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A blog comment indicated that I was leaving the impression that my lack of follow-up on a promised homeschool takeaway post was perhaps because I was in agony about it.

Yikes, no.

The delay is due more to the fact that it’s hard for me to write about the topic succinctly. I tend to plunge in and just go on and on. I’m going to give myself 30 minutes from start to finish on this one, starting….now. 

But inspired by that nudge, I’ll start. I’ll begin with the personal takeaway, and follow up at another time with my Big Thoughts on Philosophical Issues. I was initially going to write about this in terms of “what I learned,” but as I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t quite and accurate characterization of my takeaway. It wasn’t about learning, it was more about things I knew, but perhaps didn’t know I knew…or didn’t know that I believed so deeply.

When in doubt, bullet points:

  • I didn’t realize how much I had internalized the system. I thought I was all flexible and open, but I wasn’t. Homeschooling freed me in a deep way from assuming that once a certain path is begun, that’s the only way. That is – you start high school at this certain school..does that mean you have to finish there? Does that mean you are locked into the 4-year School Family Treadmill? No.
  • I learned that I’m not an unschooler. Sad. Just couldn’t let go of some things.
  • I learned that the reason we divide fractions is by multiplying the dividend by the reciprocal of the divisor is because that’s what division is . (8 divided by 5 is the same as 8 multiplied by 1/5.  8/5.)
  • Now, I say that, not just as a fun fact, but as a representation of a larger point: I learned a lot through homeschooling. 
  • With the math, as I have said before, I’m not mathy but nor am I terrible at math, img_20160819_110905.jpgand I’ve used it enough to still remember most of everything through Algebra. But using the Art of Problem Solving curricula with my kids taught me a great deal, introduced me to the architecture of mathematics in a way that I had never experienced and was sorry I hadn’t – understanding math the AOPS way would have helped everything make so much more sense to me in high school. So with the fractions and division thing – it was always presented as just a rule, with no reason. Sort of a random weird thing you do when dividing fractions. But it’s not random! There’s a reason! And that reason helps a lot of other things – division itself, fractions, decimals – fall together in a reasonable pattern.
  • But oh, so much more. Stuff I once knew, but had forgotten, and so much I didn’t know – about science, history, art…
  • One of the most wonderful things about homeschooling to me was that I think my kids understood that we were indeed learning together. Yes, I can go on and on about certain subjects, and sometimes they both irritate and amaze me with their questions to me and I say, “Well, I guess I should be flattered that you think I am some sort of encyclopedic genius,” but for the most part our homeschool environment was one of mutual learning and exploration, with me providing resources, guiding and explaining when needed, but me also saying regularly, “Wow, I didn’t know that!”
  • I think it became clear to them that the proper way to look at a teacher is as both an authority and expert of sorts, but also as a co-learner. Not all teachers present themselves that way, of course, but be honest. It’s what we are. I am endlessly curious about almost everything – which is not always a good thing, as it can lead to never being able to just calm down and stop researching – and I hope that they picked up that curiosity and open-mindedness, along with some degree of authoritative understanding – makes for a good learning experience.
  • We were also exposed, on a daily basis, to the fluidity of knowledge. Over and over again we encountered points of information that would be presented in a traditional school textbook as just FACT but are in FACT being called into question by current research and new information.
  • I came to appreciate the sciences and engineering and related fields so very much. I think this is a huge takeaway for me. It is not that I didn’t admire those fields – it’s that I come from a total humanities background – English/history/religion/political science/philosophy. Hardly anyone in my family (which is small, so I don’t have a large study cohort to go on) went into any other field but those. Through the reading that we did, the videos that we watched, the programs that we attended, I came to really appreciate the sciences and related fields as truly creative, exciting areas which contribute so much to human flourishing, even at the most technical levels, and this became a point I communicated to the boys over and over.
  • It may not make sense to some, but my goal as a home educator eventually evolved to: Help them become humble, skillful, wise skeptics. 
  • Humble: so we know how little we know and are never closed.
  • Skillful: so we can do what we need to do (write, compute, make)  well
  • Wise: so our minds are in communion with the Word
  • Skeptics: so we know that all human things, including knowledge, are contingent and temporary
  • I learned a lot about my kids. I am not keen on writing a lot about them in a public space, but I will say that my sense of my older son’s aptitude for planning, logic and making connections was confirmed and deepened by our two years of homeschooling and my appreciation of my younger son’s enthusiastic embrace of All Things Nature was as well.
  • Homeschooling them is going to be of great help to me in advocating for them and guiding them as we not homeschool.
  • On a very practical level, homeschooling revealed to me how many resources there are out there – explicitly educational resources, as well as others – both in real life in the community and online.  I wouldn’t have known about them if I hadn’t been up until 1 am following rabbit trails. There is no excuse for having a boring classroom these days. None.
  • I’m about to run out of time. So I suppose my final takeaway will bleed into the next episode about broader issues.  It was confirmed for me, although I had felt it and it was indeed a reason I decided to homeschool in the first place, how much of a time and energy suck school is. We did “school” in at most three hours a day – not counting days when they did classes or activities outside the home – and although we were busy, home was a pretty relaxed place.  Now they are gone 8 hours a day and re-entry into the home is marked by a flurry of papers, the dream2mental effort for everyone to sort out what needs to be done and when and fatigue and the general, already
    aggravated wistful look forward to May.
  • Don’t get me wrong. There are good teachers teaching interesting things in ways that they could not experience at home and systems that are having to build up ways to help everyone accomplish and learn and I get it. I get the challenges. I’ve been there. It’s just taking some effort to not allow the system and its many often picayune requirements pollute that culture of open-minded, relaxed learning that we enjoyed for four years, and in some small way, to keep it alive here in the amount of time The School Family permits.
  • Trade-off. Just keep saying it. Trade-offs. 

