especially youth, to take seriously the common vocation to holiness. Following in the footsteps of Teresa of Jesus, allow me to say to all who have their future before them: may you too, aspire to belong totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus. Do not be afraid to say to Our Lord, as she did, “I am yours; I was born for you, what do you want to do with me?” (Poem 2).

I do think here that you can really see the particular way of expression that Benedict used again and again: the journey of the Christian is to be conformed to Christ. (Very Pauline, yes?)  Not merely to imitate, but to be conformed.  This suggests a deep level of engagement, a degree of surrender and understanding of the dynamic and purpose of human life that is far different that simply “trying to be like” and radically different than simply being inspired by.


She’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints, and Loyola has a very readable excerpt here 

(If you would like to read a pdf version, click here.) 



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Seven Quick Takes


UPDATE 10/16:  Here’s the text of Pope Francis’ homily at the canonization.

On Sunday, Pope Francis will canonize seven new saints. How convenient! Let’s take a look:

— 1 —

Salomon Leclercq (1745-1792)  was a LaSalle priest who was martyred during the French Revolution:

Brother Solomon was secretary to Brother Agathon, the Superior General, after having been a teacher, director and bursar. He always showed a great love for people and a great attachment to his work.Salomon Leclercq Having refused to take an oath, he lived alone in Paris in secrecy. We still have many of his letters to his family. The last one is dated August 15, 1792. That very day he was arrested and imprisoned in the Carmelite monastery, which had become a prison, together with several bishops and priests. On September 2, almost all the prisoners were killed by sword in the monastery garden. He was beatified on October 17, 1926, together with 188 of his fellow martyrs. He was the first one of our martyrs and also the first Brother to be beatified.

More from the LaSalle website on the canonization. A blog post of mine on a visit to the spot in Paris where the September martyrdoms occurred.

— 2 —

Manuel Gonzalez Garcia  (1877-1940) , Spanish priest and bishop, the “Apostle of the Abandoned Tabernacles:”

Blessed Manuel was sent by the Archbishop of Seville to Palomares del Río, a beautiful and secluded village of Aljarafe, but upon his arrival no one came out to meet him. The church was greatly abandoned: filled with dust and dirt, cobwebs inside the tabernacle and torn altar cloths. Upon seeing this situation, he knelt before the altar and thought about the many abandoned tabernacles in the world. This prompted him to start the “Unión Eucarística Reparadora”.

Manuel Gonzalez GarciaAt the age of 28, he was sent to Huelva where he saw many children in the streets. Later on he devoted his attention mainly in founding schools and teaching catechesis with the help of his parishioners.

On December 6, 1915, Pope Benedict XV appointed Blessed Manuel as auxiliary bishop of Málaga. He celebrated his appointment with a banquet to which he invited, not the authorities but the poorest children of the place. Three thousand children attended the banquet and accompanied him to the Episcopal Palace. He remained there until the night of the 11th of May 1931, the proclamation of the Republic, where a revolt expelled him and the Palace was burnt, destroying everything.

From Pope John Paul II’s homily at his beatification:

“That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter,” It is the Lord! ‘”(Jn 21: 7). In the Gospel we have just heard, before the miracle performed, a disciple recognizes Jesus The others will do it later. The Gospel passage, in presenting Jesus, who “came and took the bread and gave it to them” (Jn 21, 13), tells us how and when we can meet the Risen Christ in the Eucharist, where Jesus is really present under the species of bread and wine. It would be sad if this loving presence of the Savior, after a long time, was still unknown by humanity.

This was the great passion of the new Blessed Manuel González García, Bishop of Málaga and then Palencia. The experience in Palomares del Río in front of a deserted tabernacle marked for life, and from that moment he decided to spread the devotion to the Eucharist, proclaiming the words he subsequently chose as his epitaph: “Here lies Jesus for it is here! Do not abandon him. “Founder of the Eucharistic Missionaries of Nazareth, Blessed Manuel Gonzalez is a model of faith in the Eucharist, whose example continues to speak to the Church today.

