Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Today’s her feastday!

She’s in The Loyola KIds’ Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love their families.”  Here are the first two pages of the entry:

amy-welborn amy-welborn2

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on today’s saint, Therese of Lisieux.  From the General Audience of 4/6/11:

"therese of lisieux"

Dear friends, we too, with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love authentically and totally. Thérèse is one of the “little” ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery. A guide for all, especially those who, in the People of God, carry out their ministry as theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Thérèse continually entered the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this interpretation of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not in opposition to academic knowledge. Thescience of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of her The Story of a Soul, is the loftiest science.

“All the saints have understood and in a special way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of the evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that St Paul, St Augustine, St John of the Cross, St Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic, and so many other friends of God drew thatwonderful science which has enthralled the loftiest minds?” (cf. Ms C 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, for Thérèse the Eucharist was the sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to the extreme to raise us to him. In her last Letter, on an image that represents Jesus the Child in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!” (LT 266).

In the Gospel Thérèse discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point that she said: “To me, He has given his Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other divine attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love” (Ms A, 84r).

In these words she expresses herself in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “I have only to open the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the perfume of Jesus’ life, and then I know which way to run; and it is not to the first place, but to the last, that I hasten…. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit… my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Saviour Jesus, because I know that he loves the Prodigal Son” who returns to him. (Ms C, 36v-37r).

“Trust and Love” are therefore the final point of the account of her life, two words, like beacons, that illumined the whole of her journey to holiness, to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226).

Trust, like that of the child who abandons himself in God’s hands, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of self for ever, as the Saint says, contemplating Mary: “Loving is giving all, and giving oneself” (Why I love thee, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Thérèse points out to us all that Christian life consists in living to the full the grace of Baptism in the total gift of self to the Love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, his same love for all the others.

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We all love St. Francis, and most of us know a bit about him, too.

But as many have noted over the years, St. Francis is like Jesus in more ways than one. Like Jesus, he’s put to many uses by people with sometimes wildly varied agendas.

In general, though, we all agree that in essence, Francis of Assisi decided to follow Jesus by giving up material things and living with and for the poor, he really loved nature and he founded a religious order in order to spread his message.

There’s truth in that common portrait, but there are also distortions and gaps.

Because Francis lived so long ago and because the written record is challenging to interpret, the search for the “real Francis” is a fraught one. A few years ago, Fr. Augustine Thompson set to the task, and produced a biography that anyone seriously interested in Francis should read.  I’ve written about it a couple of times, including here. Also here, and I’ll quote from it. Well, I’ll just repost most of it. #lazy

Bullet points for brevity’s sake.

  • Francis didn’t have a plan.  He did not set out to form a band of brothers – at all.   His conversion was a personal one, and the life he lead for the first couple of years after it was the life of a penitent, pure and simple.
  • What was his conversion, exactly?  This actually is a knottier problem than we assume.  It wasn’t simply rejecting a life of relative wealth for a life lived in solidarity with the poor, through Christ.  In fact, well, it doesn’t seem to be fundamentally about that at all.
  • Screen shot 2014-10-05 at 11.50.50 PMFrancis doesn’t say much about this at all himself.  He refers to being “in his sins.”  After his traumatic battle experiences, Christ drew him closer, he abandoned all for Christ, lived as a rather sketchy hermit-type penitent on the outskirts of Assisi, and then, in a crucial moment, encountered a leper.
  • As he describes it himself, lepers had been figures of particular horror to him when he was “in his sins.”  But now, God intervened, converted him, and the leper became a person through whom Francis experienced peace and consolation.
  • Francis sought to do penance, live the Gospel and be a servant.  He did not intend to draw followers, but did, and their initial way of life was simply living in this same way, only in community.
  • It wasn’t until their form of life was approved by Pope Innocent that preaching entered the picture – it was an element that the Pope threw into his approval.  This was a surprise to Francis.

Okay, break time.

To me, this is most fascinating because, as I mentioned in the other blog post, when we read history, we often read it with the eyes of inevitability.  As in:  everything unfolds according to intention and human plan.  Just as it is with life in general, this is not the way history is, and it’s not the way the life of Francis was – well, not according to his plan.  For he didn’t have one.

But this interesting turn of events shows how the Spirit shakes us up and turns us in a slightly different direction from where we thought we were going.  It happened to Francis.  He adapted, shakily and slowly.  It happens to us.

Back to bullet points.