(Other homeschooling posts here, here, here and here. At some point I’ll do a category for these.)

 

 

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Almost done, now.

One more practical post, and then next week, Big Thoughts.

Oh, and how is it going? Seems to be going well. It is very interesting to hear the experiences of a child experiencing school for the first time in four years, and with only the faintest memory of the last time, which was first grade. He’s been in classes in other settings, but of course, two hours once a month at the science museum or every other week at the zoo is a little different from…school. He’s pretty intrigued by the process. Aspects of classroom life that other students probably either take for granted or are tired of he finds interesting. It’s hard to explain. 

All right, I need to finish this part up. Let’s go. Yesterday, I outlined how we approached religious instruction. I probably should add that year before last was Confirmation year for the then-8th grader, and that was handled through an excellent school program.

As I have indicated so far, I didn’t homeschool so I could sit my kids down with books and worksheets. I was wanting to provide them with something different than what school was giving them, because I had come to see that school – as it was constructed, as they were experiencing it and as the Forces That Be are determined to make it – is not learning about the world in its complexity and depth, but about being rewarded for making the educational system’s priorities your priorities. Or at last pretending that they are.

What a way to spend almost every day of your life for twelve years.

So in terms of daily life – you can get a taste of it in the Daily Homeschool Report posts, which are all over the place – we did certain things almost every day, used a few textbooks in a few areas, did some drilling in things like cursive and math facts, but other than that tried to prioritize reading, discussing what we were reading and then experiencing life outside the home.

One or both of themselves participated in a lot of outside classes and activities.

McWane Science Center homechool classes

Birmingham Zoo homeschool classes

A Lego robotics group up in Madison, which is close to Huntsville. There was probably one in Birmingham, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find it, so I’m thinking there probably wasn’t one after all at the time. Both of them did it at first, but then the younger one lost interest, so we would go up there, J would do Lego robotics and M and I would go explore – we went to the Rocket Center a lot that fall.

Art classes at the Red Dot Gallery

An art class at Samford Academy of the Arts

Piano instruction through Samford

Boxing at Juarez Boxing

St. Thomas Aquinas Academy – drama and history of science

Weekly homeschool gym and social time on Friday afternoons

Those (except for the Red Dot classes and Piano) were for homeschoolers, particularly. During the time, they both did basketball every year, the older one did scouts, the younger one did children’s schola at the Cathedral for a year, they served Mass in the parish and the convent, and this past year, the younger one has become involved in Fraternus, a new Catholic boys’ and mens’ group.

Those were just the various regular activities. They also participated in various single events – like a rock climbing class, a class at the Birmingham Museum of Art, a field trip the Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

So…books. Interspersed in the post of photos of some of our bookshelves. To save me time.

Handwriting

This is important and awful to teach, unless you have a kid who gets into it. (I once was making conversation with a teen-aged homeschooled girl and I asked her what her favorite subject to study was. “Handwriting,” she said. So there’s one for you.)

But we forged on.

Writing our Catholic Faith

Wacky Sentences Handwriting Workbook

The older a kid got, the more work was done in cursive.

Copywork

I became a huge fan of copywork while homeschooling. If you want to read about the rationale behind it, go here. I think it is a very effective way of practicing the mechanics of handwriting and internalizing good writing. There are a lot of ways to use copywork. img_20160812_102749.jpgSometimes I took passages from books they were reading, interspersed into a more general schedule of that rotated Scripture passages, poetry, passages from literature and sayings/aphorisms. Fridays we did not do copywork – we either did “Friday Freewrite” – from the Brave Writer method – or they illustrated one of the previous week’s copywork passages.

Copywork is so much better than the stupid and invasive trend of beginning-of-class journaling writing prompts that you see in so many classrooms. Here’s a sample I pulled off of a website just now:

10. Persuade a friend to give up drugs.

11. Five years from now, I will be… 

12. Write about a day you’d like to forget. 

13. Invent and describe a new food. 
journal writing prompts
14. Describe an event that changed your life forever, or make up and describe an event that would change your life forever.

15.  Describe someone who is a hero to you and explain why. 

16.  Write about a time in your life when you struggled with a choice and made the right one. 

First of all, answering these prompts teach nothing. I suppose the purpose is to unleash the right brain or get juices flowing, but you have 50 minutes to teach – I don’t know if this is the best use of time.

But that’s not even my most serious problem with this type of activity. Look at those questions – and they are not atypical.

We have become accustomed to schools and educational systems getting personal with our kids. After all…we’re a school family. They’re given surveys on their family lives to fill out, they’re told to put personal information on tests, and they’re tested for drugs. Their reflections about and reactions to material they’ve learned rather than simply learning it and moving on. They’re asked “how do you feel” or “how would you feel” or “have you ever felt.”

Do you know what?

My kids’ memories of a day they would like to forget or an event that changed their lives forever or when they struggled with a choice….is none of their teachers’ business.

What a great day it would be, the day that a class began with kids copying out a passage from, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, noting the specifics of grammar, punctuation and appreciating the mode of expression – instead of being required to share their feelings about some aspect of their personal life with a 27 (or 45 or 60) -year old adult stranger who has a certain degree of power over them.

How about this? How about we tell our kids that if they are asked to “journal” in class in away that violates their privacy that it’s okay for them to just…. make stuff up? I have no problem with that.

