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Archive for the ‘rosary’ Category

Today’s her feastday!

She’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

 

 

For more on that book go here. 

They’ve created a matching game with some of the images from the book here. 

I have copies here – if you’d like a signed one! 

(St. Jerome images from the book in yesterday’s post)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m sharing with you here the chapter on the Assumption from my book Mary and the Christian Life. You can click on each image for a larger, clearer version, or you can just make your life easier by downloading a pdf version of the book here. 

If you want a version formatted for the Kindle – it’s .99 here. 

 

 

 

 

Interested in more free books? The following are all links to pdf versions of books of mine that our now out of print. Feel free to download and share and even use in the parish book groups.

Come Meet Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI

The Power of the Cross

 

Not free, but cheap: Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies. 

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August is devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is an entry in my new book, The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

For more on the book, go to the Loyola site here. 

Ask you local Catholic bookstore to order it!

I have copies here – you can get them and some of my other titles here. 

For more on the series, go here. 

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In a fractured, secular culture, in a society that elevates the individual and then leaves her to her own devices and bootstraps, it’s not surprising that those seeking to emphasize stability and a sure grounding for values and culture – not to speak of faith – would emphasize the family as the center of society, life, culture and civilization.

It does. It makes sense. There’s  a lot of truth there.

But.

Consider this.

Family  – especially the modern nuclear family of parents and children – is not actually the highest value in traditional Christian spirituality.

In fact, when you plunge into the Christian narrative, as articulated in Scripture, post-apostolic history, the primary veins of Christian spirituality, the development of Christian institutions and the lives of the saints, it’s not family that is the focus – even on a secondary level – but God’s redemptive work in his creation as apprehended by the individual soul.

In other words – it’s about each of us, as part of the Body, redeemed and journeying to eternal life.

Family is the natural, divinely ordered (which are the same thing) source and structure for our lives. It’s where we come from, its shape is designed for our flourishing in God’s image, participation in family is an aspect of vocation for all of us in some way, and family – as children, parents, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, siblings – is the first and primary arena in which we are called to live out the Gospel, and to serve and love sacrificially.

But when you really do take an honest, clear-eyed look at the Christian spiritual tradition, you find that family is just not at its core. It might be because for most of history, “family” is simply assumed, or perhaps because so much of Christian spiritual writing has been produced by celibates. Perhaps.

But did you catch that Gospel today?

At that time Peter began to tell Jesus, ‘What about us? We have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.

  ‘Many who are first will be last, and the last first.’

As I do for many of these types of ills, I blame Protestants. Ditching vowed religious life, brushing aside a lifestyle expressive of a radical approach to the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience) acted as a wrecking ball, not only to women’s lives and spirituality, but to that balanced vision, evolved over the centuries, of an individual soul, created individually by God, destined for God, and making that journey in the context of creation, civilization and family.

In other words: If your family life is terrible, if your family is abusive or worse, if you don’t have much a family, if your parents are dead, you have no siblings, if you have no spouse or children, if you regret that or if you don’t and if you don’t fit that 21st century Western nuclear family mold – Jesus calls. You. 

Don’t make an idol out of family. 

So now, let’s talk about Marie de L’Incarnation

Marie de l’Incarnation was one of the notable early French settlers in Quebec, the founder of a school that still exists today, and a canonized saint.

She also left a child behind when she entered religious life:

You do, in fact have some reason to complain because I left you. I, too, would willingly complain if I could about he who came to bring a sword to earth, making such strange divisions. It is true that even though you were the only thing left in the world to which my heart was attached, he nevertheless wanted to separate us when you were still at the breast. I struggled to keep you for nearly twelve years, but I still had to share almost half of those years. Finally I had to yield to the force of divine love and suffer this blow of division which was more painful than I can tell you, but which didn’t prevent me from considering myself an infinity of times the cruelest of all mothers. I ask you to forgive me, my very dear son, for I am the cause of your having suffered much affliction. But let us console ourselves that life is short and that, by the mercy of he who thus separated us in this world, we will have an entire eternity to see each other and to celebrate each other in him. (Summer 1647)

Marie wrote thousands – thousands – of letters, which provide invaluable insight into life in New France. She ends one of her letters to her son by saying that she had to wrap it up because she had forty more letters to write before the ship back to Europe sailed.

