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Archive for the ‘Vintage Catholic’ Category

George Weigel has hopped into an ancient and unfortunately never-ending stream over at First Things with a column about priests ad-libbing at Mass:

Such self-discipline on the part of celebrants would also help eliminate the clericalism (and worse) involved when Father Freelance, well, free-lances. For in metaphorically thumbing his nose at the Council’s clear injunction (not to mention the rubrics in the Missal), Father Freelance is de facto asserting his own superiority over the liturgy. And in doing so, he is, whether he intends it or not, downgrading the congregation’s role in offering right worship to the Thrice-Holy God.

In a properly celebrated Mass, the vocalized dialogue of prayer between celebrant and congregation takes place in a linguistic rhythm established by the shared text of the Mass. And that rhythm is broken when, to take one example that’s grated on me recently, the celebrant announces the Gospel reading by saying, “The Good News of the Lord as proclaimed by Luke.” To which the expected response, “Glory to you, O Lord,” sounds clunky, whereas it neatly answers the prescribed announcement, “A reading from the holy Gospel according to ——.”

It may come as a surprise to Father Freelance, but after more than four decades of priest-celebrants trying to be Johnny Carson, Bob Barker, Alex Trebek, or whomever, this act is getting very old. Father, you’re just not very good at it. Your freelancing is often banal, even silly. Moreover, you demean us by suggesting that we, the congregation, can’t handle the sacral language of the liturgy, and that we have to be jollied into participation. In fact, if you listen carefully, you’ll discover that congregational responses drop off when you invite a response in your terms, not the liturgy’s.

 

We’ve had these conversations countless times before, but evidently the practice isn’t decreasing – although I’m fortunate in my diocese in that it doesn’t happen in any of the three or four parishes I frequent for Sunday Mass.

I’m sure Weigel’s piece will inspire the usual 24-hour cycle of impassioned Facebook discussions, so I’ll just toss this in. There are countless reasons that celebrants shouldn’t be ad-libbing and that parish liturgists and musicians  shouldn’t be adding stuff either. I’ll just emphasize this one:

It’s not humble.

Yeah, since humility is the word of the hour, I’ll say it again.

Changing words in the liturgy? Adding to it? Being creative outside the permitted norms?

Not humble.

I was once part of a group involved in a Catholic thing. For several days we lived, worked and prayed together.  The prayer was LifeTeen/Steubenvillish/Praise and Worship style, which meant that one fellow with a guitar determined the course of prayer. It was whatever the Spirit led him to say, sing or guide – that was the direction we were to go in.

And I thought, who are you? 

Especially when, as Catholics, we had access to the Liturgy of the Hours and even simply daily Mass readings.

Why should one guy’s sense of what the Spirit was leading him to do determine the path for the rest of us?

See, this is why, over the centuries, the Catholic Church has developed an organic dynamic between creativity/enthusiasm and structure.  When Catholics speak about the action of the Spirit among believers, and the action of the Spirit that Jesus promised, the first locus of that action is the Church.  How does the Spirit lead us in prayer? First and foremost through the prayer of the Church, as it has evolved.

So it is with the Mass. When a celebrant and his team lead a congregation in the liturgy, this is what we have: hundreds of people from all over, coming out of as many unique personal experiences as there are people. Rejoicing, grieving, afraid, questioning, calm, sick, relieved, content, on the edge. They all come to Mass, and here’s what they deserve:

What the Church gives. 

In the mystery and complexity of that, in the gathering of so many different souls under one roof, we trust that in this Sacrifice offered, all are met, all encounter the saving love of Christ. We trust. We give something unique to it – a homily, a type of music, an environment – but all of what we give is in service to Christ and his people through the Church and what the Church offers.

The minute – the second  – a celebrant or other liturgical minister starts making stuff up, they have unleashed their egos. It is what liturgical ministers of all types must be constantly wary of – is my music a performance or in service to Christ? Is my homily actually about the Gospel or am I just meandering, spouting platitudes or convoluted philosophies? Is my style – my presiding style, my singing style, heck, my ushering style dominating the situation or in service to it? Even the simple act of stepping away from the ambo, microphone in hand and wafting down the center aisle for my homily…even if I’m just quoting the Catechism and you could sell my “orthodoxy” by the pound…what’s that action about? Am I drawing attention to myself or to God?