— 3 —

Lodovico Pavoni (1784-1849) Italian priest. 

In Brescia, in 1807, he was ordained a priest and first launched the oratory. A book by Pietro Schedoni Moral Influences listed the reasons for the “rebellion” of young boys:  leaving inadequate schools for a job, bad influences of adult workers, and peer pressure. The author confirmed Lodovico in his personalist approach:  to concentrate on the personal and social formation of the young with a positive and preventative approach.

Lodovico Pavoni In 1812 when appointed secretary to Bishop Gabrio Nava, he received permission to continue with his “oratory”. In 1818 he was named rector of the Church of St Barnabas with permission to found an orphanage and a vocational school that in 1821 became the “Institute of St Barnabas”. Lodovico decided that the first trade would be book publishing; in 1823 he set up “The Publishing House of the Institute of St Barnabas”, the precursor of today’sAncora press. The boys could also choose to be carpenters, silversmiths, blacksmiths, shoemakers, experts in tool and dye making. In 1823, Fr Pavoni welcomed the first deafmutes to the school. He purchased a farm to set up an Agricultural School.

In 1825 he established a religious institute to continue his work. In 1843 Pope Gregory XVI authorized it for Brescia. On 11 August 1847, the Brescia Vicar Capitular, Mons. Luchi, established the Congregation of the Sons of Mary Immaculate or “Pavoniani”. On 8 December 1847, Lodovico and the first members made their religious profession.

On 24 March 1849, during the “Ten-Days” when Brescia rebelled against the Austrians, and both sides were ready to pillage the city, Bl. Lodovico, who had taken care of citizens during a cholera epidemic, performed his last heroic act of charity when he led his boys to safety to the novitiate on the hill of Saiano, 12 kilometres away. A week later he died at the dawn of Palm Sunday, 1 April 1849 as Brescia was in flames. Lodovico’s ideal of education was a broad one, to dispose a person in his wholeness to be good. Fifty years before “Rerum novarum”, he grasped the religious significance of social justice and set an example by his own dealings with his employees.

Like St John Bosco after him, Pavoni’s used encouraging and preventative methods; he preferred gentleness to severity. He used to say, “Rigorism keeps Heaven empty”.

From JPII’s beatification homily:

“This Jesus God has raised him up and of that we are all witnesses” (Acts 2,32). The interior consciousness, that became a burning and invincible faith, guided the spiritual and priestly experience of Lodovico Pavoni, priest, Founder of the Congregation of the Sons of Mary Immaculate.

Gifted with a particularly sensitive spirit, he was totally given over to the care of poor and abandoned youngsters and even deaf-mutes. His activity branched out in many directions, from that of education to the publishing sector, with original apostolic intuitions and courageous innovations. At the basis of everything, there was a solid spirituality. By his example, he exhorts us to place our confidence in Jesus and to be ever more immersed in the mystery of his love.

Here’s a comprehensive website dedicated to him, but it’s in Italian.

 — 4 —

Alfonso Maria Fusco (1839-1910), Italian priest.

(His website – also in Italian)

The daily life of Father Alfonso was that of a zealous priest, but he carried in his heart an old dream. In his last years at the seminary, one night he had dreamt that Jesus the Nazarene was calling him to found an institute of Sisters and an orphanage for boys and girls as soon as he was ordained.

It was a meeting with Maddalena Caputo of Angri, a strong-willed woman aspiring to enter Alfonso Maria Fuscoreligious life, which impelled Father Alfonso to move more quickly in the foundation of the Institute. On September 25, 1878, Miss Caputo and three other young women met at night in the dilapidated Scarcella house in the Ardinghi district of Angri. The young women wanted to dedicate themselves to their own sanctification through a life of poverty, of union with God, and of charity in the care and instruction of poor orphans.

The Congregation of the Baptistine Sisters of the Nazarene was thus begun; the seed had fallen into the good earth of the hearts of these four zealous and generous women. Privations, struggles, opposition, and trials were their lot, and the Lord made that seed grow abundantly. The Scarcella House was quickly named the Little House of Providence.