The letters in this collection are just a sampling of those she wrote to her son, Claude Martin. Claude ended up joining religious life himself, and so the letters reflect Marie’s understanding of their shared vocation and God’s will at work through her counter-cultural choices.

You have therefore won much in losing me, and my abandonment has been useful to you. And similarly with me, having left in you what was dearest and most precious to me in all the world and in a word, having voluntarily lost you I found myself together with you in the bosom of this totally lovable God, by means of the holy vocation you and I have followed, and for which, according to the promises our Lord, we are rewarded on hundred-fold in this life – not to mention the eternal reward for which we hope in heaven. (1654)

Ah! My very dear son, who would ever have imagined — or even believed — that, you and I remaining alone after the death of your father, the Divine Majesty would have favored you from that point on, granting you the great and inestimable happiness of the religious profession? And even that he brought you into being for such honorable charges and such dazzling occupations? It is assuredly because I abandoned you out of love for him, and because I asked of him neither gold nor riches for you or for me but only the poverty of his son for us both…(1665)

Self-justification? Who knows. It’s a theme Marie returns to again and again over the decades. The fact that even late in life, she takes a great deal of time and space to work through the whole history again shows, I think, if not a conflict or regret (although that might be there), at the very least the centrality of this element of her life, expressive of the mystery of God’s ways. Although the course of her and her son’s life was the consequence of a choice, it is still an expression of the mysterious ways in which we respond to the lives we’ve been given, lives in which chance, accidents and tragedy all shape our perceptions of God’s call to us.  Things happen to us and we make choices. We accept them and we may even positively embrace and celebrate them, but that doesn’t stop us from returning to them in our minds and souls, pondering them, turning things over and contemplating how strange it all is.

So Marie left her son. As I noted elsewhere, even though in this era, children were often placed in the care of people other than parents (think wet-nurses, even), extended families were the norm, and children of certain classes were certainly far less intensely and directly parented than our contemporary ideals would have it, her decision to enter the Ursulines when Claude was eleven did not go uncriticized in her circle, and she knew and admitted it. But over and over, she justified the decision, and told Claude that she was confident he was grateful, because without the abandonment, he wouldn’t have entered religious life himself.

And of course, Christian history is full of similar stories – of husbands and wives separating, of other parents entering religious life, of parents leaving their children in monasteries and convents. Christian history is also full of examples of people using spirituality and religion  to  rationalize abandonment of family responsibilities or manipulation of other family members. It’s full of examples of abuse and exploitation justified by God’s will for you and for our family.

All the more reason to emphasize to our children that they’re here to serve the Lord who created and calls them, not us.

Did Marie make this clear in a particularly vivid way to her son? In a way that brought him pain? She’d probably say yes, but it was also the way she was absolutely certain was God’s will.

Not probably a path most of us would follow, and it might even horrify us, even if we know that mother and son lived out this way with a sense of peace. But even if we can’t see it as a path to emulate, it still might be worth thinking over in discerning that tension-filled tapestry woven out of our relationships to God and each other.

For here’s the thing: a tight-knit family can nourish and promote flourishing. A tight-knit, even mostly healthy family can be experienced as restrictive and confining. A ridiculous family can generate broken and tragic stories, but ridiculous family situations can also produce adults who have emerged mental and spiritual health intact and perhaps even carrying an expanded sense of empathy for the broken and messy.

Family is a component of the spiritual life. It plays a part in who we are, and we are called – and obliged – to serve family members out of love and duty. Simple Christian charity and agape love calls for us to love whoever is in front of us at that moment, in the best way we can, empowered by grace. That is all true. But as important as that is, natural family ties are always subordinate to the individual’s relationship with God.

That’s the Gospel. 

