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Spoilers ahead. Don’t whine.

As I wrote before, I had some doubts about Better Call Saul, even though I trust Vince Gilligan’s creative vision. Since we know the destiny (up to a point) of the two major characters, the stakes, it seemed to me, were not that high – and stakes are what make compelling drama.  If we know what happens to Mike (death) and Saul (Cinnabon), what is going to keep us coming back to Better Call Saul aside from close calls and ridiculous courtroom analogies?

"amy welborn"Well, even though I do hope that the series ultimately takes us to the “present,” at this point, one episode from the end of this first season, I’m in, and the stakes have been driven in. Firmly, ingeniously and with a huge dose of agonizing heartbreak, which, if you’re driving in dramatic stakes, is the way to go.

The question has always been….where did Saul come from? How did Jimmy McGill become Saul? In Breaking Bad, Saul answers a question about his name with the glib assertion that criminals feel more confident with a Jewish lawyer representing them, but the genius of this new series is that it takes that claim for what it is: the justification of a choice that actually goes much, much deeper.

As the series has progressed, we might have been content in our assumptions that Jimmy became Saul as a way of either hiding from his past or simply taking on less-classy persona in order to distinguish himself from the firm that (sort of) set him on his way in the legal profession.  But you know what? That still wasn’t enough. Why does someone change his or her name? The name they were given as a member of a family? 

Well, with episode 7, aired last night, we get it – you do it when you want to separate yourself from precisely that – your family. 

And it all clicks, so beautifully and sadly into place.

Jimmy McGill, on the verge of actually doing good (in the legal context) in a big way, so anxious to please his older brother, so willing to help that same brother in his illness, eccentric, brash, but endlessly and even ingeniously creative, is slapped down, rejected and yes, betrayed by his own flesh and blood who doesn’t want him getting too close with his JD from the University of American Samoa and who, after years of getting him out of scrapes and trouble, can’t believe that any good can come out of any of this.

You’re not a real lawyer. 

People don’t change. 

One could argue that subsequent events prove Chuck right – that Slippin’ Jimmy is inevitably Saul Goodman.  But the point of view on human existence is just what was expressed in Breaking Bad  – our personal qualities can take is one direction or the other. We have a choice, and as much as the pressure is to make bad choices, we still, at every moment have the freedom to make that choice – and our treatment of others influences their choices as well.

(I long maintained that the most compelling thread of Breaking Bad was Walter White’s perverse master-student relationship with Jesse. His personal corruption in turn, corrupted Jesse – instead of finding this lost former student and saying, “Hey! Let me help you!” He said, “Help me do horrible things!” Original Sin.)

Despite this deep, wounding betrayal, we won’t see Jimmy McGill portrayed as a victim – and that’s what lends Gilligan’s work even more depth – he doesn’t do fated victims with no personal agency. Yes, he could still shake it off and obey his better instincts and pursue the, if not exactly noble path, the path that is not the one to being, as he will tell Walter White a few years down the road, a criminal lawyer rather than just a criminal lawyer  (echoing the important conversation Mike has with the proto-Walter White) - and I’m guessing, just from how this first season has gone, that even though the die has clearly been cast, this won’t be the last chance Jimmy has to run up against that choice.

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Seen in Alcala de Henares, Spain.

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A few nuggets from past Palm Sunday homilies of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  For more, go here. 

2012:

Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations.  The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility. …

Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel?  Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act.  Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: “Crucify him!”, while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse.  The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel.  This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too.  Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us?  What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God?  It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne.  We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the "amy welborn"happiness of heaven, divine beatitude.  So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations?  What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?

….Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their “Hosanna!”, and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love.  But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us.  The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord.  Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration.  As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours.  But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ … so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet … let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death.  Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’” (PG 97, 994).  Amen!

2006:

Inner freedom is the prerequisite for overcoming the corruption and greed that devastate the world today. This freedom can only be found if God becomes our richness; it can only be found in the patience of daily sacrifices, in which, as it were, true freedom develops. It is the King who points out to us the way to this goal:  Jesus, whom we acclaim on Palm Sunday, whom we ask to take us with him on his way.