  • When you actually read Francis’ writings, you don’t see some things that you might expect.  You don’t, for example, read a lot of directives about serving the poor.   You don’t see any general condemnations of wealth.  You don’t read a call for all people, everywhere, to live radically according to the evangelical counsels.
  • You do read these sorts of things – although not exactly – in the early guidelines for the friars and the few letters to fellow friars that have come down to us.
  • But surprisingly, it’s not what is emphasized.  So what is?
  • Obedience. 
  • When Francis wrote about Christ embracing poverty, what he speaks of is Christ descending from the glory of heaven and embracing mortal flesh – an act  – the ultimate embrace of poverty – not just material poverty, but spiritual poverty – the ultimate act of obedience.
  • Through this act of obedience, Christ is revealed as the Servant of all.
  • So, as Francis writes many times, his call was to imitate Christ in this respect:  to empty himself and become the lowly servant of all.  To conquer everything that is the opposite: pride, self-regard, the desire for position or pleasure.
  • Francis wrote that the primary enemy in this battle is our “lower nature.”  He wrote that the only thing we can claim for ourselves are our vices and all we have to boast about is Christ.
  • Francis also emphasized proper celebration and reception of the Eucharist – quite a bit.  He had a lot to say about proper and worthy vessels and settings for the celebration of Mass.  He was somewhat obsessed with respectful treatment of paper on which might be written the Divine Names or prayers.  He prescribed how the friars were to pray the Office.
  • The early preaching of the Franciscans was in line with all of this as well as other early medieval penitential preaching: francis of assisithe call to the laity to confess, receive the Eucharist worthily, and to turn from sin.
  • Praise God.  Whatever the circumstances – and especially “bad” circumstances – praise God.
  • Accept persecution.  It’s interesting that Francis routinely resisted church authorities affording his order any privileges or even writing them letters allowing them to preach in a certain vicinity.  He felt that if they entered an area and were rejected, this was simply accepting the Cross of Christ, and should not be avoided.
  • Begging was not a core value for Francis, as we are often led to believe.  He and his friars did manual labor.  In the early days, begging was only allowed on behalf of sick and ailing brothers, and then only for things like food.  No money, ever.
  • He really didn’t like telling people what to do.  Well, my theory was that he actually did – what we know about his personality, pre-conversion, indicates that he was a born leader.  Perhaps his post-conversion mode was not only an imitation of the Servant, but a recognition that his “lower nature” included a propensity to promote himself and direct others.
  • That said, Francis’ emphasis on servanthood meant that his writings don’t contain directions for others beyond what the Gospel says (repent/Eat the Bread of Life) unless he’s forced to – when composing a form of life and so on.   This tension, along with ambiguities in the Franciscan life, made for a very interesting post-Francis history, along with problems during his own lifetime as well.

To me, Francis is a compelling spiritual figure not simply because he lived so radically, but, ironically, because the course of his life seems so normal. 


Because he had a life.  That life was disrupted, and the disruption changed him.  Disoriented him.  He found a re-orientation in Christ: he found the wellspring of forgiveness for his sins and the grace to conquer them (a lifetime struggle).  His actions had consequences, most of which were totally unintended by him, and to which he had to adapt, as he sought to be obedient to God.  His personality and gifts were well-equipped to deal with some of the new and changing circumstances in his life, and ill-equipped for others.  He died, praising God.

Yes, Francis was all about poverty. All about it.  He was about the poverty of Christ, who was obedient and emptied himself.

“I am the servant of all”  


SO…I decided to write a book trying to communicate this to kids.  I worked, of course, with my friend Ann Engelhart, and the result is Adventures in Assisi, in which two contemporary children travel in Francis’ footsteps, confront their own need for greater charity and humility, and experience the fruit. It’s intended to be a discussion-starter, to get kids talking and thinking and praying about how they treat each other, and how they think about Christ in relationship to their own lives.

I mean..it’s not hard to get kids to get into animals or Christmas creches.  But St. Francis of Assisi was fundamentally about imitating Christ in his poverty of spirit, and I thought that aspect of the saint’s life was woefully underrepresented in Francis Kid Lit.

I’ll have more about it in the next couple of days, but we’ll start with an interview Ann and I did with Lisa Hendey:

Q: What prompted you to write/illustrate “Adventures in Assisi” and what will our readers discover in this book?

Amy: I love history and I love to travel and the saints are central to my Catholic spirituality. In my teaching and writing, I’ve always particularly enjoyed bringing Catholic tradition and history to readers and listeners and many of my books reflect that interest.