The trick is – and I think this is true, not just with this, but with so many other areas of life – to be deeply, always aware of and honest about that rationalization temptation. We rationalize oppressive, controlling, domineering behavior in families because we claim it’s God’s will for everyone to come along the ride we’ve discerned is right and true. Translation: Narcissism.  On the other hand, we turn around and rationalize withdrawal and neglect as a spiritual necessity. Translation: Narcissism. 

The fact is, most of the time what I’m being called to do is not so complicated. Most of the time it’s about sacrificing something I think I want to do because someone needs me, and that’s far more important than my desires. Marie’s case is complicated because of how she perceives and defines and understands all of these: need, desire, call….

It’s fascinating, really. Agree or disagree, Marie de l’Incarnation’s journey is thought-provoking, isn’t it? And talk about counter-cultural. Maybe next time you need some privacy, stick this quote on your bedroom door:

….the proximity of one’s relatives often causes difficulties and sometimes turns one away from God…

(1664)

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One of the things I have noted about Pope Francis from the beginning is what I might call the presentism of his remarks and, I’ll extrapolate from that, viewpoint. His homilies and addresses tend to follow a pattern: there’s a Scripture or theme of the day, and then the Pope tells us what he thinks about it all, and his thoughts tend to center on a few dependable themes: his definition of mercy; his understanding of “the peripheries,” what he calls “legalism”, walls, and the characteristics of a good Christian. He tends to pick out a quality highlighted in the Scripture of the day, talk about it for a bit, and then conclude that “if you do X you are a good Christian” or “if you don’t do X you can’t call yourself a Christian.”

There’s not a lot of attention paid to the depth and breadth of Catholic experience, past and present. It seems to be at best, irrelevant to the present moment or at worst, an obstacle to authentic faith in the present moment.

It’s an interesting method, since most people involved in teaching Catholic Stuff take a slightly different approach: Beginning with a teaching, doctrine or practice and explaining how this truth expresses the Real, whether we see it clearly in this present moment or not. Freedom  = realizing who I am in this Big Picture, that this is Real Life, not the burdens that my own sin and and a sinful, limiting, narrow world lay on me.

Bottom line: Is this deep, wide, broad, rich, complex Catholic Thing the doorway to meet Jesus, or is it an unnecessary obstacle to encountering him?

It’s an important question. Asked, of course, frequently in the past, and answered with reform within the Church when deemed necessary as well as tragic and unnecessary Reformations spinning into division and schism at other times. But even with the understanding of the necessity of reform and moments of clarification within the Church, what remains consistent is a fundamental stance that Me (or the Pope or bishop or anyone) and Scripture and what I Guess I’ll Define as the Holy Spirit Right Now is not sufficient for doing the Catholic Thing. 

Which, of course, is the fundamental issue underlying the disputes over Amoris Laeticia, very well laid out by Carl Olson here. The now-famous dubia presented by the Four Cardinals address specific questions, but more importantly request clarification on the continuity of what is being presented in the present moment with what has been taught as true in the past.

Not unreasonable, in a Catholic context.

So back to Ambrose.

We have just finished the Year of Mercy, and so sin and repentance and reconciliation have been in the air. These issues are also at the forefront of these AL questions. So as I explored some corners of St. Ambrose’s work last night, I settled on a treatise that seemed appropriate: On Repentance.

As is the case with most theological writings of the Patristic era, On Repentance was St. Ambroseprompted by a problem and a challenge. Specifically, here, it was against the Novations, who were a very interesting heresy/sect, which you can read about here.  

(Short version: Novatian was a 3rd century theologian and anti-Pope who believed that those who had apostasized could not be reconciled by ordinary means and must be rebaptized. His followers were widespread, sometimes co-existed, even peacefully with orthodox Catholics  – one of their bishops attended the Council of Nicaea – but they preached an increasingly strict line on reconciliation, grew further and further apart and eventually died out in the early 7th century, it seems.)

