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

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

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

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

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

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Featuring real Carmelites checking out the exhibit.

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

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Today, March 28, is her birthday.  Let’s begin with some reflections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

It is far from easy to sum up in a few words Teresa’s profound and articulate spirituality. I would like to mention a few essential points. In the first place St Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life and in particular, detachment from possessions, that is, evangelical poverty, and this concerns all of us; love for one another as an essential element of community and social life; humility as love for the truth; determination as a fruit of Christian daring; theological hope, which she describes as the thirst for living water. Then we should not forget the human virtues: affability, truthfulness, modesty, courtesy, cheerfulness, culture.

Secondly, St Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical figures and eager listening to the word of God. She feels above all closely in tune with the Bride in the Song of Songs and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with Christ in the Passion and with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Saint then stresses how essential prayer is. Praying, she says, “means being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, "amy welborn"loves us” (Vida 8, 5). St Teresa’s idea coincides with Thomas Aquinas’ definition of theological charity as “amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum”, a type of human friendship with God, who offered humanity his friendship first; it is from God that the initiative comes (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II, 23, 1).

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

Rather than a pedagogy Teresa’s is a true “mystagogy” of prayer: she teaches those who read her works how to pray by praying with them. Indeed, she often interrupts her account or exposition with a prayerful outburst.

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

She reformed the Carmelite Order with the intention of serving and defending the “Holy Roman Catholic Church”, and was willing to give her life for the Church (cf. Vida, 33,5).

A final essential aspect of Teresian doctrine which I would like to emphasize is perfection, as the aspiration of the whole of Christian life and as its ultimate goal. The Saint has a very clear idea of the “fullness” of Christ, relived by the Christian. At the end of the route through The Interior Castle, in the last “room”, Teresa describes this fullness, achieved in the indwelling of the Trinity, in union with Christ through the mystery of his humanity.

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

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

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

And on a completely…er..different level, you can access my chapter on St. Teresa from The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints here. 

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— 1 —

Traveling is so odd.  You go, you see places that you will probably never see again, and you walk in strange places.   A completely different experience of the world becomes a part of your experience, your worldview, your frame of mind.

And then you come back, and it’s as if you never left, and what happened a week ago floats somewhere between the distant past and a dream.

But it’s all still there, in your head, in your life.

Bigger now.

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— 2 —

We’re back, but we don’t stay still.  We returned Monday night, the 13-year old went back to school on Tuesday, the 10-year old did a bit of school, had his homeschool boxing session, then they both had server practice for the Triduum in the afternoon. Wednesday, the 10-year old and I took a walk on a trail that’s not too far from my house but, I’m ashamed to say, I’d never even heard of before this week: The Irondale Furnace trail.

There’s a bit of a ruin along the trail, the ruin of an iron..processing? furnace, which was a part of a 2,000 acre mining and processing property that was burned up by the Yankees in 1863, rebuilt after the Civil War and used for about 15 years.  And now it’s a wall, a trail along a creek surrounded by a lot of high-end homes.

Talk about the distant past and dreams….

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— 3 —

Today, we went up 59 towards Gadsden to Tigers for Tomorrow. It’s a refuge for rescued animals, mostly cats, but also a few bears, wolves, and even some cavy.  I’d heard about it, and had been meaning to go for ages, but they are generally only open to the general public on weekends. But when Michael, still on Europe time, popped up awake super early, I decided we needed to go somewhere.  I looked this up and saw that they were doing some special Spring Break tours during weekdays, and for a reduced price, so we jumped in the car and drove up.

It was quite educational for both of us, and offered food for thought on issues related not only to endangered animals, but also animals in captivity and the relationship between animals and human beings.

(The animals come mostly from zoos, other refuges that close, and from people who had attempted to keep wild animals as pets. Always a grand idea.)

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— 4 —

We went to Mass on two Sundays in Spain.  Both had congregations of about thirty in attendance, minimal music,  fairly perfunctory ritual and (I just happened to notice) in both the Apostles’ Creed, not the Nicene was prayed.

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We just peaked into this church on the way to the museum on Sunday…don’t remember what it was.

— 5 —

Speaking of churches and such….check out this post from the New Liturgical Movement on veiling statues during Passiontide…two Birmingham churches are in the mix.

— 6 —

I did something new on this trip: I rented our apartment through AirBNB, and I was very pleased with the experience.

In previous trips both to Europe and in the US, I’ve rented via VRBO and just independently through owners and managers. I’ve never had a bad experience with any stay  – except that one time in Sicily, but that wasn’t an apartment, it was a B & B, sort of, and I violated by policy of not renting when there were no reviews, so it was pretty much my own fault, and in retrospect…the whole thing was pretty wacky.

With the apartments, everything has been fine, but I’ll say that the Airbnb process strikes me as a level above what I’ve previously experienced.  The owner/ manager has a full profile and reviews – and the profile is more substantive than the minimal VRBO profile.  If he or she has used Airbnb as a traveler, the reviews of those places are posted as well. You, as a renter have to provide enough information to prove that you do, indeed, exist as well, and the owner is given an opportunity to review you as well, sort of like Uber.