St. Francis of Assisi has always interested me not only because his is a truly compelling, radical figure, but also because he is  rather mysterious.  The radical nature of his conversion and the singularity of his journey is unique, but the legends and stories that have grown around him over the past eight hundred years have only added to the mystique and have always "amy welborn"piqued my curiosity.  My earliest encounters with Francis were both quite memorable, although both were rooted, I now understand, in more fiction, personal ideology and a cultural moment than fact – reading NIkos Kazantzakis’ St. Francis as a teenager and seeing Brother Sun, Sister Moon with my friends from the Catholic campus ministry in college.  Despite the serious limitations of both, what moved me in these works was my vivid and thought-provoking encounter with the possibility that radical sacrifice was, paradoxically, the path to fullness of life.

In the subsequent years, I encountered St. Francis here and there.  I taught his story when I taught high school theology.  I wrote about him in the Loyola books. I wrote about his prayers in The Words We Pray.  Over the years, I probably read every existing children’s picture book about Francis to my own children, most of which were about either the wolf of Gubbio or the Christmas creche.

And then, a few years ago, I read the new biography of Francis by Fr. Augustine Thompson OP  – Francis of Assisi: A New Biography.  It’s a tight, compact, rich work, and Fr.Thompson’s insights struck me to the core, so once again, St. Francis moved me…. MORE

Q: Ann, please say a few words on the artwork in this new book. How did you conceive of the characters “look”? What type of research do you have to undertake to artfully depict a venue like Assisi?

Ann: I was able to visit Assisi on two occasions, once with my teenage children and another time alone with my husband. I was able to walk the same paths as the characters in this book as they followed St. Francis’ footsteps.

I took countless photos because the style of my work is quite detailed, and I wanted the reader to authentically experience the exquisite Umbrian landscapes, the extraordinary architecture that is both grand and humble, and the simple beauty of the country roads and olive groves that surround St. Francis’ hilltop hometown….


"amy welborn"

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(Click on any of the images in this post for a larger, clearer view. Do it with this old-school vintage infographic in particular. From a 1947 Catholic high school textbook) 

Warning: this is long and wordy and convoluted, but I really do have a point. Take it or leave it.

Is it a good thing that people proclaim that they are inspired by Pope Francis?

It’s hard to say “no” – so  won’t.  But I’ll still say something I’ve said before.  I find a lot of the purported “inspiration” I’m reading and hearing about a little odd.

Not to mention hyperbolic. This morning, John Allen’ Crux article says that yes, only “time will tell” if Pope Francis’ visit “changed America.”


And when I consider the ways that Catholic institutions and entities have been playing off the surge of #PopeisHope, most of it strikes me as theologically and spiritually short-sighted and even sort of weird. Unfortunate, even.

Circling back. Why do I find it “strange?”

Well, as have written before, I am at a loss to understand how Catholics, life-long or converts, can just now be learning, since the election of Pope Francis, that one of the virtues is charity. That, you know, as someone once said, “the greatest of these is love.”

Even without considering the possibility of daily prayer, devotions or spiritual reading and just assuming that most of us do the minimum, spiritually, I still have to ask: Do you people just not listen in church? At all? 

Why does it take Pope Francis to clue you into the nature of Christian discipleship and light your fire – don’t you ever listen to, you know, JESUS? 

What makes it all especially bizarre to me is that catechesis since the Second Vatican Council has had three basic themes: 1) God is Love  2) Help others  and (since, say, the early 90’s) 3) Catholic identity is awesome, you guys!

What I’m saying is that even in the desert of late 20th-century Catholic formation, the duty to live out the virtue of charity has not been exactly neglected.

So, okay, that’s the way it is. If Jesus’ words weren’t strong enough to nudge your conscience on how you spend your material resources and brief time on earth God has gifted you with, then hooray for the present moment.

But you know, being me, I can’t let go of this.  I keep trying to figure it out. Let me tease some of this out and think about history.

Supposedly, we are now all on high alert to the value of simplicity and a modest lifestyle and one which is harmony with the earth.  And this, apparently is a new thing and an amazing new direction for ..who? Catholics? Christians? The World? I’m not sure.

But was there ever  time in which Catholics were advised otherwise? Was wastefulness and exploitation of earthly resources ever deemed a virtue for Catholics? Were those kinds of decisions ever seen as matters irrelevant to the moral life?

The answer, of course, is no.  And if you want to understand how Catholics were expected to live out these values, look at the saints. Our saints live lives in imitation of Christ, which means emptying oneself and living, as He did, in humility. Yes, there have been wealthy and powerful people celebrated as saints, but their virtues always include heroic charity and, quite often, a turning away from that wealth and position.