People, I taught religion and I never crossed that line. I constantly made connections between what I was teaching – Scripture, history, theology – and the rest of life, and I invited and challenged my students to think about those connections and told them that faith was indeed, all about making those connections and living them, but I never asked them to write personal reflections on anything for me to read. I consider that kind of stuff inappropriate and even an abuse of authority in a classroom setting where students are required to attend and are giving you work on which you will give them a grade that will go on their transcripts.

Also, lazy.

Grammar

I did a bit of grammar with them the first year or so, then tapered off. I think grammar is very interesting and think that sentence diagramming is a powerful tool, but at some point, everyone understood what adverbs were and I decided they were better served by img_20160812_102739.jpgreading more literature rather than parsing grammar – we were also doing more Latin, and doing grammar in that context. I didn’t use one single curriculum for this, but various workbooks. Sometimes I just pulled things of the Internet, but I did make use of these:

We started off with Seton’s English for Young Catholics – grades 2 and 6. I thought they were pretty good. We did those in Europe.

Then we went to the Critical Thinking Company’s Language Mechanic and Editor-in-Chief. Both were fine. I did a lot of skipping around, because some exercises were just too simple.

The Grammar Minutes workbooks are good review.

I would not recommend the English grammar materials put out by Singapore Math.

Now, we never used Singapore Math. Yes, it’s the gold standard that all the Intense Homeschoolers use, but I was told early on that it was too challenging and too different to plunge into midstream and, in short..stay away from the Singapore Math unless you are a img_20160812_102622.jpgTrained Professional!

Okay, that’s fine. I wasn’t really tempted anyway. It looked complicated, with all those bars and such. But then I saw that they had grammar materials, and I thought…well, they must be pretty good! So ordered a few of the books. Received them, looked them over..and filed them away to sell or give away.

I don’t have them anymore, and it’s been three years since I looked at them, so I can’t recall the specifics, but the problem was essentially that the materials were written to teach aspects of the language to non-nativeEnglish speakers. The issues highlighted were not those that a native speaker would be dealing with. I’m sorry I can’t piece the specifics together, but really, if you go to a ESL website and look at the exercises, you’ll probably see what I mean.

Upshot? I think we “did grammar” for a year and half, then I stopped and focused on just writing.

Math

Speaking of math…

As I mentioned in a previous post, we began with what their old school used: Pearson’s EnVision Math. There is a lot of hate for this program on the Internet, even from teachers, but I confess that I, a non-math person, did not hate it. It was deeply flawed, but I actually could see the rationale behind it.

Yes, the program sometimes breaks down problems in what seem to be strange, counter-intuitive ways. But what was interesting to me about it was the presentation of different problem-solving strategies for a single problem or area of study. Given that there are, img_20160812_102633.jpgindeed, different ways to look at mathematics problems, and different ways that make sense to different people, I saw this as helpful.

But where the program collapsed, I felt was in expecting the student to demonstrate mastery of all of the techniques and strategies. That seemed to me to contradict the first premise: that different approaches are all valid and more helpful to some than others.

By the time we had finished those books, I had discovered The Art of Problem Solving programs, and I was all in. I had Joseph (6th-7th) grade do the Pre-Algebra program which was very challenging, but excellent. Michael was a bit young for Beast Academy at first, so we transitioned by using Math Mammoth – which is good, and the Life of Fred which is certainly popular among homeschoolers, quirky and interesting reading for a child, but not a comprehensive math program by any means. It’s good because it gives a narrative understanding of mathematics, but it is really not sufficient.

Wait, you’re saying. You’re a humanities person. What are you doing, talking and teaching math?

Well, I managed, and believe it or not, I was so convincing in the charade that last year, my son would come to me with questions about his high school honors Geometry class expecting me to have the answers! Ha!

But do you know what? I could help him, most of the time. I’ve never considered myself math-y at all, and I never took anything higher than what we called “Advanced Math” back in the day, but I suppose was some sort of basic pre-Calculus and Trig, but I don’t find math impenetrable. And the Art of Problem Solving stuff is so good, you really don’t img_20160812_102644.jpgneed “help” in understanding it, and it’s very well-presented that even I found it interesting. The program digs so deeply, yet effortlessly into the foundations of math, what had been taught to me in a way that seemed just random, actually made sense.

Oh, and I have a theory about education that pertains here.

People become educators for various reasons, but specialists get involved because they love their specialty. Which is great!

The problem, however, can be, that if you are a specialist, and if you are really good at something, if you have a gift for understanding or processing a certain subject…you might not be the best person to teach others, others who don’t look at the subject with a flash of intuitive understanding, but have to slog through the fog of confusion to reach the point that you just “get.”

So no, I’m not a mathematician. But I have had to think through the processes in a way – not only when I was in school, but in helping my older kids – that makes me, at the very least, not useless in accompanying my sons on their Math Journey. As we say.

So..yes to Art of Problem Solving. Even if your kids are in school…consider looking at img_20160812_102902.jpgBeast Academy for younger kids as a supplement and the high school classes and other resources on the website for kids who like math and are not being challenged in school. I consider it one of the best, most valuable discoveries of our homeschooling.

Oh, and since the younger one was learning his multiplication tables during part of our time together, I’ll mention that the best drilling app I found was this one: Quick Math.

Latin:

I started them both with …Getting Started with Latin – one in 6th and then the younger one in 5th grade. It’s a super casual, easy introduction. You are probably not going to remember what you learn in this way for the rest of your life or maybe even longer than a year, but as I said, it’s painless and somewhat entertaining. If an authorial sense of humor can shine through in workbook translation exercises, it does here.

