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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

— 1 —

Well, we started with four…and now there are two.

Big trees in the yard, that is.

The two remaining are solid, though, so I’m not worried.

This one, though, was due. I admit that I knew it, too, and at least once a day, I pondered its form, which seem to lean just a bit more every day, and I thought, I really should call someone.

And so I did…at 12:30 am Wednesday morning.

I was sitting here (#nightowl) when the silence was broken by a strong and earth-shaking THUD.

I peeked in the boys’ rooms, even though it really had not sounded like someone had tumbled out of bed or knocked over a lamp in their sleep. All was well. So I peered out the window in the front door, and what a strange, disorienting feeling to see emptiness where you’ve been trained to see a hulking mass of branches twisting up to the sky.

I had never been too worried about it, because I was 99% sure that if and when it did fall, it was angled so it wouldn’t hit anything…and it didn’t. Just the driveway, which it blocked, fully and effectively.

(It was a calm night – no winds or rain. So why did it fall? I suppose because after over two months of drought, the rains had come. Quite a bit of rain over the past week, as a matter of fact. It was not in good shape anyway, and I suppose whatever was left of its roots just slipped out of that soaked earth.)

So the first thing to do was to text my carpool partner with the news and the hope that she could take everyone in the morning because I was blocked in. Second was to call the tree service that promised 24/7 reponse…to get a voicemail. It was fine. I didn’t want anyone to come out right at that moment, but I did want to be first in line for the morning…which I was.

By noon it was all gone and smoothed over.

— 2 —

It was an old, rotting, gnarly tree, but we have each commented that we miss it. It was the only climbable tree in the yard, and it was a home and resting place for all sorts of life.  It really did seem as if the birds that were around that afternoon were confused. It was full of bird-home holes, it had spaces for pools of water to collect which satiated birds and squirrels, and the hummingbirds used it as a Launchpad for dive-bombing the feeder.

— 3—

In case you missed it, I was in Living Faith earlier this week – on the 4th and 5th.  And, as I pointed out yesterday on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, you can get my Mary book free here.

Speaking of the Immaculate Conception, nothing like hearing a homily at your IC Mass that is in essence: 1) You know, no one even thought of this thing until the 12th century.  2) Smart people like Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux were against it.  3) A Pope went ahead and made it dogmatic in 1854. Whatever, it’s a nice metaphor, guys, so feel free to believe..something.

Dude was old and has probably helped more people in his life than I would in ten lifetimes. But seriously.

— 4 —

Perhaps some of you remember the 1990’s PBS series, Wishbone. My older kids grew up with it, and I confess, I loved it. The conceit? A dog daydreams about being a character in various works of literature. It was kind of crazy, but it actually worked.

And believe it or not, the show actually dramatized a religious narrative in Viva, Wishbone! – which involved Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which our friend Wishbone portrays, yes, Juan Diego.

(Why do I bring this up? It’s his feast today)

Now, the story deviates. I just watched a bit of the climax, and the whole roses/tilma thing is not presented as the traditional narrative would have it. So you might not want to use it as a catechetical tool. But take a look on YouTube, and just remember a time – not so long ago – when even PBS portrayed religion as something other than the Opium of Particularly Stupid Bigots.

Access parts 2 & 3 via this link.

 

Also…St. Juan Diego in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. Under “Saints are People Who See Beyond the Everyday.”

— 5 —.

Aside from Silence and other Endo and Endo-related work, this week I read A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. I think it was less than two bucks on Kindle or something for a couple of days, so I picked it up.  Levin was a screenwriter and author of several high-concept novels which contributed both new words to the language and almost folkloric images: The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby and the Somebody-Cloned-Hitler Boys from Brazil.

A Kiss Before Dying was his first novel, written in his mid-20’s. It’s been adapted for film twice: first in 1956, starring Robert Wagner, and then in 1991, starring Matt Dillon. The trailer for the ’56 version is just so…over the top. Or over the roof. What have you.

Anyway, the first 2/3 of the novel were good and fairly absorbing, with some twisty-elements that made you pause, go back and re-read. The twists weren’t so much with the plot itself, but with the narrative framework, which trips you up. But there’s none of that in the last third – just a more routine cat-and-mouse trajectory which I skimmed pretty quickly. Those twists, being formal, are impossible to convey on film – let’s put it this way: even though it’s not the same “twist” – the situation would be like trying to convey the twist at the end of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd on film in a way that hits you the same way it does while reading. I don’t think it can be done. So, as the risible 1956 trailer makes clear, without that interest, you don’t have a lot left.

So sure, that’s what I do. You play video games or watch HGTV. I read odd mid-century novels that strike my fancy and are free, or at least cheap.

— 6—

I don’t think I have mentioned this article in the Atlantic by Deb Fallows. It’s about our downtown Birmingham Public Library. I have written – or at least Instagrammed – about this building before. The murals are quite something, and unfortunately nothing that anyone would ever to decorate a public building with today. Fallows writes about the murals, but more importantly, the research department, which holds some treasures, including a jail log book with Martin Luther King Jr’s signature for that time he spent…in a Birmingham jail.