The dilemma, though, is that we the people have been spoiled over the past few decades. Get a priest who does what Weigel begs for and does so in a humble, unassuming manner affected so that the celebrant might stay out of the way of the people’s experience as much as possible, and the complaints begin: “Oh, he’s so cold.” “I prefer that priest who makes us laugh at Mass.”  “It’s such a vibrant liturgy when Father X says it – he looks right at us, and smiles, and says his own prayers that we can all understand better.”

So there’s that battle, always.

But back to humility.

When a church leader positions himself, his opinions and priorities above what the Church offers, is that “humble?”   Is it a service to the diverse People of God who come, seeking, thirsty and hungry to offer them your version that reflects your priorities? Whom, in that paradigm, are you calling them to focus on? Whom are you inviting them to trust?

In reality what happened was an unprecedented clericalization came on the scene. Now the priest – the “presider”, as they now prefer to call him – becomes the real point of reference for the whole liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing. Not surprisingly, people try to reduce this new created role by assigning all kinds of liturgical functions to different individuals and entrusting the “creative” planning of the liturgy to groups of people who like to, and are supposed to, “make a contribution of their own.” Less and less is God in the picture.   

-Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy

 

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So I wrote all of this, all the while thinking, “Well, this is easy. Something we’ve talked about a zillion times before. But why again now? Sort of strange to rehash this right now with all that’s going on….”

And then I thought….wait. freelancing? Doing and saying things on your terms want with little mind for the depth and complexity of what’s given? Playing to a lowest common denominator? Disorienting and discombobulating your congregation in the process?

Huh.

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I mentioned in the 7QT post that I’d spent some time in the Savannah Cathedral watching people stream in then line up to walk through their Nativity scene.

What occurred to me was not new. It occurs to me every time I’m in church designed with a grounding in Catholic tradition and richly adorned with sign and symbol, and more so if people are wandering through that church during the week.

It’s this: We ask the question quite a bit: how can we get people into Church?

Well, here they are, at about 1pm on a Tuesday.

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I sat there for fifteen minutes. Dozens of people came in.

There are countless ways to evangelize. Preaching, personal witness and the Works of Mercy have always been the primary way Catholics have evangelized through history, with one more thing: the visual representation of Faith through art, architecture and music. In other words – giving the Sacred material expression in space and time. Saying, “This is Incarnation.”

How did that become unfashionable? My reading and reflection hints at a few reasons:

  • Raised in the thick of it, a couple of generations of reformers came to see all of that as obstacles to faith, not a way to it or expressions of it. They said it blocked the simplicity of faith in Christ.
  • I have always suspected, even though the archaeologism was a part of the Liturgical Movement from the beginning, that the devastation of two world wars intensified the feeling that Catholic culture had been an inadequate repository of faith and even a barrier to authentic understanding, hence the appeal to simplicity.
  • The idea that all of this mitigated against participation and was elitist.
  • The Church is the community gathered not the buildings, etc., etc.,

 

I’ve talked about these points often enough in this space before, but I want to look at a couple of points that my few minutes sitting in Savannah brought to mind.

  • This anti-cultural bias is presentist and runs counter to the fact that the Church is not just “the community gathered in this space.” The Church is Militant and Triumphant, encompasses past and present and the design and appointment of church buildings is about that not about being pretty.
  • A church building – of any sort, simple or decorated, in the middle of a city or a shrine alongside a rural road – is a sign of God’s presence in the world. It’s a good thing to have a lot of those signs, open and welcoming, not fewer.
  • The elitist/non participation thing is so much silliness. Was it the wealthy who carved the statues, applied the gold leaf, constructed the stained glass windows, laid the foundations or climbed high to balance the cross atop the steeples, who played the organ and staffed the chant-singing choirs and fashioned the candles and sewed the vestments and altar frontals?
  • As my friend and colleague Ann Engelhart likes to say in response to the inane Art v. the poor trope, which, sorry, is not a Catholic way of seeing things – Artists ARE the poor!