The second thing the prophet shows us is that this king will be a king of peace:  he will cause chariots of war and war horses to vanish, he will break bows and proclaim peace.

This is brought about in Jesus through the sign of the Cross. The Cross is the broken bow, in a certain way, God’s new, true rainbow which connects the heavens and the earth and bridges the abysses between the continents. The new weapon that Jesus places in our hands is the Cross – a sign of reconciliation, of forgiveness, a sign of love that is stronger than death.

Every time we make the Sign of the Cross we should remember not to confront injustice with other injustice or violence with other violence:  let us remember that we can only overcome evil with good and never by paying evil back with evil.

2008

And then there are children who pay homage to Jesus as the Son of David and acclaim him the Hosanna. Jesus had said to his disciples that to enter the Kingdom of God it was essential to become once again like children. He himself, who embraces the whole world, made himself little in order to come to our aid, to draw us to God. In order to recognize God, we must give up the pride that dazzles us, that wants to drive us away from God as though God were our rival. To encounter God it is necessary to be able to see with the heart. We must learn to see with a child’s heart, with a youthful heart not hampered by prejudices or blinded by interests. Thus, it is in the lowly who have such free and open hearts and recognize Jesus, that the Church sees her own image, the image of believers of all ages.

Dear friends, let us join at this moment the procession of the young people of that time – a procession that winds through the whole of history. Together with young people across the world let us go forth to meet Jesus. Let us allow ourselves to be guided toward God by him, to learn from God himself the right way to be human beings. Let us thank God with him because with Jesus, Son of David, he has given us a space of peace and reconciliation that embraces the world with the Holy Eucharist. Let us pray to him that we too may become, with him and starting from him, messengers of his peace, adorers in spirit and truth, so that his Kingdom may increase in us and around us. Amen.

2007

It is a moving experience each year on Palm Sunday as we go up the mountain with Jesus, towards the Temple, accompanying him on his ascent. On this day, throughout the world and across the centuries, young people and people of every age acclaim him, crying out: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But what are we really doing when we join this procession as part of the throng which went up with Jesus to Jerusalem and hailed him as King of Israel? Is this anything more than a ritual, a quaint custom? Does it have anything to do with the reality of our life and our world? To answer this, we must first be clear about what Jesus himself wished to do and actually did. After Peter’s confession of faith in Caesarea Philippi, in the northernmost part of the Holy Land, Jesus set out as a pilgrim towards Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. He was journeying towards the Temple in the Holy City, towards that place which for Israel ensured in a particular way God’s closeness to his people. He was making his way towards the common feast of Passover, the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt and the sign of its hope of definitive liberation. He knew that what awaited him was a new Passover and that he himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross. He knew that in the mysterious gifts of bread and wine he would give himself for ever to his own, and that he would open to them the door to a new path of liberation, to fellowship with the living God. He was making his way to the heights of the Cross, to the moment of self-giving love. The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being.

Our procession today is meant, then, to be an image of something deeper, to reflect the fact that, together with Jesus, we are setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God. This is the ascent that matters. This is the journey which Jesus invites us to make. But how can we keep pace with this ascent? Isn’t it beyond our ability? Certainly, it is beyond our own possibilities. From the beginning men and women have been filled – and this is as true today as ever – with a desire to “be like God”, to attain the heights of God by their own powers. All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free. Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months.

The Fathers of the Church maintained that human beings stand at the point of intersection between two gravitational fields. First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God’s love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards. Man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us and grants us true freedom.