— 7 —

 

Speaking of such things, it was great to hear that the feds are giving a chunk of our downtown National Historic Monument designation (not quite National Park…but good anyway).  If you are ever here in town, it’s an area you should go visit – the 16th Street Baptist Church, Linn Park, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. I’ve been to most of the Civil Rights-centered museums in the Southeast, and I’m not going to hesitate to say that I think that BCRI is the best. It’s a very good museum.  This article in our local alt-weekly tells the story of this area and how and why the new status was obtained.

“This is the place. This place is me,” Herbert Simms said, as he walked along the slick, leaf-covered sidewalk. He stopped and hunched over a puddle near a statue of a young boy being violently handled by a police officer and his dog. “They beat me here. That statue right there, for I all I know, that’s me too.” Simms, now 75, spoke quietly as he reflected on his role in this place, Kelly Ingram Park, and how it has shaped his life and the world he’s come to know.

He wondered why it took so long for this particular spot he’s known to be designated as a national historic monument. “This place is all of us…all of us. We changed the world here,” Simms said.

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

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Over the next few weeks and months, we will be hearing much about Shusaku Endo’s great novel Silence, and, of course, of Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation, which was screened this week in Rome.

This is a novel that is very easy to misunderstand, and I am very interested to see what Scorsese does with it. By saying “easy to misunderstand,” I am not suggesting that there is only one way to “understand” or interpret the novel, though. Not at all. I do think that Silence Endothere are unquestionable misinterpretations, however, and most of them come out of a lack of awareness of the Japanese, particular Catholic, as well as personal context  out of which Endo was writing.

In other words, you can’t fruitfully read Silence if your only frame of reference are 2016 culture wars and ecclesiastical and theological divisions. Silence is not about that. So forget it.

So yes, I’ll be writing more about it in the coming weeks – this very short piece I wrote years ago for Ligouri still stands up. As I say in the beginning, it was so short because that was the mandate from the magazine – write 540 words….oy.

Anyway, what I am working on is a study guide for the novel. I am doing this just for myself and anyone else who is interested, and I’ll make it available as soon as I finish it – hopefully next week. It will be amended once I see the film, but I did want to put something out there sooner than that. I’m sure that many parishes and other groups will be using Silence as a group study focus over the coming months, so I just wanted to join the fray and put what I hope will be a helpful resource out there. It will just be a free download – no signing up for mailing lists required!

Anyway, this is accidentally pertinent. In doing all that reading for women and the Reformation, I came across this really interesting article in a book on early modern women and religion. 

“Women Apostles in Early Modern Japan, 1549-1650” by Columbia Theological Seminary historian Haruko Nawata Ward tells stories that we don’t usually hear, as our focus on Japan during this period is, naturally enough on martyrdom. You can probably access much of the article by searching Google Books – since you probably don’t want to pay $150 for a copy..

Anyway, Ward uses documents from missionaries to tell the stories:

Working in the difficult environment of Japan, and always understaffed, the missionaries relied heavily upon laity in the work of evangelization. They quickly recognized women’s contributions and the importance of collaborating with women in their shared apostolic mission. …

…The best known of these was Naito Julia, a former abbess of a Buddhist nunnery, who was inspired by Jesuit missionaries and established a society of Christian women catechists called the Miyaco no bicuni (Nuns of Miyako). Women catechists’ success in converting people is well documented by the Jesuits; however, because of their success the government banished the Miyaco no bicuni from Japan in 1614. The Jesuits continued to record the history of these women, who became contemplatives, during their exile in the Philippines until 1656.  ….Women catechists of Julia’s society took the three vows of virginity, poverty and obedience under the supervision of two Jesuits. Following the Jesuit model, these women were active evangelists, preachers, teachers catechizers, baptizers, pastoral leaders, and religious debaters. 

The details of the community’s life were recorded by Jesuit Juan de Salazar after the group had been exiled to the Philippines. He felt it was important to preserve their history.

Usually she taught non-Christians Christian doctrine, catechizing them so that they would be converted to our holy faith and be baptized, and at the same time, she attended to the teaching of Christians, instructing them so that they would be ready to confess and receive the holy sacrament. And she was so busy with these holy ministries that regardless of her deep desire to retreat so as to make the [spiritual] exercises of our father Saint Ignatius, she was seldom able to obtain them from the fathers of our Society because they were continuously sending her to evangelize in various kingdoms, cities and private houses where our own could not go. 

Moreover, the Jesuits granted Julia full authority to baptize on their behalf. Salazar explains that Japanese noblewomen of the highest rank would not speak with men, not even Buddhist clergy. Julia opened the door for the conversion of these women: not only was she a noblewoman of royal blood which allowed her access to other noblewomen, but she was also gifted with intelligence, prudence, and versatile knowledge of Buddhist doctrine and was thus able to differentiate “false” Buddhist teachings from the “true” teachings of the Catholic faith. Julia was apparently very successful at this task: “Convinced by the reasoning of Lady Julia, many ladies of Japan with their daughters and families accepted our holy faith and received baptism by her hand because we [the Jesuits] were not able to administer it. 

Incidentally, traditional barriers between the sexes throughout Asia were a major reason that Protestant denominations began sending women as missionaries to the continent during their great missionary century, the 19th.

This cultural reality also sheds light on the purpose of female “deacons” in the early Christian church. There is certainly ambiguity about this role as it was lived out in the Church, but what is consistent is that it was not at all the sacerdotal diaconate related to the presbyterate and episcopacy, and existed so that women could be ministered to in certain ways in a culture in which the taboos against male and female interaction outside the family were strong.