We then moved to Visual Latin with the older one, and while the videos were entertaining at first, we both found the course wearisome after about ten lessons. The instructor’s schtick gets old and there was just something about the mode of watching videos and doing printed off worksheets that made retention a challenge. I don’t recommend it, but if you are determined to use it, I can sell you the DVD’s of the first course for cheap!

When it came time for the younger one to hit Latin more seriously, I moved to Latin for Children I had briefly reviewed a friends’ copy and it looked good. I was generally pleased with it, and the lessons stuck. The only thing I would say is to not bother with the activities book. It almost seemed as if some of the puzzles had been computer-generated rather than pulled together by hand, and they were in general either too simple or needlessly tedious.

Okay, that’s it. There’s more, but I’m getting tired of writing about this. I may pick up a few more areas on Monday, but if I don’t, check out the Homeschool Daily Reports. Most of the rest of it – the history, science and literature – involved non-textbook books and activities, anyway.

Are you a homeschooler? How many quarter-filled out activity books do you own?!

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Today is the memorial of St. John Vianney, patron of priests.

(And co-patron of my diocese, the Diocese of Birmingham. They’re having a special Mass for Vocations tonight at the Cathedral in honor of the saint.)

We can start with his own words, from the Office of Readings:

My children, your hearts are small, but prayer enlarges them and renders them capable of loving God. Prayer is a foretaste of heaven, an overflowing of heaven. It never leaves us without sweetness; it is like honey, it descends into the soul and sweetens everything. In a prayer well made, troubles vanish like snow under the rays of the sun.
  Prayer makes time seem to pass quickly, and so pleasantly that one fails to notice how long it is. When I was parish priest of Bresse, once almost all my colleagues were ill, and as I made long journeys I used to pray to God, and, I assure you, the time did not seem long to me. There are those who lose themselves in prayer, like a fish in water, because they are absorbed in God. There is no division in their hearts. How I love those noble souls! Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Colette saw our Lord and spoke to him as we speak to one another.
  As for ourselves, how often do we come to church without thinking what we are going to do or for what we are going to ask.
  And yet, when we go to call upon someone, we have no difficulty in remembering why it was we came. Some appear as if they were about to say to God: ‘I am just going to say a couple of words, so I can get away quickly.’ I often think that when we come to adore our Lord we should get all we ask if we asked for it with a lively faith and a pure heart.
Then move on to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who gave much attention to the saint in his declaration of the Year for Priests:

He arrived in Ars, a village of 230 souls, warned by his Bishop beforehand that there he would find religious practice in a sorry state: “There is little love of God in that parish; you will be the one to put it there”. As a result, he was deeply aware that he needed to go there to embody Christ’s presence and to bear witness to his saving mercy: “[Lord,] grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer whatever you wish, for my entire life!”: with this prayer he entered upon his mission.[7] The Curé devoted himself completely to his parish’s conversion, setting before all else the Christian education of the people in his care. Dear brother priests, let us ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to learn for ourselves something of the pastoral plan of Saint John Mary Vianney! The first thing we need to learn is the complete identification of the man with his ministry. In Jesus, person and mission tend to coincide: all Christ’s saving activity was, and is, an expression of his “filial consciousness” which from all eternity stands before the Father in an attitude of loving submission to his will. In a humble yet genuine way, every priest must aim for a similar identification. Certainly this is not to forget that the efficacy of the ministry is independent of the holiness of the minister; but neither can we overlook the extraordinary fruitfulness of the encounter between the ministry’s objective holiness and the subjective holiness of the minister. The Curé of Ars immediately set about this patient and humble task of harmonizing his life as a minister with the holiness of the ministry he had received, by deciding to “live”, physically, in his parish church: As his first biographer tells us: “Upon his arrival, he chose the church as his home. He entered the church before dawn and did not leave it until after the evening Angelus. There he was to be sought whenever needed”.[8]

The pious excess of his devout biographer should not blind us to the fact that the Curé also knew how to “live” actively within the entire territory of his parish: he regularly visited the sick and families, organized popular missions and patronal feasts, collected and managed funds for charitable and missionary works, embellished and furnished his parish church, cared for the orphans and teachers of the “Providence” (an institute he founded); provided for the education of children; founded confraternities and enlisted lay persons to work at his side.

….This deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led him – by a sole inward movement – from the altar to the confessional. Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament. In France, at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence

…..

We priests should feel that the following words, which he put on the lips of Christ, are meant for each of us personally: “I will charge my ministers to proclaim to sinners that I am ever ready to welcome them, that my mercy is infinite”.[24] From Saint John Mary Vianney we can learn to put our unfailing trust in the sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the centre of our pastoral concerns, and to take up the “dialogue of salvation” which it entails. The Curé of Ars dealt with different penitents in different ways. Those who came to his confessional drawn by a deep and humble longing for God’s forgiveness found in him the encouragement to plunge into the “flood of divine mercy” which sweeps everything away by its vehemence. If someone was troubled by the thought of his own frailty and inconstancy, and fearful of sinning again, the Curé would unveil the mystery of God’s love in these beautiful and touching words: “The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, he already knows that you will sin again, yet he still forgives you. How great is the love of our God: he even forces himself to forget the future, so that he can grant us his forgiveness!”.[25] But to those who made a lukewarm and rather indifferent confession of sin, he clearly demonstrated by his own tears of pain how “abominable” this attitude was: “I weep because you don’t weep”,[26] he would say. “If only the Lord were not so good! But he is so good! One would have to be a brute to treat so good a Father this way!”.[27] He awakened repentance in the hearts of the lukewarm by forcing them to see God’s own pain at their sins reflected in the face of the priest who was their confessor. To those who, on the other hand, came to him already desirous of and suited to a deeper spiritual life, he flung open the abyss of God’s love, explaining the untold beauty of living in union with him and dwelling in his presence: “Everything in God’s sight, everything with God, everything to please God… How beautiful it is!”.[28] And he taught them to pray: “My God, grant me the grace to love you as much as I possibly can”.[29]

In his time the Curé of Ars was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord’s merciful love. Our own time urgently needs a similar proclamation and witness to the truth of Love: Deus caritas est (1 Jn: 4:8).

