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Over the weekend I headed up to Louisville to celebrate another family birthday. There was no sightseeing along the way, as there had been last time, but I did get to Mass at another Louisville parish – the beautiful St. Martin de Tours.

(For a little bit of music, go here.)

(More on the parish here – the history indicates it faced “certain closure” back in 1979, when the decision was made to emphasize sacred music.)

It was the 10am Ordinary Form (the parish also offers EF and Ordinariate). The church was pretty full, with tons of families and children. Music was beautiful and reverently simple.

And yes, in this land of chant and motets, families with children were explicitly welcomed in the music supplement, saying: To parents with young children: may we suggest….relax! God put the wiggle in children. Don’t feel you have to suppress it in God’s house….If you have to leave Mass with your child, feel free to do so, but PLEASE COME BACK. Let them know that they have a place in God’s house! To other members of the parish: the presence of children is a gift to the Church and a reminder that our parish and faith is alive! Please welcome our children and give a smile of encouragement to their parents!

It can be done.

Anyway – that’s not my point. Here’s the point:

I’ve been to Mass in quite a few Catholic churches across the country, from New York City to New Mexico, over the past couple of months, and it’s interesting to note:

This is the third parish I’ve been in where the altar rail was used for Communion: also in Louisville, at St. Louis Bertrand and at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC.

It’s the second parish in a week in which I’ve been to the OF Mass celebrated ad orientem – last week was at Stella Maris in Sullivan’s Island, SC.

All were Ordinary Form.

(Two points: I think Sunday Mass at Old St. Patrick’s is generally celebrated ad orientem – and I’m just saying that based on photos from their Instagram. But this was a daily Mass, and was celebrated facing the people. Secondly, also judging from photos of other liturgies, St. Martin’s does seem to have another altar they bring out – I don’t know what merits its use. But it was nowhere in evidence yesterday, a Sunday Mass.)

Of the two practices, seeing the altar rail in use for Communion three times surprises me the most. I can’t even remember the last time I’d seen it, but it seems completely normal in these settings – with a mix of modes of reception, most on the tongue, but some on the hand.

I’m actually a fan of the communion rail, not for any high flown theological reasons, but simply because I prefer the mode of congregation approach that seems to accompany it – basically no ushers directing traffic. I suppose you could have them doing the solemn-row-by-row thing in this context, but it doesn’t seem to happen.

As I have mentioned before, when you go to Mass outside of the United States, you generally (in my limited experience) don’t see the Usher Brigade. People just…drift up to receive. There might be an organic front-to-back progression, but there is definitely not the standing-up by row and trudging-up-when-the-usher-allows. My home parish ditched that habit during Covid, which was nice, but sadly reinstituted it at some point last year.

The drift-up-when-the-Spirit-moves-you paradigm is more amenable to a sense of spiritual freedom, I think, does not put pressure on anyone internally or externally.

A contrast: at Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Santa Fe, the distribution of Communion began with the cantor immediately ordering, “Please stand and sing….”

My observation: Some obeyed, more than a few remained kneeling in prayer until they went up (when directed by the usher, of course.)

I’ve often noted that the pre-conciliar liturgy was all about precise rubrics for the celebrant. The focus of the post-conciliar liturgy in practice was more – especially from the 70’s on – about micro-managing precise rubrics for the congregation, which previously had been allowed to engage with the liturgy at their own pace, as it were.

(For a sense of the difference, go to an Eastern Catholic or Orthodox liturgy, where the same traditional energy prevails still)

As I get older and reflect more and more on what I’ve seen and experienced, I can’t help but keep reflecting on the quite unsurprising replacement of the purported V2 goal of “worship as an organic expression of the community’s sensibilities” with the reality of “a few employees and volunteers telling everyone else what to do based on their own preferences.”

Anyway, in a time in which some bishops are ridiculously, weirdly and even cruelly fixating on the Grave Threat of the Traditional Latin Mass – you’d think they’d have more important matters to tend to – and even attempting to suppress practices like ad orientem and the altar rail – I thought you might appreciate these snapshots in which these apparently super dangerous practices are in use and it is…not a big deal.

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…is kind of a big deal.

It’s a feast, not just a memorial. That means that there are Sunday-like three readings at Mass, rather than the usual daily two. You can read them here. 

More:

This day is also called the Exaltation of the Cross, Elevation of the Cross, Holy Cross Day, Holy Rood Day, or Roodmas. The liturgy of the Cross is a triumphant liturgy. When Moses lifted up the bronze serpent over the people, it was a foreshadowing of the salvation through Jesus when He was lifted up on the Cross. Our Mother Church sings of the triumph of the Cross, the instrument of our redemption. To follow Christ we must take up His cross, follow Him and become obedient until death, even if it means death on the cross. We identify with Christ on the Cross and become co-redeemers, sharing in His cross.

We made the Sign of the Cross before prayer which helps to fix our minds and hearts to God. After prayer we make the Sign of the Cross to keep close to God. During trials and temptations our strength and protection is the Sign of the Cross. At Baptism we are sealed with the Sign of the Cross, signifying the fullness of redemption and that we belong to Christ. Let us look to the cross frequently, and realize that when we make the Sign of the Cross we give our entire self to God — mind, soul, heart, body, will, thoughts.

O cross, you are the glorious sign of victory.
Through your power may we share in the triumph of Christ Jesus.

Symbol: The cross of triumph is usually pictured as a globe with the cross on top, symbolic of the triumph of our Savior over the sin of the world, and world conquest of His Gospel through the means of a grace (cross and orb).

The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following September 14 marks one of the Ember Days of the Church. See Ember Days for more information.

From “A Clerk at Oxford” Blog:

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (‘Holyrood day in harvest’, as it was sometimes called in the Middle Ages), so here’s a fourteenth-century translation of the Crux Fidelis, a verse of the sixth-century hymn Pange Lingua:

Steddefast Crosse, inmong alle other,
Thou art a tree mikel of prise;
In brawnche and flore swilk another
I ne wot non in wood no ris.
Swete be the nalis, and swete be the tree,
And sweter be the birdin that hangis upon thee.