From JPII’s beatification homily:

“If you had faith like a mustard seed”, Jesus exclaimed speaking with his disciples (Lk 17,6). It was a genuine and tenacious faith that guided the work and life of Bl. Alfonso Maria Fusco, founder of the Sisters of St John the Baptist. From when he was a young man, the Lord put into his heart the passionate desire to dedicate his life to the service of the neediest, especially of children and young people, who were plentiful in his native city of Angri in Campania. For this he undertook the path of the priesthood and, in a certain way, become the “Don Bosco of Southern Italy”. From the beginning he wanted to involve in his work some young women who shared his ideal and he offered them the words of St John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Lk 3,4). Trusting in divine Providence, Bl. Alfonso and the Sisters of John the Baptist set up a work that was superior to their own expectations. From a simple house for the welcome of the young, there arose a whole Congregation which today is present in 16 countries and on 4 continents working alongside those who are “little” ones and “last”.

— 5 

José Gabriel del Rosario Brochero (1840-1914), Argentinian priest

At the end of 1869 he took on the extensive parish of Saint Albert of 4,336 square kilometers (1,675 square miles), with just over 10,000 inhabitants who lived in distant places with no roads or schools, cutoff by the Great Highlands of more than 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) of altitude. The moral state and material indigence of its inhabitants was lamentable. However, Brochero’s apostolic heart was not discouraged, but from that moment on he dedicated his whole life not only to bring the Gospel to the inhabitants but to educate and promote them. The year after arriving, he began to take men and women to Cordoba to do the Spiritual Exercises. It took three days on the back of a mule to cover the 200 kilometers (125 miles), in caravans that often exceeded 500 people. More than once they were surprised by strong snow storms. On returning, after nine days in silence, prayer and penance, his faithful began to change their lives, following the Gospel and working for the economic development of the region. 

In 1875, with the help of his faithful, he began the building of the Houses of Exercises of the then Villa del Transito (locality that today is named after him). It was inaugurated in 1877 with groups that exceeded 700 people, a total of more than 40,000 going through it during his parish ministry. As a complement, he built the House for women religious, the Girls’ School and the residence for priests. With his faithful he built more than 200 kilometers of roads and several churches. He founded villages and was concerned about the education of all. He requested and obtained from the authorities courier posts, post offices and telegraphic posts. He planned the rail network that would go through the Valley of Traslasierra joining Villa Dolores and Soto to bring the beloved highlanders out of the poverty in which they found themselves, “abandoned by all but not by God,” as he said. 

José Gabriel del Rosario Brochero

He preached the Gospel, using the language of his faithful to make it comprehensible to his listeners. He celebrated the sacraments, always carrying what was necessary for the Mass on the back of his mule. No sick person was left without the sacraments, as neither the rain nor the cold stopped him. “Woe if the devil is going to rob a soul from me,” he said. He gave himself totally to all, especially the poor and the estranged, whom he sought diligently to bring them close to God. A few days after his death, the Catholic newspaper of Cordoba wrote: “It is known that Father Brochero contracted the sickness that took him to his tomb, because he visited at length and embraced an abandoned leper of the area.” Because of his illness, he gave up the parish, living a few years with his sisters in his native village. However, responding to the request of his former faithful, he returned to his House of Villa del Transito, dying leprous and blind on Jan. 26, 1914.

His website, in Spanish.


Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906), Carmelite:

Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity was born in France in 1880, and grew up in Dijon close to the city’s Carmelite monastery. Lilles recounted that when one time when Bl. Elizabeth visited the monastery when she was 17, “the mother superior there said, ‘I just received this circular letter about the death of Therese of Lisieux, and I want you to read it.’ That circular letter would later become the Story of a Soul; in fact, what she was given was really the first edition of Story of a Soul.”

“Elizabeth read it and she was inclined towards contemplative prayer; she was a very pious person who worked with troubled youth and catechized them, but when she read Story of a Soul she knew she needed to become a Carmelite: it was a lightning moment in her life, where everything kind of crystallized and she understood how to respond to what God was doing in her heart.”

