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Archive for the ‘St. Francis of Assisi’ Category

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Today is the feast day of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, a Capuchin who lived in the Counter-Reformation period.

His story offers the open-minded an opportunity to learn more about the course and form of the Church throughout the ages and the varied forms that sanctity takes….

The best brief-ish biography I found of this saint is, not surprisingly on a Capuchin site. Here. 

Language scholar, humanist, philosopher, theologian, biblicist, preacher, missionary, professor, international administrator, confidant of Popes, Emperors, Kings and Princes, diplomatic envoy, army chaplain, military strategist and morale builder, polemicist, prolific writer – these are but some of the key skills and professional assets you might find on the CV of Julius Caesar Russo.Few modern multinational corporations would not vie to have this practical academic, influential publicist and versatile polyglot as part of their dream team.

But career chosen by this gifted sixteenth century man involved becoming part of a different kind of dream team, an alternative dream team, namely the ‘troubadours of the King of Heaven’ founded by Saint Francis of Assisi and called ‘the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor’. As part of this band of Brothers and as their servant-leader, he travelled barefoot all over Europe and founded churches and religious houses throughout the Holy Roman Empire. He evangelized and encouraged people. When necessary, corrected them while always inspiring them.  He washed dishes and said Mass humbly. He prayed almost incessantly and he willingly lent a listening ear to his Brothers and to all who turned to him for help. In the end, he would die among strangers, while undertaking a mission of mercy far from his native land. This epitome of a Renaissance man, this multi-talented genius and learned Capuchin Brother was none other than Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, one-time Vicar General of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor.

Beatified by Pope Pius VI in 1783, he was canonized by Pope Leo XIII on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 1881, and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1959 by Blessed Pope John XXIII. At the command of the King of Spain, his body is enshrined in the monastery church of the Discalced Franciscan Sisters at Villafranca del Bierzo in Galicia, Spain.

The basics:

  • Born in Brindisi, Italy and named “Julius Caesar” by his father!
  • Both parents died fairly early, he became associated with the Franciscans and then with their branch the Capuchins.
  • A brilliant student known for his mastery of languages, including Hebrew, a rare feat at that time.
  • An accomplished preacher, who, in the Franciscan model, traveled widely.

Brother Lawrence prepared his preaching through prolonged prayer and penance, meditating for hours on the Gospel before preaching a homily. The following quotation may help to give us an insight into how Brother Lawrence’s studied the scriptures, going beyond the literal meaning to the deeper spiritual meaning. The text also gives us a taste of his style of preaching. “When Christ decided to give sight to a man, blind from birth, he placed mud in the man’s eyes – an action that was much more suited to blinding those who see than giving sight to the blind who could not see! So too the Passion and Death of Christ was more likely to destroy the faith of those who believed that He was the Only-begotten Son of God than to commend faith to non-believers. Christ came into this world to do battle with Satan, to turn the world to faith and the true worship of God. He could have accomplished this by using the weapons of His Might and coming as He will come to judge – in glory and majesty just as he manifested himself in his Transfiguration. Who would not then have believed in Christ? But in order that His Victory might be the more glorious, He willed to fight Satan in our weak flesh. It is as if an unarmed man, right hand bound, were to fight with his left hand alone against a powerful army. If he emerged victorious, his victory would be regarded as all the more glorious. So Christ conquered Satan with the Right Hand of His Divinity bound and used against him only the Left Hand of his weak Humanity.”

Already in 1599, three years prior to his election as General Vicar, Brother Lawrence was sent to Austria and the present-day Czech Republic as a missionary to establish the Order in those lands and help buttress the Catholic faith against the constant onslaught of Protestantism. Taking with him with him twelve other Brothers, some of whom had German roots, he established local Fraternities at Vienna, Prague, and Graz a city of in south-east Austria. When the Brothers arrived in Prague they first lived in a hospital caring for the plague victims and preaching to the locals on Sundays and other Church festivals. Their sermons were effective in touching the hearts of many lukewarm Catholics who returned to the practice of the Faith. But at the same time they also were met with derision, which turned at times to life-threatening violence, from Protestants and hostile lapsed Catholics. The citizens scoffed at their poor dress-sense and the fact they went around in their bare feet. Their long beards too became the subject of mockery. Lutheran soldiers in the Imperial Army would call Brother Lawrence “the Wolf-monk’. On another occasion, a Protestant mob tried to push Brother Lawrence off a bridge in Prague and throw him into the river below. But he was rescued at the last minute by the Papal Nuncio’s nephew who happened to be passing by in the company of some of his friends.

Varied Evangelizing Approaches Adapted to Meet Local Needs
In the lands ruled by the Habsburg Emperors at the time there were Anti-Catholics, Non-Catholics, wavering Catholics and pious Catholics; some lived in thriving cities, others lived in isolated country farmhouses. Different audiences required different evangelizing methods. So Capuchins would use what they called “Apostolic Missions’ to visit the country people in their homes or work places and teach them the basic truths of the faith. In the cities they promoted devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and especially the devotion of ‘Forty Hours Adoration’ as well as setting up penitent confraternities dedicated to honouring the Passion and Death of Christ. Brother Lawrence relished every opportunity to engage Protestant Pastors in lively debate and used his writings to persuasively convince them and their adherents of their mistaken way of thinking. Seeing that this mission band was very successful, a new band of Capuchin missionaries was invited to help out. Blessed Benedict to Urbino was one of this second group of missionaries.As Provincial Vicar of Venice, Brother Lawrence began establishing a chain of Capuchin friaries connecting Venice, Trent, and the Tyrol. With an influx of native vocations, these houses of presence and mission would later mushroom, becoming in time six independent Provinces of the Capuchin Order.