So the reason you might want to look at what Ambrose has to say to the Novations is that he is writing against rigorism and in favor of the full embrace of the sinner in God’s mercy – he emphasized the “gentleness” with which the sinner should be treated – but at the same time, expresses what repentance means.  There is no sense of halfway measures. Jesus invites, “Come follow me.” And the repentant sinner does so, like the apostles leaving everything behind – at once. 

So, the point being: these are not new issues. The particulars of reconciliation have changed from Ambrose’s time, but not the general framework, and certainly not the understanding that we are doing is bringing Jesus’ work of reconciliation into the lives of people now. 

Some passages I’m highlighting, some because they bring out these theme, and others because they are moving and lovely:

(Formatting – I don’t have time to fix it. The hyperlinks are all in the New Advent page.)

37. We see how to repent, with what words and with what acts, that the days of sin are called days of confusion; for there is confusion when Christ is denied.

38. Let us, then, submit ourselves to God, and not be subject to sin, and when we ponder the remembrance of our offenses, let us blush as though at some disgrace, and not speak of them as a glory to us, as some boast of overcoming modesty, or putting down the feeling of justice. Let our conversion be such, that we who did not know God may now ourselves declare Him to others, that the Lord, moved by such a conversion on our part, may answer to us: Ephraim is from youth a dear son, a pleasant child, for since My words are concerning him, I will verily remember him, therefore have I hastened to be over him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord.

39. And what mercy He promises us, the Lord also shows, when He says further on: I have satiated every thirsty soul, and have satisfied every hungry soul. Therefore, I awaked and beheld, and My sleep was sweet unto Me.Jeremiah 31:25-26 We observe that the Lord promises His sacraments to those who sin. Let us, then, all beconverted to the Lord.

 

66. Show, then, your wound to the Physician that He may heal it. Though you show it not, He knows it, but waits to hear your voice. Do away your scars by tears. Thus did that woman in the Gospel, and wiped out the stench of her sin; thus did she wash away her fault, when washing the feet of Jesus with her tears.

This is beautiful, as Ambrose begins by drawing an analogy between the raising of Lazarus from the tomb and the raising of the sinner from his or sin, and then moves into a prayer related to his own surprising call to ministry:

70. Nevertheless if we are unable to equal her, the Lord Jesus knows also how to aid the weak, when there is no one who can prepare the feast, or bring the ointment, or carry with her a spring of living water. He comes Himself to the sepulchre.

71. Would that You would vouchsafe to come to this sepulchre of mine, O Lord Jesus, that You would wash me with Your tears, since in my hardened eyes I possess not such tears as to be able to wash away my offense. If You shall weep for me I shall be saved; if I am worthy of Your tears I shall cleanse the stench of all my offenses; if I am worthy that You weep but a little, You will call me out of the tomb of this body and will say: Come forth,that my meditations may not be kept pent up in the narrow limits of this body, but may go forth to Christ, and move in the light, that I may think no more on works of darkness but on works of light. For he who thinks on sinsendeavours to shut himself up within his own consciousness.

72. Call forth, then, Your servant. Although bound with the chain of my sins I have my feet fastened and my hands tied; being now buried in dead thoughts and works, yet at Your call I shall go forth free, and shall be found one of those sitting at Your feast, and Your house shall be filled with precious ointment. If You have vouchsafed toredeem any one, You will preserve him. For it shall be said, See, he was not brought up in the bosom of the Church, nor trained from childhood, but hurried from the judgment-seat, brought away from the vanities of this world, growing accustomed to the singing of the choir instead of the shout of the crier, but he continues in the priesthood not by his own strength, but by the grace of Christ, and sits among the guests at the heavenly table.

73. Preserve, O Lord, Your work, guard the gift which You have given even to him who shrank from it. For I knewthat I was not worthy to be called a bishop, because I had devoted myself to this world, but by Your grace I am what I am.