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So let’s get back to Savannah.

Programs, books, workshops. Time and money. Committee meetings and task forces.

How can we get people into church?

Hey. Guess what. Here they are.

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Drawn by history, beauty and a Christian-rooted cultural moment (aka Christmas).

Here they are.

This place is not an obstacle. This is not elitist. It’s a big, open doorway to a very relevant faith.

Use it. Evangelize with it.

Perhaps they did see it as evangelization – probably – but there could have been so much more, not in your face, but just there. 

The Savannah display was supervised, as far as I could tell, by one docent at the creche, and then a woman sitting at a desk near the front door – that looked to be a permanent spot.

But what I didn’t see was any kind of handout about the Cathedral itself. There was, I think, a booklet for sale, but there was no free pamphlet with either a history of the church itself or a description of what to look for in a Catholic church.

It’s this last point that bugs me the most. I’ve been in countless Catholic churches in my life, and that kind of offering – a simple description of the meaning of the shape of a cruciform church, the layout, the meaning of the altar, tabernacle, stations of the cross, and so on – why doesn’t it exist and why isn’t it everywhere?

Plus an invitation to return. A notice of inquiry sessions. A notice of ways to join in the Corporeal Works of Mercy sponsored by the church.

Is money an issue? Render it a non-issue. Put out a specific plea: Hey, we need a couple thousand dollars to provide this tool for evangelization. Can you all contribute?  My experience is that notoriously stingy Catholics are stingy only because they don’t trust where their money is being spent, and that is not unfounded. If they know, they are generous.

Anyway. Yes, church buildings are modes of evangelization because they are witnesses to the presence of God in the world. Even non-traditional chapels and churches are. Even churches in the suburbs.  Too much of what passes for evangelization in Catholicism isn’t, at all. Evangelization is reaching out and inviting and understanding what brings the curious and building vigorously on that –  not sitting, waiting, not explaining anything and then charging a fee when you do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From past Angelus addresses by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

2005:

Yesterday, after solemnly celebrating Christ’s Birth, today we are commemorating the birth in Heaven of St Stephen, the first martyr. A special bond links these two feasts and it is summed up well in the Ambrosian liturgy by this affirmation: “Yesterday, the Lord was born on earth, that Stephen might be born in Heaven” (At the breaking of the bread).

Just as Jesus on the Cross entrusted himself to the Father without reserve and pardoned those who killed him, at the moment of his death St Stephen prayed: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”; and further: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (cf. Acts 7: 59-60). Stephen was a genuine disciple of Jesus and imitated him perfectly. With Stephen began that long series of martyrs who sealed their faith by offering their lives, proclaiming with their heroic witness that God became man to open the Kingdom of Heaven to humankind.

In the atmosphere of Christmas joy, the reference to the Martyr St Stephen does not seem out of place. Indeed, the shadow of the Cross was already extending over the manger in Bethlehem.
It was foretold by the poverty of the stable in which the infant wailed, the prophecy of Simeon concerning the sign that would be opposed and the sword destined to pierce the heart of the Virgin, and Herod’s persecution that would make necessary the flight to Egypt.

It should not come as a surprise that this Child, having grown to adulthood, would one day ask his disciples to follow him with total trust and faithfulness on the Way of the Cross.

2006

It is not by chance that Christmas iconography sometimes depicts the Divine Newborn carefully lain in a little sarcophagus in order to indicate that the Redeemer is born to die, is born to give his life in ransom for all.

St Stephen was the first to follow in the footsteps of Christ with his martyrdom. He died, like the divine Master, pardoning and praying for his killers (cf. Acts 7: 60).

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Carlo Crivelli, 1476

In the first four centuries of Christianity, all the saints venerated by the Church were martyrs. They were a countless body that the liturgy calls “the white-robed army of martyrs”,martyrum candidatus exercitus. Their death did not rouse fear and sadness, but spiritual enthusiasm that gave rise to ever new Christians.

For believers the day of death, and even more the day of martyrdom, is not the end of all; rather, it is the “transit” towards immortal life. It is the day of definitive birth, in Latin, dies natalis. The link that exists then between the “dies natalis” of Christ and the dies natalis of St Stephen is understood.