  • He engaged with secular leaders at many levels for many purposes.
  • And then…there is that battle:

In 1601 the large Turkish army invaded the lands of the Holy Roman Emperor and were threatening to overrun the Habsburg-ruled lands before going to Rome to stable their horses in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Pope and Emperor were alarmed and patched together an army to block the Turkish threat. Brother Lawrence’s skills as a diplomat were used to cement together a Christian allied force which also included Protestants. At the Emperor’s request Capuchins served as army chaplains to the soldiers and Lawrence was among those appointed. However the small and badly equipped Imperial forces were no match for the invading Turkish army which with 80,000 men was more than four times larger than the 18,000 Christian soldiers who tried to block them.

At the The Battle of Székesfehérvár in Hungary the hopelessly outnumbered Christian army’s field commanders counselled retreat. but Brother Lawrence would not hear of this. Instead he urged the Imperial Forces on to victory, encouraging the flagging soldiers with his fiery words and personally leading the army into the thick of battle with his cross raised aloft for all to see. “Advance! Advance! Victory is ours!” he shouted over and over again and in the end a revitalized Christian army totally routed the Turks. Even the Lutheran soldiers were impressed by this and Brother Lawrence’s morale-boosting efforts were deemed pivotal in snatching a surprising last minute major victory over the invading Turkish forces.

In this noble and excellent two things are especially outstanding: his apostolic zeal, and his mastery of doctrine. He taught with his word, he instructed with his pen, he fought with both. Not deeming it enough to withdraw into himself, and dedicate himself to prayer and study in the refuge of his monastery, and occupy himself only with domestic matters, he leaped forth as if he could not contain the force of his spirit, wounded with the love of Christ and his brothers. Speaking from many pulpits about Christian dogma, about morals, the divine writings, and the virtues of the denizens of heaven, he spurred Catholics on to devotion, and moved those who had been swallowed up by the filth of their sins to wash away their crimes, and undertake the emendation of their lives. … outside the sacred precincts, when preaching to those who those who lacked the true religion, he defended it wisely and fearlessly; in meetings with Jews and heretics, he stood as the standard-bearer of the Roman church, and persuaded many to renounce and foreswear the opinions of false teaching. …

In the three volumes called “A Sketch of Lutheranism” (Lutheranismi hypotyposis), this defender of the Catholic law, mighty in his great learning, seeks to disabuse the people of the errors which the heretical teachers had spread. Therefore, those who treat of the sacred disciples, and especially those who seek to expound and defend the catholic faith, have in him the means to nourish their minds, to instruct themselves for the defense and persuasion of the truth, and to prepare themselves to work for the salvation of others. If they follow this author who eradicate errors, who made clear what was obscure or doubtful, they may know they walk upon a sure path.

With a fine theological sensitivity, Lawrence of Brindisi also pointed out the Holy Spirit’s action in the believer’s life. He reminds us that the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity illumines and assists us with his gifts in our commitment to live joyously the Gospel message.

“The Holy Spirit”, St Lawrence wrote, “sweetens the yoke of the divine law and lightens its weight, so that we may observe God’s commandments with the greatest of ease and even with pleasure”.

I would like to complete this brief presentation of the life and doctrine of St Lawrence of Brindisi by underlining that the whole of his activity was inspired by great love for Sacred Scripture, which he knew thoroughly and by heart, and by the conviction that listening to and the reception of the word of God produces an inner transformation that leads us to holiness.

“The word of the Lord”, he said, “is a light for the mind and a fire for the will, so that man may know and love God. For the inner man, who lives through the living grace of God’s Spirit, it is bread and water, but bread sweeter than honey and water better than wine or milk…. It is a weapon against a heart stubbornly entrenched in vice. It is a sword against the flesh, the world and the devil, to destroy every sin”.

St Lawrence of Brindisi teaches us to love Sacred Scripture, to increase in familiarity with it, to cultivate daily relations of friendship with the Lord in prayer, so that our every action, our every activity, may have its beginning and its fulfilment in him. This is the source from which to draw so that our Christian witness may be luminous and able to lead the people of our time to God.

The sketch offered here is just that…a sketch.  Go to the Capuchin site I linked above for more, or this one – is also good.

I think the life and proclaimed sanctity of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, even as sketched here, points out the inadequacy of some approaches to the Catholic questions and issues.

It is easy, it seems, to read the Gospels and proclaim:  Engaging with power is bad. War is bad. Simplicity is good. Tolerance is good. Embrace. Mercy. Welcome. 

But read this saint’s story carefully. A man who apparently found it not at contradictory to give himself to Christ, hold up St. Francis of Assisi as the emblematic disciple, devote himself to attempt to convert – not simply dialogue with – non-Christians and non-Catholics, move among the corridors of power, minister to the powerful, and inspire an army to go to battle.

Does that fit with what you’ve been hearing about what a “true Christian” does and doesn’t do?

This is why simplistic, The Gospels – n – Me – n- the Holy Spirit Today – doesn’t work.  It can’t coherently account for the complexity of Catholic history because there’s no systematic thinking brought to the table.  There is certainly plenty of space to talk about the shape of the Church and the vision of sanctity through the centuries, but without principles and systematic thinking, we really have nowhere to go.  Simplistic, idealistic thinking cuts us off from the breadth, depth, complexity and even ambiguity of human history and Christ’s church and saints within that history and offers us only the present moment in however those in authority choose to frame the present moment.

Oh…and slightly off topic, as I was reading, a concise expression of how saints deal with church office and authority came to me.