Go All In. No halfway measures:

But I have more easily found such as had preserved their innocence than such as had fittingly repented. Does any one think that that is penitence where there still exists the striving after earthly honours, where wine flows, and even conjugal connection takes place? The world must be renounced; less sleep must be indulged in thannature demands; it must be broken by groans, interrupted by sighs, put aside by prayers; the mode of life must be such that we die to the usual habits of life. Let the man deny himself and be wholly changed, as in the fable they relate of a certain youth, who left his home because of his love for a harlot, and, having subdued his love, returned; then one day meeting his old favourite and not speaking to her, she, being surprised and supposing that he had not recognized her, said, when they met again, It is I. But, was his answer, I am not the former I.

He ends:

We have then learned that we must do penance, and this at a time when the heat of luxury and sin is giving way; and that we, when under the dominion of sin, must show ourselves Godfearing by refraining, rather than allowing ourselves in evil practices. For if it is said to Moses when he was desiring to draw nearer: Put off your shoes from off your feet, Exodus 3:5 how much more must we free the feet of our soul from the bonds of the body, and clear our steps from all connection with this world.

It’s the age-old tension, not new to anyone who ponders these things: God enters the world, and therefore our lives, through matter and flesh like our own. This is the moment for which we prepare during Advent, after all. We are creatures, and we know God through creation. But when we begin to love creation – even other people, even good healthy relationships –  with the kind of love properly reserved to the Creator, we are starting to wobble, wander and stray.

In that very rich landscape in which we know the transcendent through the immanent, and in which we are weak sinners, strengthened by grace and journeying towards home with the Lord, we live in tension. But this tension is just that – a tension between what seen and unseen, between what is imperfect and what is whole. It  is not, however, incoherent, as it is to say on the one hand, that we must be All In, but on the other..it really doesn’t matter that much.

 

 

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The taxi had dropped us a couple of blocks away from the Campo dei Miracoli.  He had brought us from the airport through the streets of Pisa, across the Arno river, then on more narrow roads until it made no sense to go any further. He had talked non-stop since picking us up, offering suggestions on how to spend our time and telling me, in answer to my query on his excellent English, that twenty years ago he had thought he would leave Italy for the United States, but, his voice trailed off to say, it hadn’t worked out. It was too bad, he said, for over there, you get paid more money and things cost less. Here we get paid less, and it costs so much more to live.

It was not hard to find the Field of Miracles after that, for all we had to do was follow the crowd, and once we arrived, that is what hit us. That: so many…people. And two other things: it’s going to rain and we don’t have an umbrella and it really does lean.

And it does. The Leaning Tower of Pisa really does lean, and it is much more dramatic in person than in photographs, since the straight right angles of the rest of the world are so much more present in contrast.

Even in the rain, even before the height of tourist season, so many people. Look at all of them.  Why are they here? To see an iconic image – and it is fun to be there with everyone else, most of us experiencing it for the first and probably only time in your life – that sense of community you experience in tourism. We are here, you are here, seeing this thing, and together we will remember it too and you – speaking English, Italian, German, French, Japanese, Madarin, Hindi..you’ll be a part of the remembering. I won’t just remember a white tower of marble. I’ll remember drizzle and security guards and the child scampering ahead of me and the older couple puffing behind me as we trudge up, leaning.

So yes, there we were. As we finished with the tower and moved to the church and then the baptistery, I was struck by what these crowds were about on this spot. They were walking around and in, studying, photographing and contemplating just those things: a church. A baptistery. And a tower with bells that for centuries had called not tourists, but worshippers and seekers, not just to see and gawk, but to be. To be with.

I thought of the other sights we had seen over the past three weeks – this was our last night in Italy.  All of the crowds we had joined, all the tickets we had purchased and photographs we had taken? Most of them had been of places where people had been baptized, where they had come to seek what is real, to connect with it, to have hope. All of these places had been heavy with images, and not just any images, and really the same images from place to place: Jesus hanging on a cross. Disciples following, listening. Saints gazing out, looking up, reaching. All of these had been places where even now, people touched by the hands of others who had been, back in the mists of history, touched by the apostles in the stained glass windows still talked about that Jesus. Even now, in most of those places, seekers still came to meet that Jesus hanging on a cross, to find life in his life, offered to them to eat and drink.

