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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

St. George is in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.  The only part of the chapter that is online in any form is the last page, so I grabbed that and scanned the first page of the chapter from a copy – so take a look. In the first part of the chapter I try to strike the balance between what we think we know about George and the legendary material. But I also always try to respect the legendary material as an expression of a truth – here, the courage required to follow Christ. He’s in the section, “Saints are people who are brave.”

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More on the book. You can buy it online, of course, or at any Catholic bookseller – I hope. If they don’t have it, demand it!

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Look for a new title in this series coming this summer! Details – title and cover – should be available soon. 

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We’re back! Life has slipped and tumbled back into the normal paradigm: school, sort-of-homeschooling (Hey, there was a lot  of learning that happened in Mexico, wasn’t there?), work, music….etc.

— 2 —

Here’s a post I pulled together with links to all the entries on the trip to Mexico, with some thoughts on safety and links to our accommodations. It’s called I went to Mexico and didn’t die

—3–

This coming Sunday is, of course, Divine Mercy Sunday. St. Faustina is in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. Here’s a page:

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–4–

In case you didn’t know it (er…I didn’t) – the Feast of the Annunciation is being celebrated on Monday – (because the actual date fell on Palm Sunday)  You can download a free pdf of my Mary and the Christian Life at this page (scroll down a bit). If you want to spring .99 for a Kindle e-reader copy, go here. 

And hey – with First Communion/Confirmation/Mother’s Day/Graduation season coming up – check out my books for gifts! 

–5 —

From Atlas Obscura – I’d never heard of this – it sounds similar to our local Ave Maria Grotto. The grace in the found object. 

Brother Bronislaus Luszcz, a native of Poland, spent 23 years building this collection of large grottos. He used local Missouri tiff rock to create beautiful statues and mosaics freckled with found and donated objects like seashells and costume jewelry. He began the work in 1937, though the seeds of his endeavor were planted long before.

While Brother Bronislaus was growing up in Poland, he would watch as pilgrims trekked through his home village on their way to a shrine for the Virgin Mary. The memory of the pilgrims lingered in his mind even after he moved to the United States and inspired him to begin constructing his own shrine. 

–6–

In an era in which the only movies that seem to make it to the screen are remakes and comic book-based…you read a tale like this and you wonder…why not this story? Wouldn’t this be a fantastic movie – or even television series? Let’s do lunch and make it happen!

She zoomed over forlorn dusty roads, responding to the beckoning call of new adventures. The airborne sensation and the freedom of the road ensured that she climbed on her trusty Harley-Davidson time and time again. Long before the hashtag #CarefreeBlackGirl was coined, Bessie Stringfield was living her life freely on her own terms—riding her motorcycle across the United States solo.

Born in 1911, Stringfield got her first motorcycle, a 1928 Indian Scout, while she was still in her teens and taught herself how to ride it. As chronicled in the 1993 book Hear Me Roar: Women, Motorcycles and the Rapture of the Road by Stringfield’s protégé and eventual biographer Ann Ferrar, at the age of 19, young Stringfield flipped a penny onto a map of the US then ventured out on her bike alone. Interstate highways didn’t yet exist at the time, but the rough, unpaved roads didn’t deter her. In 1930, she became the first Black woman to ride a motorcycle in every one of the connected 48 states—a solo cross-country ride she undertook eight times during her lifetime. But not even that satisfied her wanderlust. Eventually, she went abroad to Haiti, Brazil, and parts of Europe.

And you just wonder….how many other stories are there?

And the answer…one for every person. 

At least. 

–7–

It’s Easter Season! Below are related excerpts from our favorite vintage 7th grade Catholic textbook, part of the Christ-Life Series in Religion . The first is about the season in general, the second about next Sunday (before it became Divine Mercy Sunday, of course).

What I like about these – and why I share them with you – is that they challenge the assumption that before Vatican II, Catholicism offered nothing but legalistic rules-based externals to its adherents, particularly the young. Obviously not so

I also appreciate the assumption of maturity and spiritual responsibility. Remember, this is a 7th grade textbook, which means it was for twelve and thirteen-year olds at most. A child reading this was encouraged to think of him or herself, not as a customer to be placated or attracted, but as a member of the Body of Christ – a full member who can experience deep joy, peace and has a mission.