Saints don’t seek office; they seek mission. 

(And the hard part for most saints happens when the mission comes in the form of an office.)

(If you’d like a quick, interesting read – go to archive.org and check out this short book called The Saints of 1881 written by a British priest, about the saints canonized by Leo XIII that year.  Catholic publishing – always looking to build on current events, even then!)

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First, business: The Absence of War is now available on Kindle again. I had pulled it because I entered in a competition which, not surprisingly, I did not win, so here it is again for you – lending is enabled, so if you like it, you can pass it on. And while you’re at it, check out Son #2’s new book, coming in a week or so: Crystal Embers.  Preview here. 

All right, now for travel things. Monday, we traveled from Caceres to Guadalupe, the site of the famed Royal Monastery of Guadalupe. History:

There is a legend of the origins of the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The legend says that St. Luke was the person who created the statue in the first century AD. When he died in Asia Minor, he was buried with the statue. In the 4th century, his remains were transferred to Constantinople in the 4th century. In 590 Gregorio Magno was elected Pope and he had a devotion to this Virgin and exhibited the statue in his chapel. One day the Pope was having a solemn procession with the Virgin in Rome and asked the Virgin to intercede to stop an epidemic in the city. An angel appeared to the Pope and the epidemic stopped.

Pope Gregorio Magno sent the statue to Seville to St. Leandro, who was the archbishop of the city, through his brother Isidoro, who was in Rome. During the boat trip, a sudden storm overtook the boat, but Isidoro prayed to the Virgin and the storm stopped suddenly. The Virgin was enthroned in Seville in the principal church at that time until the Moorish invasion in 714. Many priests in Seville fled the city during the invasion and went north with the statue of the Virgin and other reliquaries of the saints. They hid the statue near the river in Guadalupe.

At the end of the 13th century, a cow herder called Gil Cordero had a vision from the Virgin Mary beside the river. She indicated to him where her statue could be found. She told him to tell the priests where the statue was and for them to build a church in that place. The priests of Caceres then build a hermitage in that place and dedicated it to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Pilgrimages started to the hermitage and later in 1389 the monks of the Order of St. Jeronimo arrived and took over the hermitage. Many of the Spanish kings, especially the Catholic Kings, favored the monastery and many additions were made to it and many treasures were given to it too. The Catholic Kings made a pilgrimage to the monastery after their conquest of Granada.

The statue of the Virgin has been examined by experts several times. The statue was carved in cedar and polychromed at the end of the 12th century. Its style is Romanesque and today her image looks black, from the passage of time. The Virgin is seated and has the Child Jesus in her arms. The image measures 59 cm. Today the Virgin is venerated and on Sept.8 there is a celebration on her feast day. After Santiago de Compostela, the number of pilgrimages to Guadalupe is the most numerous in Spain.

On July 29, 1496, Columbus brought two Indians named Cristobal and Pedro to the monastery to have them baptized, when he met the Catholic Kings here. This was the first baptism of Indians from America. They returned to Mexico and many hermitages and churches in the Americas were dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Columbus named one of the islands he discovered Guadalupe, after the Virgin. Today there is a great devotion to this Virgin in all of the Americas and around the world, especially in Mexico.

Images of the baptism are everywhere and the font that was used is the center of a fountain in front of the monastery.

I was a little surprised by how the monastery was situated. The place has a mini-Lourdes-like vibe, not surprising, if you read the note above about its long-time popularity as a pilgrimage site. So it’s not exactly a peaceful place, with the monastery being literally right up against the little town – the steps a couple hundred feet from the plaza-side cafes. It’s kind of strange, but because the town structures around the monastery retain their medieval look (except, you know, for the Mahou ads and such), it fits.

There are two aspects to visiting the monastery complex: Visiting the monastery itself, which requires participation in a tour, and then visiting the basilica, which is of course, open. The tours just kind of…happen, it seems to me. Enough people gather, and they start a tour. So, thinking that we might do this tour on Tuesday, we showed up Monday around 4:30, having checked in our cute little hostel (2 rooms for $70 total), and people were sitting around in the gathering area, so..you know…why not?

The tour is in Spanish, and takes you in the cloister, adjoining rooms which have been made into museum rooms of choir books and religious artifacts, the magnificent sacristy which features paintings by Zubaran, and then the upper…chapel, I guess. A layman takes you through most of the tour, and then in that upper chapel, a Franciscan takes over. We were, I gathered, about to see Guadalupe herself. He talked for a while, then opened another door – there was a panel with all sorts of painted images on it which he turned…and there she was! He lead a Hail Mary in front of it, then offered us a disk attached to the statue with a rope for us to venerate. Most in the group did, some held back. There was a pregnant woman in the group to whom he gave the privilege of turning the statue back the other way. (When you go in the basilica, the statue is up high from your vantage point – so where you’ve been on the tour is up behind it.)

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At one point one of my sons asked me, “What is he saying?” of the lay tour guide and I quickly explained that he was telling us we were in the former refectory and this is where the tables where and up there was the niche in which the reader stood during meals. He stared at me and said, “But you don’t speak Spanish.” “But I speak Catholic,” I said – and continued explaining that if I know the context of the speech and if I’m familiar with the topic, I can follow the general gist of what someone is saying in French, Spanish or Italian. Context is everything, though. So here, once I picked up the word for refectory, I was set.

The tour was a little rushed, but I guess you could also say it was efficient, right? The basilica was…a basilica. There was not much distinctive about it, so I’m glad we got all that done when we arrived – the advantages of the late-living Spanish lifestyle!

No photos were allowed in the monastery, but you can easily find images of that online.