People don’t come to church anymore.

But they do, don’t they?

I travel a lot, and everywhere I travel, I end up in churches, for there are churches everywhere. The United States is not as heavy with historical and artistically-significant churches as Europe is, of course, but still, in every major city, you’ll find a downtown Catholic church or two of historical import.

And most of the time, you will find scores of people streaming in and out of that church during the day, perhaps even hundreds.

People don’t come to church anymore.

A few weeks ago, we were in New Orleans, and the scene I witnessed there is similar to what I’ve witnessed in other American Catholic Churches of this type.

It’s St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, as iconic as they come. We popped in mid-day on a Saturday, and of course we were not alone. Dozens were in and out during the short time we were in there. A small group was being led on a tour by a Cathedral docent. It was a busy place.

People don’t come to church anymore.

What struck me, as it does in most similar situations, was the absence of printed materials that would help people understand the building. (Not to speak of actual human beings there to welcome and answer questions) There was a trifold pamphlet available for a dollar that had the most basic information about the building, but no detailed guides to the interior, to explanations of symbolism or structures.

It’s astonishing to me.

St. Louis Cathedral New Orleans

I think every church should have the materials I’m about to suggest – every one – but particularly churches that experience a lot of tourism. There’s no excuse not to have these. None. Not if you are serious about evangelization, that is. Not if you really and actually believe the stuff.

  1. A detailed guide of the historic and artistic aspects of the building.
  2. A guide identifying the important aspects of the structure and interior and explaining their meaning. As in: statues, crucifix, tabernacle, altar, confessionals, baptismal and holy water fonts, candles, altar rail, episcopal chair, choir stalls…whatever you’ve got. Explain it.
  3. A basket of rosaries. Holy cards, at the very least, and possibly medals related to the church’s patron saint.
  4. Copies of the New Testament, or at least the Gospels.
  5. Lots of bulletins or other parish information, presented with a welcoming “y’all come back!” and “let us know if you need anything” sensibility.

And yes, all of this should be free.  And there should be  a person sitting at a table with a smile on his or her face, answering questions. All day.

Listen. When have a parish of a thousand families, are thrilled when thirty adults show up at your religious education program and totally ignore the hundreds that come through to visit your historical church on a daily basis…you’ve got some blinders on and you might want to think about removing them.

Of course, the first immediate object relates to cost. Catholics hate giving anything away. We even charge parents to teach their children about Jesus. Go figure. But, as a long-time observer of this Catholic scene, I can safely say…it can be done. This is how you do it:

You make it a priority, you tell everyone that this your priority, and you invite them to join in the mission.

You say, “We have this amazing evangelizing opportunity. We have thousands of people come through our church every year to tour it. We are going to make presenting them with the truth and beauty of faith in Christ a priority. We need ten thousand dollars a year for free materials. These are the materials. Who’s in?”

I’m certain that when people are presented with a very specific pledge on how their funds are going to be used, and it is a valuable step in evangelization like this, they will step up.

And sure, if you want to produce something glossier with photos, do – and charge for that. But materials that invite people into a deeper consideration of the meaning of the objects and structures around them, a deeper consideration that might lead them to salvation?

Yeah, those should be free.

My point: I’ve been in historic Catholic churches all over the United States and rarely, if ever, seen materials like this available for tourists. And I’ve looked. Believe me, I’ve looked.

(Here’s last year’s rant on a similar score, inspired by a visit to Savannah, where hundreds come daily to the Cathedral during the Christmas season to see the Nativity scene.)

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No one comes to church anymore.

Of  course, I think these kinds of materials should be in the vestibule of every Catholic church, even if it was built in 1973 and looks like the banquet room at the Holiday Inn. You still get seekers, every Sunday, and maybe even every day.  There are many ways to meet those people and begin to draw them to Christ. Personal encounters are important. But so is the simple act of just having information freely available and invitingly presented.