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

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Happy Friday! Happy third-to-the-last Friday of Lent!

In case you missed it, last weekend, my 13-year old and I had a few days in New Orleans. Blog posts about the trip are here,  here, here and here.

 

 

(And, as always, on Instagram)

— 2 —

The next journey will be coming up in a bit more than a week. I’ll set the stage and open the curtain a bit by explaining that my older son’s spring break is…Holy Week. This ticks me off big time. Catholic schools having spring break during Holy Week? Please.

The reason given being – around here at least – is that the Catholic schools follow the public school calendars most of the time. So many people have children in both systems, I suppose there would be too many complaints to do it any other way.

(The glitch in the argument, in my mind, is that there are several large colleges in and around Birmingham, all big employers, and I think they’re all on Spring Break this week, causing, I’ll presume intra-family hassles of one sort or another.)

Anyway, when I first realized this, I went all hard core and said to myself…we are staying in town and we are going to All the Liturgies, and what is more, they are serving at All The Liturgies.

But then…

I revisited thoughts I’ve been having over the past few years, thoughts which centered on the desire to spend Holy Week somewhere where they actually do Holy Week in a big, public way.

So we’re doing that.

(Hint: We’re not crossing any time zones in any substantial way….)

 

 

—3–

Speaking of holy days and such, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. Check out this post on what I’ve written about St. Patrick, or if you don’t want to bother, just click here for my entry on him from the Loyola Kids Book of Saints and here for my chapter on the Lorica from The Words We Pray.

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(I love this art – but then I love most vintage Catholic line art – from a book, The Rhymed Life of St. Patrick  by Irish writer Katharine Tynan.

And of course, this leads me to tediously remind you that if you are looking for Easter gifts, I’ve written several books that might be of interest – for children, young adults, women and even new Catholics. Keep them in mind for Easter, as well as the upcoming Sacramental Season:

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Signed copies of some titles available here. 

–4–

Here’s a wonderful story:

 

 

Developer Gene Dub has donated an entire four-storey building to give homes to some of the estimated 100 pregnant woman who find themselves homeless in Edmonton each year.

He heard about the need on a radio show, then thought about what he could do.

“I just happened to have a building,” said the local developer, speaking Thursday after his gift was celebrated at the 2018 housing awards. 

Dub specializes in rehabilitating historic buildings. This one, the old Grand Manor Hotel, was built in 1913 near 98 Street and 108 Avenue. He bought it eight years ago, renovating it and continuing to rent it as low-income housing. The 18 studios and one-bedroom units were renting for about $500.

It’s a gift worth $3 million. 

Capital Region Housing had been looking at buying the building last summer, said Greg Dewling, executive director. But finances are tight.

Then Dub phoned him up.

He said: “‘Do you think you could make it work if I donated the building?’” Dewling recalled with a laugh. 

Yes, that would work just fine.

 

 

–5 —

Erin Shaw Street is a local Birmingham writer, active in many areas and platforms. She wrote this fantastic, brave, moving essay on the second anniversary of her sobriety:

I don’t remember many details of the conversation. The alcohol had wrecked me, drinks from after parties and my sad after party of one. Years of drinking to self-medicate, drinking to try to keep up with what the world told me to be, drinking for energy (I know), drinking to cope with physical pain and anxiety. This was not about “fun” and hadn’t been in a long while. Dehydrated and shaky, Sondra walked me along the edges of the Colorado River. She was a mother too, and a seamstress. I think she said something about vintage lace. I said things like:

“But you don’t know what I’ve done.”

She assured me that this world was filled with people who had done all the things I had done, and then some. And that there was actually a way to move through this life healed from those mistakes. She shared because she had been there. She had stopped drinking and stayed stopped and done the work to look her past in the eye and it did not kill her.

Also would I like a smoothie?