That is:

Steadfast cross, among all others
Thou art a tree great of price;
In branch and flower such another
I know not of, in wood nor copse.
Sweet be the nails, and sweet be the tree,
And sweeter be the burden that hangs upon thee.

From the Latin:

Crux fidelis, inter omnes arbor una nobilis:
nulla silva talem profert,
fronde, flore, germine.
Dulce lignum, dulces clavos,
dulce pondus sustinet.

This verse is used in the liturgy several times through the course of the year, and at different seasons its poetry will resonate in subtly different ways. This tree is like no other, and it bears at once both flower and fruit; what kind of tree you picture as you sing this verse will depend on what your eyes are seeing in the world around you. The hymn is sung in the spring, on Good Friday and at the cross’ first feast in May, and at that time of year the image of a flowering tree evokes blossom and the spring of new life; and it’s sung again at this feast in the autumn, when trees are laden with fruit (their own ‘burden’), and the image instead speaks of fruitfulness, sustenance, the abundance of divine gift. Imagery of Christ as the ‘fruit’ of the cross is common in the liturgy of Holy Cross Day, perhaps in part because of the time of year when it falls. One purpose for the image is to draw a contrast with the fruit of the tree in Eden, to link the sin and the redemption, the sickness and the remedy: as one medieval antiphon puts it, ‘Through the tree we were made slaves, and through the Holy Cross we are made free. The fruit of the tree seduced us; the Son of God redeemed us.’

I‘m sure you’ll see more at her Twitter feed today.

In 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI signed a post-Synodal exhortation for the Synod of the Bishops of the Middle East on this date. He said – and note what I’ve bolded:

There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!

Source

Jump back to 2006, and the Angelus on 9/14:

Now, before the Marian prayer, I would like to reflect on two recent and important liturgical events: the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, celebrated on 14 September, and the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, celebrated the following day.

These two liturgical celebrations can be summed up visually in the traditional image of the Crucifixion, which portrays the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross, according to the description of the Evangelist John, the only one of the Apostles who stayed by the dying Jesus.

But what does exalting the Cross mean? Is it not maybe scandalous to venerate a shameful form of execution? The Apostle Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (I Cor 1: 23). Christians, however, do not exalt just any cross but the Cross which Jesus sanctified with his sacrifice, the fruit and testimony of immense love. Christ on the Cross pours out his Blood to set humanity free from the slavery of sin and death.

Therefore, from being a sign of malediction, the Cross was transformed into a sign of blessing, from a symbol of death into a symbol par excellence of the Love that overcomes hatred and violence and generates immortal life. “O Crux, ave spes unica! O Cross, our only hope!”. Thus sings the liturgy.

In 2008, Benedict was in Lourdes on 9/14:

This is the great mystery that Mary also entrusts to us this morning, inviting us to turn towards her Son. In fact, it is significant that, during the first apparition to Bernadette, Mary begins the encounter with the sign of the Cross. More than a simple sign, it is an initiation into the mysteries of the faith that Bernadette receives from Mary. The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith, for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us. It is this mystery of the universality of God’s love for men that Mary came to reveal here, in Lourdes. She invites all people of good will, all those who suffer in heart or body, to raise their eyes towards the Cross of Jesus, so as to discover there the source of life, the source of salvation.

The Church has received the mission of showing all people this loving face of God, manifested in Jesus Christ. Are we able to understand that in the Crucified One of Golgotha, our dignity as children of God, tarnished by sin, is restored to us? Let us turn our gaze towards Christ. It is he who will make us free to love as he loves us, and to build a reconciled world. For on this Cross, Jesus took upon himself the weight of all the sufferings and injustices of our humanity. He bore the humiliation and the discrimination, the torture suffered in many parts of the world by so many of our brothers and sisters for love of Christ. We entrust all this to Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother, present at the foot of the Cross.

Of course, this feast is related to St. Helena:

St. Helena is in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints....first page here…her section is “Saints are people who are strong leaders.”

"amy welborn"
"amy welborn"

And from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. I have, of course, many cross and crucifixion-related entries. One, in the symbols related to Jesus’ passion, one in the section about symbols you’d see in church, another in the section about those you’d have in your home. Remember the structure: Left-hand page has the illustration and a simpler explanation. Right-side page goes into more depth for older children.

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Well, I am pretty tired tonight, and I hardly ever get tired. Which perhaps means that hard work is not a part of my life, but we’ll put that aside for the moment.

No, I’m tired because I had my usual pre-travel insomnia last night, then I got up, packed, went to 7:15 Mass, and started driving. It’s been a good day, but I’m still tired. Nonetheless, I will forge on with this blog post since it’s not going to write itself, these photos won’t post themselves, and there are only going to be more, not fewer, tomorrow if I put it off.

I am on a trip by myself, and if you ask my why I am going where I’m going, my response would be vague because I am vague about the matter myself. Perhaps I will sort it out later, but let’s just say that I’m not driven by any particular motive for this trip, other than to just go. I didn’t want to fly, because flying is a mess right now and rental cars are insanely expensive. I wanted to go in a direction where I really didn’t know anyone – no need to stop by or check in. So – shrug – here I go.

Heading west, here’s what I saw today.

First, I saw Oxford, Mississippi. Oxford was one of those places I’ve been intending to go for years, intended to do as a day trip in the Homeschooling Era, but never managed to do. (Tuskegee is another one, in the other direction.)

So I stopped by today. It’s a lovely little town – definitely the prettiest of all the SEC-related towns that I’ve been in – and I’m sure the residents know it, if you know what I mean. And I’ll be you do. They named it Oxford, for heavens’ sake.

I wasn’t there long. I stopped by Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s grave, the famed Square Bookstore and the James Meredith statue on campus.

