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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Here’s the liner notes and recording of today’s interview with the Faithful TravelerDiana von Glahn.  Forgive my popping “p’s.”  Hopefully, next time I’ll have that mike a little further away….

We talked about St. Bernard’s Abbey and Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama, and Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine in Orlando – Diana’s shows are structured, not only around travel, but travel related to various saints’ days of the week – hence, Mary our Queen and St. Bernard!

Read and listen here.

"amy welborn"

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Friday is my day to talk with Diana von Glahn on The Faithful Traveler radio show – this week, we talk about our visit to Assisi in 2012 – the interviews coordinate with saints’ days and feasts of that week, so since Clare was this week, Assisi it was.  Next week, we’ll be talking about St. Bernard, and specifically Ave Maria Grotto right up the road from me, Mary, Queen of the Universe and the importance of attending Mass during vacation (in addition to the whole “obligation” part)  and then the following week, several sites we have visited related to St. Augustine, from Florida to Milan to Pavia.

amy-welborn3

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The Assumption is tomorrow – a free book on Mary would be great, wouldn’t it?!

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"amy welborn"

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St. Maximilian Kolbe is today, August 14.  I like what Fr. Steve Grunow has to say:

We should not look back wistfully on the twentieth century, nor should we be uncritical about the so-called achievement of the modern world. 

One of the lessons we might learn from all this is that what we call civilization is a rather thin veneer, and what lies beneath this surface is a terrifying heart of darkness. Christians, who are called to live in the truth, must be realists about this and cannot afford to be naive. 

It was in the heart of civlized Europe, among the fading remains of Christian culture, that the death camps were built and millions of innocent men, women and children were put to death for no other reason than that their very existence challenged the ideological conceits of their oppressors. 

In the midst of the world’s darkeness, we are called by our Baptism to be a light in the shadows of this fallen world. Saint Maximilian is one such light, his life and death stands as a testimony to Christ, the eternal light, whom the darkness cannot overcome. 

St. Maximilian Kolbe is included in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

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High school has begun, and seems to be going well.  Son has only been subjected to a couple of Mom-Rants in response to procedures and process.  But it’s still only Week One.

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Good online reading:

The blog “An Eccentric Culinary History” is really good – longish form blog posts exploring various aspects of food history.  “The Great Sushi Craze of 1905” is how I found it. Not that I like sushi, but the whole topic of hidden, forgotten history and overthrowing contemporary assumptions never fails to interest me.

“Homeschooling in the City” in City Journal is really good – and should be read by all Catholic pastors and school administrators.  It lays out, better than most articles, the reasons parents homeschool, centered on: “You are wasting my child and my family’s time.”  And, “No, I don’t want to shelter my kids.  I want to expose them to more than what your pedagogy-o-the-month and ideology permits.”

As lousy as the public schools often are, urban parochial schools don’t always measure up, either. Ottavia Egan grew up in Italy, the daughter of an American mother and an Italian father. Today, she lives on 72nd Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with her husband, Patrick, and their four kids. The Egans’ middle school–aged daughter had attended a local parochial school, where the books assigned tended toward “junky” literature, paranormal horror stories, and vampire-themed fiction. “These were the only kinds of books my daughter would read willingly. I had to plead with her to give the classics a try,” she says.

Ottavia admits that the thought of detaching from the traditional school model terrified her. She worried that, as a homeschooler, she would have to do everything herself. But she soon sensed that she had made the right choice. “My daughter is the type of kid who needs to ask a lot of questions. On the first day, she had 12 questions for me in the first hour. She never would have had those questions answered at school.”

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Mother of the Year entry for today:

A couple of weeks ago, the 10-year old complained about an achy place on the back of his head.  “Is there a bump?” I asked.  “I think so.”  I felt it (his hair is longish and thick, btw).  Yeah, a little bump.  Well, you must have hurt yourself somehow. It will go away! Wait it out!

A few days after that conversation, he got up in the morning and said, “Mom, it really hurts, and it’s getting bigger.”  I parted his hair and took a quick glance at what looked to me like a fleshy protrusion.  Ew.  It looked to me like a weird skin tag.  Ew! I looked it up – hmmm…skin tags can grow quickly on children, caused by virus, similar to warts, picked up in swimming pools (where we have spent a lot of time the past month).  That must be it!  I called the doctor and we’d go in later in the afternoon.

We arrived, the nurse took us in, parted his hair, and visible started and jumped back a little.  “That’s big!” She said.

(You probably already know what’s coming.)

She looked closer, and then looked at me. “It’s a tick. Didn’t you see the legs?”

Uh…no.

So, yes, it was one of those gross white dog tick things that can get huge, and that’s what the poor child had been harboring on his head for a week.

(You ask..didn’t he wash his hair? Not in those last couple of days when it had really grown, I guess. When you go to the pool every day in the summer late in the afternoon, and you’re ten…you don’t really feel the need.)

Several nurses streamed in to behold the site, the doctor came in, braced herself for the tug of war, and after a bit of struggle, got it out.  His head was sore for a few days.

As I said, Mother of the Year. 

(And as for tick-borne diseases – she checked his lymph nodes – fine – and told me what to look for.  She said that’s not as much a problem in the South as it is in other parts of the country)

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"amy welborn"

Favorite time of day

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

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Puy du Fou is in the English-speaking news today because of an article at LifeSite:

France’s most famous theme park, the “Puy-du-Fou,” was in the news in France recently for having bestowed a gift of 50,000 euro (over 55,000 USD) to the “Fondation Jérôme-Lejeune,” devoted to helping children with Down syndrome and their families, and funding medical research on genetic mental deficiencies. The Puy-du-Fou’s founder, Philippe de Villiers, personally chose the beneficiary of the Park’s annual charitable donation and presented the check to Jean-Marie Le Méné, president of the Foundation that bears his father-in-law’s name, in the presence of Birthe Lejeune, Jérôme Lejeune’s widow, and the Park’s very special guests: several dozen children and young people with Down syndrome, accompanied by their families.