That is what I remember: we walked, talked, and drank smoothies. She told me there was a way to get better, but I’d have to do the work and find community. The sun made my head hurt even more, and I stumbled back into the hotel and slept again, embarrassed to find my coworkers. They tracked down my phone, and a kind Uber driver returned it. He was deaf — I remember this, and I was struck by his act of kindness. He didn’t have to do that. Maybe the world was good. But first, to get through hell.

— 6 —

Watched: The Maltese Falcon.  

We are about to (finally) cut the satellite cord, and so I was scrolling through the movies I’ve dvr’d from TCM, trying to get at least a few watched. Images from The Maltese Falcon popped up and the 16-year old requested that we watch that one (I’d been moving towards On the Waterfront) because “it has the fat guy in it.”

(Sydney Greenstreet – we’d watched Casablanca a few weeks back.)

I hadn’t seen it in many years, and while, of course, it’s a great movie, it’s also just so slightly marred (in a very tiny way) by deep proclamations of love between Bogart and Mary Astor after 36 hours of acquaintance. It really makes no sense – unless impassioned I love you! after a day are really code for, Yeah, they had sex when she went to his apartment that night. 

— 7 —

Reading: Jane Eyre. 

Never read it before (in my own defense I was an insufferable Thomas Hardy teenage reader back in the day) and am thoroughly enjoying it. It’s a very fast read, and really interesting from a theological/spiritual perspective, which I’ll explore more once I finish it.

In Our Time on the novel. 

 

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

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In New Orleans, studying Mayans. 

Today was a full day of glyph-chasing at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

And the 13-year old wasn’t even completely out of place today, since there was a high school group present for the morning session.

The workshop began with 2 hours of presentation on Mayan glyphs. Then in the

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afternoon, the workshop leaders facilitated some large-group translation.

Turns out that you can’t rest on your laurels of knowing the Mayan number system and month glyphs when playing this game….

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During lunch, we walked around City Park a bit.

We’d been there before – a couple of years ago, both boys and I came down to New Orleans for a couple of days – recounted here – and one of our favorite things was renting bikes and riding through the park.

No bikes today, but we did see a sweet little turtle in the reeds…

and a snake….

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always a good day when you see a snake. Mayans and snakes in a single day? Choice!

What we later identified as apple snail eggs.

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We wandered back inside and took in some art.

 

Here’s a Madonna and Child and Goldfinch painting. The goldfinch is often present with Madonna and Child because of its association with the Passion. The legend was that as Christ suffered with his crown of thorns, a goldfinch came and attempted to ease his suffering by plucking thorns from his brow – hence the touch of red in the bird’s plumage.

What interests me in this painting is that the goldfinch is not in the Child’s hands or even that nearby – it’s flying away.

(You probably can’t even see it – it’s on the upper left.)

I was also intrigued by this 17th century painting by one van Schreick. Called Serpents and Insects, the artist painted from his own collection of living creatures. It has a rather contemporary sensibility about it.


(My main memory of a former visit to the museum – two trips ago – was leaving my camera there. Somehow. And somehow, it was retrieved.)

The day ended with a close look at the some of the museum’s Mayan holdings, and then a not-very-penitential Lenten meal of a shrimp po-boy at the Parkway Bakery and Tavern. 

For more, and to keep up, check out Instagram

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See what I meant when I described this as a rather crazy learner-led unschooling activity?

To be honest, it’s not as if he himself did a search for “MesoAmerican history and archaeology conferences Near Me.” No, I did that part – last fall some time, not knowing until that search that Tulane has this well-established institute and a long-running conference, and that the theme of this year’s conference would be Mayan warfare (bonus points).

I presented it to him, we looked through the program and he agreed, that yes, he’d like to go.

My justification has (not surprisingly) several parts.

(Not that you are arguing with me, necessarily. Rather, I’m arguing with myself, as I always do.)

  • Parents take their kids on multi-day soccer/volleyball/baseball/gymnastics trips. They accompany their kids on the traveling sports teams journeys. This is our version of that.
  • He’s really, really interested in this stuff. This gives him exposure to the actual academic world of this discipline, and he can get a better grasp on whether or not this is something he actually wants to pursue as part of a career.
  • He’s going back to school for the 8th grade year. We must do many, many homeschooly-things before this year ends! They must be spectacularly home-schooly!
  • He probably won’t go to traditional high school. This is a trial run for that kind of life.