Following the Liturgy of the Word, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer where the Lord comes into our midst, the Church invites us to lift up our hearts: “Sursum corda!” In the language of the Bible and the thinking of the Fathers, the heart is the centre of man, where understanding, will and feeling, body and soul, all come together. The centre where spirit becomes body and body becomes spirit, where will, feeling and understanding become one in the knowledge and love of God. This is the “heart” which must be lifted up. But to repeat: of ourselves, we are too weak to lift up our hearts to the heights of God. We cannot do it. The very pride of thinking that we are able to do it on our own drags us down and estranges us from God. God himself must draw us up, and this is what Christ began to do on the cross. He descended to the depths of our human existence in order to draw us up to himself, to the living God. He humbled himself, as today’s second reading says. Only in this way could our pride be vanquished: God’s humility is the extreme form of his love, and this humble love draws us upwards.

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A little over a week ago in Madrid, we happened upon an exhibit in honor of the 500th birthday of St. Teresa of Jesus.

It was at the Biblioteca Nacional - the national library of Spain.  The excellent National Archaeological Museum is located on the other side of the building.

Here’s a nice, short video on the exhibitions’ set-up:

It was absolutely lovely.  All the placards were in Spanish, but as far as I could tell, the presentation was straightforward, without revisionary or contemporary diversions. It features lovely statuary and paintings, and lots and lots of editions of her work, including manuscripts written in her own hand.  I was overwhelmed.

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

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Featuring real Carmelites checking out the exhibit.

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Read St. Teresa herself…not necessarily what others say about her…but more on that later.

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Our last full day in Madrid….having said goodbye to our daughter/sister the day before (crazy girl got back to her abode Saturday night, worked on Sunday, then jumped back on the train to Munich Sunday night to catch Birmingham-rooted band St. Paul and the Broken Bones in a concert there….)

I had hoped to get up early and perhaps hit an 8:30 Mass, purportedly being celebrated at San Francisco el Grande…

(The earliest Mass I could find even sort of close in Madrid….it seemed to me that in most churches, the earliest Sunday morning Mass was 11.)

But you know what happened, right?

Madrilenos streaming in waves under my window until 3AM…all about that bass from that club down the block…so I didn’t awake until 9 or so.  Oh, well…what happens, happens, and there’s always a reason. I don’t get stressed (much) about scheduling and plans during travel anymore. There’s so much to see, and if you miss what you planned to see…there’s always something else to see, isn’t there? And it’s not as if there’s only one interesting church in Madrid, Spain.

So, once I roused everyone, we headed to ……another church on my list. San Antonio de los Alemanes.  Every wall and the ceiling was extravagantly painted, which was a bit of a change from the usual Spanish baroque pattern of carved, decorated main and side altars.  We arrived about ten minutes after the schedule Mass time, at which point, the priest was well into his homily, which he continued for quite a while.  There were, as was the case the previous Sunday at another church, about thirty in attendance.

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They must be restoring the sanctuary.

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We made a brief stop back at the apartment, then continued on (walking) to the National Archaeological Museum (in the same building as the Biblioteca Nacional). It was a free admission day, so the line to get in was quite long – about halfway down the block – but moved quickly, so in about twenty minutes, we were in. (Which was good, because it was after noon, and the museum was to close at 3).

It was an excellent museum.  One of the best of its type I’ve ever visited.  I’m not kidding – it’s a model for others, I’d say.

You begin (if you like) by gathering in front a large relief map of Spain.  Above the map, a series of slides is shown, slides that move through all the eras covered in the museum.  As an era and its characteristics are flashed on the screen, the relevant sites light up on the map.  From prehistory through the Bronze Age through Roman Hispania through the modern era, it was an engaging overview.

From there, you tour the quite extensive collection which is curated and displayed with an eye to historical progression and clarity.  All placards are offered in both Spanish and English.  The video offerings which introduce each era are quite sophisticated and not at all lame, as you might sometimes find in a museum.  Honestly, if you’re going to Madrid, I’d make this museum your #2 stop after the Prado, even before the other art museums. It’s that well done, and it gives you such a valuable understanding of Spanish history and the Spanish self-understanding.

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These were bronze tablets erected in towns by Romans displaying various laws and statues.

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We could have stayed longer, but of course the place closed at 3. I wish we’d gone earlier in the week and had given it more time – we saw probably 3/4 of the place.  So we ate lunch, then headed back to the Prado.  I had purchased a “visit twice in one year” ticket the first time, and children are free, so why not?