Philippe de Villiers’ decision to honor the Fondation Lejeune last month, together with his son Nicolas who is now the president of the Puy-du-Fou, was met with scorn by the mainstream media, which scoffed at the Foundation’s pro-life, anti-abortion, and anti-euthanasia stance and accused Villiers of wanting to pave the way for the upcoming regional elections. That is not exactly likely: being pro-life does not open a highway in French politics as the media reception of Villiers’ gesture amply shows.

The Catholic Herald comments:

Describing his theme park, its founder said: “The Puy-du-Fou was based on the idea of transmitting a heritage … We remember past glory, the glory of all the generations that defended France and Christendom. It is not an amusement park … It is a flame of French hope. When I created the Puy-du-Fou I considered it to be a moral debt. I wanted to write a hymn to repay the debt I owe to my father and my mother, to the Vendée.” Speaking of the different scenes of France’s history through the centuries which are re-enacted at Puy-du-Fou and which attract many thousands of visitors every year, he explained his vision, showing how the moral and educational purpose of his creation distinguishes it from others: “Let us speak of our heritage of 1,000 years, of the poor who came before us … The builders of our cathedrals were so poor that no one even remembers their names … being French is to be a link in a chain, a cathedral sculptor who leaves his lifework without leaving his name…”

What impressed me about this statement is how counter-cultural it sounds: that to live well is not to seek endless entertainment and distraction; it is to honour one’s parents; to reflect on one’s (Christian) national history; to celebrate and memorialise; not the anarchy let loose by the Revolution or “la gloire” of Napoleonic military imperialism, but the anonymous builders of the great French Gothic cathedrals, such as Chartres or Amiens. Most of all it suggests humility – indeed the humility of the famous geneticist who deliberately spoke out against abortion at a prestigious international conference, knowing that it would cost him the Nobel Prize.

As it happens, we’ve been to Puy du Fou – and it was amazing and fascinating.

As some of you know, we spent the fall of 2012 in Europe, mostly in France.  When I first started researching the trip, I happened upon information about Puy du Fou, and was immediately intrigued. What is this??  It’s the most popular attraction of its type in France – more so than EuroDisney – and I’d never even heard of it.  Then I went to the website, watched the over-the-top amazing videos about knights and vikings and such, and I was determined.

We had to go. 

So we did – as far as I could tell, one of the few non-French speakers in the park that day, which also happened to be the last day of the season they perform the massive, (literally) cast of thousands evening show.

It’s an “amusement park” but there are no rides.  The main attractions are recreations of medieval and renaissance villages with artisans and shops, a small collection of animals, a few animantronic features – de la Fontaine’s fairy tales, for example, and then these spectacular – I mean spectacular shows featuring French history, starting with the Romans – in a full-blown Roman coliseum with chariots and so on.

So, quickly – when we went, the shows were:

  1. The Romans
  2. A recreation of a Viking raid story with a variation of a saint/miracle story
  3. A Joan of Arc type story (although not quite)
  4. Richilieu’s Musketeer, which I didn’t understand at all – involving musketeers, Spanish type dancers and horses prancing on a water-flooded stage.
  5. Birds of Prey show
  6. The evening show, Cinescine 

You have to watch the videos to understand why, once I saw them, there was no way I was going to France and not going to Puy du Fou.

That said, I didn’t know anything about the place beyond the fact that it was popular and looked kind of trippy and totally French.

As we moved through the day, I started to notice a couple of things:

  1. The explicit religious content of every show (except the musketeer one, but it may have been there, and I just didn’t grasp it.)   The Roman show began with two Christian men running onto the sandy floor of the coliseum and drawing an ichthys, and being arrested for that.  The Viking show featured a miracle (based, I think on a particular miracle story but I don’t remember which at the time) about a saint raising a child from the dead.
  2. At some point it dawned on me…there’s nothing about the French Revolution here.  Nothing. Not a word, not an image. Wait. Aren’t all the French all about the French Revolution?

I knew that the evening show was about the Vendee resistance to the Revolution, but before I went, I didn’t know anything about the founder of the park, his politics and how the park expresses that vision.

As I keep saying, it was simply fascinating and really helped broaden my understanding of French history and the French people and the complexity of contemporary France.

Cinescine is really unlike anything you have ever seen. You’re seated on this huge grandstand, and the show happens around this lake – lights, hundreds and hundreds of people in costume tracing the history of the area, including the resistance to the Revolution, animals, music….wow.

(The one almost-mishap was that when I reserved the tickets, I had, of course, been messed up by that European calendar – so I thought I was buying tickets for Saturday, when I had in fact bought them for Friday – which had already happened.  I discovered this earlier in the day at the park, but the ticket folks were very nice and exchanged them out…I mean, why not? I’d already paid for something that had already happened, so why not let us in?  Also, I discovered why, even though the park is open far beyond mid-September, this was the last evening show – it got so, so cold that night – we had to take advantage of the wandering blanket-seller and spend 15 Euros on a blanket that night….)

Loved it, and would absolutely go back if I had the chance.

"amy welborn"

de la Fontaine- he talks

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What do we know about St. Clare of Assisi?

As is the case with many historical figures, separating legend and history can be a challenge with Clare and the effort can even miss the point because…well, who knows?