(This is not to say this ideal was always lived out, even by the institution or church people themselves, who have been known to, er, enjoy the comforts of the culture in which they lived.)

So my puzzle is this: It used to be that everyone understood, even as they lived it out in the flawed way humans do, that the ideal Christian life was marked by humility, modesty, simplicity, and even asceticism. A Catholic life was ideally organized around practicing the virtues and the Works of Mercy.  To give a concrete example, I have below reproduced some scans from a mid-century (1947)  American Catholic high school religion textbook – this is book 4, so it’s for seniors.  The last half of the book is concerned with issues of Justice, and then apologetics.  The justice section is even longer than the apologetics section and contains a detailed outline of Quadragesimo Anno. 

I’d invite you to take a look at these pages – and to see if you think, even from these brief excerpts, whether these young people were being taught that the ideal Catholic life was closed-in, self-referential and narrow in 1947, before the Light Shone Forth.

In fact, it is the opposite.  The Catholic was taught he or she had a DUTY to live out the virtues and the Works of Mercy. To not do so was a SIN. 

So what is it that happened so that 70 years after this textbook was published, and fifty years after the Council that supposedly shot the Catholic laity straight into the world with all that Peace and Justice ammunition to “build the Kingdom,” there’s this massive, joyfully shocked reaction to Pope Francis’ emphasis on mission and outreach: Now I get it! Poor People! Peripheries! #WalkWithFrancis!

I’ve settled on three points of explaining this to myself.

  • Prosperity.  There’s more general prosperity now than ever before in human history, and you know what The Man said about wealth, needles and camels.  It’s true, and it doesn’t just apply to billionaires.  The satisfaction that we find in our stuff deafens us, and what does get through is rationalized: As long as I’m not too attached. Ach, taxes. I pay taxes that pay for food stamps for Those People Over There. Doesn’t that count? 
  • Social and economic segregation. A lot of people who are economically comfortable are able to live most of their lives without regular, meaningful encounters and relationships with others outside their class and that includes in the workplace, school, neighborhood and most significantly, modern parish.

Both of these act as enablers to our blindness.

And…I actually think, for 21st century Catholics, this next one is key. Let’s see if I can explain it in a way that makes sense because it’s kind of a mess in my head:

  • The emphasis of post-Vatican II formation of both children and adults has been freedom and the individual relationship with God, mediated to some extent through the Church, but mostly through the sacraments, rather than the bigger, thicker tradition.  The “old” mode of formation in discipleship was about sharing the love of Christ, but it was articulated within a bigger philosophical and theological framework and a framework of responsibility and duty to norms articulated by the Church in the name of Christ and visible in the lives of the saints.

So what happened? That was dispensed with. Boom. Gone. All the talk of “the virtues” and the “works of Mercy” was mostly abandoned because it was seen as at best irrelevant to and and worst constrictive of the spiritual freedom and individuality of each person’s journey. We don’t do those things because a “rule” tells us to or because we are “fearful” of the consequences or because we are children who have to be directed how to act by the patriarchal Church.  We give freely out of love, rooted in our own individual story, responding to the Spirit at any given moment, inspired by the example of Jesus our brother. And moreover, we’re all about the new and what was old is of no value any more.

What’s left is us, some other people who live in another part of town and are “poor,” some idealistic words that we know Jesus said that really aren’t that much different from what other good and noble leaders have said, so hey, take your pick and do what you’re moved to do.

There’s no comprehensive understanding of what the world really is, organically developed over two thousand years, articulated in a common and fairly well-understood philosophical and theological language. (read the excerpts below to see the difference).

I especially like the reminder, regarding the virtues: But the world hardly knows them, but it must be told about them, and as it will hardly listen to the Church, you must do the preaching by your lives. 

An interesting recognition of reality!

And of the importance of the lay role in the world.  No, it wasn’t invented in the last few decades.

For the next few pages, I’m interested in the treatment of covetousness. (starts at the end of the right-hand page below)  It covers a host of issues that people seem to think are just being raised by Pope Francis, like, today. #freshair #newspiritblowing

Now, if you read through the material on covetousness, perhaps you can see more of what I’m grappling with.

The Church’s treatment of this issue is comprehensive, detailed, and aware of the realities of human life. Today, what we mostly hear regarding a Christian’s relationship to material goods is, “Jesus said to the rich young man….!” or “St. Francis gave up stuff!”

And not much else.

Do you see the difference between that and the past articulation of these issues? The reasons for the proper Christian attitude toward stuff is articulated in a context which is rooted in truths about the nature of the human person, the nature of created things, and our proper relationship to those things in light of our final end and the purpose of our life on earth.