In fact, I believe I have written before about a related idea: someone (publishing company, diocese, what have you) coming up with a basic template for, say, “A guide to our church” – that would have the theological and spiritual meanings already written up, perhaps with basic schematic sketches of say, a statue or altar or tabernacle – that would be customizable by an individual church.

Or, you know, you could just make one.

What is a “welcoming church?” Is it one in which elderly ushers accost latecomers and force them into the pew of their own choosing? Is it one in which we are ordered to awkwardly greet our neighbors or raise our hands and share where we’re from?

Or is a “welcoming church” one which:

  1. Has open doors as much as is practically possible.
  2. Has a congregation formed in the ways of simple Christian hospitality: don’t glare at children. Scoot your tail over and make room for other people in the pew. When Mass is over, make eye contact with strangers, smile, and say, “Good morning.” If you note possible confusion or hesitation, offer help in a friendly way. Don’t glare at children.
  3. Has free materials available: What to do at Mass. This is what the Stuff in Our Church Means. Here’s who Jesus is. Here are some good prayers.
  4. Has bulletins/cards/flyers and people sending the message: Here’s who we are. Come and talk. Let us know if we can help you. Here’s how you can join us in helping others. Maybe even a newcomer’s/seeker’s coffee once a month.

In essence:

Once a week, someone different on staff or in the volunteer corps should walk into your church with the eyes of a seeking, curious, nervous stranger.  What questions would that person have? Is there any attempt to answer those questions? What vibe would they be picking up? Would they have easy, non-threatening, non-awkward access to information that will make it easy for them to return and dig deeper?

In my limited experience, European churches can sometimes be a bit – just a bit  – better about providing informative materials, and of course many have porters who function more as guards and may not be the friendliest human beings on the planet, but at least they are there to answer questions.

So, for example, this, the first couple of pages from the free guide from Florence, which at least sets the tone. You can click on the images to get a clearer, readable, view.

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

"amy welborn"

EPSON MFP image

 

Do you have evidence that I’m wrong? I hope so! Share it! I would love to see what your church provides, especially if it’s a tourist destination.

This was one of my favorites – I found it lovely and charming. It was at a small church in northern Arizona. St. Christopher’s in Kanab – very welcoming, aware that it’s a tourist stop – not because of its history, but because it’s on the way to and from the Grand Canyon and other place:

So simple to do. But it communicates: We believe.  It’s important. And we want to share it with you.

People do come to church. They come out of curiosity. They come to seek. They come to experience beautiful music and art. They come to find Pokemon. They walk by on ghost tours. They come because they’re hungry and homeless. They come to find shelter from  the sun, the cold or the rain.

They’re about to come in great numbers because it’s Christmas. Are you ready? Are you excited that they’re coming? Are you thrilled to know that there are people who are going to meet Jesus in a deeper way because they come to Mass at Christmas at your parish? Or are you irritated, resentful, dismissive, and already ready for it to be over and things to get back to normal?

So yes, they come.

The question is…do we really even care? 

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My late husband was the most spiritually serious and sensible person I ever knew, and he was also a huge sports fan. NASCAR most of all, and then all the other sports, especially those that involved Florida teams, and especially football. I ranged between indifference and SJW snark. It’s a waste of money and resources, it’s exploitative, it’s a distraction, it’s concussions. But I had to rein all that in, I had to reconsider, I had to pause because, indeed, he was so serious about the God Stuff but still loved his football, it made you think. It’s not that you give in completely, no. It’s that you just see another point of view, it’s just that if you are going to live and love you must stay true to yourself and say yes and no to what you think is right, but you also – oh, you must live in empathy, too, and maybe you don’t have all the answers, and maybe you don’t see the whole picture, just you alone.

So, yes, sports.

And it seemed as if  he was passing it on. I have this particular memory of an Indiana winter. Our older son was probably about five years old, and it was a Sunday afternoon.  The two of them were seated on the couch, and the NFL hustled and grunted on the television screen. I was going out shopping. I waved good-bye. I left them, son on dad’s img_1283lap, son talking a mile a minute about what was on the screen, asking questions, keeping up a running commentary on I don’t know what.  I returned two or three hours later. The two of them were in the exact same position. My son was still talking.  I raised my eyebrows in wonder. My husband shook his head and made that talking gesture with his hand. You know the one, like a clacking duck’s beak. He shrugged. This was the way it was, and there was a lot to talk about, even if you were five. It was football. It was good. It would always be this way, and it was a comfortable, lovely warm thing.