No whiskey bottles on Faulkner’s grave today.

Here’s my thought as I stood and beheld Rowan Oak (it didn’t open until 1 and I had to keep moving, but you could get on the grounds) – I thought: Well, if I lived in a place like this and had people to take care of my needs, I could probably write some great books, too.

Here’s a story about Shelby Foote convincing Walker Percy that they should go to Rowan Oak and drop in on Faulkner who was not on Percy’s Uncle Will’s Good List because of the time he’d showed up at a party drunk and barefoot.

The Meredith statue was very powerful and just right, I thought. Have you watched Eyes on the Prize? You should.

Clarksdale was the next destination. I could have headed to where I was going in a more direct fashion, but I wanted to see Clarksdale, another meant to do this earlier situation. Specifically, I’d meant to take my musician son there for a weekend of blues, but then he got the weekend organist job, so that was that.

So an early Sunday afternoon isn’t going to get you any blues, but it will get you some interesting nuggets nonetheless.

It will get you lunch, first of all. You might not be aware of it but one of the food items that folks in the Delta are proud of are their tamales. They are supposed to be different from Mexican tamales, but I’m not sure how. The main Clarksdale spot for tamales was closed on Sunday, so I settled for Abe’s Bar-b-q, which was of course busy, but the tamales were quick and cheap ($5 for the plate, including good, vinegar-based cole slaw and crackers, which I guess are a side in the Delta.). They were doused in a spicy sauce and they were good, but didn’t rock my world.

But I ate them at the Crossroads – the site of Robert Johnson’s mythic sale of his soul. My favorite, though, was the way that the history of Abe’s Bar-b-q builds on the myth. We don’t know if and where Johnson sold his soul, but we do know that It is a fact that Abe Davis surrendered his soul to God, and his family business still prospers even today.

Tennessee Williams had deep connections to Clarksdale, so I took some of that in, as well. His grandfather was the rector of the Episcopal church in town, and as a child, Williams lived in Clarksdale for a couple of stints, and spent vacations there. The area and it people pervade his writing. There’s a festival (one of several Williams festivals around the country, it seems.)

There’s a little museum in the church rectory (open by appointment)

This mansion, the Cutrer House, as well as one of its inhabitants, inspired elements of A Streetcar Named Desire. You can read about the connection here.

But here you go – you can’t escape the Catholic connection. In 1946, the mansion was purchased by St. Elizabeth Catholic Church and used as a school for several decades. By the 1990’s it required too many repairs to continue to be useful, and after some controversy, it was sold – this is an article from the time about the issues, including an interview with the very practical Irish pastor. It’s now being used by local government as an educational center. But the grounds are open – you can walk around – and the Lourdes grotto is still standing.

Moon Lake is also important in Williams’ work, so I took a quick detour – no one else was around on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, which made me wonder.

Then across the river to Helena, Arkansas, which has a very weird forest situation jutting up around it, and, in a neighborhood on the way out of town, a statue of Marquette.

And then, tonight, a safe landing, with Vespers.

(For video see Instagram).

I thought I had no idea that Subiaco existed here in the middle of Arkansas, but my son reminded me that one of his friends had gone there, and while I vaguely recalled that, I also thought he’d been talking about somewhere in Louisiana when he told me that. But now I know. I will have more photos tomorrow, with better light. I am heading out early, but will try to get some pictures nonetheless.

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Welcome, Big Pulpit readers. Here’s a new (8/6) post on these issues.

Well, we don’t, for some reason, have Camille Paglia to eviscerate this stupid moment in time, but American-born, now UK-residing novelist Lionel Shriver (who is female, btw – here’s a brief review of one of her novels), is able to fill some of the gap here. In the UK Spectator, she writes on the Tavistock decision, but runs gender ideology through the gauntlet in a general way. It’s:

Anti-reality. Astonishingly, fanatical activists have brainwashed many otherwise, you would think, intelligent people into reciting like zombies: ‘Trans women are women.’ I can’t be the only one who reflexively translates when reading ‘trans women’: ‘Oh, right. “Men”, then.’ Thus our activist motto decodes: ‘Men are women.’ We might as well recite ‘Lamps are carrots’ or ‘Knitting needles are tractors’…

Anti-nature. Screen junkies forget this, but we live in bodies. They are not our invention. They’re not toys, like Barbie and Ken. They’re not infinitely malleable, mere canvases for our fantasies. It can’t be a coincidence that so many young people are suddenly determined to change their perceived sex during the digital era. But our bodies aren’t video-game avatars and cannot be rearranged at will with a pull-down menu. In elevating the subjective experience of self above the physical reality of us breathing, rutting bipeds, trans activists express an utter alienation from nature, to which the same younger generations claim to be so attached.

Anti-science. The notion that some people are ‘born in the wrong body’ belongs right up there with belief in phrenology (the Victorians), ‘wandering wombs’ (ancient Greece) or the vital medical balancing of ‘the four humours’, blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile (Hippocrates). We’ve come a long way, you say? Maybe not. Having embraced wrong-body folklore, ideologues are pumping children full of puberty blockers with no clue about the long-term consequences of this experimental off-label medication for their patients. No one really knows the results of cross-sex hormones over a lifetime delivered at scale. The drugs are distributed like Smarties anyway.

According to the above conceit, I was born in the wrong body. I am 5ft 2in. But inside? I feel tall. My soul is tall. I experience myself as 6ft 5in. And because a terrible mistake was made when I was born and ‘assigned’ as this short person, I’m going to force everyone to look me in the eyes by staring 15 inches over my head.

We’re not nearly as sophisticated as we imagine. We’re as prey to nonsensical manias, untruths and superstitions as we were in the 1600s. You’ve got to wonder, too, what’s wrong with a culture obsessed with pretending to switch sexes when hardly short of genuine problems. We’re fiddling with our genitals while Rome burns. And the trans fetish is doing untold, often permanent damage to children who deserve the protection of proper grown-ups.