But it can be helpful and important to try to tease the two apart, not just for the sake of accuracy, but also so that we engage the willingness to be critical, not so much of the record that comes to us, but of our own assumptions.  Are we, for example, molding the figure of St. Francis to a particular modern agenda by  embracing some exaggerated legendary material about him but ignoring aspects of his life that are actually historically verifiable  – his strict views on liturgy and reverence, for example?

So, Clare.

58d729de3674eabab7869868b547b9aaIn his excellent and necessary biography of Francis, Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. writes a bit about Clare, what we know about her and what is disputed.

He says that it is not clear how Francis and Clare came to meet. For his part, as an historian, he leans toward the view that it was via one of Francis’ early followers, Rufino, who was also Clare’s cousin. We don’t know how many times they met, but, as Fr. Thompson says, “The eventual result, however, was a plan for Clare to ‘leave the world,’ just s Francis had nearly seven years earlier.” (46)

The night of Palm Sunday 1212,  Clare and her sister Pacifica left the family home and went to the Porziuncula. “They found Francis and the community waiting for her in prayer before the candlelit altar. Francis cut the young woman’s hair and gave her a habit like that of the brothers, but with a veil. Before the ceremony, as Clare later recounted herself, she made profession of religious obedience for life directly to Francis…Francis now faced a new problem: what to do with his first female disciple. As on several other occasions of need, he turned to Benedictines.” (47)

After some time, they were settled at San Damiano. Francis prepared a rule of life for them by which they were charged to “follow the perfection of the holy Gospel.” (48)

And from that point, until his death, we have no record of contact between Francis and Clare.

When he died in 1226, his body was taken to the sisters at San Damiano for reverence.

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The letters of St. Clare to Agnes of Prague. 

Agnes was the daughter of a king and espoused to the Emperor Frederick, who remarked famously upon news of her refusal of marriage to him, “If she had left me for a mortal man, I would have taken vengeance with the sword, but I cannot take offence because in preference to me she has chosen the King of Heaven.”

She entered the Poor Clares, and what makes the letters from Clare so interesting to me is the way that Clare plays on Agnes’ noble origins, using language and allusions that draw upon Agnes’ experience, but take her beyond it, as in this one: 

Inasmuch as this vision is the splendour of eternal glory (Heb 1:3), the brilliance of eternal light and the mirror 6477dcad09d8967545d8190b6c9cbdc1without blemish (Wis 7:26), look upon that mirror each day, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually study your face within it, so that you may adorn yourself within and without with beautiful robes and cover yourself with the flowers and garments of all the virtues, as becomes the daughter and most chaste bride of the Most High King. Indeed, blessed poverty, holy humility, and ineffable charity are reflected in that mirror, as, with the grace of God, you can contemplate them throughout the entire mirror.

Look at the parameters of this mirror, that is, the poverty of Him who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. O marvellous humility, O astonishing poverty! The King of the angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger! Then, at the surface of the mirror, dwell on the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labours and burdens which He endured for the redemption of all mankind. Then, in the depths of this same mirror, contemplate the ineffable charity which led Him to suffer on the wood of the cross and die thereon the most shameful kind of death. Therefore, that Mirror, suspended on the wood of the cross, urged those who passed by to consider it, saying: “All you who pass by the way, look and see if there is any suffering like My suffering!” (Lam 1:2). Let us answer Him with one voice and spirit, as He said: Remembering this over and over leaves my soul downcast within me (Lam 3:20)! From this moment, then, O queen of our heavenly King, let yourself be inflamed more strongly with the fervour of charity!

Now, more on Clare herself, from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, first from a General Audience in 2010

Especially at the beginning of her religious experience, Francis of Assisi was not only a teacher to Clare whose teachings she was to follow but also a brotherly friend. The friendship between these two Saints is a very beautiful and important aspect. Indeed, when two pure souls on fire with the same love for God meet, they find in their friendship with each other a powerful incentive to advance on the path of perfection. Friendship is one of the noblest and loftiest human sentiments which divine Grace purifies and transfigures. Like St Francis and St Clare, other Saints too experienced profound friendship on the journey towards Christian perfection. Examples are St Francis de Sales and St Jane Frances de Chantal. And St Francis de Sales himself wrote: “It is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there. I am not now speaking of simple charity, a love due to all mankind, but of that spiritual friendship which binds souls together, leading them to share devotions and spiritual interests, so as to have but one mind between them” (The Introduction to a Devout Life, III, 19).

After spending a period of several months at other monastic communities, resisting the pressure of her relatives who did not at first approve of her decision, Clare settled with her first companions at the Church of San Damiano where the Friars Minor had organized a small convent for them. She lived in this Monastery for more than 40 years, until her death in 1253. A first-hand description has come down to us of how these women lived in those years at the beginning of the Franciscan movement. It is the admiring account of Jacques de Vitry, a Flemish Bishop who came to Italy on a visit. He declared that he had encountered a large number of men and women of every social class who, having “left all things for Christ, fled the world. They called themselves Friars Minor and Sisters Minor [Lesser] and are held in high esteem by the Lord Pope and the Cardinals…. The women live together in various homes not far from the city. They receive nothing but live on the work of their own hands. And they are deeply troubled and pained at being honoured more than they would like to be by both clerics and lay people” (Letter of October 1216: FF, 2205, 2207).