We caught some pieces we’d missed, primarily the wing dedicated to Venetians, revisited Ribera, Velasquez and Bosch, and found the back hallway dedicated to an exhibit called, “Hoy Toca el Prado,” in which a few paintings from the collection are reproduced in a sort of relief, for the benefit of the blind. It’s received some international press, but was actually quite small, and, as I said, off in a side hallway, so…good work, Prado marketing!

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Appropriately, a painting about Vulcan. (there’s a Birmingham connection…look it up.)

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Then…..back to the Puerto del Sol, Plaza Mayor and parts around and in between to pick up some more souvenirs and just soak it all in….

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The big stuff is great, but it’s the smaller corners that say “Europe” to me, and that I remember most.

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— 1 —

Chatter here and there this week about “progress” and “not going back” and “moving forward.”

Well…here’s the thing.

That paradigm of perceptible institutional “progress” or evaluating the Church in terms of “backwardness” or “forwardness” is not something that is a part of discourse about the Church, historically speaking.

Yes, there’s teleology and eschatology, all of which look forward in time to all things being reconciled in Christ and the purpose for which Creation was made fulfilled, but that is not the same thing as looking at the Body of Christ as it exists and is expressed in time and space and saying, “We should go backwards” or “backwards is bad” or “we need to keep moving forward.”

Because…what’s the reference point?

Reform happens in the Church, constantly. Some great saints were fearless, misunderstood, and sometimes persecuted reformers.  But perhaps it might be helpful and useful to consider what those saints themselves said about what they were about and why.  You just don’t see that paradigm which assumes “progress” in history at work.  Yes, you see lives that express movement, activity, change, breaking down, building up, and going forth.  But the framework is not “We can’t go backwards to the bad old days” or even “We must return to the good old days,” because both of those make idols of points of space and time. No, you see something else: you see a call to deeper fidelity to Christ, a more profound attention to Apostolic tradition (because “apostolic”, unlike “pre-Decretum Gratiani”  or “Scholastic” or “between the First and Second Lateran Councils” or “early Celtic monastic” or “post-Vatican II” is actually in the Creed.), purification, and, per the prophets, penance.

Perhaps in the end, it all means the same thing?

I don’t know.  I can’t say.  But language matters, and the notion  of “progress” as a Mark of the Church with some random, preferred point in history as a reference point is…different. And not, in case you were wondering, dogmatic.

— 2 —

Homeschool moment:

Picking out “Canis Major” by Robert Frost for consideration.  He read it aloud, we discussed its meaning.  He picked on of the stanzas for his copywork, and after he was done, we cracked open some books and read about the constellation and Sirius.

Fifteen minutes, but it’s moments like that that move the day from pretty good to lovely.

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— 3 —

Finished Beast Academy 4C……with a very strong unit on integers, including negatives.  Once again, I was impressed by the genius of the workbook. The problems and puzzles are written and structured just right, so that after a couple of pages, the kid has moved to sort of getting it to mastery.

Unfortunately 4D isn’t out yet, so we will fill in the waiting with a Life of Fred book and perhaps some work from the Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching, which the BA guys recommend as a supplement or fallback.

— 4 —

Also the past couple of weeks? Had a very intense few days of basketball, which wrapped up that season for both of them…and no spring sports, except, I think, me attempting one more time to get everyone on the tennis court.  Science center homeschool class on Weather, so we pulled those chapters out of the 4th grade science book and did more on that subject.  Older, non-homeschooling son had a chance to serve as a page in the Alabama House earlier this week. Schola practice at the Cathedral.  Beginning serving practice for the Triduum liturgies at the convent. Reading I, Juan de Pareja, using this very good study guide. (I used a Glencoe guide when he read Number the Stars a couple of weeks ago and was impressed with it as well.) Evening reading-out-loud, Don Quixote. Studing a lot about Velasquez, Goya, Picasso, El Greco, Bosch and Miro.

Huh.