And now you’re thinking…what about you, Amy? What about your interests? 

Well, no I don’t have a deep interest in ancient Meso-American history. Here’s what I do have though:

  • An interest in history in general. Actually, I have such a wide net of a brain that I can manage to find something of interest and a way to connect with almost any subject matter (within reason). And if I can’t find compelling points of interest in the subject, you know, there’s always people-watching which never fails.
  • (And do remember that having a wide net of a brain means that the same brain that enjoys taking in a lot from every direction as it sweeps through the Ocean of Life also has …holes. Lots of them. As the Flannery O’Connor quote I have framed says: Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me. 
  • Even more than historical events and narrative, I’m intrigued by the fashioning of historical narrative and historiography. The Mayans are okay and all that, but what really interests me and what I have actually purchased books about of my own free will are accounts of the “rediscovery” of ancient MesoAmerican cultures, their structures and past. That whole journey of the decline of Mayan civilizations (intriguing in and of itself), the encroachment of the jungle and the the rediscoveries that began in the 19th century and continue today is just fascinating to me.
  • That thread is reflected in this conference (at least from the abstracts…we’ll see), mostly because there are constant new discoveries and the accepted wisdom of the past is being continually reevaluated. Everything you thought was true was wrong is always  going to get my attention, and there’s a lot of that in this field.

And then on a more personal level, there’s: I’m 57. He’s 13. This is what I can give him now.

Yes, my eyes glazed over at certain points today and my attention wandered and  I checked the time but it’s no different than you waiting outside of softball practice or dance lessons or taking on that extra project that you’re not crazy about so you can pay their tuition. It’s what you do, it’s what you can give now, and so, trying to balance your interests and theirs, your resources and their dreams and the good of the family, you do what you do and pray it’s the right thing for everyone, and if you discern it’s too much, you put on the brakes, you say no,  and everyone learns another kind of lesson.

Who knows what I’ll be able to give him in 5 or 10 years? But here we are now, kid. Go for it. And sure, I’ll come along. Well, I guess I have to. I am the driver, after all. 

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(Just had a chat with Matt Swain on the Sonrise Morning Show, centered on this post on St. Robert Bellarmine on fasting.)

This week’s work: moving closer to the finish line on one project – it has all kinds of moving targets, so there’s always something going on there. It’s interesting and it’s $$, but I’ll be glad when it’s over in a couple of weeks. As will the hard-working project managers, I’m sure.

Also this week: doing edits on the copyedited manuscript of my next book, due out in the fall from Loyola. And making some incremental progress on that other thing for which I got massively organized on Sunday. But because of a couple of early-ish appointments (dentist/orthodontist, then piano lesson moved earlier and then Friday morning a radio interview) – that early-morning work time I’ve been counting on hasn’t seen much…work.

— 2 —

I hope this coming week will be better, but considering there’s some travel coming up at the end of the week, I’m not hopeful. Okay. I’m realistic.

—3–

And where and when is that trip? Check back here and on Instagram for that. Just say…it’s probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done in the name of Learner-Led Unschooling, but because it sort of – kind of – almost falls within my own collection of interests, I don’t mind at all. Life is short, and life with your kids around is (probably) even shorter. So don’t be stingy.

–4–

You know how we always associate flamingos with Florida? How they’re on all the ashtrays and retro tablecloths and signs? Now consider this – have you ever actually seen a flamingo in Florida outside of a zoo?

Huh.

Me neither.

That’s a very good question!

So here, from – not surprisingly, Atlas Obscura – is the answer to that excellent question.

“Living in Florida, you see flamingos everywhere—in advertising, in place names, even on the logo for the state lottery—but as an actual organism, as a species, there was essentially no information available on the biology of flamingos,” said Steven Whitfield, a conservation ecologist at Zoo Miami. The birds are iconic, Whitfield says, but there’s been little information about their past and present in the state. When and how did they get to the region? What happened to them once they arrived?