From a 2009 General Audience

His testimony reminds us, dear brothers and sisters, that for every baptized person and especially for every priest the Eucharist is not merely an event with two protagonists, a dialogue between God and me. Eucharistic Communion aspires to a total transformation of one’s life and forcefully flings open the whole human “I” of man and creates a new “we” (cf. Joseph Ratzinger, La Comunione nella Chiesa, p. 80).

Thus, far from reducing the figure of St John Mary Vianney to an example albeit an admirable one of 18-century devotional spirituality, on the contrary one should understand the prophetic power that marked his human and priestly personality that is extremely timely. In post-revolutionary France which was experiencing a sort of “dictatorship of rationalism” that aimed at obliterating from society the very existence of priests and of the Church, he lived first in the years of his youth a heroic secrecy, walking kilometres at night to attend Holy Mass. Then later as a priest Vianney distinguished himself by an unusual and fruitful pastoral creativity, geared to showing that the then prevalent rationalism was in fact far from satisfying authentic human needs, hence definitively unliveable.

Dear brothers and sisters, 150 years after the death of the Holy Curé of Ars, contemporary society is facing challenges that are just as demanding and may have become even more complex. If in his time the “dictatorship of rationalism” existed, in the current epoch a sort of “dictatorship of relativism” is evident in many contexts. Both seem inadequate responses to the human being’s justifiable request to use his reason as a distinctive and constitutive element of his own identity. Rationalism was inadequate because it failed to take into account human limitations and claims to make reason alone the criterion of all things, transforming it into a goddess; contemporary relativism humiliates reason because it arrives de facto at affirming that the human being can know nothing with certainty outside the positive scientific field. Today however, as in that time, man, “a beggar for meaning and fulfilment”, is constantly in quest of exhaustive answers to the basic questions that he never ceases to ask himself.

Pope John XXIII wrote an entire encyclical on St. John Vianney – on the 100th anniversary of his death.  It’s an interesting read from an historical perspective – published on August 1, 1959..it’s sort of hard to see why it’s an encyclical, exactly, rather than some other sort of papal document, but that’s not the first or last time that question could be posed.

It’s definitely worth your time, not only for what you might learn about St. John Vianney, but also for what it tells us about Pope John XXIII’s thinking on the priesthood on the cusp of the Second Vatican Council.

It is not Our intention at this time to enter upon a lengthy treatment of the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and on the Eucharistic Sacrifice as it has been handed down from antiquity. Our predecessors Pius XI and Pius XII have done this in clear and important documents and We urge you to take pains to see to it that the priests and faithful entrusted to your care are very familiar with them. This will clear up the doubts of some; and correct the more daring statements that have sometimes been made in discussing these matters.

52. But We too hope to say something worthwhile in this matter by showing the principal reason why the holy Cure of Ars, who, as befits a hero, was most careful in fulfilling his priestly duties, really deserves to be proposed to those who have the care of souls as a model of outstanding virtue and to be honored by them as their heavenly patron. If it is obviously true that a priest receives his priesthood so as to serve at the altar and that he enters upon this office by offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice, then it is equally true that for as long as he lives as God’s minister, the Eucharistic Sacrifice will be the source and origin of the holiness that he attains and of the apostolic activity to which he devotes himself. All of these things came to pass in the fullest possible way in the case of St. John Vianney.

53. For, if you give careful consideration to all of the activity of a priest, what is the main point of his apostolate if not seeing to it that wherever the Church lives, a people who are joined by the bonds of faith, regenerated by holy Baptism and cleansed of their faults will be gathered together around the sacred altar? It is then that the priest, using the sacred power he has received, offers the divine Sacrifice in which Jesus Christ renews the unique immolation which He completed on Calvary for the redemption of mankind and for the glory of His heavenly Father. It is then that the Christians who have gathered together, acting through the ministry of the priest, present the divine Victim and offer themselves to the supreme and eternal God as a “sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God.” (64) There it is that the people of God are taught the doctrines and precepts of faith and are nourished with the Body of Christ, and there it is that they find a means to gain supernatural life, to grow in it, and if need be to regain unity. And there besides, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, grows with spiritual increase throughout the world down to the end of time.

From Fr. Steve Grunow:

In 1818, John Vianney was sent by his bishop to the parish of Ars, a godforsaken place with maybe 230 inhabitants. The place was basically a ruin. His bishop told him that “there is little love of God in that parish; you will have to the one who puts it there”.

That he did.

By 1855, 4 years before John Vianney’s death, some 20,000 pilgrims flocked to Ars in hope of just getting a glimpse of the holy priest.

John Vianney was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI in the year 1925.

The lesson?

In my limited experience there are two approaches that characterize the way that parish priests will approach their vocation- one that is oriented towards the administrative and the other that it ordered towards the ascetic or to the athletic. MORE

Finally, French Catholic Novelist Georges Bernanos wrote a novel called Diary of a Country Priest, based on at least the spirit of the ministry of the Cure d’Ars.  I wrote a teeny-tiny article on the novel (why it was so short is at the link) for Liguorian ages ago. You can read it here. 