— 5 —

Some random links:

If you live in Alabama, getting involved in the Society of St. Andrew – dedicated to gleaning “imperfect” produce is a fun and very helpful activity – we participated in a sweet potato drop last fall, and hope to do more as spring and summer progress.  If you live in the middle part of the state, there are two opportunities to help coming up. 

First Folios on tour!  The Folger Library is sending some copies of this first edition of Shakespeare’s plays on a touring exhibit over the next year.  I’m happy to see that Montgomery, home of the excellent Alabama Shakespeare Festival, has made the cut. 

— 6 —

Tom McDonald runs a nice series on “How I Pray” over at Patheos.  I’m this week’s interview.  Go here.

— 7 —

Starting to think about First Communion gifts?

Try these…

And since it’s Friday….

John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross, published by Ave Maria Press.  This, again, is available as an actual book and in a digital version, in this case as an app.  Go here for more information. (The illustrations are by Michael O’Brien)

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

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The Gospel on the Second Sunday of Lent is traditionally the account of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

From a 2011 homily of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, preached outside the Vatican, at a new parish in Rome:

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The Transfiguration. The Evangelist Matthew has told us what happened when Jesus, taking with him three of his disciples — Peter, James and John — climbed a high mountain. While they were up there, on their own, Jesus’ face, and likewise his garments, became radiant. This is what we call “Transfiguration”: a luminous, comforting mystery. What is its meaning? The Transfiguration is a revelation of the Person of Jesus, of his profound reality.

In fact, the eye witnesses of the event, that is, the three Apostles, were enfolded in a cloud, also bright — which in the Bible always heralds God’s presence — and they heard a voice saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt 17:5). This event prepared the disciples for the Paschal Mystery of Jesus: to endure the terrible trial of the Passion and also to understand properly the luminous event of the Resurrection.

The narrative also speaks of Moses and Elijah who appear and talk with Jesus. Actually, this episode is related to another two divine revelations. Moses climbed Mount Sinai and there received God’s revelation. He asked God to show him his glory but God answered Moses that he would not see his face but only his back (cf. Ex 33:18-23)

God made a similar revelation to Elijah on the mountain: a more intimate manifestation, not accompanied by a storm, an earthquake or by fire, but by a gentle breeze (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-13).

Unlike these two episodes, in the Transfiguration it is not Jesus who receives the revelation of God; rather, it is precisely in Jesus that God reveals himself and reveals his face to the Apostles. Thus, those who wish to know God must contemplate the face of Jesus, his face transfigured: Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father’s holiness and mercy.

Since this homily was delivered at a new parish under the patronage of St. Corbinian, the Pope had special words about that as well:

Before reflecting, however, on the Dedication of your church, I would like to tell you that my joy at being with you today is enhanced for a special reason. Indeed, St Corbinian founded the Diocese of Freising, Bavaria, of which I was Bishop for four years. In my episcopal coat of arms I chose to insert an element closely associated with this Saint’s history: a bear.

It is said that a bear had torn St Corbinian’s horse to pieces while the Saint was on his way to Rome. He harshly reprimanded it, succeeded in taming it and on its back loaded his baggage which had so far been carried by the horse. The bear bore this burden as far as Rome and only then did the Saint set it free.

Perhaps this is the point at which to say a few words about the life of St Corbinian. St Corbinian was French. He was a priest from the region of Paris, not far from which he had founded a monastery for himself. He was held in high esteem as a spiritual counselor but was more inclined to contemplation and therefore came to Rome to build a "amy welborn"monastery here, close to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

However Pope Gregory II — it was in about the year 720 — had founded a monastery nearby — thought highly of his qualities, had understood his qualities and ordained him a Bishop, charging him to go to Bavaria and to proclaim the Gospel in that land. Bavaria: the Pope was thinking of the country between the Danube and the Alps which had been the Roman Province of Raetia for 500 years. Only at the end of the fifth century did the majority of the Latin population return to Italy.