In 1613, Julia and her companions were arrested, publicly humiliated (stripped naked in public) and tortured. They would not renounce their faith, so the shogunate expelled them from Japan. They arrived in Manila in 1615, and lived there, in a different way of life: enclosed now, rather than active, but dedicated to prayerful support of the Jesuit missions.

The Society saw to it that the women received adequate donations to sustain themselves, noting that they ‘only cared about the greater glory of God and obtaining the greatest happy progress for the Province and our Society of Jesus, whom they, like a sweetest mother, keep i the most intimate part of their hearts.’ 

She tells the story of many more, some martyrs and some beatified and canonized. As I said, I read this article in an anthology, but Ward has a book on the subject Women Religious Leaders in Japan’s Christian Century, 1549-1650.   

As I keep saying in my very boring way…if you want to stay sane in the Crazy Present Moment…read history. It helps. It really does. 

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Advent brings with it great saints. Over the next week, we have Francis Xavier, John Damascene, Nicholas,Ambrose, and today, St. Andrew, brother of Peter, fisherman, disciple, martyr.

Who, what, when, where, why….

The first striking characteristic of Andrew is his name:  it is not Hebrew, as might have been expected, but Greek, indicative of a certain cultural openness in his family that cannot be ignored. We are in xjf137983Galilee, where the Greek language and culture are quite present. Andrew comes second in the list of the Twelve, as in Matthew (10: 1-4) and in Luke (6: 13-16); or fourth, as in Mark (3: 13-18) and in the Acts (1: 13-14). In any case, he certainly enjoyed great prestige within the early Christian communities.

The kinship between Peter and Andrew, as well as the joint call that Jesus addressed to them, are explicitly mentioned in the Gospels. We read:  “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men'” (Mt 4: 18-19; Mk 1: 16-17).

From the Fourth Gospel we know another important detail:  Andrew had previously been a disciple of John the Baptist:  and this shows us that he was a man who was searching, who shared in Israel’s hope, who wanted to know better the word of the Lord, the presence of the Lord.

He was truly a man of faith and hope; and one day he heard John the Baptist proclaiming Jesus as:  “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1: 36); so he was stirred, and with another unnamed disciple followed Jesus, the one whom John had called “the Lamb of God”. The Evangelist says that “they saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day…” (Jn 1: 37-39).

Thus, Andrew enjoyed precious moments of intimacy with Jesus. The account continues with one important annotation:  “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus” (Jn 1: 40-43), straightaway showing an unusual apostolic spirit.

Andrew, then, was the first of the Apostles to be called to follow Jesus. Exactly for this reason the liturgy of the Byzantine Church honours him with the nickname:  “Protokletos”, [protoclete] which means, precisely, “the first called”.

(more…)

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On this first Sunday of Advent, the Scripture readings speak to us of what God promises his faithful ones, and of the need to prepare, for that is what we do during this season: prepare for his coming.

There is no lack of resources for keeping ourselves spiritually grounded during this season, even if we are having to battle all sorts of distractions, ranging from early-onset-Christmas settling in all around us to  the temptation to obsessively follow the news, which seems to never stop, never leave us alone.

Begin with the Church. Begin and end with the Church, if you like. Starting and ending your day with what Catholics around the world are praying during this season: the Scripture readings from Mass, and whatever aspects of daily prayer you can manage – that’s the best place to begin and is sufficient.

I found this wonderful, even moving homily from Newman, centered on worship as preparation for the Advent of God. The spiritual and concrete landscape that is his setting is particular to England in the early winter and might not resonate with those of us living, say, in the Sun Belt or in Australia, but nonetheless, perhaps the end-of-the-year weariness he describes might seem familiar, even if the dreary weather does not. I’ll quote from it copiously here, but it deserves a slow, meditative read. 

YEAR after year, as it passes, brings us the same warnings again and again, and none perhaps more impressive than those with which it comes to us at this season. The very frost and cold, rain and gloom, which now befall us, forebode the last dreary days of the world, and in religious hearts raise the thought of them. The year is worn out: spring, summer, autumn, each in turn, have brought their gifts and done their utmost; but they are over, and the end is come. All is past and gone, all has failed, all has sated; we are tired of the past; we would not have the seasons longer; and the austere weather which succeeds, though ungrateful to the body, is in tone with our feelings, and acceptable. Such is the frame of mind which befits the end of the year; and such the frame of mind which comes alike on good and bad at the end of life. The days have {2} come in which they have no pleasure; yet they would hardly be young again, could they be so by wishing it. Life is well enough in its way; but it does not satisfy. Thus the soul is cast forward upon the future, and in proportion as its conscience is clear and its perception keen and true, does it rejoice solemnly that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand,” that there are “new heavens and a new earth” to come, though the former are failing; nay, rather that, because they are failing, it will “soon see the King in His beauty,” and “behold the land which is very far off.” These are feelings for holy men in winter and in age, waiting, in some dejection perhaps, but with comfort on the whole, and calmly though earnestly, for the Advent of Christ.