In the late 19th and early 20th century a philosophical perspective called positivism ruled the  intellectual climate in France.  Positivists like Emile Durkheim and Auguste Comte claimed that all one can know about human life is what can be observed and that the laws of behavior and society discerned from these observations should be used to organize human life.

Into this scientifically-based and utterly materialistic mileu stepped, one by one over the decades before and just after the First World War, a group of writers who formed what we now call the French Catholic Literary Revival.  Francois Mauriac, Charles Peguy, Julien Green and Leon Bloy  rejected positivism and reclaimed a vision of human beings essentially defined, not by scientific law, but rather by our relation to God and struggle with evil.  One of the finest writers of this group was George Bernanos, author of Diary of a Country Priest.

Diary of a Country Priest, first published in 1936, is just what the title suggests:  the fictional journal of a young curate in rural France.  The premise may seem simple, but in Bernanos’ hands it emerges as a rich work in which the reader encounters the injustices of French society, the emptiness of an intellectual system that rejects God, the failure of the Church to fully embody Christ’s love for the poor, and above all, the power of a life dedicated to God.

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A couple of nights ago, I read a short, funny, mildly satirical novel by Alfred Noyes, published in 1929 and called The Sun Cure. 

(Noyes is perhaps best known to modern readers as the author of the widely-anthologized poem, “The Highwayman.” After the death of his first wife, he married a woman who was a member of one of England’s deeply rooted Catholic families, and converted himself, around the time that The Sun Cure was published. He was the author of an intriguing-sounding apologetic called The Unknown God, which I believe I’ll try to get my hands on. Here is a good article introducing Noyes, and here is a blog post by William Newton on the writer.)

Sun-Cure-Noyes

The “Books” section of the Chicago Daily Tribune, with a review of The Sun Cure right next to a review of Graham Green’s first novel, The Man Within.  Click on the graphic for a full version of the image..perhaps a bit easier to read. 

The premise was irresistible.  Basil Strode is a young, infallible-in-his-own-eyes Anglican curate who  finds himself caught in the countryside without any clothes on.  He was clothed when he embarked upon his walk, but through a series of… circumstances, his clothes are lost to him and he must find his way back home with the least amount of humiliation he can manage.

It’s short, very funny in parts, and generally quite knowing and wise. The satire centers, in a lesser way, on the dynamics of parish life – not an unusual literary theme. The anxious, persistent low-grade fever of anti-Catholicism is never far from the surface:

Then came an anonymous post-card, referring to genuflections as “antics” and asking Mr. Strode why he did not go over to Rome at once. 

From a letter of a parishioner to the vicar, anxious about the curate’s disappearance:

It might be worth trying to find out whether the dreadful little convent in the village knows anything about it. Stella Maris, I believe it is called. He once attempted to persuade me that our own dear little Norman church was built by monks. 

I love this. The original holistic spirituality:

…Dear old Dad hasn’t any prejudices of that sort. He even says that he likes incense, and wishes that Basil could have his own way about it. He told the vicar that now he’s getting on in life, he doesn’t see very well, and he doesn’t hear very well, so he rather thought he would enjoy a church where he could smell his religion. 

What is satirized in a more general way are  intellectual fashions of the day.

The specifics of those fashions are less important than the greater point: Most of the time, self-proclaimed radical cultural stances are expressions, not of ground-breaking, courageous  individual originality, but of a safe, comfortable herd mentality.  They are just that: fashions.

The “sun cure” recommended to him by a friend for other reasons and experienced in this almost accidental way did indeed strip the curate, but of more than his clothes. Two other characters converse about him during his puzzling absence:

“…I meant that if he could only break away from this pseudo-modernity, and pseudo-intellectualism; if could just once defy his own age, instead of defying the dead Victorians….I should feel that he was really his own self, instead of a variation on a current them….”

“…..One does get so sick of the notion of the present moment — that because its conventions aren’t those of the last century, it has no conventions of its own. …”

 

The curate had, at some point in the past, insulted a woman who expressed what he would term as simpler, less sophisticated tastes than his own. The woman who is the object of the curate’s affection takes him to task for this and tells him that his snobbery is off-putting. He argues that surely she would not refuse his hand based on “literary grounds.”  She responds:

“They are not literary grounds. They are human grounds. Miss Bird, as I told you, is unlike your ‘distinguished’ anonymities in having a few quite genuine beliefs; and you used the cheap phrases of pseudo-metaphysical charlatan, in a precious literary weekly, to snub her. I saw the hurt look on her face long after you had wiped your boots on her perfectly sincere love of certain perfectly true and simple things. I walked home with her; and it was in her eyes when we said good-night…..”

Basil tells her, helpfully, that next Sunday, he’ll be quoting Strindberg in his sermon.

“….Very well. I don’t go to church to hear a high-brow Anglican curate quoting a Scandinavian lunatic…”

I was very struck by this exchange near the end of the book. Written almost a hundred years ago, in a cultural and social quite different from our own…but exactly the same:

Half of our differences at the present day are just differences of patter — the patter of one convention clashes with the patter of another — and we miss everything that’s worth having. I long to get away, sometimes, from my own generation. I don’t care whether it’s into the past, or into the future, so long as it’s away from the patter into simple realities again. I hate being a slave to my own age. 

I read The Sun Cure via the Gutenberg Canada website – the US site has several of his poetry collections, but not this novel. It’s a short book – I read it in an evening, and enjoyed it a great deal.

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Over the past couple of days I re-read Francois Mauriac’s Woman of the Pharisees.

It was on the shelf downstairs in the basement, it had been a decade or more since I had read it, and I admit that I was looking for a smaller book I could keep in my purse to pull out in those moments in which I might otherwise Take Out the Phone.