2008

Dear brothers and sisters, in St Stephen we see materializing the first fruits of salvation that the Nativity of Christ brought to humanity: the victory of life over death, of love over hate, of the light of truth over the darkness of falsehood. Let us praise God, for this victory still enables many Christians today to respond to evil not with evil but with the power of truth and love.

2009

Stephen is also the Church’s first deacon. In becoming a servant of the poor for love of Christ, he gradually enters into full harmony with him and follows Christ to the point of making the supreme gift of himself. The witness borne by Stephen, like that of the Christian martyrs, shows our contemporaries, who are often distracted and uncertain, in whom they should place their trust in order to give meaning to their lives. The martyr, in fact, is one who dies knowing with certainty that he is loved by God, who puts nothing before love of Christ, knowing that he has chosen the better part. The martyr is configured fully to the death of Christ, aware of being a fertile seed of life and of opening up paths of peace and hope in the world. Today, in presenting the Deacon St Stephen to us as our model the Church likewise points out to us that welcoming and loving the poor is one of the privileged ways to live the Gospel and to witness credibly to human beings to the Kingdom of God that comes.

2011

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This is why the Eastern Church sings in her hymns: “The stones became steps for you and ladders for the ascent to heaven… and you joyfully drew close to the festive gathering of the angels” (MHNAIA t. II, Rome 1889, 694, 695).

After the generation of the Apostles, martyrs acquired an important place in the esteem of the Christian community. At the height of their persecution, their hymns of praise fortified the faithful on their difficult journey and encouraged those in search of the truth to convert to the Lord. Therefore, by divine disposition, the Church venerates the relics of martyrs and honours them with epithets such as: “teachers of life”, “living witnesses”, “breathing trophies” and “silent exhortations” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 43, 5: PG 36, 500 C).

Dear friends, the true imitation of Christ is love, which some Christian writers have called the “secret martyrdom”. Concerning this St Clement of Alexandria wrote: “those who perform the commandments of the Lord, in every action ‘testify’, by doing what he wishes, and consistently naming the Lord’s name; (Stromatum IV, 7,43,4: SC 463, Paris 2001, 130). Today too, as in antiquity, sincere adherence to the Gospel can require the sacrifice of life and many Christians in various parts of the world are exposed to persecution and sometimes martyrdom. However, the Lord reminds us: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).

2012

On St Stephen’s Day we too are called to fix our eyes on the Son of God whom in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas we contemplate in the mystery of his Incarnation. Through Baptism and Confirmation, through the precious gift of faith nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has bound us to him and with the action of the Holy Spirit, wants to continue in us his work of salvation by which all things are redeemed, given value, uplifted and brought to completion. Letting ourselves be drawn by Christ, as St Stephen did, means opening our own life to the light that calls it, guides it and enables it to take the path of goodness, the path of a humanity according to God’s plan of love. Lastly, St Stephen is a model for all who wish to put themselves at the service of the new evangelization. He shows that the newness of the proclamation does not consist primarily in the use of original methods or techniques — which of course, have their usefulness — but rather in being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting ourselves be guided by him.

The newness of the proclamation lies in the depth of the believer’s immersion in the mystery of Christ and in assimilation of his word and of his presence in the Eucharist so that he himself, the living Jesus, may speak and act in his messengers. Essentially, evangelizers can bring Christ to others effectively when they themselves live in Christ, when the newness of the Gospel is reflected in their own life.

And then, two more, from other occasions.  The first from the General Audience of 1/10/2007, in which Benedict discusses Stephen as a part of the series he did on great figures in Christianity (collected in several books):

Stephen’s story tells us many things: for example, that charitable social commitment must never be separated from the courageous proclamation of the faith. He was one of the seven made responsible above all for charity. But it was impossible to separate charity and faith. Thus, with charity, he proclaimed the crucified Christ, to the point of accepting even martyrdom. This is the first lesson we can learn from the figure of St Stephen: charity and the proclamation of faith always go hand in hand.