Monday evening, we wandered, took in views, and prepped for the next stage. Tuesday morning, we got up and I thought we might do some walks around Guadalupe, but as we drove out, I couldn’t figure out stopping points or parking places or trail beginnings, so we just sped on. It would be an hour and a half to the next stop, so might as well….

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A few years ago (several…more than ten….), I wrote a few back-of-the-book one page pieces on Franciscan-related saints for Steubenville’s Franciscan Way magazine. Here’s one on today’s saint, Benedict the Black. You can see that all those years ago, I looked askance at the self-fulfillment- passions-n-dreams bandwagon. It just ain’t the Gospel, folks.

 

 


 

 

In the modern world, we make much of personal initiative. The praiseworthy person, we’re told, is one who goes out there, sees what he wants, and grabs it. Our drive for action, our motivating center is supposed to  be  all about expressing   our personal vision.

Have we forgotten how to listen? For it seems to me that a really complete life isn’t about us charging through, imposing our lovely selves on a breathlessly waiting world. No, isn’t it more about watching the world, listening  to  it,  sensing  needs,  and  responding  in kind?

The saints seem to tell us  this is so, among them, St. Benedict the Black.

St. Benedict has been called “the Moor” at times, but while his parents were indeed African, they  were not, in fact, Moors (an ethnic group from western Africa). Over time,  he came to be called “the Moor” as a mistranslation of the nickname he earned during his life, “il moro santo ,”which means  “the  black saint.”

stbenedictblackBenedict’s parents converted to Christianity after they were brought from Africa to Sicily as slaves. Their owner promised to free their oldest son when he reached manhood, so on his eighteenth birthday, Benedict was released from slavery.

He took work as a day laborer,  and working in the fields one day, he was subjected to mockery from a passer- by, who insulted his race and the fact that his parents were slaves. Benedict responded  to  the  taunts,  not  out   of revenge or anger, but in the spirit of Christ who calls us to love our enemies.

Benedict’s  response  drew  the attention of a hermit named Lanzi, who was living in loose association with others nearby in the spirit of St. Francis. He told those who had spoken the harsh words, “You ridicule a poor black now; before long you will hear great things of him.” He invited Benedict to join him and his associates. Benedict listened and responded. He sold what possessions he had, gave the money to the poor, and joined the hermits.

The group of hermits moved several times over the years. When Lanzi, the group’s superior died, they elected Benedict to replace him. In 1564, however, Pope Pius IV ordered all groups of hermits to either associate themselves with an established religious order or disband. Benedict joined the Friars Minor of the Observance and became a lay brother at a friary in Palermo, where he was given the  role  of cook.

The  mid-sixteenth  century  was a time of great upheaval in the Church. The Franciscans had, of course, engaged in many reforms and realignments already over the course of the order’s 300-year life. Benedict’s convent was already part of the stricter element of the order—the Observants, and in 1578, it voted to participate in more reforms to bring it even  closer to the Franciscan ideal. Benedict was elected guardian of the convent—the one who would oversee the   reforms.

Since he could neither read nor write, and was not even a priest, Benedict was initially unhappy with his election, but in the end, bound by obedience, had no choice but to  listen and accept. He might not have seen his own gifts as particularly suited to this office, but his brothers obviously did, and their call to Benedict proved a wise one. Benedict led the reform with wisdom and prudence. He responded in the same way to the next call—to be novice master—saying yes to God’s call through the needs of his community. His reputation for holiness spread beyond the convent walls as well, as he directed his energy towards helping the poor.

At last, his administrative duties at an end, Benedict requested and was granted a return to the friary kitchen. There he spent the rest of his days, not only helping to nourish his brothers, but also sharing the love of Christ with all who came to him for help. The poor and the sick flocked to the friary kitchen, knowing that there they would meet the compassion of Jesus, working through the hands and heart of Benedict, a holy man who would listen to them speak of their needs and would always respond.

We all have our plans, it  is true. We can’t help but make them. But when we listen to God’s voice as he speaks through a world in need, we might hear hints that God has some- thing else in mind. Something even better.

 

 

 

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Just a quick word about a project that’s just becoming available and that I’m proud to have been involved in.

Most of you are familiar with Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series. The Word on Fire team is following up with another video series and study program called Pivotal Players.  The first half of the program is just now being released. From the website:

CATHOLICISM: The Pivotal Players is a multi-part film series that illumines a handful of saints, artists, mystics, and scholars who not only shaped the life of the Church but changed the course of civilization.

The Study Guide looks very strong, with sections by scholars like Dr. Matthew Levering, Fr. Paul Murray, O.P. and Dr. Anthony Esolen. Here’s a pdf sample of the study guide material on Catherine of Siena.

My part? I wrote a prayer book: Praying with the Pivotal Players. 

Each figure gets five segments. Each segment begins with a quote from their writings, even Michelangelo who left many letters and wrote poetry. This is followed up with some reflections and then some prayer and reflection prompts. The sections are thematically aligned with whatever is emphasized in the episodes. I wrote the book last fall, and really enjoyed the process. It gave me an opportunity to immerse myself in the writings of these figures and I learned quite a bit. The table of contents is on the website. 

The book is included as part of the parish program packet, but judging from what I see on Amazon, you should be able to purchase it by itself eventually.

"pivotal players"

 

 

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An interesting coincidence (or is it???) that the Gospel reading for the Sunday after the Vatican announced that  Mary Magdalenes’ July 22 observance would be raised from a memorial to a feast is that in which we meet her, by name, for the first time.