(Studying the Phone is not a huge problem for me. I don’t have a deep urge to check feeds and such at all times. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, the sight of everyone in a waiting room or even a restaurant, eyes glued to a phone, fingers scrolling, has really started to get to me. I don’t want to be a part of that, partly because I don’t want to model that for my kids, but also because I want to be attentive to my surroundings, and, if the surroundings are boring, engaged with something other than a screen. Even if the screen has a book or an academic article in its glow. Short version: I don’t grow any wiser from spending that ten minutes scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. But I do grow wiser, even just a little bit, from spending ten minutes with Francois Mauriac.)

Okay. So Woman of the Pharisees is an intense exploration of religious hypocrisy. Brigitte Pian is the woman in question, the narrator’s stepmother. She is an externally devout woman who sees her duty in life to guide others to and on the correct spiritual path – in other words, to dominate and exert control through prideful spiritual manipulation.

What interested me about Mauriac’s treatment of this whole situation is its subtelty and  allowance for nuance. That is, there are no caricatures and no cartoon villains or heroes. Brigitte is monstrous and hurts many people – but she actually does engage in generous works of charity, daily. When she finally is humbled and turns from her arrogance, her "amy welborn"subsequent life moves in a rather pathetic, even slightly ridiculous direction. Those she has harmed have their own deep flaws and there is a sense that perhaps Brigitte Pian was not completely off-base in her assessments of their situations.

The question being, then,  in a world of screw-ups, of which we are one, how can  we balance the trick of letting God work through us and staying out of His way?

What Mauriac excels at is exploring the motivation for religious faith and action, as well as how human beings react to authentic spirituality when they encounter it: mostly, they are repelled and fight hard against it.

Just a couple of quotes, not necessarily related to what I’ve discussed above, but just passages I liked:

Here Brigitte reassures herself about her spiritual progress:

There had been a time when she was worried by the spiritual aridity that marked her relations with her God; but since then she had read somewhere that it is as a rule the beginners on whom the tangible marks of Grace are showered, since it is only in that way that they can be extricated from the slough of this world and set upon the right path. The kind of insensitiveness that afflicted her was, she gathered, a sign that she had long ago emerged from those lower regions of the spiritual life where fervor is usually suspect. In this way her frigid soul was led on to glory in its own lack of warmth.

A priest – Calou –  is a major character in the novel, having been given charge of a difficult boy, a classmate of the narrator’s. The boy tries to shock the priest by saying he doesn’t believe in any of those “old wives’ tales,” and asks the priest if he is surprised by his lack of faith. The priest responds:

Why should it?….The really surprising this is that a man should believe….The really surprising thing is that what we believe should be true. The really surprising thing is that the truth should really exist, that it should have taken on flesh, that I can keep it a prisoner here beneath these old vaults that don’t interest you, thanks to the strength in these great hands of mine which your uncle Adhemar admires so much. Yes, you little oddity, I can never get over feeling how absurd, how utterly mad, it is that what we believe should be precisely and literally true!”

The conversation continues as the boy reveals that despite his unbelief, back at school, he goes to Confession, as required, just making things up, and, again, as required, receives Communion.

But what did it matter whether one believed or not? It didn’t make the slightest difference.

He had expected an outburst, but it did not come.

You really think so?” asked Monsieur Calou.

Jean presented an insolent face to his gaze. But he felt shamed by its gentle sadness.

Every Saturday and every Sunday, for Heaven knows how long….two years at least, O Lord!”

Monsieur Calou looked at the handsome face, at the unsullied brow beneath the mop of dakr hair in which one lighter lock shone like a flame. He could say no more than: “Lie down a little before dinner my boy.” Then he hurried off towards the church without looking back. His gent shoulders made him seem less than his real height.

Finally, very briefly…the narrator sees Brigitte Pian years after the main events of the novel when she is old, frail and not the woman she once was:

When I alluded to past events, she talked of them quite openly. But I could feel that she had become detached from even the consciousness of her faults, and that she had decided to lay everything at the throne of the Great Compassion…..

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Well, let’s do a Daily Homeschool Report, shall we?