A few simple people had stayed there. The  land was sparsely populated and a new people settled in it, the Bavarian people which, because the Country had been Christianized in the Roman period, discovered there a Christian heritage. The Bavarian people had understood straight away that this was the true religion and wanted to become Christian. However, there was a lack of educated people and priests to preach the Gospel.

And so Christianity had remained very fragmented, in its early stages. The Pope knew of this situation, he knew of the thirst for faith that existed in that country. He thus charged St Corbinian to go there and proclaim the Gospel there. And in Freising, in the ducal city on the hilltop, the Saint built the Cathedral — there was already a Shrine to Our Lady — and the Bishops See remained there for more than 1,000 years.

Only after the Napoleonic period was it transferred to Munich, 30 kilometres further south. It is still called the “Diocese of Munich and Freising”, and Freising’s majestic Romanesque cathedral has remained the heart of the diocese. So we see that saints uphold the Church’s unity and universality.

Universality: St Corbinian connects France, Germany and Rome. Unity: St Corbinian tells us that the Church is founded on Peter and guarantees to us that the Church founded on the rock will endure for ever. One thousand years ago she was the same Church that she is today, because the Lord is always the same. He is always Truth, ever old and ever new, very up to date, present, and the key opening the future.

The next year, 2012, when the Gospel was from Matthew, which it cycles back to this year:

If God gives himself in the Son, he gives us everything. And Paul insists on the power of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice against every other force that can threaten our life.

He wonders: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?” (vv. 33-34).

We are in God’s heart, this is our great trust. This creates love and in love we go towards God. If God has given his own Son for all of us, no one can accuse us, no one can condemn us, no one can separate us from his immense love. Precisely the supreme sacrifice of love on the Cross, which the Son of God accepted and chose willingly, becomes the source of our justification, of our salvation. Just think that this act of the Lord’s endures in the Blessed Eucharist, and in his heart, for eternity, and this act of love attracts us, unites us with him.

Lastly, the Gospel speaks to us of the episode of the Transfiguration (cf. Mk 9:2-10): Jesus manifests himself in his glory before the sacrifice of the Cross and God the Father proclaims his beloved Son, the one he loves, and commands the disciples to listen to him. Jesus goes up a high mountain and takes three Apostles with him — Peter, James and John — who will be particularly close to him in his extreme agony, on another mountain, the Mount of Olives.

A little earlier the Lord had announced his Passion and Peter had been unable to understand why the Lord, the Son of God, should speak of suffering, rejection, death, a Cross, indeed he had opposed the prospect of all this with determination.

Jesus now takes the three disciples with him to help them to understand that the path to attaining glory, the path of luminous love that overcomes darkness, passes through the total gift of self, passes through the folly of the Cross. And the Lord must take us with him too ever anew, at least if we are to begin to understand that this is the route to take.

The Transfiguration is a moment of light in advance, which also helps us see Christ’s Passion with a gaze of faith. Indeed, it is a mystery of suffering but it is also the “blessed Passion” because — in essence — it is a mystery of God’s extraordinary love; it is the definitive exodus that opens for us the door to the freedom and newness of the Resurrection, of salvation from evil. We need it on our daily journey, so often also marked by the darkness of evil.

Now, moving to the Angelus addresses.

2006:

When one has the grace to live a strong experience of God, it is as if one is living an experience similar to that of the disciples during the Transfiguration:  a momentary foretaste of what will constitute the happiness of Paradise. These are usually brief experiences that are sometimes granted by God, especially prior to difficult trials.

No one, however, is permitted to live “on Tabor” while on earth. Indeed, human existence is a journey of faith and as such, moves ahead more in shadows than in full light, and is no stranger to moments of obscurity and also of complete darkness. While we are on this earth, our relationship with God takes place more by listening than by seeing; and the same contemplation comes about, so to speak, with closed eyes, thanks to the interior light that is kindled in us by the Word of God.

2007:

There is another detail proper to St Luke’s narrative which deserves emphasis: the mention of the topic of Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah, who appeared beside him when he was transfigured. As the Evangelist tells us, they “talked with him… and spoke of his departure” (in Greek, éxodos), “which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9: 31).