The murky history spans centuries. While some 19th-century naturalists recounted dense clusters of flamingos around Florida, others were less certain about the birds’ primary strutting grounds. In the 1881 edition of his encyclopedic book, The Birds of Eastern North America, Charles Johnson Maynard notes that flamingos were rare in the Florida Keys. In fact, he wasn’t sure how plentiful they’d ever been there. Word had it that they clustered in the Keys in the summer months, while they molted—but he’d never seen one there himself.

–5 —

Recent reads: The 13-year old is taking a break from a big “school” novel this week – I’ve had him read several poems as well as Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.”

It’s a perceptive, wild story. Perhaps it will strike you as it did me: a prescient account of the logical, if unintended consequences of a social emphasis on “equality” as well as a startling reflection on the powers and uses of distraction.

— 6 —

I also read The Great Gatsby over the past couple of weeks in concert with my high schooler. I admit: I’d never actually read it (as I have emphasized to you before, I grew up in an era in which we read tomes like Jonathan Livingston Seagull in school.). I enjoyed it, and found it rather different than I expected. Less a portrait of the Jazz Age than a tragic meditation on the folly of striving after idols of all kinds. My son reports that the class (not an honors class, by the way) responded well to the novel and was consistently engaged. So that’s a sign of hope.

I’ve never seen either of the Gatsby films, although I do have strong memories of when the Redford version came out – it must have been quite the cultural event. I watched a lot of clips online, though, and it seems to me that no one has gotten it right yet, if they ever can. The leads (especially Redford, but even DiCaprio) are too old, and there’s a heaviness about both (at least in the clips) that fails to reflect the sense of the ephemeral – ephemeral possessions, ephemeral attachments, ephemeral achievements, ephemeral lives – that the novel communicates.

Also The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I’ve had a copy hanging about for years, and finally read it. It was a decent way to spend a couple of hours, although not what I expected, which was a straight-up haunting tale (I have memories of seeing the 60’s version on television when I was young – I believe at my grandparents’ house in Oklahoma – and being petrified) and more of a psychological study of the need to feel alive and real – written at the same time as Walker Percy’s Moviegoer, a novel also centered on the matter of what it means to feel real and alive in the world, it strikes me as an interesting, if odd potential pairing. Hmmm.

— 7 —

Tomorrow’s the memorial of St. Katharine Drexel. She’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

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What a day!

Up at 6:30 am, over to 7 am Mass at one parish with my working-man-son, sent him off to work, dashed over to the Cathedral for a talk on sacred music from our wonderful Music Director, Bruce Ludwick, then back home to spend the entire rest of this rainy, chilly day..

BY MYSELF.

Yup. With one kid working and the other off to Atlanta on a friend’s birthday jaunt, I was..

BY MYSELF.

Did I mention that I was

BY MYSELF?

For an introvert homeschooling Mom, that’s about as good as it gets.

It can hardly get better.

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Even if you don’t think that is so terribly odd, what comes next might give you pause. You might indeed think it strange  that the cherry on this cake was not Netflix binging or watching movies or even reading a good book – it was…work.

I GOT TO WORK ALL DAY!

(With apologies to the Lord’s Day.)

And I didn’t mind a bit. My work is not hard at this point, but it does take chunks of time. I’ve been managing to get ‘er done in in the early mornings (really only by letting my homeschooler sleep until about 9:30 each day, which he does not mind) and in the evenings. This has worked find for one major project, but another has suffered a bit. The first project will be wrapping up in the next couple of weeks, but the second is ongoing to the beginning of 2019, and I was really feeling the need to gather my resources on that one and get myself organized so that I can work on it more efficiently, perhaps in 30-minute/day chunks. Freeing me up to work on the long-promised, freakin’ Guatemala e-book – which I am determined – determined – to finish and get to you before our next trip, which is coming at the end of March.

So that’s what I did. I banged out work for Project #1 that’s due this week and next – finished, edited, dusted off and invoiced – and got myself deeply organized for Project #2.

It was fantastic. 