Jacques de Vitry had perceptively noticed a characteristic trait of Franciscan spirituality about which Clare was deeply sensitive: the radicalism of poverty associated with total trust in Divine Providence. For this reason, she acted with great determination, obtaining from Pope Gregory IX or, probably, already from Pope Innocent III, the so-called Privilegium Paupertatis (cf. FF., 3279). On the basis of this privilege Clare and her companions at San Damiano could not possess any material property. This was a truly extraordinary exception in comparison with the canon law then in force but the ecclesiastical authorities of that time permitted it, appreciating the fruits of evangelical holiness that they recognized in the way of life of Clare and her sisters. This shows that even in the centuries of the Middle Ages the role of women was not secondary but on the contrary considerable. In this regard, it is useful to remember that Clare was the first woman in the Church’s history who composed a written Rule, submitted for the Pope’s approval, to ensure the preservation of Francis of Assisi’s charism in all the communities of women large numbers of which were already springing up in her time that wished to draw inspiration from the example of Francis and Clare.

In the Convent of San Damiano, Clare practised heroically the virtues that should distinguish every Christian: humility, a spirit of piety and penitence and charity. Although she was the superior, she wanted to serve the sick sisters herself and joyfully subjected herself to the most menial tasks. In fact, charity overcomes all resistance and whoever loves, joyfully performs every sacrifice. Her faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was so great that twice a miracle happened. Simply by showing to them the Most Blessed Sacrament distanced the Saracen mercenaries, who were on the point of attacking the convent of San Damiano and pillaging the city of Assisi.

Such episodes, like other miracles whose memory lives on, prompted Pope Alexander IV to canonize her in 1255, only two years after her death, outlining her eulogy in the Bull on the Canonization of St Clare. In it we read: “How powerful was the illumination of this light and how strong the brightness of this source of light. Truly this light was kept hidden in the cloistered life; and outside them shone with gleaming rays; Clare in fact lay hidden, but her life was revealed to all. Clare was silent, but her fame was shouted out” (FF, 3284). And this is exactly how it was, dear friends: those who change the world for the better are holy, they transform it permanently, instilling in it the energies that only love inspired by the Gospel can elicit. The Saints are humanity’s great benefactors!

St Clare’s spirituality, the synthesis of the holiness she proposed is summed up in the fourth letter she wrote to St Agnes of Prague. St Clare used an image very widespread in the Middle Ages that dates back to Patristic times: the mirror. And she invited her friend in Prague to reflect herself in that mirror of the perfection of every virtue which is the Lord himself. She wrote: “Happy, indeed, is the one permitted to share in this sacred banquet so as to be joined with all the feelings of her heart (to Christ) whose beauty all the blessed hosts of the Heavens unceasingly admire, whose affection moves, whose contemplation invigorates, whose generosity fills, whose sweetness replenishes, whose remembrance pleasantly brings light, whose fragrance will revive the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, because the vision of him is the splendour of everlasting glory, the radiance of everlasting light, and a mirror without tarnish. Look into this mirror every day, O Queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually examine your face in it, so that in this way you may adorn yourself completely, inwardly and outwardly…. In this mirror shine blessed poverty, holy humility, and charity beyond words…” (Fourth Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, FF, 2901-2903).

And then from a 2012 letter to the bishop of the area on the occasion of the anniversary of her conversion.

According to St Clare’s Testament, even before receiving his other companions Francis prophesied the way that would be taken by his first spiritual daughter and her sisters. Indeed while he was restoring the Church of St Damian, where the Crucifix had spoken to him, he proclaimed that women would live in this place who would glorify God by the holy tenor of their life (cf. FF 2826; cf. Tommaso da Celano, Vita Seconda, 13: FF 599).

The original Crucifix is now in the Basilica of St Clare. Christ’s large eyes which had fascinated Francis were to become Clare’s “mirror”. It is not by chance that the looking-glass would become a topic so dear to her that in her fourth letter to Agnes of Prague she would write: “Look into this mirror every day, O queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually examine your face in it” (FF 2902).

In the years in which she met Francis to learn from him about the way of God, Clare was an attractive young woman. The “Poverello” of Assisi showed her a loftier beauty that cannot be measured by the mirror of vanity but develops in a life of authentic love, following in the footsteps of the Crucified Christ. God is the true beauty! Clare’s heart was lit up with this splendour and it gave her the courage to let her hair be cut and to embark on a life of penance.

For her, as for Francis, this decision was fraught with difficulty. Although some of her relatives understood her immediately — and Ortolana, her mother, and two of her sisters even followed her in the life she had chosen — others reacted violently. Her escape from home on the night between Palm Sunday and the Monday of Holy Week had something of an adventure about it. In the following days she was pursued to the places Francis had prepared for her but the attempts, even with force, to make her go back on her decision were in vain.

Clare had prepared herself for this struggle. Moreover although Francis was her guide, several clues hint that she also received fatherly support from Bishop Guido. This would explain the prelate’s gesture in offering the palm to her, as if to bless her courageous decision. Without the bishop’s support it would have been difficult for Clare to follow the plan that Francis had devised and that she put into practice, both in her consecration in the Church of the Porziuncola in the presence of Francis and his friars, and in the hospitality she received in the days that followed at the Monastery of San Paolo delle Abbadesse and at the community of Sant’Angelo in Panzo, prior to her definitive arrival at St Damian.

Clare’s story, like Francis’, thus has a specific ecclesial trait: an enlightened pastor and two children of the Church who entrust themselves to his discernment. In it institution and charism wondrously interact. Love and obedience to the Church, so marked in Franciscan-Clarissian spirituality, are rooted in this beautiful experience of the Christian community of Assisi, which not only gave birth to the faith of Francis and of his “little plant”, but also accompanied them, taking them by the hand on the path of holiness.