Looking at her next-to-the-last paragraph, that’s a notion I’ve taken up here as well as, more recently, here, in a reflection on an article on a female artist’s self-portrait of her aging self:

My spirit looks nothing like my body…

Well, proclaims the modern age, fix it up! Become the self you know you are inside! Lift, tuck, go to the dermatologist and the surgeon, get a makeup and hair consult, and let me tell you about the best filters!

Or…just accept? Accept not only the reality of who we are and our physical state, but accept the dissonance we live with in these bodies, on this earth, in this life.

Sorry, it’s not going to “match.” Ever. It’s just going to be. That’s the curse, that’s the gift.

More from me on this issue

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Folks, time is flying. It was about a month ago that we set out on that last trip, so perhaps I should finish up my posts on said trip – because there’s more coming.

So let’s review:

We were on a journey from June 14-30, most of which was to England but which began in New York City. Explained here.

So let’s talk about where we stayed.

First of all, who are we? Because that matters. In just a couple of weeks, my travel-type posts will shift in emphasis because I’ll mostly be going solo, and believe me, in the short bit of time that I’ve spent pinning down some stays for the fall, it has been most enjoyable because...it’s just me. And I am very low maintenance (as you will see if you continue to follow me), and can basically stay in a corner of a room or hell, probably the back of a car for days, if not weeks at a stretch, and it’s a lot different making those arrangements than it is to figure things out for a 61-year old female Me, a 21-year old male and a 17-year old male.

But for this trip, well, it was three of us and no regrets, but still, it was three of us – three adults who did not want to share a bed, no. And booked and paid for by a cheapskate, so there’s that, too.

So here you go:

New York City: The Wall Street Inn: This was a new one for us. In the recent past, we’ve most frequently stayed at the Leo House in Chelsea – a unique Catholic guest house for which I’ve usually been able to score some deals because I’ve booked and paid for the stays ahead of time. Not so this time – I suppose demand was higher, and there just wasn’t anything available. So, via booking.com, I found this one, and it turned out great.

Wall Street Inn, NYC

We are familiar with and fairly frequent visitors to NYC (my oldest lives there) so there was no need to have some definitive Midtown or Times Square experience, plus he lives not far from the Financial District, so it worked out. Three of us fit in one room for a bit under $200/night, the place was very clean and nicely run – by…I hate to say it in the current climate, but judging from accents either eastern Europeans or Russians (not sure which, sorry), and I’d definitely stay there again.

England!

Oxford: The Red Mullions Guest House Staying super close in to Oxford would have been quite expensive, but this lovely guest house was about a ten-minute bus ride from the center. We had breakfast one morning, and if we were breakfast-eaters, would have done it more. The proprietors were friendly – making a great deal about the elder son’s “‘tache” – (not ‘stache’ – no – “‘tache'”) – and helpful, the room spacious and clean, and the food excellent.

York: Airbnb. This was fairly dramatic. We were to go to York on Monday, and on Saturday afternoon, I got a message from the owner of our rental that she was cancelling on us. There was work being done, she’d thought it would not be a problem, but it turned out it was.

O -kay. What does one do?

Well, luckily, another was available – and Airbnb came through with a refund and a coupon to make up the difference – and this one had a washer and dryer, which was a bonus. It was a lovely apartment with lots of space, which is what we needed.

Photos 1,2: Interior. 3: the street where the apartment was located; 4: the city gate to the area; 5: the view at the ridiculous hour of something like 4 am from my skylight.

Hexham: The Station Inn. The point of this stage of the trip? Hadrian’s Wall. This was not the most luxurious hotel, but who needs that? It was just what the name suggests – a hotel for travelers near the train and the bus station. The room was clean, the people at reception were super helpful especially on the next morning when I was trying to get us the heck out of there on the day of a rail strike – and yes, I’d stay there again.

Seahouses: The Bamburgh Castle Inn The most, by per/night measure, expensive stay, but that’s because it was a good hotel in a popular vacation destination. The room was nothing spectacular, but it was clean, with three separate beds and a nice view.

Edinburgh: The Mackenzie Guest House– Again, if you are into fancy hotels, or even higher mid-level American hotels, you would probably not be pleased, but it was fine – we had two adjoining rooms – one with a double for me, and then another with two twins for them – with a shared external bathroom – on the top floor of the guest house. A nice breakfast with a very helpful and kind proprietor. If you want something else, you can pay $200/night more, but I’m not going to….

London: St. Athan’s Hotel: Another shared bathroom situation, this time with more folks, but again – no problem. We had one room with four beds (including a bunk), and there were, I think, maybe four floors of the hotel with four bathrooms for each two floors – that were kept very clean. I think these proprietors were either Turks or Syrians (again apologies for not being able to nail it), and it was located in an area near King’s Cross that had lots of these small hotels. I’d stay there again, no question.

Photo 1: – stairs from our floor to one of the two sets of bathroom that were in between each floor.

It’s expensive to travel, especially with a family. If we weren’t moving around so much, of course my first choice would have been an apartment. But honestly – we didn’t have a bad experience in any of these stays. Probably the Station Inn in Hexham was the “worst,” but even that was fine. You just have to adjust your expectations – the Residence Inn is not the global norm, guys…..

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Well, we are BACK, and while I’ve not finished posting day-by-day journals, I had time on the plane to pull together this summary of the trip, and so as the first load of laundry is going and the house is cooling down, I’ll post it.

I’ll admit it. I’m still basking in my finest moment of the return journey. Standing in line at a currency exchange joint at the ATL, knowing that it would be a rip off, but with 40 pounds still in my purse and no plans to return to the UK in the near future (no offense), I noted that the fee for the exchange was TWELVE DOLLARS AND NINETY-FIVE CENTS. Well, that’s stupid. And even more of a rip-off than I had expected. I turned to the people in line behind me and murmured, “Anyone need pounds?” Someone did. We looked up the conversion rate. We made a deal. He got pounds, I got dollars, no fees involved, a good deal all round.