And now, with a few more minutes before our very own Publix Employee returns for the evening, some random Sunday night thoughts:

  • My 13-year old and I attended one of the Alabama Symphony’s “Coffee Concerts” on Friday – this one featured Dvorak’s New World Symphony. I have to say, I am so impressed with this symphony and this conductor. Or, as they have branded themselves in typical friendly Southern fashion, “Your Alabama Symphony Orchestra!” The performance was vibrant, vivid and quite moving. Strong, delicate and urgent all at once, looking forward and backwards, east and west.
  • It didn’t hurt that this time, instead of seating us with all the other hordes of schoolkids in the balcony, they put is in the Orchestra seating with all the other old people (and other homeschoolers).
  • This is what we read in preparation, and we also watched a short video which I can’t locate at the moment – but know it was very helpful, especially in understanding the very last measures of the piece. Sorry.
  • Saturday was music – a piano festival competition thing – basketball – last game of the regular season, playoffs start Tuesday – and serving – Confirmation retreat Mass at Casa Maria Convent, led by Fr. Augustine Wetta, OSB, who is the author of this new book, which I am hoping to read soon. My son really appreciated what Fr. Wetta had to say during his homily – which is one of the reasons I have them serve over there at the convent. Every time they do, they are privileged to hear excellent homilies from either one of the local friars or the retreat master for the weekend. Religion Class: Check.
  • Over the past two weeks, homeschooling son has read Murder on the Orient Express as his “school” reading. (He’s reading the Dune trilogy as his leisure reading) It was his suggestion, and so we went with it, doing some background on the history of detective fiction and so on. After re-reading it, I’m thinking we could have done better – I probably should have had him read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or And Then There Were None – but perhaps neither of those would have held up, either.
  • I haven’t read Christie in decades. As a teenager, mysteries were my gateways into adult fiction, my favorites being Christie, Ellery Queen and Rex Stout – the last being my absolute favorite. So I don’t think I’d read her in probably 40 years (so weird to think in that kind of time span when speaking of my own life), and no, I wasn’t impressed. She wasn’t a stylist, that’s for sure, and this book, in particular, plods along (Murder. Interview many people. Cogitate. Announce.) and the climax and denouement are, in my mind rather shocking (spoiler alert!) – as the murder is, we are led to infer, excusable since the murderers act as jury to do what institutional law enforcement did not.
  • We’re read a lot of books, stories and poems this year – this one will be last on the quality list. I’m not completely sorry we read it: we did some geography and history inspired by it and it’s good to read books of which you can be critical – so there’s that. Plus issues of justice and law, of course.
  • The 1974 film version was one of the last movies I remember seeing with my parents in the theater (along with Young Frankenstein and Being There – with, respectively, those super fun “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” and “I like to watch” scenes putting an end to that activity and any future potential awkwardness). We watched the trailer for that and last year’s version, both of which left my son saying, “Uh, I don’t think I want to watch either of those….”
  • What’s going on with school? We are indeed finishing up homeschooling 7th grade and finishing the 11th grade in a Catholic high school. Next year, everyone will be in school – 8th grade in a local Catholic school (because they do a very nice 8th grade year in this particular school and he has friends there…) and senior year in the same high school. And then….well who knows? Actually we do have a sense: the older one will go to college and the younger one and I will set out – God and good health and the stock market willing – on roadschooling/roamschooling/unschooling way of life for a while. We’ll keep the Birmingham homebase for a time, but will hopefully be able to see a good chunk of the world in between stints back here. But that’s more than a year away, and who knows what can happen between now and then? That “plan” is one more reason for him to return to school for a year – we can both have a breather, I can get some ducks in a row without having to think about teaching Algebra, and then…here we go….
  • Oh, I’m in Living Faith today – here’s the devotional. And if you missed it, I was also in another day last week – here it is.

 

 

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This is the cover of a pamphlet introducing the new, stripped-down, freedom-o-the-Christian-centered Lenten framework for American Catholics after the Second Vatican Council. It is part of Notre Dame’s Catholic Pamphlet Collection, which was available on archive.org for a very short time – I discovered it one night, and then, it seems as if a couple of weeks later, it had been taken down, I presume because of copyright issues. 