And such, too, are the feelings with which we now come before Him in prayer day by day. The season is chill and dark, and the breath of the morning is damp, and worshippers are few, but all this befits those who are by profession penitents and mourners, watchers and pilgrims. More dear to them that loneliness, more cheerful that severity, and more bright that gloom, than all those aids and appliances of luxury by which men nowadays attempt to make prayer less disagreeable to them. True faith does not covet comforts. It only complains when it is forbidden to kneel, when it reclines upon cushions, is protected by curtains, and encompassed by warmth. Its only hardship is to be hindered, or to be ridiculed, when it would place itself as a sinner before its Judge. They who realize that awful Day when they shall see Him face to face, whose {3} eyes are as a flame of fire, will as little bargain to pray pleasantly now, as they will think of doing so then….

….We cannot have fitter reflections at this Season than those which I have entered upon. What may be the destiny of other orders of beings we know not;—but this we know to be our own fearful lot, that before us lies a time when we must have the sight of our Maker and Lord face to face. We know not what is reserved for other beings; there may be some, which, knowing nothing of their Maker, are never to be brought before Him. For what we can tell, this may be the case with the brute creation. It may be the law of their nature that they should live and die, or live on an indefinite period, upon the very outskirts of His government, sustained by Him, but never permitted to know or approach Him. But this is not our case. We are destined to come before Him; nay, and to come before Him in judgment; and that on our first meeting; and that suddenly. We are not merely to be rewarded or {4} punished, we are to be judged. Recompense is to come upon our actions, not by a mere general provision or course of nature, as it does at present, but from the Lawgiver Himself in person. We have to stand before His righteous Presence, and that one by one. One by one we shall have to endure His holy and searching eye. At present we are in a world of shadows. What we see is not substantial. Suddenly it will be rent in twain and vanish away, and our Maker will appear. And then, I say, that first appearance will be nothing less than a personal intercourse between the Creator and every creature. He will look on us, while we look on Him.

….Men sometimes ask, Why need they profess religion? Why need they go to church? Why need they observe certain rites and ceremonies? Why need they watch, pray, fast, and meditate? Why is it not enough to be just, honest, sober, benevolent, and otherwise virtuous? Is not this the true and real worship of God? Is not activity in mind and conduct the most acceptable way of approaching Him? How can they please Him by submitting to certain religious forms, and taking part in certain religious acts? Or if they must do so, why may they not choose their own? Why must they come to church for them? Why must they be partakers in what the Church calls Sacraments? I answer, they must do so, first of all and especially, because God tells them so to do. But besides this, I observe that we see this plain reason {8} why, that they are one day to change their state of being. They are not to be here for ever. Direct intercourse with God on their part now, prayer and the like, may be necessary to their meeting Him suitably hereafter: and direct intercourse on His part with them, or what we call sacramental communion, may be necessary in some incomprehensible way, even for preparing their very nature to bear the sight of Him.

Let us then take this view of religious service; it is “going out to meet the Bridegroom,” who, if not seen “in His beauty,” will appear in consuming fire. Besides its other momentous reasons, it is a preparation for an awful event, which shall one day be. What it would be to meet Christ at once without preparation, we may learn from what happened even to the Apostles when His glory was suddenly manifested to them. St. Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And St. John, “when he saw Him, fell at His feet as dead.” [Luke v. 8. Rev. i. 17.]….

…. It is my desire and hope one day to take possession of my inheritance: and I come to make myself ready for it, and I would not see heaven yet, for I could not bear to see it. I am allowed to be in it without seeing it, that I may learn to see it. And by psalm and sacred song, by confession and by praise, I learn my part.

And what is true of the ordinary services of religion, public and private, holds in a still higher or rather in a special way, as regards the sacramental ordinances of the Church. In these is manifested in greater or less degree, according to the measure of each, that Incarnate Saviour, who is one day to be our Judge, and who is enabling us to bear His presence then, by imparting it to us in measure now. A thick black veil is spread between this world and the next. We mortal men range up and down it, to and fro, and see nothing. There is no access through it into the next world. In the Gospel this veil is not removed; it remains, but every now and then marvellous disclosures are made to us of what is behind it. At times we seem to catch a glimpse of a Form which we shall hereafter see face to face. We approach, and in spite of the darkness, our hands, or our head, or our brow, or our lips become, as it were, sensible of the contact of something more than earthly. We know not where we are, but we have been bathing in water, and a voice tells us that it is blood. {11} Or we have a mark signed upon our foreheads, and it spake of Calvary. Or we recollect a hand laid upon our heads, and surely it had the print of nails in it, and resembled His who with a touch gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Or we have been eating and drinking; and it was not a dream surely, that One fed us from His wounded side, and renewed our nature by the heavenly meat He gave. Thus in many ways He, who is Judge to us, prepares us to be judged,—He, who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified, that He may not take us unawares; but that when the voice of the Archangel sounds, and we are called to meet the Bridegroom, we may be ready….

…And what I have said concerning Ordinances, applies still more fully to Holy Seasons, which include in them the celebration of many Ordinances. They are times {12} when we may humbly expect a larger grace, because they invite us especially to the means of grace. This in particular is a time for purification of every kind. When Almighty God was to descend upon Mount Sinai, Moses was told to “sanctify the people,” and bid them “wash their clothes,” and to “set bounds to them round about:” much more is this a season for “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God;” [Exod. xix. 10-12. 2 Cor. xii. 1.] a season for chastened hearts and religious eyes; for severe thoughts, and austere resolves, and charitable deeds; a season for remembering what we are and what we shall be. Let us go out to meet Him with contrite and expectant hearts; and though He delays His coming, let us watch for Him in the cold and dreariness which must one day have an end. Attend His summons we must, at any rate, when He strips us of the body; let us anticipate, by a voluntary act, what will one day come on us of necessity. Let us wait for Him solemnly, fearfully, hopefully, patiently, obediently; let us be resigned to His will, while active in good works. Let us pray Him ever, to “remember us when He cometh in His kingdom;” to remember all our friends; to remember our enemies; and to visit us according to His mercy here, that He may reward us according to His righteousness hereafter.