As always, all posts will be linked on the Travel page.

All right, let’s go:

Where:

England!

Why:

We’d been to England once before (well, twice for me, if you count a few hour-long layover at Gatwick) – to London back in 2017.

Before this, our last – that is the two remaining sort-of-living-at-home guys and my – overseas trip had been Spain in the summer of 2019. (The youngest and I had been to Honduras in the fall of 2019, the other one spent spring 2021 in Florence, Italy)  and by no means had any of us lived in a locked-down mindset over the past couple of years, either. But of course, others placed limits, so there we were.

(Speaking of Honduras, strangely enough, the plane we took from Atlanta to Birmingham tonight had come from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where we’d flown into back in 2019.)

During the late winter and early spring of 2022, restrictions stated lifting. The first to really give an all-clear was England, in early February, and I was on it.  I purchased round trip tickets to London as soon as restrictions lifted, not having a plan, just knowing that we would head over there and See Things.

It was far cheaper to fly out of NYC than Birmigham, even with a return directly to Birmingham, so I decided to combine it with a quick trip to NYC, where my oldest lives and works. We’d not been there since February 2020. What made it all the more interesting (potentially) was that there were two Broadway shows of possible interest playing during our time: Hugh Jackman in The Music Man and Daniel Craig in Macbeth. Plus, I wanted to take College Guy to Hadestown which I’d seen with the youngest back in 2020. Three shows in two days! How fun!

Well, as it turned out…we didn’t see either Music Man or Macbeth (explained here). But it was a good time anyway, and it’s weird that was all just two weeks ago, and we’re going to be home in a few hours.

So let’s do the basis itinerary, and then in the next post, I’ll share a bit about accommodations and meals.

First on “plans.” As I have written many, many times before, when it comes to life I am not a planner. I am an obsessive preparer but not a planner. However, there are certain things one must plan – for example, accommodations for three adults in busy, high-priced cities during tourist season, and then train fares in places where last-minute fares are many times more expensive than those purchased ahead.

(Although, I will say in defense of my non-planning – you can plan all you want, but when a rail strike is announced two weeks before your visit, you’d better have prepared.)

So yes, I planned. And everything went pretty much according to plan except:

  • We didn’t see either Music Man or Macbeth.
  • I had planned for possibly doing both an afternoon and much of the next day doing Hadrian’s Wall things. We decided the one afternoon was enough for this trip, so left the Hexham area earlier than planned. Then, of course, we got on the wrong freakin’ train to Edinburgh, thanks to me, so who knows if we saved any time at all?
  • Since we’d been to London in 2016, when I looked at those last couple of days, I’d initially thought : “day trips!” – Canterbury was first on the list, and then Portsmouth. But once we got to London on Monday, two things happened: First, I was sick to death of trains and train schedules and delays. I suspect others were as well. Secondly, my youngest, the history and museum fiend, walked around the city that first afternoon saying, “Yeah, I don’t remember any of this.”  So….maybe he’d enjoy just revisiting the British Museum and other places? (Narrator: He did.)

Tuesday, June 14:   Birmingham-New York, quite delayed, Chris Christie sighting in DC, Daniel Craig sighting at the stage door after Macbeth.

Wednesday, June 15: A day in NYC. Hadestown matinee. Dinner with the oldest at Raoul’s.

Thursday June 16:  Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with Ann Engelhart, who then took us to JFK. Fight to LHG supposed to leave at 10. Nightmare at JFK, our flight didn’t leave until maybe 1 am.

Friday, June 17: Arrived at Heathrow (late), bus to Oxford. Strolled around Oxford.

Saturday, June 18: Morning 30-minute tour of the Bodleian Library, afternoon private tour of Oxford.

Sunday, June 19:  Mass at the Oxford Oratory, visit to Tolkien’s grave, Oxford museums, Corpus Christi procession, no punting, unfortunately.

Monday, June 20:  Train to York. Stroll around York, including Yorkshire Museum Gardens and city walls.

Tuesday, June 21:  Mass at York Oratory. Jorvik Viking Center, York Minster, Shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow, Bar Convent Living Heritage Center.

Wednesday, June 22: Train from York to Newcastle, then change to Hexham. Afternoon: Hadrian’s Wall things, including the Roman Army Museum, a bit of the wall at Wallscrag, and the Vindolanda Fort and Musseum. Overnight in Hexham.

Thursday, June 23: Bus to Newcastle, train to….Edinburgh, unintentionally. Then train back to Berwick-on-Tweed. Lindesfarne, or Holy Island.

Friday, June 24:  Morning/early afternoon: boat tour to Staple Island. Puffins. Afternoon – train to Edinburgh, for real this time. See a bit of Edinburgh in the evening. But..rain.

Saturday, June 25: Edinburgh. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle. Mass.

Sunday, June 26:  Royal Highland Show.

*****Note***** – the posts below….have not yet been written! As soon as they are, I’ll link.

Monday, June 27: 8 am train to London. Arrival late – because of residual strike-related issues and a delay on the line caused by stolen cables. Still plenty of time to stroll around London – starting down at Westminster Cathedral, working our way back up through the Westminster area, Covent Garden, etc.

Tuesday, June 28: Morning: Guided tour of “Legal London” – mostly the Royal Court of Justice. Afternoon: British Museum. Evening: King Lear at the Globe, starring Kathryn Hunter (who played The Witches in the recent Joel Coen Macbeth) as Lear.

Wednesday: June 29:  Youngest spent much of the day back at the British Museum, and then wandering around London. College Guy and I went down to the Piccadilly area, Liberty of London, and then up to Portabello Road/Notting Hill. We all met back up late afternoon at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Pub dinner, pack.