"amy welborn"Therefore, Jesus listens to the Law and the Prophets who spoke to him about his death and Resurrection. In his intimate dialogue with the Father, he did not depart from history, he did not flee the mission for which he came into the world, although he knew that to attain glory he would have to pass through the Cross.

On the contrary, Christ enters more deeply into this mission, adhering with all his being to the Father’s will; he shows us that true prayer consists precisely in uniting our will with that of God. For a Christian, therefore, to pray is not to evade reality and the responsibilities it brings but rather, to fully assume them, trusting in the faithful and inexhaustible love of the Lord.

2008:

This is the crucial point: the Transfiguration is an anticipation of the Resurrection, but this presupposes death. Jesus expresses his glory to the Apostles so that they may have the strength to face the scandal of the Cross and understand that it is necessary to pass through many tribulations in order to reach the Kingdom of God. The Father’s voice, which resounds from on high, proclaims Jesus his beloved Son as he did at the Baptism in the Jordan, adding: “Listen to him” (Mt 17: 5). To enter eternal life requires listening to Jesus, following him on the way of the Cross, carrying in our heart like him the hope of the Resurrection. “Spe salvi”, saved in hope. Today we can say: “Transfigured in hope”.

2009:

I wish to emphasize that the Transfiguration of Jesus was essentially an experience of prayer (cf. Lk 9: 28-29). Indeed, prayer reaches its culmination and thus becomes a source of inner light when the spirit of the human being adheres to that of God and their respective wills merge, as it were, to become a whole.

2010:

The disciples no longer have before them a transfigured face or dazzling garments or a cloud that reveals the divine presence. They have before them “Jesus… alone” (v. 36). Jesus is alone with his Father while he prays but at the same time, “Jesus… alone” is all that the disciples and the Church of every epoch have been granted; and this must suffice on the journey. The only voice to listen to, the only voice to follow is his, the voice of the One going up to Jerusalem who was one day to give his life to “change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3: 21).

“Master, it is well that we are here” (Lk 9: 33) are Peter’s ecstatic words, that often resemble our own desire before the Lord’s consolations. However the Transfiguration reminds us that the joys sown by God in life are not finishing lines; rather they are lights he gives us during our earthly pilgrimage in order that “Jesus alone” may be our Law and his word the criterion that directs our existence.

2011:

Peter, James and John, contemplating the divinity of the Lord, are ready to face the scandal of the Cross, as it is sung in an ancient hymn: “You were transfigured on the mountain and your disciples, insofar as they were able, contemplated your glory, in order that, on seeing you crucified, they would understand that your Passion was voluntary and proclaim to the world that you are truly the splendour of the Father” (Κοντάκιον είς τήν Μεταμόρφωσιν, in: Μηναια, t. 6, Rome 1901, 341).

2012:

It is for this reason that Jesus takes three of them with him up the mountain and reveals his divine glory, the splendour of Truth and of Love. Jesus wants this light to illuminate their hearts when they pass through the thick darkness of his Passion and death, when the folly of the Cross becomes unbearable to them. God is light, and Jesus wishes to give his closest friends the experience of this light which dwells within him.

After this event, therefore, he will be an inner light within them that can protect them from any assault of darkness. Even on the darkest of nights, Jesus is the lamp that never goes out. St Augustine sums up this mystery in beautiful words, he says: “what this sun is to the eyes of the flesh, that is [Christ] to the eyes of the heart” (Sermones 78, 2: PL 38, 490).

And then…2013.  His last Angelus address before retiring:

In meditating on this passage of the Gospel, we can learn a very important lesson from it: first of all, the primacy of prayer, without which the entire commitment to the apostolate and to charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give the right time to prayer, both personal and of the community, which gives rest to our spiritual life. Moreover, prayer does not mean isolating oneself from the world and from its contradictions, as Peter wanted to do on Mount Tabor; rather, prayer leads back to the journey and to action. “The Christian life”, I wrote in my Message for this Lent, “consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love” (n. 3).