  • What serendipity. Today was the feast of St. Zita, the patron saint of Lucca – one of the cities in Tuscany we will probably be visiting soon.
  • I say “probably” because TUSCANY YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY.
  • (Can’t decide where to go)
  • So anyway, that was a fun discovery. We read about St. Zita, then looked up Lucca-Santa-Zita-dá-o-manto-ao-mendigo-211x300Zita images both on the general Internet thing, as well as Instagram, where we could find Zita/Lucca related images from right now.
  • I pointed out to him that the sanctity of St. Zita, who was a household servant,  illustrates an important truth: What matters in life is not worldly values of success or achievement, but holiness. This truth is expressed in the Church’s celebration of those the world considers “lowly” and not only talking nicely about them, but holding them up as models worthy for imitation.
  • In what other context in life on this planet do you find servants and beggars held up as role models for all, including the wealthy and powerful?
  • Prayer.
  • Observation from the couch: I was thinking about the things we eat and how weird it is that fruit want to be eaten. Nothing else – not leafy things or vegetables or animals want to be eaten, but the whole reason for a fruit is to be eaten and then the seeds spread around by the creatures afterwards.
  • Huh.
  • And then a narrative about some tree in Borneo the fruit of which orangutans are crazy about, consume like made and aid in the propagation of as a consequence.
  • Cursive practice can be delayed no longer. I dug out a book I’d forgotten we have – practicing cursive through wacky sentences. We’ve been practicing cursive through Catholic thoughts for two years, so time to change it up.
  • Math was just review from 6th grade Evan-Moor books.  The great news of the week has been that Beast Academy 5B has been released. Finally! We should get it tomorrow, but won’t start until Monday. I think we will be out of pocket all day Friday, so might as well just wait.
  • History – he finished reading the chapter on the buildup to the civil war in the Catholic Textbook Project book, did the workbook pages, then we watched three Hip Hughes History videos – on the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision. Love them.
  • Latin review of prepositions that take the ablative case.
  • I had suggested a wandering about town afternoon, starting with the Botanical Gardens.  Well, the gardens are right across the road from the Zoo, so when we reached the vicinity, you can guess what happened.  I had thought that after his 6-week Zookeeper’s class, he’d be done with the zoo for a while, but apparently not. So I took the zoo fork, not the garden fork and then…
  • We saw an owl. Sitting on a fence not far from the zoo entrance, and I did wonder if he had escaped. I have never seen an owl outside of captivity before – heard plenty of them, but never saw one.  He was just sitting there, looking, as owls do. We swung around and parked in a shopping center parking lot and slowly walked across the road, hoping to get a close look, but before we could get there…whoosh – he was gone. We searched a bit, but didn’t see him. Still – it was pretty exciting just to see him for that short while.
  • Once in the zoo, I got a tour of the classes’ activities and work. They did things like fed the Komodo dragon (while the animal is kept in another enclosure, they placed dead rodents around the main cage – burying some a little bit under leaves and so on – and then the animal was let back in to dig up his dinner; they raked up debris in one cage, formerly used for storks, and transferred it to another used for some other bird. Things like that.
  • We spent some time with the cassuwary, which he had pet during the class – the bird was in a box they place him in to examine him (they are dangerous), and the kids were allowed to touch the back of the bird.
  • We then grabbed lunch and took a quick trip to the Birmingham Museum of Art – it’s free, so it’s an easy field trip. At this point in the day (evening), I don’t remember much about our conversation, but just know that it was the typical stroll through the Renaissance galleries, then up to the native American and Asian galleries, all the while him conversing and narrating and observing. I hardly say anything.
  • There was a group sitting in front of the prized Bierstadt being talked at by a docent, but the odd thing was that some in the group were blindfolded and others were wearing goggles of some sort or another. I had no idea what they were doing, but later decided that they must have been doing this kind of tour to increase empathy for the visually impaired. 
  • The most interesting piece was a recent acquistion – a large screen depicting the Battle of Ichinotani. Very well presented, clearly explained, and beautiful to examine. 
  • An extra note from yesterday: I sent him outside to find flowers so we could compare stamen/pistel/stigma, etc, and one of the lovely things we were able to see was in very carefully tearing apart a small wild violet from the yard, under the microscope we could see the tiny glistening pearly ovules. Very interesting.

"amy welborn"

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First off, we’re in the thick of First Communion season….get your signed books here.

Friendship  with  Jesus – B16’s dialogue ith First Communion children

Be Saints!  – B16’s dialogue with British children

I don’t have copies of the next two in the bookstore, but you can find them in most Catholic bookstores and online.

Loyola Kids Book of Saints

Loyola Kids Book of Heroes

Also – Mother’s Day isn’t too far away…..how about The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days?

 

  • Over the weekend, I blogged on pseudo-culture – the BBC show Happy Valley and the post-war noir In a Lonely Place. 
  • Not much going on this past weekend. 11-year old had a piano competition/judging thing on Saturday and they served at Casa Maria on Sunday, so we were tied to home. That’s okay, we’ll be flitting about soon enough.
  • We watched Ben-Hur. Over three days. I hadn’t seen it in years. Probably close to forty of them. You know it’s about four hours long, right? You can see how that happened – given the filmmaking conventions of the day and the fact that if you are going to spend a heap of money on a production, you might as well go all-out and give the audience its money’s worth.

    There is a remake of Ben-Hur coming out and I’ve read a bit of well I never online and can’t remake a classic!

    Well, yes you can. The 1959 version was a remake of the classic silent version, and really, don’t make pronouncements about it being impossible to improve on the ’59 film until you actually rewatch it.

    The length is unnecessary. Those long, lingering dialogue scenes are melodramatic and often risible. Charlton Heston is a terrible actor in this thing. I mean…terrible. The best scenes are the famed set-pieces: The galley scenes, the chariot race and the leper-colony material. The chariot race remains spectacular. Everything else is overlong, stiff and too reverent. The score, as per usual with films like this is overwhelming. Shut up.

    The new version doesn’t look particularly good, though – just judging from the trailers and given that the production team is that Roma Downey crew,  we can be sure that the Christian content will remain intact. But it’s also a good guess that an in-your face CGI-enhanced chariot race will have nothing on the Boyd/Heston matchup of ’59.

    And remember that when the snarky protests come about Ben-Hur being “too Christian” the book was subtitled A Tale of the Christ. It’s about forgiveness, a forgiving heart and mercy that was only found through an encounter with Christ. It comes through in the ’59 version of course, since the movie was part and parcel of that late-50’s Biblical epic boom, but it is pretty stilted and dramatically reverent.

    We had watched Gladiator the week before and had good conversations comparing the two (as in – the plot was just lifted and transposed)  and then digging a bit into history, checking the accuracy (not much on Gladiator, of course)  and looking into the history of the filming of both, as well.

  • Random bloggy link of the day: Taking class notes by hand is far better than doing so on a computer.   Tech-crazy schools always bragging about being all-digital, take, er, note.  You’re helping no one except tech companies.

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