I understand there are issues with the growing business of vacation rentals. I’ve read of people essentially buying out entire apartment buildings and transforming them into Airbnb properties, which isn’t right, because you’re then running a hotel without having to abide by appropriate regulations and taxation requirements.  If I lived somewhere and my neighborhood was slowly but surely turning into party central because of vacation rentals, I’d be upset.

But. All I’m saying is that the process of renting through Airbnb gave me an added sense of security above what I’d experienced with VRBO or independently, and I will definitely use them again!

(One of my older sons had used Airbnb the week before our trip, and had similar observations about the process. He was pleased.)

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Some teachers give homework over spring break….

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…but the nice ones don’t.

— 7 —

Do you want books for Easter gifts? For First Communion? For a new Catholic?

Got it!

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

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The day began and (sort of) ended with people lined up, crowded in, to catch a glimpse, touch and be close.

We set out down the Gran Via with one end in mind, but were distracted by a crowd at an H & M across the road, obviously gathered to see Someone. A web search led me to believe that it might be David Beckham. We asked someone, “Quien es?” and she answered, “Beck-hahm,” an assertion affirmed by various other Spaniards around us, and finally by an Englishman who nodded and said he’d seen it on the news.

So…why not wait?  We did, probably for too long, but you get to a point at which you say, “Well, we’ve waited this long….” He finally arrived in a jet black minivan, but since we were, you know, across the road and the black minivan didn’t move right away, and there were crowds…we didn’t see him, although my daughter thinks she caught the top of his head.

So.

(Here’s a story about the appearance.)

We then changed directions and headed over to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, the last of the triad (after the Prado and the Reina Sofia). It is a good, representative collection, arranged chronologically, so following it from the top floor down, you get a succinct history of European and American art from 14th-century Italy to a little past Lichtenstein. A few favorites – I am not one to take photos in art museums, even when it is allowed. I know that there are better images online or in books that I can manage, so I usually don’t bother except as a form of note-taking for future reference.

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This is called The Virgin of the Dry Tree.  The reference is to a Confraternity of the Dry Tree, which in turn is probably a reference to Ezekiel, and then, the tree of the Garden that brought death, which Jesus will restore to life.

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The Risen Christ by Bramantino, 15th century, but strikingly contemporary.

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Annunciation to St. Anne. Go read about it – quite interesting.

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Now, this is attributed to Gilbert Stuart, and is called Portrait of George Washington’s Cook, although apparently there is some speculation involved in this identification. But George Washington did have a cook in Philadelphia, his name was Hercules, and he was enslaved – more here, including the story of his escape from slavery in Mount Vernon. 

After the museum and lunch, we walked back over to a church we’d seen beforehand, a church with an impressive line of people snaking into it. What was that about?

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The line leading into the church.

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…and to the other side of the block.

Well, it was this – Jesus of Medinaceli – a statue stolen by Moors, then retrieved. It is venerated, apparently, on Fridays.

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The statue is on that top level. People walk up the stairs to venerate it.

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A full church, organ playing in the background.
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Let’s see. Church open all day – so all are welcome to enter into this place and be a part of what is going on. Loads of people, from everywhere and anywhere, bringing the totality of their lives, joys and pain. Looking at the schedule of this basilica, we see Mass several times a day, every day, and Confessions off and on all day, every day.

Open doors. Open to anyone.

Anyone can walk in and see, listen, touch and be moved by grace.

No one judges and no one excludes because here, all eyes are fixed on Christ, and when we are all looking in His direction, the supposed flaws of our neighbor recede from our sight.

Why do they come?

Seeking mercy, perhaps?

And finding it in ancient sacraments and traditions grown out of centuries of spiritual experience and reflection?

Because mercy wasn’t invented this week, perhaps?

****

By this time, it was around five, perhaps later, so we just wound our way back home, through the neighorhood of Santa Ana, which I hope to revisit tomorrow or the next day, back up through the Puerta de Sol, to the other mass of El Corte Ingles stores…this time we found the branches selling clothes and toys, so time to split up and see what the Spanish have to offer. (We must always do Lego comparisons). I also looked through the grocery store in the basement and decided that will probably be the place where I do my take-home food shopping this weekend – it really is too bad that cured meats aren’t allowed back in the US…no jamon or chorizo….sigh.

I also discovered a great store called Tiger - it’s sort of a cross between a dollar-type store and Ikea.  Low prices (from 1-4 E on most things) and sharp, clean, colorful design sensibility.

***

Also, while I knew, in theory, that Holy Week was a big deal in Spain…I see now that I didn’t know anything at all, really. It’s a big deal. There was a display table in the book section of El Corte Ingles with books, videos and CD’s about Semana Santa. I’ve seen children’s coloring and sticker books about it. On the first afternoon we were here, we saw a huge, rectangular block being borne out of a chapel door by a group of men…we had no idea what it was at the time, but know I now it was one of those platforms to carry statuary – it was completely covered in protective tarps and so on, but I’m assuming they were carting it somewhere to get it ready for Holy Week….