Thursday, June 30:  2pm flight from Heathrow. Very grateful not to have an early flight or to have to Covid-test. Slight delays and nonsense lines at Heathrow, and then, being Uber-ed in, very startled by the sight of huge black fences near our house because of the World Games. But we’re home and glad to be here.

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….when THE SUN DOESN’T SET UNTIL PAST 10 AND RISES AROUND 6.

I mean—for some reason, I just did not expect that here in the UK and it is sort of messing with me.

Anyway, we are still here, with tomorrow beginning what was always the most complicated part of this journey, made even more so by the rail strike. We shall see…

Anyway, let’s try to catch up.

When we last spoke, it was a weekend in Oxford. Let’s take care of Sunday.

The goal Sunday was: Mass, museums and punting. Everything happened – except the punting. By the time we got to that part of the day, it was raining off and on, so no, we weren’t going to push a boat around in the river with a pole in the rain, as fun as that sounds.

Mass:

The Oxford Oratory. I had thought we might try to 11am Latin Sung Mass, but everyone agreed that would be too late, simply because all of the museums (and everything else) closes at 5. We weren’t sure if we’d have enough time, with the later Mass.

It was a lovely Mass – in English, with Mass parts in Latin in familiar settings. We all marveled at the experience of going to Mass in a foreign country, and for the first time, being able to understand everything.

Including the homily, which was so very good, and one of those good homilies that had depth but clarity and simplicity in a way that makes you wonder, “Is this really so hard? Why can’t more homilists do this?”

You can hear it here.

Right after Mass, we hopped on the bus that would take us a just a few miles north to visit a grave. Whoe grave?

We weren’t the only visitors. On the bus with us were two young men speaking, I think, a Scandinavian language – and they got off on the the same stop. They walked more purposefully (we didn’t know they were headed to Tolkien or else we would have just followed them), and a woman with a dog asked us, “Looking for Tolkien?” and as we answered affirmatively, she led us part way there, advising us that his house was about halfway between the cemetery and town, but really wasn’t worth going to.

As we left, we saw here putting on gardening gloves, tending to a grave. She wasn’t the only one – there on Father’s Day, there were quite a few doing the same.

I had made, changed and finally cancelled reservations at a pub for a traditional Sunday roast lunch – I thought that traditional experience would be fun, but ultimately decided that time was of the essence, and that might take too much of it, especially since I figured out that a visit to Tolkien’s grave was possible. So we settled for meat pies at the Oxford Covered Market instead:

Museums:

There are several in Oxford, all free. We hit four of them

1 – Museum of the History of Science

2 – The Natural History Museum

3 – The Pitt River Museum

4 – The Ashmoleon Museum.

1 – The smallest of the four, with three floors jammed with scientific instruments. Interesting – more so if you are knowledgeable about, well, science. What struck me most of all – as it always does with exhibits of this sort – is the evidence of a time long ago, when beauty was valued:

Also, Einstein’s blackboard:

2 – I’ve been to plenty, and this was a good one! I wander through, on the lookout for things to learn. Here I learned about a few types of non-flying birds of which I’d previously been unaware, and got a good look at some interesting fossils found in England.

The museum’s most well-known holding is the only remaining organic tissue sample of a dodo bird – part of its head. It used to be on display, but is only available to be seen by appointment now.

As interesting to me as the exhibits was the building itself. You can read about it here – but it expresses, quite powerfully, the ideals of the 19th century, a time of confidence in the interrelation of the natural world, art and human experience. It’s filled with statues of famous scientists, of course, and the design is Art Noveau/Pre-Raphaelite, using nature as the inspiration. Column capitals are each a different type of plant life and the exhibit hall itself is ringed by columns made of stone – each identified – from the British Isles.

3- The Pitt River is the back part of the natural history museum, and you can read about the origins of the collection here – as with so many museums, in the gathering of curiosities. I didn’t spend a lot of time here, even though I usually enjoy that type of museum very much. It was…big, the collection was a bit overwhelming, and it was hot. Sorry.

4 – The Ashmoleon was excellent – a real mix of archaeology and art. One of its more well-known pieces is Powhatan’s mantle:

That was…a lot of museum!

Oh, we also got a visit to Blackwell’s bookstore in there – which was marvelous and inspiring. Let’s get writing and reading again!

I’m always particularly interested in new angles on presenting old information – for example this series of books from Princeton which essentially repackages new translations of classical authors with titles that frame the contents in terms of questions and issues that people are still wondering about today – How to Keep an Open Mind, How to Tell a Story, How to be Content, How to Run a Country…as these Brits like to say…Brilliant!

Oh, and here’s a copy of James Joyce’s death mask for sale for a few thousand, if you like:

Meals? Late afternoon snack at a fast food sushi/bowl place/chain called Itsu, and then a kebab from a truck later, when we’d returned to the guest house.

But let’s not forget the Corpus Christi procession!

More on that in the next post…and then we’ll head to York.

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All right, where were we?

Got a decent nights’ sleep in our marvelous little guest house on the outskirts of Oxford (super expensive to stay in the old city). Traditional breakfast for one of us:

Then off on the bus to town.

(Interesting reflection on perspective. When we arrived on Friday afternoon, we were totally befuddled as to how to get to the guesthouse. Bus? Which one? Where are they? Are there taxis? How do we get one? Where do we get it? But by Saturday afternoon – 24 hours later – we were pros, discussing the relative merits of the 8 or the 9 or the 280….)

First stop: the Bodleian Library. We did a 30-minute tours, which was all I could book at the time I booked it. No photos inside Duke Humpfrey’s Library, but they were allowed downstairs in the Divinity School.

We then wandered a bit, killing some time until our scheduled private tour at 2:30. We went to the Weston Library, which is the modern-looking building more or less across from the Old Bodleian. An excellent gift shop, two exhibit halls and – free public restrooms, which is the most important piece of information our first guide imparted to us.