Perhaps this was inadquate. Perhaps, in reality, it did come across and was lived as one big game of Chutes and Ladders with randomly established rules by a distant authority, as David Lodge described it in his novel, How Far Can You Go?

The American title is Souls and Bodies, which is fine but clearly inferior to the British title, which conveys Lodge’s subject ingeniously: The young Catholics growing up in the 50’s were obsessed with the question of how far could they go sexually before reaching a certain level of sin, but then the question of “how far can you go” took on another sense as the Church they had chafed in did in fact change and the question turned – how far can you go with all of these changes until what’s left is no longer recognizable?

I don’t know. I wasn’t there. And I’m for sure not looking at all of this through nostalgic glasses. I’ve written about this before a great deal.  There was obviously a big problem in the pre-Vatican II Church if things fell apart so quickly afterwards. Obviously.


My point, for the few who are still reading, is that as it evolved over the centuries, the Catholic sense was that the individual’s moral life was oriented towards living in imitation of Christ, and the framework for that was clear: virtues/works of mercy lived by people most of whom did not have a lot, if anything to spare, materially.

The idea that a Catholic life was visibly marked, above all, by living out the virtues in a sacrificial way and living humbly and simpy IS NOT NEW.

It is in the Gospel. 

Read it.

It is in the lives of the saints. 

Get to know them. Imitate them.

It is articulated in Tradition. Which, you know, is still in effect.

Study it.

Now – one more thing. In a way I suppose I am saying, “Don’t be startled by what Pope Francis says about this. He’s not saying anything different from what the Church has always taught!”

But in a way I’m also not saying that.

Because one of the problems with Pope Francis’ rhetoric has been its fairly consistent independence as articulated from the traditional Catholic-talk language and framework used to talk about these matters. Or much of anything. His mode of expression does not explicitly rest in this framework or refer to it very often. It’s usually centered on “Jesus says…” and then “I say to you…”  without reference to theological or spiritual principles that, like it or not, provide the scaffolding for Catholic thinking on these matters.

His rhetoric does not explicitly lead one to consider that what is being said rests in a broader tradition rooted in Christ and developed, through the guidance of the Spirit, over time, and still pertinent today. His rhetoric leads many listeners to the conclusion that the value of what is being articulated lies mostly in the fact that the present Pope is saying it.

This is a problem because then the strength of the teaching rests, from the listener’s perspective, on the personal perspective of the speaker, with all of his limitations,  rather than the deeper, broader wisdom tradition and authority of the Church, big, deep, complex, and rooted in the authority of Christ.  It’s a problem for a lot of reasons, among them, the implications for the listener’s understanding of the role of the papacy in the Church.

We don’t do good stuff because The Pope Wants Us To.  We follow Christ because we are baptized and he calls us. If the witness of a Pope or the way he articulates the faith he is charged with protecting and teaching helps  and energizes us, fantastic! But #walkwithFrancis? No. #WalkWithJesus. Period.

My point is that it might seem like a good thing that people are inspired by Pope Francis’ articulation of these values, but what is problematic is that the response at this point, seems weirdly focused on personality  and so ignorant of the Gospel and the Church’s articulation of the Gospel over the centuries, it makes me go all:

Because #ifyouwantpeaceworkforjusticeetc

Oh, and let me address – before it’s raised – the assertion that: “Speaking as a pastor is so great. That’s what we need! Not that…theology!”  Well, the problem with that is obviously, the minute you start trying to put the words of Jesus into practice, you run into complexities:  What does it mean, Jesus’ answer to the rich young man? Does that mean I shouldn’t have anything? Should I not spend resources to go to law school? Is it immoral for me to make money from working in a restaurant that sells food for more than the cost of production? What *is* a living wage? What *is* the responsibility, concretely speaking of a community towards the poor? What is *my* responsibility, as a parent or as a vowed religious, as a old person as a child?

The questions multiply very quickly, and “pastoral” talk just as quickly shows itself to be inadequate as a sole response. Theological, spiritual and philosophical conversations happen for a reason. The Catholic tradition takes those conversations into account in formulating expressions of what is True, and it is part of the role of Church authority to explicitly bring those conversations and answers into the world.

And finally, if your rhetoric is not enmeshed in, informed by and dependent on that greater Revelation and Tradition, explicitly and at all times, the impression is given that the authority for what you are saying rests on you, your personality and your perspective. Not what Catholic catechesis, the presbyterate, episcopacy or papacy is supposed to be about

Tomorrow: On welcoming, closed up churches, narrowness and accompanying. #SaintStyle

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I have a long-overdue blog post about a certain book I read  while back. I had read it on the Kindle app, and highlighted quite a bit. What I wanted was a way to copy and paste those highlights – I found some instructions here, if you are interested. (Basically, go to Kindle.Amazon.com, sign in, and find, er, “Your Highlights.”)