From a 1945 9th grade religion textbook, Our Quest for Happiness: the Story of Divine Love

 

Expectation or waiting is a dimension that flows through our whole personal, family and social existence. Expectation is present in thousands of situations, from the smallest and most banal to the most important that involve us completely and in our depths. Among these, let us think of waiting for a child, on the part of a husband and wife; of waiting for a relative or friend who is coming from far away to visit us; let us think, for a young person, of waiting to know his results in a crucially important examination or of the outcome of a job interview; in emotional relationships, of waiting to meet the beloved, of waiting for the answer to a letter, or for the acceptance of forgiveness…. One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself: our moral and spiritual “stature” can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.           -B16, 2010

 

 

 

Expectans Expectavi

The candid freezing season again:
Candle and cracker, needles of fir and frost;
Carols that through the night air pass, piercing
The glassy husk of heart and heaven;
Children’s faces white in the pane, bright in the tree-light.

And the waiting season again,
That begs a crust and suffers joy vicariously:
In bodily starvation now, in the spirit’s exile always.
O might the hilarious reign of love begin, let in
Like carols from the cold
The lost who crowd the pane, numb outcasts into welcome.

-Anne Ridler (1912-2001) , who introduces the poem: 

This poem, ‘Expectans Expectavi’, which is the title of a psalm, “I waited patiently for the Lord”, is about waiting, written at the end of the last war when the whole world, really, seemed to be holding its breath for the return of ordinary life, and all the soldiers from overseas, and I thought of it in the wintertime, at Christmas, with the carols and the children’s faces, recalling the refugees of the time. The poem happened to be chosen to be posted up on the underground, so although I never saw it myself, several of my friends have been surprised by it in the middle of a crowd of people standing up in the tube train.

Links to good commentaries on the readings of Advent are at the blog called The Dim Bulb. Excellent. 

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One of the pained questions bandied about on social media over the past two weeks since the election has been the soul-wrenching…But what do we tell the children?

The issue, being, I suppose, how do we explain to children and young people that a person of questionable character is now their president?

Well….

You got me!

Which is apparently just one more instance of my absolute lack of empathy for that particular bubble (since we’re also talking a lot about bubbles nowadays).

Because…well, I mean….what have you been telling your children? About politics? About leaders? About the history of these United States? About the history of the world?

That Dear Leader loves them will take care of them and that they should seek to emulate Dear Leader in all of life?

Or, if you haven’t reached those fascist lengths, have you actually been presenting political leaders to your children as first-tier, go-to role models?

Really?

Gene Healy said it well:

For most families, however, the “conversation” needn’t be so fraught with angst. It might even be the occasion for a valuable lesson: Tell your kids the truth: the president can be a bad person, even a terrible one. You don’t have to admire him if he doesn’t deserve it. And just because he’s a creep doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to be one too.

Up to a certain age, belief in Santa Claus is charming, and entirely harmless. Blind faith in presidential benevolence is neither. If you’re teaching your kids that the president reliably tells the truth and does the right thing, then the future citizens you’re raising may turn out gullible and easily led.

Why lie to them? After all, in living memory, presidents have conducted themselves abominably in their personal relationships, lied us into war, and, in former Nixon aide John Dean’s memorable phrase, “use[d] the available federal machinery to screw [their] political enemies.” Trump, who seems positively gleeful about the prospect of turning the federal machinery against his enemies, seems unlikely to set a higher standard of presidential character.

In a more innocent time, Americans raised their children to look up to the president—and they did. The political scientist Fred Greenstein interviewed hundreds of grade-schoolers for a 1960 article in the American Political Science Review, “The Benevolent Leader: Children’s Images of Political Authority.” The children evinced “strikingly favorable” attitudes toward political leaders, especially the president.

In fact, Greenstein found it almost impossible to elicit any skepticism from the children he interviewed, despite “a variety of attempts to evoke such responses.” Far more typical were statements like “[the president] gives us freedom” and “he has the right to stop bad things before they start.”

That pattern of “juvenile idealization of the President” persisted in subsequent studies of children throughout the 1960s. Nor was it limited to juveniles: writing in 1970, presidential scholar Thomas Cronin observed that even college students’ textbooks of the era offered a comic-book vision of presidential “omnipotence” and “moralistic-benevolence.” “The student learns that the presidency is ‘the great engine of democracy,’ the ‘American people’s one authentic trumpet’”; moreover, “if, and only if, the right man is placed in the White House, all will be well, and, somehow, whoever is in the White House is the right man.”

Americans grew up fast in the years that followed, however. Throughout the early 1970s, the public learned that presidents had lied about Vietnam, turned intelligence agencies against U.S. citizens, and abused their powers for political gain. Americans came to grips with the revelation that their president, our national father figure, could be a foul-mouthed, [expletive deleted] crook.