A couple of years later, we moved to Alabama. The older one was seven, the younger was three. It seemed pretty clear how things were going to shake out. The older one couldn’t stand the noise of engines, but the younger one thrived on it, but was, in turn, uninterested in team sports. So my husband would have his sports buddies, it seemed. The younger one for the races, and the older one for football and basketball. It would just go on and on.

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And then he died.

You know that story.

A few weeks after he died, we used the tickets to a UAB basketball game that he’d bought for the three of them. It was not a given that we would go, and I asked the oldest if he wanted to and he answered yes, of course. I think UAB was playing a Florida team, or maybe an Indiana one. So on a Saturday afternoon, we trooped over to the arena, and sat there, and all I could remember was years of sitting next to him at sporting events and I’m sure it was all they could remember too. I felt it. In a crowd of thousands, all I felt was stark, terrible absence, and I’m sure it is what the boys felt as small as they were – even perhaps especially because of it –  and so at halftime, I looked at them.

“Do you want to stay?”

The older one shook his head.

“It’s not the same without Daddy, is it?”

He bit his lip and his eyes glistened. So did mine.

A few months later, it was late summer, and life had gone on. We had been on this massive trip to Siciliy and Spain which had recalibrated life in a radical way and third grade was coming, and so was something else. Football.

Anxious to keep going, but still make connections, and build on the past and look into the future and whatever else you do, at some point in the beginning of August, six month after, I put on my most cheerful face, my Forge on With Faith Face, and thinking that the Worst Was Surely Over,  I pointed out this most interesting, exciting fact about what had always been such an important part of life in our house:

“Wow! Football season is starting soon! Don’t the Gators play next week?”

That eight-year old didn’t look up from whatever he was doing. He didn’t cry, he didn’t shout and he didn’t pause to consider. He simply uttered what his heart was beating:

I never want to watch football again.”

 


 

And so we didn’t that year. Any of it. College or pro. It was not on our television, and it was as if it had never happened and would never again.

A year passed. I bought a house here in town, because really, where else was there to go? A cunning frame bungalow that was all about starting over. We had been to counseling, sister was starting her senior year, little brother would be in kindergarten. One older brother, David, was back from Rome living with us and going to grad school, the other, Chris – the much older one – was still in Atlanta, working in sports media. Everyone was doing what they could, everyone was conscious of absence, everyone trying to figure out what that meant, how to live, what to take forward and what to just leave behind and how to help.

The summer melted us, then started to wane, and once again the talk out there was of rankings and quarterbacks and such and this time I didn’t know what to say. Nothing, I thought. I’ll say nothing.

Then one day, the nine-year old looked up from something. Maybe he was watching television, maybe we were driving home from school. I don’t know. I just remember what he said, out of the blue, after more than a year.

“Do you think,” he ventured, “Chris could take me to a Falcons game this season?”

YES.

Sooner than you know, I was on the phone. YES was the answer, for he got it, he understood. Of course.

It is seven years later now. I am still not a fan and could still give speeches if you asked, but I won’t. Because on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, there he sits. He makes sure he is here for Florida and Indiana, he likes the Vikings and Chargers, and once I even worked it so he could meet Philip Rivers, and that, I tell you, was a great day.

Not because football is anything transcendent or even inherently good, but just because it is a game that men play and men watch and maybe, I think, as the fifteen-year old sits there, almost as tall as his father was now, still chatting up a storm, a running commentary full of facts that I listen to the best I can, yes, it is fine and even good, warm and lovely. And maybe in this very good present,  maybe in these weekends filled with  color, noise, conflict and life, maybe, just maybe watching football on the couch…maybe that boy remembers.

 

 

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