I thought it might be fun to share some of these highlights from a couple of years worth of reading on Kindle, randomly.  So without cheating and planning brilliant and ironic choices, I’m going to share the…let’s see …third…highlight from every book’s list that’s stored. Let’s see what we’ve got:

(I think they go in reverse chronological order, most recently read first. These are from the last couple of years.)

  • People were nice if you found the right ones. The trouble was there were so many of the wrong ones.  The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes
  • And suppose that you have nothing in you except your egoism and a dexterity that goes no higher than the elbow: suppose that your real gift is for a detailed, academic, representational style of drawing, your real métier to be an illustrator of scientific textbooks. How then do you become Napoleon? “Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali” – George Orwell
  • It is accomplished by unflagging assiduity in the system of puffing. To puff and to get one’s self puffed have become different branches of a new profession. – The Way We Live Now. Anthony Trollope
  • Two further steps result naturally from this second remark. To begin with, we must take note of the fact that the community of Jesus’ disciples is not an amorphous mob. At its center are the Twelve, who form a compactly knit core.  Called to Communon  – Joseph Ratzinger
  • I felt for quite a while as though four inches had been clipped from my shoulders, three inches from my height, and for good measure, someone had removed my ribs and my chest had settled meekly in towards my back. Good-bye Columbus by Philip Roth
  • Captain Wawn is crystal-clear on one point: He does not approve of missionaries. They obstruct his business. They make “Recruiting,” as he calls it (“Slave-Catching,” as they call it in their frank way) a trouble when it ought to be just a picnic and a pleasure excursion. Following the Equator  by Mark Twain
  • “Which of the extremes of human temperature does your courage start from—the dead cold or the white hot?”  No Name by Wilkie Collins
  • Almost home, stuck in traffic, I gazed south toward the Art Deco tower of the Wiltern Theater and thought: Well, one part’s over. I will never have to go through the first day after finding out I have cancer again.  Stripped by Heather King.
  • I confess I could not follow him clearly. He seems deeply interested in Church matters. Are you quite sure he is right in the head? I have noticed again and again since I have been in the Church that lay interest in ecclesiastical matters is often a prelude to insanity.  Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
  • Old Suarez was there waiting in the cambio line, the exchange line, a revolutionary in coat and tie and black felt hat. He was all in black, watchful, on the lookout for little signs of disrespect to his person. A big American woman had sat down on him once. She hadn’t seen him on the park bench. Today he was lecturing. The leathery woman in front of him was from Winnipeg. She painted big brown landscapes. Suarez didn’t think much of Canadians either and he was setting her straight on a few things. Their nation was illegitimate. Their sovereignty had been handed to them on a platter, an outright gift, instead of having been properly won through force of arms. The birth throes had to be violent. There had to be blood. Gringos by Charles Portis
  • Through the entire body of the church not a man was to be seen. Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan. John L. Stephens
  • She chose a tall, glassy, urban-looking building of the kind that made conservationist groups send round-robin letters, accompanied by incriminating photographs, to newspapers in Lausanne. “From the Fifteenth District” in “Paris Stories” by Mavis Gallant
  • He’s looking for one image that will connect or combine or embody two points; one is a point in the concrete, and the "amy welborn"other is a point not visible to the naked eye, but believed in by him firmly, just as real to him, really, as the one that everybody sees.  Mysteries and Manners by Flannery O’Connor
  • ‘Just a minute, gentlemen,’ Shivlochan, BA (Professor), said, rising. ‘You are rejecting the doctrine of non-violence. Do you realize that?’ ‘Rejecting it just for a short time,’ Misir said impatiently. ‘Short short time.’  A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipul (never finished that one)
  • What was Camille doing right now? She was home, Judith knew that much, but your daughter being home was a consolation of yesteryear. With the Internet, Camille might as well be leaning against a lamppost in New Orleans or São Paulo. To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal
  • Whole paragraphs were maddeningly free of both mistakes and meaning. Nate in Venice by Richard Russo
  • And then there is the question, on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others. Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and then there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.

…well, that was entertaining.

And also Exhibit A in “Why I didn’t even try to get a doctorate” – can’t focus. Too scatterbrained.