It is from Luke. The bulk of the Gospel is the end of Luke 7, which tells the story of a nameless woman who enters the Pharisee’s home in which Jesus is dining and, repentant, kisses his feet, cleanses his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair and anoints them with oil.

Jesus points out to the aghast Pharisee that this woman has done what he failed to do – welcome him properly into his home by cleaning the dust of the road off his feet and his head. Of course, the meaning is deeper than that. The Pharisee has failed to welcome Jesus into his life out of pride. The woman, aware of her sinfulness, recognizes Jesus’ power to free her. Her gestures acknowledge who Jesus is, the grace he offers to forgive her and free her from the prison of her sins and how he will do this – through his own suffering. She recognizes, she welcomes, she is changed.

The option is given to tag the first part of chapter 8 onto this reading, and that is the section that specifically mentions Mary Magdalene, as one of a group of women who attach themselves to Jesus and the apostles, women who provide for the group’s needs. She is described as a woman from whom Jesus drove out seven demons. “Seven” is understood as an all-encompassing, consuming number, and so what we learn from this very brief description is that whatever had Mary in its grip, had her completely, and Jesus drove it all away and freed her. Just as completely as she was consumed by demons, she was freed. So of course she would leave her life behind and follow.

The juxtaposition of these narratives has led to an association – that Mary of Luke 8 is the same woman described in the chapter before. Mary Magdalene is also associated with other women in the Gospels – she is thought of as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, or even as the woman caught in adultery in John 7. When you add in the post-Gospel legendary material of both the eastern and western Christian traditions, the confusion builds even more.

So confusing..someone should write a book!
Well, I did – several years ago in the midst of Da Vinci Code fever. OSV published it and gave it the unfortunate title of De-Coding Mary Magdalene. It was unfortunate because it tied the book to DVC, and I felt that its potential value reached far beyond that particular moment, since it was (and I think still is) the only popular Catholic book-length treatment of the saint – who was, incidentally, the most popular saint of the Middle Ages after the Blessed Virgin herself.

It is out of print, but I am working on getting a digital text that I would like to make available at no cost, just as I have with Come Meet Jesus, The Power of the Cross and Mary and the Christian Life. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

In the meantime, take a look at this excerpt

Mary Magdalene was an enormously important figure in early Christianity. She was, after the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most popular saint of the Middle Ages. Her cultus reveals much about medieval views of women, sexuality, sin, and repentance. Today, Mary Magdalene is experiencing a renaissance, not so much from within institutional Christianity, but among people, mostly women, some Christian, many not, who have adopted her as an inspiration and patron of their own spiritual fads, paths, and fantasies.

Mary Magdalene is the patron saint of contemplatives, converts, pharmacists, glove makers, hairdressers, penitent sinners, perfumers, sexual temptation, and women."amy welborn"

This book is a very basic introduction to the facts and the fiction surrounding Mary Magdalene. We’ll unpack what Scripture has to say about her identity and role in apostolic Christianity. We’ll see how, very soon after that apostolic era, she was adopted by a movement that remade her image in support of its own theological agenda, a dynamic we see uncannily and, without irony, repeated today.

We’ll look at the ways in which both Western and Eastern Christianity have described, honored, and been inspired by her, and how their stories about her have diverged. During the Middle Ages in the West, Mary Magdalene’s story functioned most of all as a way to teach Christians about sin and forgiveness: how to be penitent, and with the hope of redemption open to all. She made frequent appearances in religious art, writing, and drama. She inspired many to help women and girls who had turned to prostitution or were simply destitute. She inspired Franciscans and Dominicans in their efforts to preach reform and repentance.

It all sounds very positive, and most of it, indeed, is. That’s not, however, the idea we get from some contemporary commentators on Mary Magdalene’s historical image.

Many of you might have had your interest in the Magdalene piqued by the novel The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. In that novel, Brown, picking up on strains bubbling through pop culture and pseudo-historical writings of the past fifteen years or so, presents a completely different Mary Magdalene than the woman we meet in the Gospels and traditional Christian piety. She was, according to Brown, Jesus’ real choice to lead his movement; a herald of Jesus’ message of the unity of the masculine and feminine aspects of reality; a valiant and revered leader opposed by another faction of Jesus’ apostles led by Peter; the mother of Jesus’ child; and in the end, some sort of divine figure herself. Mary Magdalene is no less than the Holy Grail herself, bearing the “blood” of Jesus in the form of his child.

 

 

….The Magdalene-Spouse-Queen-Goddess-Holy-Grail theories are not serious history, so, frankly, we are not going to bother with them until the final chapter, and then only briefly. What we will be looking at — the history of the person and the imagery of Mary Magdalene — is daunting, rich, and fascinating enough.

The contemporary scholarship on Mary (and, indeed, on much of the history of Christian spirituality and religious practices) is growing so fast and is so rich that all I can do here is simply provide an introduction. A thorough, objective introduction, I hope, but the fact is that the burgeoning scholarship on Mary Magdalene is quite vast, and much of it, particularly that dealing with the medieval period, is not yet available in English. I have provided an annotated bibliography at the end of this book for those readers interested in pursuing this subject in more depth.
Our brief survey will undoubtedly be revealing, as we rediscover how deeply Mary Magdalene has been revered, used, and yes, misused and misunderstood by Christians over the centuries. The story, I hope, will be provocative in the best sense. For the fact is, the greatest interest in Mary Magdalene in the West today comes from those outside of or only nominally attached to the great course of traditional apostolic Christianity. Roman Catholics, in particular, seem to have lost interest in her, as, it must be admitted, they have in most saints.

Lots of people are listening to a Magdalene of their own making, a figure with only the most tentative connection to the St. Mary Magdalene of centuries of traditional Christian witness.