The exhibits were on Howard Carter and the King Tut excavations and “Sensational Books” – the latter of which was not about scandal, but rather about books that somehow engage other senses beyond sight. (see yesterday’s post). Both were small, but well done, informative and engaging.

I particularly liked the traveling library of the future King Charles I and the way in which Sterne went meta with the design of Tristam Shandy.

Also an original of Audubon’s Birds of America.

The view from the Carfax Tower:

And no, it is not named “Carfax” because it’s sponsored by the auto information outfit:

The name “Carfax” derives from the Latin quadrifurcus via the French carrefour, both of which mean “crossroads”. The Carfax Tower, also known as St. Martin’s Tower (it is the remaining part of what was the City Church of St. Martin of Tours) is a prominent landmark and provides a look-out over the town.

Then it was time for our tour – I booked a private tour with Jane Mead, who was wonderful! I told her ahead of time of our interests in Tolkien, Lewis, Newman, Wesley and simply religion and literature in general, and she delivered! I won’t give you a blow-by-blow, but let’s just say it was very well-designed to take us logically through the town and the history, ending in a very moving way at the gates of Merton College, one of Tolkien’s academic posts, with Jane drawing the connection between the names of the fallen by which Tolkien would have walked every day, his own wartime experiences, and the vision of the Lord of the Rings.

Yes, there are free tours – we walked by one today in which the guide was saying, “There is the pub called The Eagle and Child. The group of writers who met there were called the Inklings.”

So… perhaps you see why I splurged. An why it really wasn’t a splurge.

And in case you didn’t know it, the Eagle and Child has actually been closed for a couple of years now. Plans are underway to reopen it eventually as a pub, but with a boutique hotel on top.

I didn’t take a lot of photos on the tour. I mostly looked and listened.

Below, though, are Newman-related photos. The pulpit from which he preached in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and then the chapel at Oriel College, where he was chaplain, including a small alcove chapel above and behind the main chapel where he liked to pray.

Dinner at a Lebanese place near our guesthouse:

Sunday calls for another post….

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Well, we made it.

I imagine that I will wake up about 4am tomorrow and come to you with a more coherent report, but for now, let’s do this.

Coming to you from the back yard – ‘scuse me – garden – of a guest house in Oxford, drinking a bit of calming lager from my new Hadestown cup – after a rather strenuous cycle of travel. But at least we got here, which is probably more than what most of the hundreds of folks I saw stranded in JFK last night (Thursday) have experienced.

Quick, super quick recap:

(And don’t forget Instagram!)

Also wandered by the Ghostbuster’s station – and found out it’s still a working fire station!

  • Thursday morning: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We had never actually been to the Statue of Liberty, since most of our NYC traveling has taken place a) in the wake of 9/11 or b) in the winter and also at times when tickets to get to the statue were such that you had to book them a long time in advance. I realized that this time, took a shot at it, got tickets a week before. We’d done Ellis Island, but a long time ago.
  • Quick lunch for the guys at Underground Pizza, near our hotel. Cheaper than Raoul’s, for sure!

I found this very interesting – at Ellis Island, a display of samples of literacy tests given to immigrants. Not in English, but in their own language – and the passages are all Bible verses.

  • Then grab our luggage from storage at the hotel (the very nice Wall Street Inn), subway over to Brooklyn, where we met Ann Engelhart at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. She and I wandered and talked, the guys wandered, and then she kindly took us to JFK, where…..
  • Oh. What a mess that was. Our flight was delayed for reasons not too-related to the general mess, and I felt for all the people caught in the general mess. There had been some weather earlier that had messed up flights, a lot were cancelled, and the rebook line in Terminal 3 was hundreds of people long. It was insane.
  • Our flight was due to take off at 10, and everything looked fine…but then there was no plane at the gate. We were assured that the plane was around, cleaned and catered, but it was just…not here. The crew came and went down the jetbridge. No plane. After an hour, the captain came up and talked on the phone for a while. All I could catch was “They said it was coming…it’s not here…” He got off and then spoke to us, saying that yes, the plane was ready to go, but it was on the other side of the airport and because of traffic congestion, it was taking a while to get it to us. Obviously. Etc, etc. Well at least, for once, someone who actually had some involvement with what was going on and had some authority was speaking to passengers, rather than leaving us in the dark of repeated delays and promises that we’d soon be on our way, blah, blah.
  • So as I said, our schedule had as leaving at 10pm. We finally got off the ground around 1am.

Maybe thanks to these guys’ prayers!

  • I was very tired and thought for sure I’d sleep…but I didn’t. Not much anyway. I didn’t eat – couldn’t believe they were still insisting on serving “dinner” rather than just cutting the lights and letting us be. I peaked at my son’s from under my eyeshade and it looked pretty sad – austerity shows – a bit of ravioli, a little salad and a cookie.
  • We landed, found the bus, rode the bus and here we are in Oxford!

Overheard conversation of the trip so far, by my son as he was wandering in NYC:

One laborer, talking to others, pointing to a sign for a particular construction company, saying in an accent:

“That company? 90% Albanian!”

Then to another sign:

“That one? 95% Albanian!”

One more:

“That one – 99% Albanian!”

Update: As I said, I started this Friday night, then got tired. I did, indeed, wake up at 3:30 am, and felt good, but told myself I really needed to try to get more sleep – which I did, amazingly. So here I am, waiting for the guys, so we can go have our first Full English, then see Oxford!

From yesterday, our initial wandering. First meal – our favorite from our London trip: Nando’s – very good, healthy and dependable:

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Today, May 2, we remember St. Athanasius.

But what possible value can there be in even taking three seconds to think about a 4th-century fellow who spent his adult life fighting battles over words and formulations and theories?

Wouldn’t it be better to spend our time thinking about real life and real problems?

Well, sorry but theology matters. It doesn’t matter to us because we are attached to words or formulas. It doesn’t matter to us because we are focused on human intellectual constructs rather than human life. It doesn’t matter because we are afraid to get down into the messiness of human life in favor of the cool, dry safety of walled-in libraries.