Francis saw clearly the reason for suggesting to Clare that she run away from home at the beginning of Holy Week. The whole of Christian life — hence also the life of special consecration — is a fruit of the Paschal Mystery and of participation in Christ’s death and Resurrection. The themes of sadness and glory, interwoven in the Palm Sunday liturgy, will be developed in the successive days through the darkness of the Passion to the light of Easter. With her decision Clare relives this mystery. She receives the programme for it, as it were, on Palm Sunday. She then enters the drama of the Passion, forfeiting her hair and, with it, renouncing her whole self in order to be a bride of Christ in humility and poverty. Francis and his companions are now her family.

Sisters were soon to come also from afar, but as in Francis’ case, the first new shoots were to sprout in Assisi. And Clare would always remain bound to her city, demonstrating her ties with it especially in certain difficult circumstances when her prayers saved Assisi from violence and devastation. She said to her sisters at the time: “We have received many things from this city every day dear daughters; it would be quite wicked if we were not to do our utmost to help it now in this time of need” (cf. Legenda Sanctae Clarae Virginis 23: FF 3203).

The profound meaning of Clare’s “conversion” is a conversion to love. She was no longer to wear the fine clothes worn by the Assisi nobility but rather the elegance of a soul that expends itself in the praise of God and in the gift of self. In the small space of the Monastery of St Damian, at the school of Jesus, contemplated with spousal affection in the Eucharist, day by day the features developed of a community governed by love of God and by prayer, by caring for others and by service. In this context of profound faith and great humanity Clare became a sure interpreter of the Franciscan ideal, imploring the “privilege” of poverty, namely, the renunciation of goods, possessed even only as a community, which for a long time perplexed the Supreme Pontiff himself, even though, in the end, he surrendered to the heroism of her holiness.

How could one fail to hold up Clare, like Francis, to the youth of today? The time that separates us from the events of both these Saints has in no way diminished their magnetism. On the contrary, their timeliness in comparison with the illusions and delusions that all too often mark the condition of young people today. Never before has a time inspired so many dreams among the young, with the thousands of attractions of a life in which everything seems possible and licit.

Yet, how much discontent there is, how often does the pursuit of happiness and fulfilment end by unfolding paths that lead to artificial paradises, such as those of drugs and unrestrained sensuality!

The current situation with the difficulty of finding dignified employment and forming a happy and united family makes clouds loom on the horizon. However there are many young people, in our day too, who accept the invitation to entrust themselves to Christ and to face life’s journey with courage, responsibility and hope and even opt to leave everything to follow him in total service to him and to their brethren.

The story of Clare, with that of Francis, is an invitation to reflect on the meaning of life and to seek the secret of true joy in God. It is a concrete proof that those who do the Lord’s will and trust in him alone lose nothing; on the contrary they find the true treasure that can give meaning to all things.

From St. Pope John Paul II

Due to a type of iconography which has been very popular since the 17th century, Clare is often depicted holding a monstrance. This gesture recalls, although in a more solemn posture, the humble reality of this woman who, although she was very sick, prostrated herself with the help of two sisters before the silver ciborium containing the Eucharist (cf. LegCl 21), which she had placed in front of the refectory door that the Emperor’s troops were about to storm. Clare lived on that pure Bread which, according to the custom of the time, she could receive only seven times a year. On her sickbed she embroidered corporals and sent them to the poor churches in the Spoleto valley.

In reality Clare’s whole life was a eucharist because, like Francis, from her cloister she raised up a continual “thanksgiving” to God in her prayer, praise, supplication, intercession, weeping, offering and sacrifice. She accepted everything and offered it to the Father in union with the infinite “thanks” of the only-begotten Son, the Child, the Crucified, the risen One, who lives at the right hand of the Father.

In the fall of 2012, as it happens, we visited Assisi.

The way to San Damiano:

"amy welborn"

The room where St. Clare died – the far corner, in fact.

"amy welborn"

Photographs are not allowed in the chapel – the site where Francis discerned the voice of Christ.  The “San Damiano” cross that is in the chapel at San Damiano is a reproduction – the original is in the church of S. Chiara, back up in Assisi.

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S. Chiara basilica. 

And….part of the fruit is Adventures in Assisi…so even if you can’t have a photo of the cross inside S. Chiara, you can have a gorgeous watercolor..

9. Santa Chiara basilica - spread 8 copy

and of San Damiano’s interior:

8. San Damiano Chapel - spread 7

assisi

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Here’s a link to my interview with  Diana von Glahn, aka The Faithful Traveler, on her daily radio show on Real Life Radio. 

The link to listen is right here!

amy-welborn3

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Our town, perhaps like your town, has what many towns used to have: an ornate downtown theater, A “Showplace of [insert state or geographic region here]” 

 And like many of those ornate, state-monikered theaters, it occasionally shows films – during December and the summer, to be exact.

When I was growing up in Knoxville, the Tennessee Theater revived itself and began showing classic films and oh, it was glorious. I think for a time, they did it year-round, not just during the summer, and in those mostly pre-cable and pre-VHS days, this was my introduction, in real life, to the films I yearned to see, from the Marx Brothers to Casablanca. My most vivid memory was a showing of Gaslight in a packed theater – packed because Gaslight was on a double bill with Casablanca, and everyone had come to see Bogart and Bergman (although I had come to see Rains…more my type).  Gaslight ended up surprising everyone, and the thrill of  that collective gasp from the audience at various points in the film taught me all I needed to know about the difference between solitary and communal experiences.

We’ve been able to hit only a couple of showings at the Alabama this summer, and both in the last couple of weeks – the first was Singin’ in the Rain, and the second, last Saturday, was The General with a score composed by the organist.