Elizabeth then told her mother she wanted to enter the Carmel, but she replied that she couldn’t enter until she was 21, “which was good for the local Church,” Lilles explained, “because Elizabeth continued to work with troubled youth throughout that time, and do a lot of other good work in the city of Dijon before she entered.”

She entered the Carmel in Dijon in 1901, and died there in 1906 – at the age of 26 – from Addison’s disease.

Elizabeth wrote several works while there, the best-known of which is her prayer “O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.” Also particularly notable are her “Heaven in Faith,” a retreat she wrote three months before her death for her sister Guite; and the “Last Retreat,” her spiritual insights from the last annual retreat she was able to make.

An excellent post at the Discerning Hearts website:

As a child, Elizabeth had found the strength to conquer her fiery temper only after having received the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist for the first time. As a Carmelite, she would read in Paul that it was Christ ‘who made peace through the blood of his Cross’ (Col.1,20), making ‘peace in my little heaven so that it may truly be the repose of the Three’.

Once she wrote to a friend, ‘I am going to give you my “secret”: think about this God who dwells within you, whose temple you are; St. Paul speaks in this way, and we can believe it.’

The call to praise the glory of God also included the call to share in the redemptive sufferings of Christ, to be able to say like St. Paul, ‘In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church’ (Col 1,24) – and Sister Elizabeth had to accept suffering.

— 7 —

And finally, perhaps the most-well known, José Sanchez del Río (1913-1928):

Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio was born in Sahuayo, Michoacan (Mexico), on March 28, 1913—his parents were Macario Sanchez and María del Río. At the age of 13 , Jose begged God that he too might be able to die in defense of his Catholic faith. In response to the bitter persecution of the Catholic Church by the government of Plutarco Calles, a movement of Catholics called the “Cristeros” rose up in defense of the Faith. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio told his mother, “In order to go to Heaven, we have to go to war.”  …

.blessed-jose-sanchez-2-1-1…When they got to the cemetery, Jose was already covered in his own blood. The soldiers showed him the grave, and said, “This is where we are going to bury you.” The boy responded,“That is good. I forgive all of you since we are all Christians.” He offered them his hand and said, “We’ll see each other in Heaven. I want you all to repent.” Perhaps trying to work on his love for his family, the soldiers asked him what he wanted them to tell his family; his response was, “Tell them that we will see each other in Heaven.” Finally, the soldiers told Jose that if he would say “Death to Christ the King,” they would free him and allow him to go home to his family. His response was, “Long live Christ the King!” At that point they shot him. As he was still alive after that, they gave him a coup de grace to the head and he died. Some versions of his story say that Jose made the sign of the cross in the ground with his own blood before being finally shot in the head.

     Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio was killed on February 10, 1928, and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on November 20, 2005.  For us, he is a constant reminder that the call to follow Christ is for all people, whether young or old.  His feast day is February 10—the day he died.

Do you want to share with people what being Catholic is all about? Just talk about the new saints we’re recognizing this weekend: male and female, young and old, active and contemplative, from all over the world, of a variety of temperaments. Publishing books, reforming education, serving the poorest, offering their lives in prayer, offering their earthly lives in sacrifice –  an amazing variety in perfect communion, joined by their love of Christ and his people. Catholic.

Speaking of saints, Saturday is the feastday of St. Theresa of Avila, and look at this nifty way to read her story from my Loyola book:

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

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You may or may not have heard about a controversy in the Diocese of Nashville about sexuality education. Some parents at Father Ryan High School are protesting the content of the 9th grade theology program, and the bishop has told them straight up too bad. No opting out allowed.

I looked at some of the material that’s been posted online. (warning…)

I’m a mother of five kids. I’m a grandmother. I’ve taught high school theology. I’ve written for Catholic teens and young adults. I’ve stood up at meetings and defending the teaching of sexuality education in a Catholic middle school program.  Here’s my response.

Wow. This is some really, really weird s***.

Not inherently, mind you. It’s just basic sexual mechanics and physiology. But in context? Of 14-year olds in classrooms? In between Algebra and History class? In a Catholic school? Right after Mass?