It being the first Friday of Lent, you’re probably going to herethere have been the usual minor rumblings about the purported relative ease of the fast for post-Vatican II Latin Rite Catholics.

Well, here’s my problem with that yearly ritual….

…(the apologizing and complaining, not the fasting, that is)…

The whole idea of the post-Conciliar changes to penitential fasting and abstinence was to present, as it were, a minimum on paper, with the expectation that the individual, flush with the glory of the Freedom of the Christian (and the Spirit of the Council), would take it from there.

The legal minimalism was supposed to unleash an internal maximalist lurking in all of us who had just been waiting to be treated like an adult instead of a child defined by adherence to rigid rules.

The rules are supposed to be minimal. That was the intention of the changes. 

And just a slight detour –

First, St. Francis de Sales had excellent advice on fasting. Read it here.

Secondly, a century and a half ago, people were complaining that the Catholic Lenten fast was too lax. John Henry Newman addressed it, and I talk about it here.  It’s startlingly prescient. Really…life and human nature does not change that much. These words could have been written today:

For example, in respect to curiosity. What a deal of time is lost, to say nothing else, in this day by curiosity, about things which in no ways concern us. I am not speaking against interest in the news of the day altogether, for the course of the world must ever be interesting to a Christian from its bearing upon the fortunes of the Church, but I speak of vain curiosity, love of scandal, love of idle tales, curious prying into the private history of people, curiosity about trials and offences, and personal matters, nay often what is much worse than this, curiosity into sin. … Hence this is the way in which we are called upon, with this Lent we now begin, to mortify ourselves. Let us mortify our curiosity.

So back to the issue of fasting and abstinence.

I think it’s a good idea to read Paul VI’s document on this, as well as the US bishops’.

From Paul VI, in February 1966

The US bishops, in November 1966.

I’m going to post excerpts in a second, but before we get lost in that, I’ll just venture to say that although I don’t think they should have eliminated the year-long Friday abstinence for any reason, in any way, these efforts to deepen a Catholic’s understanding of the practice are really not bad! In fact, Eamon Duffy, in his excellent article critiquing the loss of Friday abstinence, gives the American Catholic bishops a shout-out for offering a much more grounded articulation of the changes than the British bishops did, who, acccording to him, basically said, “We know this is a lot of bother, chaps, so you don’t have to do it anymore.”

In reading Catholic observers of the pre-Vatican II era, we do see concern with a distance between practice and understanding (that was the motive for the Liturgical Movement, as a whole, after all), and the rapidity with which Catholics after Vatican II ditched Friday abstinence without replacing it with any other penitential practice reveals that distance. Long ago, a Catholic blogger recounted his parents’ reaction to the lifting of Friday abstinence – they and their Catholic friends in the neighborhood celebrated by having a huge steak barbecue!

What I see then, is one more example of the misguided nature of the “renewal” of the Church. Instead of truly starting from where people were and what they already practiced, and trying to help people understand that, they moved to a state of minimalism, stripping the hard-to-follow and hard-to-understand stuff away, trusting in an ideal: people, flush in their mature Christian freedom, would just do what the deeper, yet now impenetrable intention of the “rules” had been guiding them toward through the centuries.

Perhaps for some that happened, but for the bulk it didn’t, and the other consequences were dire:

  • Loss of Catholic identity in that shared practice
  • A shaking of faith as Catholics, who had been presented with these practices as an expression of the solid, unchanging rock of the Catholic faith, were told, in essence: “KIDDING!” What was solid and worth taking seriously? What, that the Church taught, could be trusted?

Now, back to it. I’ll just end with two official documents detailing the changes in practice. They are worth reading, and honestly, when you are even lightly familiar with two thousand years of Catholic thinking and writing on fasting and other penitential practices, the call to go deeper than the minimal and just use that as a starting point that is the center of these documents, is not inconsistent with that tradition.