As per usual, the mostly older volunteers at the door marveled over the presence of anyone younger than 25, and asked of the boys, “Have you ever seen a silent movie before?” They nodded – they’ve seen Chaplin, and a few weeks ago the ten-year old and I watched Keaton’s The Camerman when his brother was off somewhere else.

What a great film – (I’d never seen it either) – very funny, astonishing physical dexterity, and some visual humor that is a subtle as you can get without sound – the opposite of Kathy Selden’s accusation of  “dumb show” in Singin’ in the Rain, of course!

And yes, the boys liked it. Kids learn to appreciate culture in whatever context their sensibilities are formed in, which is why it’s careless and irresponsible to just let them watch anything and everything. If they grow up exposed to increasing level of complexity and subtlety, a well as just  quality – they’ll ultimately be bored by stupidity and (hopefully) turn from it, not out of outrage or offense, but simply because they have better things to do with their short time on earth, and they know it.

— 3—

…or they could be the group of no older than 10-year old girls at the pool this week talking about how great Dumb and Dumber II was…sigh….

— 4 —

I FINALLY finished the trip report of our late May trip out West.  You can find all the post by clicking on this, which takes you to all posts in the category, “Wild West 2015.”

Ended with Las Vegas.  Hated it.  Boys weren’t impressed either.

— 5 —

We started watching the Amazon series Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.  One episode in, and I like it very much. It’s funny, a little magical and quite humane, knowing rather than know-it-all. It looks as if it might be a win.

.— 6—

New high school son has Fahrenheit 451  as his summer reading, so since I’d never actually read it – as much as I liked Bradbury as a teen, I never got to this novel – I decided to read it, too.

It’s quite different from what I expected, based on the use of the books by contemporary “anti-censorship” activists. (I put that it quotes because most READ BANNED BOOKS movements are pretty happy to ban Bibles and religious materials, so I find it difficult to take them seriously)

Have you read it? If you haven’t you should, and if you last read it 30 years ago, give it another look, because it might strike you a little more powerfully in this Internet Age.  It’s not as much about “book burning” for specific ideas, but more about the differences between the act of reading, period and the state induced by visual and audio stimulation. 

Basically? The act of reading and the time and space we live in when we read encourages and enables actual thought, contemplation and an individual, unique relationship to ideas and reality.  The culture which Bradbury creates that stands opposed to that is instantly recognizable: people plugged in all the time. All the time. Living room walls turned into screens peopled by characters whose lives consume the public’s attention. Walking and sleeping plugged into earbuds.  The reader, the thinker, the wanderer, the dreamer, suspect and exiled.

Written sixty years ago, the book is eerily prophetic.  The modern reality of the plugged in world is a little different from what Bradbury creates in that it’s missing the communication aspect – his vision is that the power of technology is even more damaging because it emanates from a central source that uses it to keep the public uncritical, unaware and stupid. One could argue that our modern scene is the opposite – we don’t have a centralized source of technology, and in fact our lives are marked by a cacophony of voices that rain upon us from our screens and earbuds.

But somehow, even in that is uniformity. Because it’s still noise, it’s still a distraction, it still distorts our perspective and pulls us away from silence, contemplation, stillness and our purely individual encounter with words, ideas and images in the midst of that stillness, a stillness that affords us the mental space to relate, mull over, decide and, if we choose, close the book and walk away.

— 7 —

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Insert Metaphor Here

Pinball Hall of Fame or Whatever. Las Vegas.

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Well, here we are.  It’s Friday, May 29, and it’s time to go back to Las Vegas, and then the next day, home.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, we got up early to try to see some things in Death Valley before it got too hot – so it was at this point we went to the Devil’s Golf Course and found the spot where my son posed in the steps of R2Ds, and then, on the way out, the Harmony Borax Works and Zabriskie Point.

Back in Las Vegas I stopped at a car wash.  See, I had this little incident..at the Grand Canyon…

It happened on that drive along Cape Royal Road, when we had parked and hiked a bit. We got in the car to continue on, I backed up and BAM.  Panicked that I’d hit another car, and I was very relieved to see that it was only a very skinny tree that had snuck up into a blind spot. About a two inch irregular patch of paint had come off, and of course there was a good bit of tar on the bumper.  I had gotten a lot of the tar off with some stuff I’d purchased earlier, but I still wanted to spiff the whole machine up before I turned it in and walked away, whistling, No, no problems, everything’s fine! 

As it was, there were already some scratch on that back bumper, although my damage did stand out a bit, even  in that context.  So I washed the car, just to be safe. I guess. I don’t know. It probably all stood out even more on a clean car.  But no matter.  The guy inspecting the car when I turned it in didn’t blink twice at anything, and no one’s demanded damages.  Honestly, I imagine that the volume of cars rented in Las Vegas is so great, with a good many of them taken out into the desert and to the parks, the loss of two inches of a paint job is probably nothing.

Okay. So, car washed, one more In n’ Out lunch consumed, and then to the Strip to the hotel.

This would be our last night, so I’d thought, well…might as well stay on the Strip. Let’s have that experience…

Preface that: Las Vegas has always been one of those places – one of the few places – I’ve had no interest in visiting.  Sure, I’ve been curious…what is it like??? But I could have died, fully content, without ever having been to Vegas.

But here we were.  We stayed at Excalibur – the castle-themed hotel, across from New York, New York and the MGM and near Luxor, the Egyptian themed hotel.  I figured it would have the most interest for the boys, Because Knights,  plus it was one of the cheapest.  Now, let me add that it wasn’t super cheap  because it was a Friday.  If we’d stayed during the week, I could have gotten a room there for under fifty bucks, but, of course, this was the weekend, so it was more.  Not exorbitant, but not cheap, either.