Work with me here.

You’re the parent of an 8th grader. Maybe not a sweet innocent 8th grader, but just your normal 13-year old. You’re all pretty excited about next year.

High school!

And what’s more…

Catholic! High school!

There’s going to be Mass and crucifixes and people are going to talk about Jesus and there’s going to be praying and saint-talk, not to mention algebra and history and literature and Spanish….


Oh, and did you get the memo on this class?

OUTER LIPS (Labia Majora) a. The outermost hair-covered folds of skin surrounding the genitals. b. They vary greatly in size. c. Like the scrotum, the outer lips swell slightly with  stimulation; in their stimulated state they pull back and expose the Inner Lips.

That’s happening too.

Is that what you envisioned for next year for your kid?


Now, in the official responses from All The Officials, I’m reading a lot of consistent with Church teaching…sanctity of human body….the…and…maybe…shut up…

And words like that.

Guess what?


Classroom lessons and tests for teens on the effect of stimulation on lady and gent parts? Not sane Catholic pedagogy. Pretty much not sane pedagogy at all.

But you know what? I’m not even going to focus on the Catholic part of this, because it’s seriously so stupid that anyone thinks that “Instruct the Ignorant” means “Provides schematics of spread-eagle Views of Vaginas for Teenagers to Share.”

One Mad Mom has all of that covered, and very well, thanks. Oh, and the parents, too. They know what’s right.

They’re articulating all of that very well.

I just want to focus on something else.

The weirdness.

Maybe just distance yourself from this for a minute. Pretend that you don’t know anything about culture wars, Catholic or otherwise, or that you don’t have a stake in any of these issues.

Now. Consider this.

Consider the possibility that it’s a little …weird for an adult to stand in front of a group of young teen boys and girls and teach this material:

CLITORIS a) This is the most sexually sensitive part of the female body. It corresponds to the glans or head of the penis. b) Though there is no reproductive purpose, the clitoris is made of erectile tissue and contains a high concentration of erotic neural receptors and blood vessels. c) When flaccid or unaroused the tissue is c.1” long; when aroused, it swells to 2” to 3”.

Not weird in a counter-cultural Albanian-nun-picks-up-dying-poor-from-Calcutta-streets kind of way.

More like…what adult in their right mind wants to talk to other people’s 14-year old kids about the clitoris? kind of weird.

And more like…with all the fascinating things to learn about the world that will help kids find a unique way to help make the world a better place, YES let’s spend time on the mechanics of sexual activity with 14-year olds kind of weird.

(Imagine you are a parent of a teen. And then you stand up in front of your kid and his or friends and give this lesson.

GLANS 1. Located at the tip or head of the penis is a structure which contains a highly concentrated amount of neural receptors sensitive to stimulus; it is the center of sexual pleasure for the male.

That would be weird of you. Your kids would die. You might even get arrested.)

And no nonsense about “What they already know” and “what they see on their smartphones.”  No kidding. And you think this helps? 

It’s not weird at all to want to help kids navigate this culture and their own desires and questions. It’s not weird to want to share the Good News of the truth about sexuality in a reasoned, understanding, realistic way. It’s really important to do this, as a matter of fact.

But again…context. Which is SCHOOL. Required attendance. Grades. Mixed gender groups.

More context:  14-year olds, boys and girls of varying levels of maturity and awareness, going to school as part of a system in which modesty and discretion are still key values and parents have prime responsibility for education. There are many ways that a Catholic school can and should work with parents on fighting this battle and helping kids. Sniffing that  parents should just bug off because they’re not keen on your program that tests their  son or daughter on the physiology of sexual simulation and even subtly encourages them to envision their classmate’s bodies on that level is perhaps not on the top of that list.

Have some mercy for pete’s sake!

Let me share a couple of experiences that might make my perspective clearer.

(Perhaps beginning by reminding you of my fundamental school-skepticism on every score. Remember that?)