May the story recounted in the book play a part in reclaiming Mary Magdalene, so that we may hear her speak clearly again, as she does in the Gospels: for Jesus Christ, her Risen Lord.

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Busted Halo site on MM.

(This nutty angle on MM will be getting more play in the fall, once again, as for some strange reason, Dan Brown releases a new edition of his book..”for teens.”)

And now let’s get back to the elevation of this memorial.

The designation of special days in the Catholic calendar is complicated. You might be tempted to shrug, “legalism” and wonder why such trouble must be taken to put various celebrations in specific categories, but don’t. When the Church celebrates something, it does so in terms of the Mass readings and prayers and also the readings and prayers of the Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, the cycle of prayers that all religious are bound to pray and that all laity are invited to pray as well. There are thousands of saints and blesseds formally recognized by the Church. There has to be a system for organizing these celebrations and keeping the calendar focused, particularly as these celebrations are observed from people all over the world and also since the calendar moves, as we saw, for example, a couple of months ago when the Feast of the Annunciation fell on Good Friday.

So don’t sneer. That specificity, that attention to that kind of detail is in service to all of us and the Gospel.

Anyway, to get the background on this elevation, read the declaration itself and this commentary from the New Liturgical Movement.commentary from the New Liturgical Movement, which alerts us to the fact that this “new” action circles back around to

Not only is this not a novelty, it is partially a return to the historical practice of the Tridentine Rite. In the Breviary of St Pius V, which predates his Missal by two years (1568), there were only three grades of feasts: Double, Semidouble and Simple. St Mary Magdalene’s feast was a Double, meaning that it had both Vespers, doubled antiphons at the major hours, nine readings at Matins, precedence over common Sundays, and had to be transferred if it were impeded. It is true that later on, as Double feasts were subdivided into four categories, she remained at the lowest of them (along with all the Doctors, inter alios). Nevertheless, the privileges of her liturgical rank did not even begin to be curtailed until late in the reign of Pope Leo XIII, at the end of the 19th century.

As I noted in 2014 in an article about her feast day, the Creed was traditionally said at the Mass of St Mary Magdalene in recognition of that fact that it was she who first announced the Resurrection to the Apostles. (This felicitous custom was removed from the Roman Missal for no discernible reason in 1955.) This is also why she was called “Apostles of the Apostles” in a great many medieval liturgical texts, such as the Benedictus antiphon in her proper Office sung by the Dominicans.

This recognition of Mary Magdalene as an “apostle to the apostles” is not a new invention. As Roche points out, it is ancient, but as he fails to point out, it is a notable characterization of Mary Magdalene in the East.

And now, I’ll carp.

  • The notification is offered to us because this change is something Pope Francis wants. It is by his “express wish” and a means by which he seeks to “underline” some themes.
  • This emphasis on framing the Faith in terms of Pope Francis’ priorities, hopes and dreams is such a huge problem, I can’t tell you. Well, I probably can.
  • The declaration is presented with no acknowledgment of the historical background of Mary Magdalene’s cultus or the shape of her memorial in the liturgy, and therefore comes across as an amazing new thing. This decision, in the current ecclesial context, seeks to reflect more deeply upon the dignity of women, on the new evangelisation and on the greatness of the mystery of God’s Mercy. 
  • The failure to mention the liturgical role of Mary Magdalene in Eastern Christianity is regrettable and narrow.
  • And Roche ends with this: For this reason it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman should have the same rank of Feast as that given to the celebration of the Apostles in the General Roman Calendar and that the special mission of this woman should be underlined, she who is an example and model for all women in the Church. 
  • This is just wretched. Yes, we say, for example, that a certain teen-aged saint is a model for teenagers, or an African is a model and beacon of hope for other Africans, but we say that informally.
  • When we talk about the shape of Catholicism as a whole and how it embodies the saving action of Christ in the world, we do not use gendered or class-bound or ethnically-defined language. Women are invited to contemplate the witness of St. Francis of Assisi. Men are invited to embrace the spirituality of Therese of Lisieux. And so on.

    The amazing, beautiful and absolutely unique thing about Catholicism is how adolescent girl-martyrs, homeless guys, the homebound and in general, people of every ethnicity and age are held up as figures for everyone to look to, honor, pray to and emulate. In what other part of life on this earth do you find Very Rich People financing huge, elaborate edifices to house the bones of kids murdered by worldly powers? Where do you find a spirituality that says – the witness of his homeless fellow, of this woman who spent her life praying in solitude…the freedom they found in Christ? It’s yours, no matter who you are. Be like that homeless guy. Be like that woman. Be like that kid. All of you. Learn from them. Be like them. 

  • So, sure. This is good. But how much more powerful, or at least, less irritating, it would have been if the decision, as expressed, were more firmly and explicitly grounded in the Church’s already rich tradition of devotion to Mary Magdalene, not as an expression of the priorities of Pope Francis, and she was presented as an “example and model” for all people, and not in terms of mildly insulting gesture for the ladies who presumably haven’t figured out from, I don’t know, the entire witness of Catholic tradition..that sharing the Good News is what we, as baptized Christians, are all about.

 

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The date has been set – September 4.

Mother Teresa is in my Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes.  Here are the first couple of pages:

 

You can read most of the rest of the entry here. 

"amy welborn"

And looking ahead, you can read the entry on St. Patrick from the Loyola Kids Book of Saints here. 

I don’t have copies of these books to sell from home, but I do have lots of picture books – Friendship with Jesus, Be Saints, Adventure in Assisi – here. 