But since we got to Vegas before check-in time, we made a stop:

The Pinball Hall of Fame.  I had misunderstood what I’d read about it, and went into it thinking that all the games were just a quarter, but not so. The games that were originally a quarter were still that, but everything else was what you’d expect to pay for pinball and a few vintage video games.  It was a decent way to spend an hour. Nostalgic, for sure.

DSCN4942But this was the game that they played the most…..

Then to check in.  Oh, I don’t want to give an hour-by-hour account.  Because you all want to know why I’m so judgy about Vegas, right?

Here’s the thing. Well, here are the things.

  • I’m not a prude or puritanical.  I’m super protective of my kids – more so, in fact, than some parents I know who are more personally prudish than I am.  Weird. But in terms of myself, it takes a lot to offend me or upset my equilibrium.  I tend to view life from a human interest perspective, not as someone who think she’s ( or would like to be) the Deity on the Judgment Seat.
  • I had told the boys before we got to Vegas, “In Las Vegas, you are probably going to see adults at their worst.”  Wasting time, wasting money, drunk, hooking up (in so many words), just Randomly Satisfying Hungers. Prepped. Ready. Realistic.
  • I was curious about the Strip – the architecture, the themed casinos, and so on.  And although I’ve been to NYC, Paris & Venice for real, and we’ve stayed in an actual castle, I was determined not to be snobby about all of that.  I was interested to see how the experience would be compressed for the Vegas clientele. Like Epcot, right? Even though I don’t like Epcot either. But still! Have fun! Look at the cool things creative and inventive humans do!

Ooooh, boy.

The plan was to check in, the walk up the Strip.  I wanted us to see the various casinos, and then end up at the Bellagio fountains, and see all that.

Here’s what happened:

We checked in, then walked down to the Luxor, saw that.  Walked back up to New York, New York.  Saw that. There’s a roller coaster that goes in and out of the casino, and inside the shops and restaurants are arranged in faux NYC neighborhoods.

I was so weirded out, this was the only exterior photo we took.

Walked across the street, went to the M & M Store. Got back out on the street. Walked half a block north toward the rest of the stuff…I paused. We paused.

My ten-year old looked up at me. He said, “I don’t like this. It’s creepy.”

Exactly.

Back to the room. Screw the Bellagio fountains. Get ready to go back home.

What was it? A combination of things.

  • The general depression that results any time you’re one of thousands of people milling around  noisy, brightly colored structures built solely for the purpose of manipulating you into spending mo money.
  • The slot machines, everywhere, powered by slouching humans in turn fueled by cigs and drinks.
  • Energy fueled by consumption of lots of cheap booze being consumed everywhere, sitting, standing, lying down.  It’s a different, distinct kind of energy.
  • Folks chugging in the middle of the M & M store.
  • Young women strolling down the strip in string bikinis. Young women in micro-minis with tops falling open to expose almost everything.
  • Bros in packs. Enough said.

And then there were the porn slappers. I had heard about the porn slappers, and stressed about the porn slappers, and posted questions about the porn slappers on a travel discussion board that I frequent. This was of great concern to me.

“Porn slapper” is a term for people who stand on the trip with small cards advertising escort services. They hold the stack of cards and slap them against their skin, making a bit of noise, getting attention.  I had wondered how pervasive this was, how obvious the message of the cards were.  I got lots of answers which clarified nothing and led me to believe either that these escort service cards would constantly rain upon our heads or that it was an overblown problem and not an issue, and your kids see Victoria’s Secret in the mall, right? No difference.

The reality was somewhere in between.

The “porn slappers” were definitely out and about.  And since I was obviously not a potential client, when we approached, they held the cards still and looked another way.  But…here’s the thing…the cards littered the ground.  Everywhere.

And here’s what really made me sad.  These “porn slappers?”  All, without exception, middle-aged Latino men and women of indigenous stock.  Shorter than I am, stocky, Spanish speaking.  Probably illegal immigrants.  I was probably making a lot of assumptions here, but all I could think when I saw them was, “Okay, Catholic Church, defender of the immigrant…where are you? Do something to find these people are truly dignified means of work…somewhere.”

Oh, the whole scene was just so weird. It was such an odd vibe of wandering, waste and loss. It made me want to pull everyone together, close, and talk about what we all really yearn for, and if I couldn’t do that, to run away and shake it off, hard.

Vegas was terrible. But in that revelation, maybe Vegas was not so bad.

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Insert Metaphor Here.

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I’m going to try to finish this up today, with a post on Death Valley, and then one on Vegas, baby.

(Which I hated. /spoileralert)

(Keep up with all the posts on this trip here.)

Death Valley is about two hours northish and west of Las Vegas. When Thursday began, we were in Saint George, which is about two hours east of Las Vegas. So this was going to be a big driving day, but also remember that because of the time change, it would, in the space-time continuum, be only three, not four hours between here and there.

There were times in the run-up to the trip I had regretted casually mentioned Death Valley, even though I wanted to see it.  Once I brought it up, the other two had decided that the trip wouldn’t be complete without it, but it was on the opposite side of all of the rest of the trip.  I wondered if we would have been better off with another day in Zion instead.  And that would have been great, but that said, in the end, despite the slight hassle, I’m glad we went.

Even though…it was…hot. 

Duh.  Of course it was.  It was late May in one of the hottest places on the planet! And I do like hot, and would not be too sad if I never spent time in frigid climes again.  But still…this was something else.

So that’ my first recommendation – if you do go to Death Valley, don’t go during the summer. Take everyone’s advice. They know what they’re talking about. If you go during the winter, you can probably stay outside and actually do some hiking, which is really almost impossible and not advisable in the summer.