Many, many years  ago, the Catholic middle school that one of my kids was attending was going to incorporate some sexuality education in the 8th grade. Very mild, general stuff, really, but there were some who objected, and made that clear at a meeting. At the meeting I defended the curriculum, partly because it was fine, in my opinion, and also because the teacher was a much-beloved, trusted, deeply faithful Catholic woman whom the kids all loved as a firm, calm, charitable person of faith. I felt really good about Theresa affirming in the classroom what we were doing at home, and it was not explicit at all. It was spirituality. 

(But some objected nonetheless, and that was their right! And their kids didn’t have to participate!)

Flash forward a bit. Now it’s another kid in 7th grade parish religious education. Theology of the Body had been mandated, and there was a parent meeting. Things went okay until the actual instructor stood up to talk. I had no idea who she was . My kid didn’t know her. A woman in her mid-40’s, a mom, a parishioner known to many, but not to me – not that that matters.  But this is what she said, in the most casual, hey you guys!  tone about what was coming up for the 12-year olds, and as I recall it, it was almost as if she was chomping gum – “Now I don’t know what you all have told your kids  about the details of sex, but you need to get caught up before we start the class. They need to know everything because we’re going to talk about everything– we’re gonna  talk about masturbation, we’re gonna to talk about porn…”

mad men 6x03 betty draper season 6 field trip

Who are you???? 

Yeah, so that didn’t happen for us.

This is about more than this particular situation. It gives anyone working on these issues in parish or school settings something to think about.

So if you’re in charge of things like this in your school or parish, you might want to consider the weird factor. You might want to consider that the parents who are not down with your plans don’t hate sex, don’t want their kids to be ignorant about sex and don’t want them to be ignorant of the Church’s teaching. The parents of kids in your school might even have had some sexy time themselves recently.

Maybe, just maybe…they think it’s…. odd …for random adults to be bound and determined to talk to young teens  – who are required to be in this setting, without parents present and are graded on their responses- about the mechanics of  sexual activity, diagrams and aroused clitoral dimensions helpfully included. 


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Early this past summer, Cardinal Sarah gave a talk at a conference in London in which he suggested that priests take another look at the ad orientem posture during Mass.

Many, many blog posts and articles have been written and passed around since, and I’m sure there are more to come if, indeed, some priests and bishops have been inspired by Cardinal Sarah’s gentle suggestion that if one is going to revisit the practice, the First Sunday of Advent would be a good time to do so.

I have written quite a bit on this matter before, and in a minute, I’ll link to some of those older blog posts, but for the moment, I just want to share some of what I’ve been thinking about on this score in the wake of the Cardinal’s talk and the fallout from it.  I offer these points in the hopes that they’ll be a help to the people in the pews who might be seeing this posture for the first time and are confused by it, as well as for priests who might be considering it.