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We are in the final weeks before Easter, which means that we are in the final weeks of candidate and catechumen preparing for full initiation at the the Easter Vigil.

(Of course, RCIA is really, properly only for the unbaptized and already baptized Christians can and should be catechized and brought into the Church year-round if it’s appropriate for that person. But, nonetheless…)

The Scrutinies are the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent and so perhaps this is a good time to share some good instructional material with friends or family members who are revving up for meeting Christ in the Eucharist for the first time in a few weeks.

The How To Book of the Mass has recently undergone a makeover – I had no role in it and was as surprised as anyone. Mike fought hard for the original cover – he didn’t want the normal Catholic-looking cover and wanted something that would really stand out on a bookstore shelf, so for years the left-hand image had been the cover.

 

 

The new cover looks much like any other intro-to-the-Mass book, but rest assured the content is the same. I’m glad it’s still in print, still selling welling, and helping people. And the content does reflect the most recent translation. Here is an excerpt. 

I have a few copies with the original  cover – you can order here. Or get through your local Catholic bookstore or online. 

"amy welborn"

In addition, I’d recommend my Words We Pray  – which is a collection of essays I wrote on traditional Catholic prayers from the Sign of the Cross to the Lord’s Prayer to the Memorare to the Liturgy of the Hours to Amen.  Each essay ties in some historical material with spiritual reflection, the goal being to help the pray-er link the prayers of his or her own heart with the prayer of the Church.  St. Paul says, In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.(Romans 8:26).

One way the Spirit helps us pray as we ought and give voice to our the depths of our hearts is via the Spirit-formed traditional prayer of the Church. It leads us away from solipsism and situates our prayer properly, putting praise and gratitude to God first, and placing our needs in the context of his will, above all.

I have a few copies of that here too, as well as all the picture books.  But you can get The Words We Pray online anywhere as well.  

 

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That first week of October is so saint-heavy…time to prepare…

The Novena to St. Therese of Lisieux begins today. It’s included in The Church’s Most Powerful Novenas. 

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And then, of course, St. Francis….October 4. You can order Adventures in Assisi here.  

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Published by Franciscan Media.

More information and background here 

More background on our trip to Assisi that inspired the book. 

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from Germany in 2006. The homily mentions the feast at the end:

Today we celebrate the feast of the “Most Holy Name of Mary”. To all those women who bear that name – my own mother and my sister were among them, as the Bishop mentioned – I offer my heartfelt good wishes for their feast day. Mary, the Mother of the Lord, has received from the faithful the title of Advocate: she is our advocate before God. And this is how we see her, from the wedding-feast of Cana onwards: as a woman who is kindly, filled with maternal concern and love, a woman who is attentive to the needs of others and, out of desire to help them, brings those needs before the Lord. In today’s Gospel we have heard how the Lord gave Mary as a Mother to the beloved disciple and, in him, to all of us. In every age, Christians have received with gratitude this legacy of Jesus, and, in their recourse to his Mother, they have always found the security and confident hope which gives them joy in God and makes us joyful in our faith in him. May we too receive Mary as the lodestar guiding our lives, introducing us into the great family of God! Truly, those who believe are never alone. Amen!

John Paul II was in the Slovak Republic on 12/12 in 2003:

1. “My heart rejoices in the Lord” (Resp. psalm).  It is with deep joy and profound gratitude to God that I join you in this square, dear Brothers and Sisters, to celebrate today the memorial of the Holy Name of Mary.

The place where we are assembled is especially meaningful in the history of your city. It calls to mind the respect and devotion of your Ancestors towards Almighty God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the same time it recalls the attempt to profane this precious inheritance, perpetrated by a bleak regime of not so many years ago. To all of this the column of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a silent witness……

…..4. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).  Mary believes and therefore she says “yes”.  Her faith becomes life; it becomes a commitment to God, who fills her with himself through her divine motherhood.  It becomes a commitment to her neighbour, who awaits her help in the person of her cousin Elisabeth (cf. Lk 1:39-56).  Mary abandons herself freely and consciously to God’s initiative, which will achieve in her his “marvellous things”: mirabilia Dei.

With the Virgin Mary’s example before us, we are invited to reflect: God has a project for each of us, he “calls” everyone.  What is important is knowing how to recognise this call, how to accept it and how to be faithful to it. 

5. My dear Brothers and Sisters, let us make room for God!  In the variety and richness of diverse vocations, each one is called, like Mary, to accept God into one’s own life and to travel along the paths of the world with him, proclaiming his Gospel and bearing witness to his love.

May this be the resolution that we all make together today and that we place confidently in Mary’s maternal hands.  May her intercession obtain for us the gift of a strong faith that makes clear the scope of our life and enlightens our mind, our spirit and our heart. 

There are actually a lot of Marian feasts in September, aren’t there? Nativity of Mary (9/8), Our Lady of Sorrows (9/15) and today – Holy Name of Mary.  More on September with Mary here.

So…why not pray the rosary?

A bit more information here.

And then there’s a free book…

"amy welborn"

Go here for more information and to download.

Also…the feastday of St. Francis of Assisi is on its way..considering ordering Adventures in Assisi as a way to deepen your child’s understanding of St. Francis beyond the legends, helping them understand his core message of poverty and humility and what that actually means..

More here

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— 1 —

Okay – about Brother Sun, Sister Moon.

I’ve written about this before.  Somewhere, to far back to dig up, and I’ve defended the movie, relating how it’s a guilty pleasure for me mostly because of the emotional associations.  When I was a freshman in college, the student center at UT showed it one night and our whole crew – those of us who were active at the Catholic student center – went. There we were, deep in our friendships and community, really into this Catholic thing, in the way that mostly (only?) young people can be, and we all went and saw this movie…and came out even more ecstatic, convinced that this thing was real and beautiful.