Once we got to Las Vegas, I believe we hit an In n’ Out for lunch, and then drove on.  I took the northern route in on 95 instead of the more southerly route through Pahrump, mostly because I wanted to hit the ghost town called Rhyolite.\

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Really interesting, and a valuable lesson in the reality of ghost towns. Rhyolite existed for less than ten years, but during its existence, it was quite a busy place after gold was discovered nearby….

The town immediately boomed with buildings springing up everywhere. One building was 3 stories tall and cost $90,000 to build. A stock exchange and Board of Trade were formed. The red light district drew women from as far away as San Francisco. There were hotels, stores, a school for 250 children, an ice plant, two electric plants, foundries and machine shops and even a miner’s union hospital.

The town citizens had an active social life including baseball games, dances, basket socials, whist parties, tennis, a symphony, Sunday school picnics, basketball games, Saturday night variety shows at the opera house and pool tournaments. In 1906 Countess Morajeski opened the Alaska Glacier Ice Cream Parlor to the delight of the local citizenry. That same year an enterprising miner, Tom T. Kelly, built a Bottle House out of 50,000 beer and liquor bottles.

And then…bust.  The San Francisco Earthquake and  the 1907 financial panic brought everything down, and by 1917, the town was basically abandoned. A really good lesson in the transitory nature of life and achievement and….stuff….

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Below are photos of the Bottle House

Around 1905, during the Gold Rush, Tom Kelly built this famous house in Rhyolite, NV. It was built with 51,000 beer bottles and adobe mud. Bottles were also used in the walkway to the house. Kelly chose bottles because “it’s very difficult to build a house with lumber from a Joshua tree.” It took him about a year and a half to build the three room, L-shaped building with gingerbread trim. He spent about $2,500 on the building with most the money for wood and fixtures. Some of the bottles were medicine bottles but most were Busch beer bottles donated from the 50 bars in town.

Rhyolite Bottle House

Rhyolite Bottle House Rhyolite Bottle House

(Where did the town building go? People were frugal..they wouldn’t just leave the structures..they dismantled them and used the materials elsewhere.)

There’s an outdoor sculpture installation nearby and a tiny little museum staffed, the day we were there, by a retired history teacher.

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I don’t remember in which town his school was located, but…BUT..he told us something quite exciting…while he was teaching in the 1970’s, several of the children from his school were used as extras in STAR WARS, which was filming in Death Valley.

Okay, now, we were all definitely on board for Death Valley. The search for filming locations was on.

First, the entrance.

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And then you drive….down, down…down.  I saw a lot of fascinating sites on this trip, but this drive down into Death Valley was, oddly enough, near the top of the list, partly because went into this with no expectations other than “hot.”  I had never seen the television show “Death Valley,” and had never thought much about the place.  I had never considered that it is an actual, well, valley, and what that means.  From that north entrance, you head down into this vast, shallow basin surrounded by mountains, and it really is like you are driving into another world.

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First stop was Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, which are the only dunes in Death Valley, and where some Star Wars stuff was filmed.  It was..hot.

Then on to Stovepipe Wells, which is a tiny settlement and the location of one of the few accommodations in Death Valley. Stopped at the little store, looked around, saw a tiny bird outside on the sidewalk, wings spread, panting, got back in the car to drive to our accommodations in the Furnace Creek area. 

This is the most historically developed area of the park – it’s where the Borax mining operations were centered. (And yes, this is where your “20 Mule Team Borax” got its start.

We stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch – the less expensive and more available of the two lodgings in that area.  I had absolutely no problems getting a room, and I don’t think I even booked it until a couple of days before we got there.  To Death Valley.  The Furnace Creek Inn is the fancier, more expensive, and more historic lodging – an interesting history is here. The borax had been mined out, but the railroad company didn’t want to waste the investment in had made in the transportation into the valley, so they decided to try to make it a tourist attraction.

As I said, the Inn is pricier and was always booked up when I checked, so we settled for the Ranch, which was fine – us an the Europeans – mostly Italians this time, which was unusual. For most of the trip, we’d been following Germans and Asians. I don’t know why Italians suddenly popped up at Death Valley.

The Furnace Creek Ranch is on NPS property, but of course it is privately managed, and I do want to talk about this for a bit. As I had mentioned before, we had stayed at the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, also on NPS property, and managed by Forever Resorts.  It was fine, and you can’t beat the Grand Canyon, but there were certain aspects of the experience – mostly the value-to-quality ratio of the food that you are forced to pay for because you are a captive audience. It was overpriced and not that good (in the restaurant, at least).

The Furnace Creek Ranch is run by a different company – Xanterra – and it was a different experience.  Just as the case at GCNP, there are no other options for dining other than what’s at the hotel, but here, the food was pretty good and reasonably priced.  In other words, I didn’t feel taken advantage of or ripped off, and yes, I made a point of mentioning this on checkout.  So thumbs up for the Furnace Creek Ranch. (Very nice pool, too…in Death Valley, anything cool and wet is a nice pool, though)

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After we checked in and once it had cooled off a bit, but before it got dark, we set off to see a few things.  We also so a few things the next morning – as early as I could possibly rouse them, so we could try to beat the heat.  I won’t go moment by moment, but just offer some photos:

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History of Borax and Death Valley

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Badwater Basin, lowest point in North America. In the photo above, he’s pointing to a sign marking sea level.

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Star Wars Death Valley

In the steps of R2D2

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The Devil’s Golf Course.  It’s all salt.  Hardened, dried salt. Would be very painful to fall on this!

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Zabriskie Point.

Death Valley was fascinating, quite beautiful and haunting, and I would love to go back and hike in canyons and so on…in December.

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