But then I realized that the book I needed the highlights from was not a Kindle book after all, but a book downloaded onto the app from archive.org…oh well…..

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A “minor” saint on the calendar today, but one of my favorites.   In the chapter on the Salve Regina in The Words We Pray, I wrote about him:


You should be able to read more here, at the Google Books link. 

I have to say that this chapter is one of my favorites of anything I’ve ever written over the years.  

The Salve Regina is mentioned in the introduction as well.

"amy welborn"

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From B16,back in 2006:

On the basis of these simple observations that result from the Gospel, we can advance a pair of thoughts.

The first is that Jesus welcomes into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was regarded as a public sinner.

Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the "amy welborn"People of God, but he also collaborated with an alien and despicably greedy authority whose tributes moreover, could be arbitrarily determined.

This is why the Gospels several times link “tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 9: 10; Lk 15: 1), as well as “tax collectors and prostitutes” (Mt 21: 31).

Furthermore, they see publicans as an example of miserliness (cf. Mt 5: 46: they only like those who like them), and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as “a chief tax collector, and rich” (Lk 19: 2), whereas popular opinion associated them with “extortioners, the unjust, adulterers” (Lk 18: 11).

A first fact strikes one based on these references: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Indeed, precisely while he is at table in the home of Matthew-Levi, in response to those who expressed shock at the fact that he associated with people who had so little to recommend them, he made the important statement: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2: 17).

The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: offering God’s grace to the sinner!

Elsewhere, with the famous words of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus actually indicates an anonymous tax collector as an appreciated example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the “tax collector… would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!'”.

And Jesus comments: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18: 13-14).

Thus, in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God’s mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvellous effects in their own lives.

St John Chrysostom makes an important point in this regard: he notes that only in the account of certain calls is the work of those concerned mentioned. Peter, Andrew, James and John are called while they are fishing, while Matthew, while he is collecting tithes.

These are unimportant jobs, Chrysostom comments, “because there is nothing more despicable than the tax collector, and nothing more common than fishing” (In Matth. Hom.: PL 57, 363). Jesus’ call, therefore, also reaches people of a low social class while they go about their ordinary work.

Another reflection prompted by the Gospel narrative is that Matthew responds instantly to Jesus’ call: “he rose and followed him”. The brevity of the sentence clearly highlights Matthew’s readiness in responding to the call. For him it meant leaving everything, especially what guaranteed him a reliable source of income, even if it was often unfair and dishonourable. Evidently, Matthew understood that familiarity with Jesus did not permit him to pursue activities of which God disapproved.

The application to the present day is easy to see: it is not permissible today either to be attached to things that are incompatible with the following of Jesus, as is the case with riches dishonestly achieved.

Jesus once said, mincing no words: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19: 21).

This is exactly what Matthew did: he rose and followed him! In this “he rose”, it is legitimate to read detachment from a sinful situation and at the same time, a conscious attachment to a new, upright life in communion with Jesus.

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— 1 —

Book sale! As I said in yesterday’s post – since yesterday was the 5th anniversary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s address to schoolchildren that inspired Be Saints! – I’m offering at a discount price. $9/copy or 5 copies for $40.  That includes shipping. Here’s the link to the post, and here’s the link to the bookstore. 

Click on image for a larger view. The book is composed of images of children and young people with quotes from B16’s talk and the saints. 

— 2 —

"amy welborn"

Went to an interesting talk this week at our Birmingham Museum of Art from Dr. Erika Doss of Notre Dame – she spoke on her research-in-progress on religion and modern American artists.

BMA: You’ll also consider the styles of famous artists such as Joseph Cornell, Mark Tobey, Agnes Pelton, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol. Do you think religious beliefs (or lack thereof) influenced the styles of these artists, or has the religious climate simply influenced how viewers think about them?

ED: The point of my project is to consider how religious beliefs influenced the art that was produced. Sometimes it is more blatant than others. For instance, Mark Tobey made art for the Baha’i temples just after World War I. Afterwards, a lot of his abstract art was influenced by his state of mind and his religious beliefs.

Today, we are reluctant to look at these artists who had faith or particular beliefs because religion is a loaded subject. We are so divided and there are so many stereotypes – the reality is that most of us are just uninformed. People are terrified to talk about Warhol as a Catholic artist, because then it is just called “Catholic art.” My work wants to give the social and religious context of how he works, as a Catholic, gay artist in the twentieth century, and then look at his paintings. Of course it is easy to look at some of his works, like his Last Supper paintings, and assume the religious undertones, but we need to think more about how these religious beliefs shape what and how he created.