(Related…Valencia celebrates St. Joseph’s feastday in a huge way, and I was halfway tempted to head over there this week to take a peek…well, actually less than halfway, because it’s far from here and the crowds are huge..but still…tempted.)

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Yesterday was a day trip to Alcala de Hernares, the birthplace of Cervantes.

The University of Alcala:

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Statue of Cervantes in the main square:

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Storks nesting on every height:

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Baptismal font where Cervantes was baptized.  Baptismal record is on the wall behind it.

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Cervantes birthplace, now a little sort of museum.

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The local pastry:

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Special exhibit on St. Teresa of Jesus at the Biblioteca Nacional:

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Manuscript of The Way of Perfection….in Teresa’s own hand.  There were several artifacts like this, as well as some written by John of the Cross.

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St. Isidore of Seville, outside the library."amy welborn" "amy welborn"

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Carmelites visiting the exhibit.

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From The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

How do you teach a classroom that’s as big as a whole country? How do you teach a whole country about God?

St. Patrick’s classroom was the whole country of Ireland and his lesson was the good news of Jesus Christ. How in the world did he do it? Well, it was only possible because he depended totally on God.

….

God gave Patrick the courage to speak, even when Patrick was in danger of being hurt by pagan priests who didn’t want to lose their power over the people.

Patrick’s most famous prayer shows us how close he was to God. It’s called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” A breastplate is the piece of armor that protects a soldier’s heart from harm.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.

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Today, of course is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Two and a half years ago, we spent a few days at Lourdes, as part of our 2012 Grand Tour.

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We had just spent a few days at a gite near Montignac and the next stop would be another rental in the Pyrenees.

I didn’t know what to expect, since much of what I had read treated Lourdes with a dismissive air, describing it as “Catholic Disneyland.”

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It’s amazing to realize that Lourdes has been a pilgrimage site for a century and a half.  If you ever get a chance, read a good history of the apparition and its consequences and uses by various parties within France and the Church.  It’s really one of the most fascinating events of modern Catholicism in which every aspect of this crazy, mysterious life on God’s earth comes to bear: God’s unexpected grace and movement among us; God’s power; our receptivity; our temptation to manipulate and distort; our fears; our hopes – answered in God’s grace.  Full circle.

(Also, if you have time and the inclination, peruse Zola’s Lourdes. Yes, he has his point of view, but as an account of what 19th century pilgrimage to Lourdes was like, it’s fascinating.)

Anyway, the town of Lourdes isn’t that bad.  Yes, close to the shrine, the religious souvenir shops selling the exact same goods (always a mystery to me) are crammed in shoulder to shoulder – but that’s what you find at Assisi and Rome around St. Peter’s as well. No different, just more concentrated here. The town, as I told someone going the next year, isn’t at all picturesque – if that’s what you’re expecting, forget it.  It’s a busy, ordinary modern mid-sized French town, not a picture-book charming village tucked in the mountains.

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The view from the hotel roof, looking down on the river and the (mostly) hotels lining it. The green-lit building on the bridge was a bar, inhabited by Irish football fans – there for a match v. a Lourdes team – until *very* late.

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But then the shrine.

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I pointed out to the boys the presence of the sick and the pride of place given them.  For every Mass, every procession, every prayer service, the sick are brought in first by the volunteer attendants.  On the walkways, there are specially marked lanes for wheelchairs.  One night, we saw an older man in a wheelchair (being pushed by a young man) get so frustrated with an unaware pedestrian strolling along in the marked lane, he almost poked him with a cane, and would have if the walker hadn’t been alerted Monsieur, pour les malades by someone (er…me).

When I mentioned the place of les malades to the boys, they asked me, “Why?”  I was startled that I had to explain – well, I said, besides being simply polite and compassionate, it’s also a response to the presence of Jesus in those in need, it’s honoring that presence and obeying his command to see him there.  It’s a living expression of what Jesus said: the last shall be first – the sick and weak – like Bernadette herself –  being the last in the world’s eyes.

Les Malades.

They are first to the waters, first to the light, first to the Body because in their physical condition, we can see them, we Christ, and we can even see ourselves.  For we are all the sick, we are all weak, crippled, deaf, paralyzed, suffering, in pain, we are all dying and every one of us yearn to be whole.

And so every night at Lourdes, the darkness illuminated by our thousands of tiny lights, we walk, shuffle, stride, limp and are pushed toward that water. We go on, just as we have always done across time, everywhere  led by the One who bound Himself to this weak, suffering Flesh, awash in the womb of a mother

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This was the line to go into the grotto. Just as he got there…this fellow was turned away. Pas du chien.

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I bought the picture below at a shop well off the beaten path.  The artist made pictures like this and hand-crafted rosaries.  She said to me, “Now you can say that you bought

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