Theology matters because it is an attempt to understand and express what is real.   Have you ever taught religion, catechism or theology? If so, then you might understand that a great part of what you were doing in that classroom was helping students dig deeply and understand how the teachings of the Church do not stand opposed to the realities of life, but in fact accurately express How Life Is.  You find this in so many conversion stories: the realization, sudden or gradual, that what has been fought or rejected for so long in fact expresses what is real and true, not just about some transcendent sphere, but about your life. 

From a 2007 General Audience, Benedict XVI

"amy welborn"

…it was not by chance that Gian Lorenzo Bernini placed his statue among those of the four holy Doctors of the Eastern and Western Churches – together with the images of Ambrose, John Chrysostom and Augustine – which surround the Chair of St Peter in the marvellous apse of the Vatican Basilica.

Athanasius was undoubtedly one of the most important and revered early Church Fathers. But this great Saint was above all the impassioned theologian of the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God who – as the Prologue of the fourth Gospel says – “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).

For this very reason Athanasius was also the most important and tenacious adversary of the Arian heresy, which at that time threatened faith in Christ, reduced to a creature “halfway” between God and man, according to a recurring tendency in history which we also see manifested today in various forms.

In all likelihood Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in about the year 300 A.D. He received a good education before becoming a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, the great Egyptian metropolis. As a close collaborator of his Bishop, the young cleric took part with him in the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council, convoked by the Emperor Constantine in May 325 A.D. to ensure Church unity. The Nicene Fathers were thus able to address various issues and primarily the serious problem that had arisen a few years earlier from the preaching of the Alexandrian priest, Arius.

With his theory, Arius threatened authentic faith in Christ, declaring that the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained for ever inaccessible to us. The Bishops gathered in Nicaea responded by developing and establishing the “Symbol of faith” [“Creed”] which, completed later at the First Council of Constantinople, has endured in the traditions of various Christian denominations and in the liturgy as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

In this fundamental text – which expresses the faith of the undivided Church and which we also recite today, every Sunday, in the Eucharistic celebration – the Greek term homooúsios is featured, in Latin consubstantialis: it means that the Son, the Logos, is “of the same substance” as the Father, he is God of God, he is his substance. Thus, the full divinity of the Son, which was denied by the Arians, was brought into the limelight.

In 328 A.D., when Bishop Alexander died, Athanasius succeeded him as Bishop of Alexandria. He showed straightaway that he was determined to reject any compromise with regard to the Arian theories condemned by the Council of Nicaea.

His intransigence – tenacious and, if necessary, at times harsh – against those who opposed his episcopal appointment and especially against adversaries of the Nicene Creed, provoked the implacable hostility of the Arians and philo-Arians.

Despite the unequivocal outcome of the Council, which clearly affirmed that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, these erroneous ideas shortly thereafter once again began to prevail – in this situation even Arius was rehabilitated -, and they were upheld for political reasons by the Emperor Constantine himself and then by his son Constantius II.

Moreover, Constantine was not so much concerned with theological truth but rather with the unity of the Empire and its political problems; he wished to politicize the faith, making it more accessible – in his opinion – to all his subjects throughout the Empire.

Thus, the Arian crisis, believed to have been resolved at Nicaea, persisted for decades with complicated events and painful divisions in the Church. At least five times – during the 30 years between 336 and 366 A.D. – Athanasius was obliged to abandon his city, spending 17 years in exile and suffering for the faith. But during his forced absences from Alexandria, the Bishop was able to sustain and to spread in the West, first at Trier and then in Rome, the Nicene faith as well as the ideals of monasticism, embraced in Egypt by the great hermit, Anthony, with a choice of life to which Athanasius was always close.

St Anthony, with his spiritual strength, was the most important champion of St Athanasius’ faith. Reinstated in his See once and for all, the Bishop of Alexandria was able to devote himself to religious pacification and the reorganization of the Christian communities. He died on 2 May 373, the day when we celebrate his liturgical Memorial.

The most famous doctrinal work of the holy Alexandrian Bishop is his treatise: De Incarnatione, On the Incarnation of the Word,the divine Logos who was made flesh, becoming like one of us for our salvation.

In this work Athanasius says with an affirmation that has rightly become famous that the Word of God “was made man so that we might be made God; and he manifested himself through a body so that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and he endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality” (54, 3). With his Resurrection, in fact, the Lord banished death from us like “straw from the fire” (8, 4).

The fundamental idea of Athanasius’ entire theological battle was precisely that God is accessible. He is not a secondary God, he is the true God and it is through our communion with Christ that we can truly be united to God. He has really become “God-with-us”.

Among the other works of this great Father of the Church – which remain largely associated with the events of the Arian crisis – let us remember the four epistles he addressed to his friend Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, on the divinity of the Holy Spirit which he clearly affirmed, and approximately 30 “Festal” Letters addressed at the beginning of each year to the Churches and monasteries of Egypt to inform them of the date of the Easter celebration, but above all to guarantee the links between the faithful, reinforcing their faith and preparing them for this great Solemnity….

…Yes, brothers and sisters! We have many causes for which to be grateful to St Athanasius. His life, like that of Anthony and of countless other saints, shows us that “those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 42).

As you recall, Benedict’s General Audience talks tended (like John Paul II’s) to be thematic, being really “mini courses” on some aspect of Church history or theology.  For a good long while, Benedict focused on great figures on the Church, beginning with the Apostles and moving forward in time to the early Church Fathers. These were, of course, collected and published by various publishers, including OSV. I wrote study guides for their collections. The pages for Athanasius (and others) are below, and you are welcome to download the entire pdf of the guide here – it’s a great free resource for either personal use or a study group – B16’s talks are online, this pdf is free – you’re good to go, without the ritual Catholics-charging-for-catechetical-materials-must-be-that-New-Evangelization.

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