BMA: You note that religion was largely excluded from the history of modern American art. Do you believe that the modern art movement was always secular, or have we left out religion as we’ve studied the era in retrospect?

ED: Much of my book is why people don’t talk about religion and art today. For instance, we tend to discuss the abstract art of Mark Rothko in terms of color and brushwork, not necessarily about Rothko as an artist. However, Rothko himself said he wants people to look at his paintings and have some sort of emotion and feeling; it’s important to consider Rothko’s own feelings and beliefs when he painted.

Rothko was the son of an Orthodox rabbi, he was Jewish by birth but not overtly Jewish (and also never renounced his faith). Looking at his paintings, we must consider what it meant to be Rothko – a Jewish artist in post-World War II New York, which was still a very anti-Semitic place. It was not until the Civil Rights Movement that the quota on Jewish students in Ivy League schools was lifted. So, we must look back into that moment and consider the context, especially the religious ones, that affected his work.

Also, sometimes people view abstract art as inherently spiritual simply because of its style. I want to avoid that slippage and categorization – it’s more about the artist and their background.

Pelton is someone I want to read more about this weekend.

The talk was Wednesday evening at the museum, at the same time as Scouts – thanks to everything being close together and no traffic, it was an easy shot – drop off at scouts, shoot over the mountain to the museum, listen & learn, then back for pick-up.  Perfect!

— 3—

Science this week:

"amy welborn"

Part of it as least, as we gear up for plant study in earnest.  Also happening – several other long-term plant experiment/demonstrations scattered about the house – leaves taped up under dark construction paper, slathered with vaseline, beans sprouting, etc.

Science also happened in these ways this past week:

  • A new weekly zoo class for the “junior veterinarian” – he loved it. He’s finally aging out of the “3rd-4th” grade classes into the “5th-8th” levels, and it is much more satisfying to him.
  • A first weekly class in the history of science from a new attempt at a Catholic hybrid/homeschool arrangement here in town. Topic: Marie Curie. The other class was a drama class. Both were deemed “really good.” Success!
  • Over this week, he read Island of the Blue Dolphins – aside from the writing and content work, every day, we ended up talking about some form of sea life or other, including kelp, which led us to swing back around to algae, which we had discussed last week – that’s why I treasure this homeschooling thing – the rabbit holes, the exploration, that eventually show the connectedness of everything and how learning just goes on and on and on.

— 4 —

This is a repeat from last week but I wanted to add that this week, we all began our volunteering, and it was great for all of us to be able to work with these kids and listen to them read, and read with them.  Yes, the boys (ages almost 11 and 14) participated, too. The readers struggled at times but were determined!

Reposted in case you’re moved to help this outreach….

First, a tiny, historic parish not far from where we live has strong ministries for the local neighborhood, especially for children. We are going to be involved in this fabulous after school reading room – you can read about it on the pastor’s blog here, and if you are able, to help out a bit with the final expenses? Maybe?

This same outcome is what we want for the youth who live near my smaller parish, Holy Rosary. They live in one of the most afflicted neighborhoods of Birmingham, Alabama. The public schools in the area have not always had the highest ratings. We have encountered children who – even in third or fourth grade, and receiving decent grades on their report cards – had extremely low or nearly non-existent levels of literacy. These children often come from irregular family situations and poverty. Some have never really been read to. And in the face of this, our local situation, we want to make a difference.

Thus, thanks to the inspiration of a certain special lady and the great help of many parishioners, friends, and other members of our community, we have started a new apostolate, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Learning Center – named for the first canonized American-born saint and founder of Catholic schools in our country, who also had a religious order that served the poor. The Center just opened this past week. It consists of two rooms and a bathroom in an existing building on our campus, which we renovated so that the youth will have a good place to do homework and read. And there are no concrete block walls or harvest gold drapes. Much to the contrary. Take a look:

— 5 —

New free desk gathered up curbiside.  It’s the little things that can sometimes help recharge you…

"amy welborn"

A bit of recompense for all the free stuff I’ve put curbside. Donation or curbing it is generally less trouble than trying to sell things, unless good money can be had for The Things.

— 6 —

Here’s a question – one of many – that I’m pondering. Is the nature of the PR preceding the papal visit to the US – the emojis, the #popeishope stuff, the crystallization of two years of a new direction  – helpful in explaining the nature and role of the papacy to inquiring non-Catholics?

I’m really not sure.

But we’ll see how it all unfolds.

— 7 —

"amy welborn"

Okay, put down the screen. Go draw something or read. Pray. Listen to the sounds of the last summer nights. The internet will go on without us.

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

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