 

We hope political leaders are of good character, just as we hope this for all people. But there is no reason to plant the expectation that they will be saints, and in fact, as Healy points out, there is a danger in doing so. Perhaps it is not the best path to encourage little citizens to be complete cynics since…

…because…

Huh.

Yes, as the daughter of a political scientist and one raised in a highly politically aware household during the 1960’s and 70’s no less, I’d say we as a citizenry are better off with more cynicism rather than less.

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And I do wonder, for those who are stressing out about the exquisite agony of the present teachable moment…what have you been teaching your children? What have you been telling your kids about the ebb and flow of American history anyway? That’s it’s been nothing but a divinely-ordained glorious stream of…glory?

I don’t. My formal and informal conversations with my kids about American history and society over the past 30 + years have been conducted over the following lines, which, I might add, are a bit more skeptical than those my parents conducted with me and in my presence…but not much.

  • The American experiment in human liberty has been radical, breathtaking and important.
  • At the same time, the relationship between American civic ideals and Catholic social and political philosophy are fraught, evolving and frankly, sometimes in conflict, as uncomfortable as it makes us feel to say it.
  • The history of the United States that they will be taught, even in Catholic schools, was written, first by Protestants of English origin and then by secularists. The actual history of the Western hemisphere, of which the United States is only a part, is far richer, complex and less linear when you include the stories of indigenous people who were here first and then the Catholics who were here second.
  • Ideals are one thing, but the reality of American history courses with injustice: against Native Americans, Africans and now the unborn most of all.
  • Abortion. This nation declares its dedication to the equality of all persons, but not only allows but celebrates, funds and exports legalized killing of the most vulnerable and voiceless. Abortion.

Walker Percy’s novels, especially Love in the Ruins and The Thanatos Syndrome are precise and telling satires informed by an honest, pained assessment of This American Life:

What a bad joke: God saying: here it is, the new Eden, and it is yours because you’re the apple of my eye, because you the lordly Westerners, the fierce Caucasian-Gentile-Visigoths, believed in me and in the outlandish Jewish Event even though you were nowhere near it and had to hear the news of it from strangers.
      But you believed and so I gave it all to you, gave you Israel and Greece and science and art and the lordship of the earth, and finally even gave you the new world that I blessed for you. And all you had to do was pass one little test, which was surely child’s play for you because you had already passed the big one.
      One little test: here’s a helpless man in Africa, all you had to do is not violate him. That’s all.  You flunked!

So….you are distressed and conflicted about what to tell the children about these United States, its ideals, reality and leaders?

Welcome to my world.

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I’ll go a bit a further, play on a previous post, and suggest that if you want to inoculate your children against future crushing disappointments about the shape of American civic life, you might consider doing this:

Get yourselves back to church.

Sorry. I know you thought it was a prison, and maybe you truly experienced it that way, and maybe the people in charge fed that by acting like they were the prison guards, but maybe now you see the Big Picture consequences, and that raising kids God- and transcendent-free isn’t raising them to be free at all.

Ironic!

No guarantees, but it might help.

So why not try engaging with the Real instead of constantly trying to recreate it. Worship the Ultimate instead of the idols your yearning has constructed in trying to fill the gap you’ve created as you’ve pushed the Transcendent away, leaving only cracked clay idols crumbling in its place.

What to tell your children?

Tell them about God. It makes explaining human non-godlike behavior a lot easier.

Offer them some good news that frees them from enslavement to worldly powers as they seek life’s meaning and purpose.

Tell them that the yearning and hope they feel has a source and an object that won’t crumble or die and, even better, really, really loves them.

Tell them that they were put here on earth because God wants them to be, loved them into existence so they  can love Him back and love and serve all other beings that God also loved into being, and that because all of us are creatures and none of us are God, we can do much, but we can only do so much, and what we can do when agape  is at work is good and holy and enough.

In other words, God is God so…big relief…you don’t have to be, and neither do I, neither does the president, so let’s smash those idols.

Tell them that it is good that we are all here, now, and that this present moment glistens but briefly as past flows into the future in an amazing, complex, dense, beautiful universe, and this moment is not forever, but it is real, and it is mystery, it is glory and it is Cross.

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Today is his feast! Begin, as we like to do, with the grounded and pastoral catechesis of #B16:

In these past months we have meditated on the figures of the individual Apostles and on the first witnesses of the Christian faith who are mentioned in the New Testament writings.

Let us now devote our attention to the Apostolic Fathers, that is, to the first and second generations in the Church subsequent to the Apostles. And thus, we can see where the Church’s journey begins in history.

St Clement, Bishop of Rome in the last years of the first century, was the third Successor of Peter, after Linus and Anacletus. The most important testimony concerning his life comes from St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons until 202. He attests that Clement “had seen the blessed Apostles”, “had been conversant with them”, and “might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes” (Adversus Haer. 3, 3, 3).

Later testimonies which date back to between the fourth and sixth centuries attribute to Clement the title of martyr.

The authority and prestige of this Bishop of Rome were such that various writings were attributed to him, but the only one that is certainly his is the Letter to the Corinthians. Eusebius of Caesarea, the great “archivist” of Christian beginnings, presents it in these terms: “There is extant an Epistle of this Clement which is acknowledged to be genuine and is of considerable length and of remarkable merit. He wrote it in the name of the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth, when a sedition had arisen in the latter Church. We know that this Epistle also has been publicly used in a great many Churches both in former times and in our own” (Hist. Eccl. 3, 16).