  • This shouldn’t be a big deal. Both postures are permitted – and ad orientem is even assumed by the rubrics in the sacramentary.
  • If you see a priest celebrating Mass this way, don’t be shocked or offended. It doesn’t mean he hates you or thinks he’s better than you are. He’s praying. For you.
  • Celebrating Mass in this posture – facing the same way as the people in the congregation – was the norm for most of Catholic history. It is still the way the liturgy is celebrated in most Eastern Catholic Churches (not Maronite Rite, in my experience), Eastern Orthodox Churches and even in some High Anglican parishes and some Lutheran churches. Here, for example, are photos of  Lutheran services:
  • Source of photo on left. Photo on right. 
  • To flesh out this last point – here’s a blog post from a Lutheran blog on liturgy expanding on the logic of ad orientem.
  • So why did versus populum become the norm in Latin Catholicism? Many reasons, but when you read the literature of the liturgical movement on this score, the idea was that in turning the priest around (in conjunction with the vernacular) , the people would understand more of the Mass and feel more connected to the action at the altar. There is more, but I think that is the simplest way to look at it.
  • But as is always the case, change produces unintended consequences. We can argue about this all day – and who knows, we might! – but in my mind, the primary and quite negative consequence of versus populum has been pervasive expectation that the personality of the priest has an important and even central liturgical function.
  • In other words, ironically, the act which was supposed to involve the people more rendered the person of the cleric more important.
  • In the Mass, the priest is, of course, of central importance because he serves as in persona Christi. But the genius of the Roman liturgy historically is that the ritual supports his role at the same time as it buries and subsumes his individual personality under vestments, prescribed movements and words, not to speak of the roles that other ministers play. He does not wear his own clothes or say words of his own choosing. He must be present, but everything about what surrounds him in the moment points us to Christ, not this individual human being.
  • Which now brings us to possible complaints about this posture. These are simply an intensification of the complaints one hears about priest-celebrants all the time, and are reflective of the misplaced expectations congregations sometimes have of priests and which, in turn, I think are fed and enabled precisely by the versus populum posture, especially if a priest encourages it by his own liturgical stylings.
  • This childish notion that one’s experience of the liturgy is somehow dependent on whether or not Father is looking at us when he is praying to God is just that. Childish. Add to that concerns about how much he smiles, how friendly and welcoming he is, the jokes he tells and how relaxed he is, and you have, not The Most Well-Educated Laity in History at Mass, but a bunch of needy infants.  It also puts an inordinate amount of pressure on priests. Not only are they shoved up on pedestals, they are considered deficient if they fail to  warmly crack jokes and make eye contact in the process.
  • I’ll also be so bold as to offer some suggestions to parishes and priests considering incorporating this posture into liturgy.
  • Don’t make a huge deal of it. Explain things simply. Emphasize historical continuity, that the rubrics assume it, and that many, many other Christians experience worship in this way. Explain the purpose is to help everyone focus on God as a community. Extra points for mentioning that this is the way Thomas Merton celebrated Mass.
  • Consider making a joke or two about how the congregation might be relieved not to have to study your face through the entire Mass or something. I know! A joke!
  • Start with daily Mass, school Masses or special Masses for smaller groups.
  • Don’t elevate this change to The Most Important Thing About Our Parish. If it is a new initiative, consider coupling it with another new mission-oriented, Work of Mercy-type  initiative for the parish. (or 2!)
  • Catechize, explain thoroughly, but don’t clutch the podium, heave deep apologetic sighs, and generally act as if you expect the worst.


"amy welborn"


As I said, I’ve blogged on this before. Here are some links.

From a previous iteration of the blog, I crowdsourced for feedback on ad orientem in non-Catholic Christian traditions. 

Back in 2008, I had three days in a row of focused discussion of this issue.

First – and actually, this is one of my favorite blog posts – I posted a photograph of a TLM, and just asked people to respond to it. I called the post “Necessary Conversations” because I wanted to encourage people on all “sides” to express their responses and listen to each other.

The next day, I reflected on those responses. At the end of the post, I highlighted one of the responses to the photograph, a response I still think about when I’m in the pew, and the priest in chasuble passes me in the entrance procession:

I see a man offering a sacrifice. The man has a cross on his back.

The third day, I reflected a bit on clericalism in this context.

Finally, I’m going to reproduce part of a two-year old blog post here, just because I like it and it encapsulates so much of what I want to say pretty succinctly:

As it happens, last weekend, we attended Mass in South Carolina, and this happened:

"amy welborn"

It was at Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island. Stella Maris is a lovely, tiny church.  I had hoped that it might be a little less crowded this time, since the summer season was, of course, over, but it was not to be.  The place was packed, with, I believe, the overflow area packed as well.  Fortunately, we got there just in time to get a seat in the main body of the church – which, as I said, is tiny and historic.  It can’t be physically expanded…so they just have to pack them in in whatever way they can.

Tons of servers, good music, solid, focused preaching. Post-Mass prayers, which, in my limited experience, are becoming more and more common in the southern Catholic churches.

And, of course,  the Eucharistic Prayer prayed ad orientem. The fact is, the sanctuary is too small to accommodate another freestanding altar, and that is just fine.  It was all done matter-of-factly with no fuss and it didn’t seem that the engaged, loudly-singing congregation felt excluded, alienated and crushed by clerical privilege, but who knows, I could be wrong.



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