Dear brothers and sisters, I hear this word of God as addressed to me in particular at this moment of my life. Thank you! The Lord is calling me “to scale the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church; indeed, if God asks me this it is precisely so that I may continue to serve her with the same dedication and the same love with which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suited to my age and strength.

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First, if you are not familiar with this saint whose memorial is Saturday the 24th…fix that! 

Bishop, evangelist, teacher, writer, spiritual director and friend.

Links to his works – start with the most familiar, Introduction to the Devout Life, and go on from there.  Don’t forget his correspondence with St. Jane de Chantal, either. 

From Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s General Audience presentation on Francis de Sales, back in 2011: 

In his harmonious youth, reflection on the thought of St Augustine and of St Thomas Aquinas led to a deep crisis. This prompted him to question his own eternal salvation and the predestination of God concerning himself; he suffered as a true spiritual drama the principal theological issues of his time. He prayed intensely but was so fiercely tormented by doubt that for a few weeks he could "amy welborn"barely eat or sleep.

At the climax of his trial, he went to the Dominicans’ church in Paris, opened his heart and prayed in these words: “Whatever happens, Lord, you who hold all things in your hand and whose ways are justice and truth; whatever you have ordained for me… you who are ever a just judge and a merciful Father, I will love you Lord…. I will love you here, O my God, and I will always hope in your mercy and will always repeat your praise…. O Lord Jesus you will always be my hope and my salvation in the land of the living” (I Proc. Canon., Vol. I, art. 4).

The 20-year-old Francis found peace in the radical and liberating love of God: loving him without asking anything in return and trusting in divine love; no longer asking what will God do with me: I simply love him, independently of all that he gives me or does not give me. Thus I find peace and the question of predestination — which was being discussed at that time — was resolved, because he no longer sought what he might receive from God; he simply loved God and abandoned himself to his goodness. And this was to be the secret of his life which would shine out in his main work: the The Treatise on the Love of God.

…..

As the Pastor of a poor and tormented diocese in a mountainous area whose harshness was as well known as its beauty, he wrote: “I found [God] sweet and gentle among our loftiest rugged mountains, where many simple souls love him and worship him in all truth and sincerity; and mountain goats and chamois leap here and there between the fearful frozen peaks to proclaim his praise” (Letter to Mother de Chantal, October 1606, in Oeuvres, éd. Mackey, t. XIII, p. 223).

Nevertheless the influence of his life and his teaching on Europe in that period and in the following centuries is immense. He was an apostle, preacher, writer, man of action and of prayer dedicated to implanting the ideals of the Council of Trent; he was involved in controversial issues dialogue with the Protestants, experiencing increasingly, over and above the necessary theological confrontation, the effectiveness of personal relationship and of charity; he was charged with diplomatic missions in Europe and with social duties of mediation and reconciliation.

….

In reading his book on the love of God and especially his many letters of spiritual direction and friendship one clearly perceives that St Francis was well acquainted with the human heart. He wrote to St Jane de Chantal: “… this is the rule of our obedience, which I write for you in capital letters: do all through love, nothing through constraint; love obedience more than you fear disobedience. I leave you the spirit of freedom, not that which excludes obedience, which is the freedom of the world, but that liberty that excludes violence, anxiety and scruples” (Letter of 14 October 1604).

It is not for nothing that we rediscover traces precisely of this teacher at the origin of many contemporary paths of pedagogy and spirituality; without him neither St John Bosco nor the heroic “Little Way” of St Thérèse of Lisieux would have have come into being.

Dear brothers and sisters, in an age such as ours that seeks freedom, even with violence and unrest, the timeliness of this great teacher of spirituality and peace who gave his followers the “spirit of freedom”, the true spirit.

St Francis de Sales is an exemplary witness of Christian humanism; with his familiar style, with words which at times have a poetic touch, he reminds us that human beings have planted in their innermost depths the longing for God and that in him alone can they find true joy and the most complete fulfilment.

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