An almost canonical character was attributed to this Letter. At the beginning of this text – written in Greek – Clement expressed his regret that “the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves” (1, 1) had prevented him from intervening sooner. These “calamitous events” can be identified with Domitian’s persecution: therefore, the Letter must have been written just after the Emperor’s death and at the end of the persecution, that is, immediately after the year 96.

Clement’s intervention – we are still in the first century – was prompted by the serious problems besetting the Church in Corinth: the elders of the community, in fact, had been deposed by some young contestants. The sorrowful event was recalled once again by St Irenaeus who wrote: “In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren in Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful Letter to the Corinthians exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the Apostles” (Adv. Haer. 3, 3, 3).

Thus, we could say that this Letter was a first exercise of the Roman primacy after St Peter’s death. Clement’s Letter touches on topics that were dear to St Paul, who had written two important Letters to the Corinthians, in particular the theological dialectic, perennially current, between the indicative of salvation and the imperative of moral commitment.

NOW….back in 2012, nearing the end of our epic fall in Europe, we were in Rome on 11/23, and purely by chance ,the wonderful Basilica of S. Clemente was on our agenda that day. We wandered over there, toured the Basilica (a second time for us, but the boys were little the first time and of course didn’t remember it), and then, in the neighborhood…encountered a festival. A festival for S. Clemente of course!

You can’t take photos inside the Basilica, so this was a close as I got.

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The feast, complete with procession, was so great, I took some lousy videos.


Loved it. Messy, imperfect, enthusiastic, rooted in history, public, welcoming all. Catholic.

Finish up with more from B16:

The action of God who comes to meet us in the liturgy precedes our decisions and our ideas. The Church is above all a gift of God and not something we ourselves created; consequently, this sacramental structure does not only guarantee the common order but also this precedence of God’s gift which we all need.

Finally, the “great prayer” confers a cosmic breath to the previous reasoning. Clement praises and thanks God for his marvellous providence of love that created the world and continues to save and sanctify it.

The prayer for rulers and governors acquires special importance. Subsequent to the New Testament texts, it is the oldest prayer extant for political institutions. Thus, in the period following their persecution, Christians, well aware that the persecutions would continue, never ceased to pray for the very authorities who had unjustly condemned them.

The reason is primarily Christological: it is necessary to pray for one’s persecutors as Jesus did on the Cross.

But this prayer also contains a teaching that guides the attitude of Christians towards politics and the State down the centuries. In praying for the Authorities, Clement recognized the legitimacy of political institutions in the order established by God; at the same time, he expressed his concern that the Authorities would be docile to God, “devoutly in peace and meekness exercising the power given them by [God]” (61, 2).

Caesar is not everything. Another sovereignty emerges whose origins and essence are not of this world but of “the heavens above”: it is that of Truth, which also claims a right to be heard by the State.

Thus, Clement’s Letter addresses numerous themes of perennial timeliness. It is all the more meaningful since it represents, from the first century, the concern of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the other Churches.

In this same Spirit, let us make our own the invocations of the “great prayer” in which the Bishop of Rome makes himself the voice of the entire world: “Yes, O Lord, make your face to shine upon us for good in peace, that we may be shielded by your mighty hand… through the High Priest and Guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty to you both now and from generation to generation, for evermore” (60-61).

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Selections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

Angelus address, 2006

He is Love and Truth, and neither Love nor Truth are ever imposed: they come knocking at the doors of the heart and the mind and where they can enter they bring peace and joy. This is how God reigns; this is his project of salvation, a “mystery” in the biblical sense of the word: a plan that is gradually revealed in history.

2008:

Today’s Gospel insists precisely on the universal kingship of Christ the Judge, with the stupendous parable of the Last Judgment, which St Matthew placed immediately before the Passion narrative (25: 31-46). The images are simple, the language is popular, but the message is extremely important: it is the truth about our ultimate destiny and about the criterion by which we will be evaluated. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25: 35) and so forth. Who does not know this passage? It is part of our civilization. It has marked the history of the peoples of Christian culture: the hierarchy of values, the institutions, the multiple charitable and social organizations. In fact, the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world, but it brings to fulfilment all the good that, thank God, exists in man and in history. If we put love for our neighbour into practice in accordance with the Gospel message, we make room for God’s dominion and his Kingdom is actualized among us. If, instead, each one thinks only of his or her own interests, the world can only go to ruin.

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God is not a matter of honours and appearances but, as St Paul writes, it is “righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rm 14: 17). The Lord has our good at heart, that is, that every person should have life, and that especially the “least” of his children may have access to the banquet he has prepared for all. Thus he has no use for the forms of hypocrisy of those who say: “Lord, Lord” and then neglect his commandments (cf. Mt 7: 21). In his eternal Kingdom, God welcomes those who strive day after day to put his Word into practice. For this reason the Virgin Mary, the humblest of all creatures, is the greatest in his eyes and sits as Queen at the right of Christ the King. Let us once again entrust ourselves to her heavenly intercession with filial trust, to be able to carry out our Christian mission in the world.