If you want your dream to grow…

I know there are those that hate it, but even in adulthood, and even now, no, I don’t hate it, but this most recent viewing last weekend, probably 15 years at least since the last time, revealed its flaws quite clearly.

— 2 —

  • It’s not exactly Christocentric.  Not surprising, right?  Of course Christ is mentioned – Francis does say he wants to live like Christ and the apostles, but it’s not presented as his central motivation.  And naturally, Francis’ whole focus on penance – that was what he was doing, really – embracing the life of a penitent, not a homesteader, is absent. (it’s absent from most contemporary takes, even Catholic ones, as well, though. When you actually read St. Francis, it’s very clear – his motive wasn’t primarily “simplify” or even “the poor.”  It was “penance for my sins.”
  • The scene in Rome with the Pope is over the top and almost laughable.
  • He didn’t have as much actual contact with Clare after she embraced poverty as the movie suggests.  In fact, after they had established how she was to live, he didn’t see her again until he was dying.
  • I’m pretty sure it doesn’t snow in Assisi as much as the film suggests.

Good things?

  • The atmosphere is wonderful.
  • So many haunting images that might not be historically accurate but are, well.. truthy. 
  • My favorite scene in the film is this one:

And there are other good ones.  Yes, the Jesus-centeredness of Francis is not..central. But if you can balance that out with what you’ve learned from Fr. Thompson’s biography and this fantastic book….all the better.

adventures-in-assisi

Aside:  The first time Francis encounters Clare, he follows her to an area where, to his horror, lepers gather to wash. She has brought them bread, which she lays on a rock. She then warbles, “Brothers! Brothers!”   Years ago, when my daughter was maybe 5 or so, we watched the movie and for days, she would call her own (perhaps to her, leprous) big brothers by trilling, “Brothers! Brothers!” herself.

— 3 —

Speaking of Hansen’s Disease, I’m still reading The Colony, which is about the history of the leper colony at Molokai.  It’s quite fascinating, and perhaps the most important figure I’ve learned about was one who was quite well known during the early part of this century and who now has, following his presently more famous colleagues, Sts. Damien and Marianne of Molokai, his canonization cause in process:

Brother Joseph Dutton:

In late July 1886, a ship pulled into Molokai, Hawaii’s leper colony. Father Damien de Veuster always greeted the newcomers, usually lepers seeking refuge and comfort. But one passenger stood out, a tall man in a blue denim suit. He wasn’t a leper; he was Joseph Dutton, and at age 43 he came to help Father Damien. The priest warned he couldn’t pay anything, but Dutton didn’t care. He would spend forty-five years on Molokai, remaining long after the priest’s death of leprosy in 1889.

Joseph’s journey to Molokai was full of twists and turns. 

Well worth reading and contemplating!

More here

Here 

….

Before his death on March 26, 1931, he said: “It has been a happy place—a happy life.” It had been a restless life until he found happiness among the lepers of Molokai. At the time of his death, the Jesuit magazine America noted: “Virtue is never so attractive as when we see it in action. It has a power to believe that we too can rise up above this fallen nature of ours to a fellowship with the saints.”

Here.

Father Damien—then a patient himself—greeted him as “Brother” on July 29, 1886, and from that moment until Damien’s death on April 15, 1889, the two maintained an intimate friendship.  Dutton dressed Damien’s sores, recorded a statement about the priest’s purity, and worked tirelessly to honor his memory and legacy in following years.  He led the movement to name the main road “Damien Road” and wrote both personal letters and newspaper columns about his sacrifice.  Included in Dutton’s collection at Notre Dame are strips of Damien’s cloak and several finger towels that he saved in envelopes.

In his 44 years in Kalaupapa, Dutton touched thousands of lives through his selfless service.  He headed the Baldwin Home for Boys on the Kalawao side of the peninsula, where he cared physically and spiritually for male patients and orphan boys.  From laboring as a carpenter and administrator, to comforting the dying, to coaching baseball, Dutton immersed himself in his community without accepting credit; to him, work was always about answering God’s call instead of personal fame or selfish desire.

josephdutton

— 4 —

A good week for saints this week, eh?  Well, it always is, but I’m also struck by the aptness of this week’s saints for Catholic Schools Week:  Angela Merici, Thomas Aquinas and Don Bosco.

Read their lives. Contemplate their lives. Called to take different paths in varied circumstances, all listened and responded.  They prayed, they thought, they wrote, they were all creative as they, shall we say…reached out to the peripheries?

Who’d have thought it possible….

— 5 —

Speaking of Catholic schools, it was nice to see the Diocese of Birmingham featured in this NCRegister article on the impact of vouchers on Catholic schools.  This past fall, Ann Engelhart and I spoke at St. Barnabas, one of the schools mentioned, and I was so impressed with the children, who knew quite a bit about (guess who) ..St. Francis of Assisi already.

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— 6 —

Did a homeschool roundup post here yesterday.  Here’s how Guatemala has progressed.  It will be painted today:

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I mean…I wouldn’t have done the mountains that way, but it’s not my salt dough map of Guatemala!

— 7 —

 (Repeat from last week…but…still pertinent)

Lent is coming!  Full list of resources here, but take special note today, if you don’t mind, of these Stations of the Cross..and pass it on to your parish!

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

"amy welborn"A few years ago, I wrote a Stations of the Cross for young people called No Greater Love,  published by Creative Communications for the Parish. They put it out of print for a while…but now it’s back!

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

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