The mistake – and it was huge – was in, really, changing anything. It shouldn’t have been changed, for it stripped Catholic life of a deep connection to centuries of Catholic practice and was too idealistic about human nature.

From Duffy’s article:

The ritual observance of dietary rules—fasting and abstinence from meat in Lent, and abstinence from meat and meat products every Friday, as well as the eucharistic fast from midnight before the reception of Communion—were as much defining marks of Catholicism before the council as abstention from pork is a defining characteristic of Judaism. The Friday abstinence in particular was a focus of Catholic identity which transcended class and educational barriers, uniting “good” and “bad” Catholics in a single eloquent observance. Here was a universally recognized expression of Catholicism which was nothing to do with priests or authority.

Now to the US Bishops, from 1966:

  1. Wherefore, we ask, urgently and prayerfully, that we, as people of God, make of the entire Lenten Season a period of special penitential observance. Following the instructions of the Holy See, we declare that the obligation both to fast and to abstain from meat, an obligation observed under a more strict formality by our fathers in the faith, still binds on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. No Catholic Christian will lightly excuse himself from so hallowed an obligation on the Wednesday which solemnly opens the Lenten season and on that Friday called “Good” because on that day Christ suffered in the flesh and died for our sins.
  2. In keeping with the letter and spirit of Pope Paul’s ConstitutionPoenitemini, we preserved for our dioceses the tradition of abstinence from meat on each of the Fridays of Lent, confident that no Catholic Christian will lightly hold himself excused from this penitential practice.
  3. For all other weekdays of Lent, we strongly recommend participation in daily Mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting. In the light of grave human needs which weigh on the Christian conscience in all seasons, we urge, particularly during Lent, generosity to local,national, and world programs of sharing of all things needed to translate our duty to penance into a means of implementing the right of the poor to their part in our abundance. We also recommend spiritual studies, beginning with the Scriptures as well as the traditional Lenten Devotions (sermons, Stations of the Cross, and the rosary), and all the self-denial summed up in the Christian concept of “mortification.”

 

This paragraph relates to Vigils and Ember Days, but I think it succinctly summarizes the whole intent:

Vigils and Ember Days, as most now know, no longer oblige to fast and abstinence. However, the liturgical renewal and the deeper appreciation of the joy of the holy days of the Christian year will, we hope, result in a renewed appreciation as to why our forefathers spoke of “a fast before a feast.” We impose no fast before any feast-day, but we suggest that the devout will find greater Christian joy in the feasts of the liturgical calendar if they freely bind themselves, for their own motives and in their own spirit of piety, to prepare for each Church festival by a day of particular self-denial, penitential prayer and fasting.

On the Friday abstinence, year-round:

  1. Gratefully remembering this, Catholic peoples from time immemorial have set apart Friday for special penitential observance by which they gladly suffer with Christ that they may one day be glorified with Him. This is the heart of the tradition of abstinence from meat on Friday where that tradition has been observed in the holy Catholic Church.
  2. Changing circumstances, including economic, dietary, and social elements, have made some of our people feel that the renunciation of the eating of meat is not always and for everyone the most effective means of practicing penance. Meat was once an exceptional form of food; now it is commonplace.
  3. Accordingly, since the spirit of penance primarily suggests that we discipline ourselves in that which we enjoy most, to many in our day abstinence from meat no longer implies penance, while renunciation of other things would be more penitential.
  4. For these and related reasons, the Catholic bishops of the United States, far from downgrading the traditional penitential observance of Friday, and motivated precisely by the desire to give the spirit of penance greater vitality, especially on Fridays, the day that Jesus died,urge our Catholic people henceforth to be guided by the following norms.
  5. Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year, a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified.
  6. Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.

 

Back to Duffy:

The Church has always linked personal asceticism and the search for holiness with this demand for mercy and justice to the poor; the Lenten trilogy of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is both fundamental and structural. By making fasting and abstinence optional, the Church forfeited one of its most eloquent prophetic signs. There is a world of difference between a private devotional gesture, the action of the specially pious, and the prophetic witness of the whole community—the matter-of-fact witness, repeated week by week, that to be Christian is to stand among the needy.

 

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