2009:

But in what does this “power” of Jesus Christ the King consist? It is not the power of the kings or the great people of this world; it is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, that can melt a hardened heart, bring peace amid the harshest conflict and kindle hope in the thickest darkness.

2010

Dear Friends, we can also contemplate in Christian art the way of love that the Lord reveals to us and invites us to take. In fact, in the past “in the arrangement of Christian sacred buildings… it became customary to depict the Lord returning as a king — the symbol of hope — at the east end; while the west wall normally portrayed the Last Judgement as a symbol of our responsibility for our lives” (Encyclical Spe Salvi, n. 41): hope in the infinite love of God and commitment to ordering our life in accordance with the love of God.

2007 homily:

We find ourselves again before the Cross, the central event of the mystery of Christ. In the Pauline vision the Cross is placed within the entire economy of salvation, where Jesus’ royalty is displayed in all its cosmic fullness.

This text of the Apostle expresses a synthesis of truth and faith so powerful that we cannot fail to remain in deep admiration of it. The Church is the trustee of the mystery of Christ: She is so in all humility and without a shadow of pride or arrogance, because it concerns the maximum gift that she has received without any merit and that she is called to offer gratuitously to humanity of every age, as the horizon of meaning and salvation. It is not a philosophy, it is not a gnosis, even though it also comprises wisdom and knowledge. It is the mystery of Christ, it is Christ himself, the Logos incarnate, dead and risen, made King of the universe. How can one fail to feel a rush of enthusiasm full of gratitude for having been permitted to contemplate the splendour of this revelation? How can one not feel at the same time the joy and the responsibility to serve this King, to witness his Lordship with one’s life and word?

2010

Participation in the lordship of Christ is only brought about in practice in the sharing of his self-abasement, with the Cross. My ministry too, dear Brothers, and consequently also yours, consists wholly of faith. Jesus can build his Church on us as long as that true, Paschal faith is found in us, that faith which does not seek to make Jesus come down from the Cross but entrusts itself to him on the Cross. In this regard the true place of the Vicar of Christ is the Cross, it lies in persisting in the obedience of the Cross.

This ministry is difficult because it is not in line with the human way of thinking — with that natural logic which, moreover, continues to be active within us too. But this is and always remains our primary service, the service of faith that transforms the whole of life: believing that Jesus is God, that he is the King precisely because he reached that point, because he loved us to the very end.

And we must witness and proclaim this paradoxical kingship as he, the King, did, that is, by following his own way and striving to adopt his same logic, the logic of humility and service, of the ear of wheat which dies to bear fruit.

2011, in Benin

The Gospel which we have just heard tells us that Jesus, the Son of Man, the ultimate judge of our lives, wished to appear as one who hungers and thirsts, as a stranger, as one of those who are naked, sick or imprisoned, ultimately, of those who suffer or are outcast; how we treat them will be taken as the way we treat Jesus himself. We do not see here a simple literary device, or a simple metaphor. Jesus’s entire existence is an example of it. He, the Son of God, became man, he shared our existence, even down to the smallest details, he became the servant of the least of his brothers and sisters. He who had nowhere to lay his head, was condemned to death on a cross. This is the King we celebrate!

Without a doubt this can appear a little disconcerting to us. Today, like two thousand years ago, accustomed to seeing the signs of royalty in success, power, money and ability, we find it hard to accept such a king, a king who makes himself the servant of the little ones, of the most humble, a king whose throne is a cross. And yet, the Scriptures tell us, in this is the glory of Christ revealed; it is in the humility of his earthly existence that he finds his power to judge the world. For him, to reign is to serve! And what he asks of us is to follow him along the way, to serve, to be attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcast. The baptized know that the decision to follow Christ can entail great sacrifices, at times even the sacrifice of one’s life. However, as Saint Paul reminds us, Christ has overcome death and he brings us with him in his resurrection. He introduces us to a new world, a world of freedom and joy. Today, so much still binds us to the world of the past, so many fears hold us prisoners and prevent us from living in freedom and happiness. Let us allow Christ to free us from the world of the past! Our faith in him, which frees us from all our fears and miseries, gives us access to a new world, a world where justice and truth are not a byword, a world of interior freedom and of peace with ourselves, with our neighbours and with God. This is the gift God gave us at our baptism!

2012:

In the second reading, the author of the Book of Revelation states that we too share in Christ’s kingship. In the acclamation addressed “to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood”, he declares that Christ “has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:5-6). Here too it is clear that we are speaking of a kingdom based on a relationship with God, with truth, and not a political kingdom. By his sacrifice, Jesus has opened for us the path to a profound relationship with God: in him we have become true adopted children and thus sharers in his kingship over the world. To be disciples of Jesus, then, means not letting ourselves be allured by the worldly logic of power, but bringing into the world the light of truth and God’s love. The author of the Book of Revelation broadens his gaze to include Jesus’ second coming to judge mankind and to establish forever his divine kingdom, and he reminds us that conversion, as a response to God’s grace, is the condition for the establishment of this kingdom (cf. 1:7). It is a pressing invitation addressed to each and all: to be converted ever anew to the kingdom of God, to the lordship of God, of Truth, in our lives. We invoke the kingdom daily in the prayer of the “Our Father” with the words “Thy kingdom come”; in effect we say to Jesus: Lord, make us yours, live in us, gather together a scattered and suffering humanity, so that in you all may be subjected to the Father of mercy and love

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