Above all, St Stephen speaks to us of Christ, of the Crucified and Risen Christ as the centre of history and our life. We can understand that the Cross remains forever the centre of the Church’s life and also of our life. In the history of the Church, there will always be passion and persecution. And it is persecution itself which, according to Tertullian’s famous words, becomes “the seed of Christians”, the source of mission for Christians to come.

I cite his words: “We multiply wherever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed…” (Apology 50, 13): Plures efficimur quoties metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis christianorum. But in our life too, the Cross that will never be absent, becomes a blessing.

And by accepting our cross, knowing that it becomes and is a blessing, we learn Christian joy even in moments of difficulty. The value of witness is irreplaceable, because the Gospel leads to it and the Church is nourished by it. St Stephen teaches us to treasure these lessons, he teaches us to love the Cross, because it is the path on which Christ comes among us ever anew.

And then from 2012, as he was discussing prayer in the General Audiences, and in particular the relationship between Scripture and prayer:

Dear brothers and sisters, St Stephen’s witness gives us several instructions for our prayers and for our lives. Let us ask ourselves: where did this first Christian martyr find the strength to face his persecutors and to go so far as to give himself? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from his communion with Christ, from meditation on the history of salvation, from perceiving God’s action which reached its crowning point in Jesus Christ. Our prayers, too, must be nourished by listening to the word of God, in communion with Jesus and his Church.

A second element: St Stephen sees the figure and mission of Jesus foretold in the history of the loving relationship between God and man. He — the Son of God — is the temple that is not “made with hands” in which the presence of God the Father became so close as to enter our human flesh to bring us to God, to open the gates of heaven. Our prayer, therefore, must be the contemplation of Jesus at the right hand of God, of Jesus as the Lord of our, or my, daily life. In him, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can address God and be truly in touch with God, with the faith and abandonment of children who turn to a Father who loves them infinitely.

For more from Benedict XVI on saints, but for children, see my book Be Saints! 

Also, a piece I wrote for the National Review years ago on these feasts that fall after Christmas:

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2009

Precisely this aspect of the prophecy, that of messianic peace, leads us naturally to emphasize that the city of Bethlehem is also a symbol of peace, in the Holy Land and in the world. Unfortunately, in our day, it does not represent an attained and stable peace, but rather a peace sought with effort and hope. Yet God is never resigned to this state of affairs, so that this year too, in Bethlehem and throughout the world, the mystery of Christmas will be renewed in the Church. A prophecy of peace for every person which obliges Christians to immerse themselves in the closures, tragedies, that are often unknown and hidden, and in the conflicts of the context in which they live, with the sentiments of Jesus so that they may become everywhere instruments and messengers of peace, to sow love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, joy where there is sadness and truth where there is error, according to the beautiful words of a well-known Franciscan prayer.

Today, as in the times of Jesus, Christmas is not a fairy-tale for children but God’s response to the drama of humanity in search of true peace. “He shall be peace”, says the Prophet referring to the Messiah. It is up to us to open, to fling open wide the doors to welcome him. Let us learn from Mary and Joseph: let us place ourselves with faith at the service of God’s plan. Even if we do not understand it fully, let us entrust ourselves to his wisdom and goodness. Let us seek first of all the Kingdom of God, and Providence will help us. A Happy Christmas to you all!

2012

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent that comes just before the Nativity of the Lord, the Gospel speaks of Mary’s visit to her kinswoman Elizabeth. This event is not merely a courteous gesture but portrays with great simplicity the encounter of the Old Testament with the New. Indeed the two women, both of them then pregnant, embody expectation and the Expected One. The elderly Elizabeth symbolizes Israel which is awaiting the Messiah, whereas the young Mary bears within her the fulfilment of this expectation for the benefit of the whole of humanity.

First of all in the two women the fruit of their wombs, John and Christ, meet and recognize each other. The Christian poet Prudentius comments: “the child imprisoned in the aged womb greets by his el-greco-visitationmother’s lips his Lord, the maiden’s son” (Apotheosis,590: pl 59, 970). John’s exultation in Elizabeth’s womb is a sign of the fulfilment of the expectation: God is about to visit his People. In the Annunciation the Archangel Gabriel spoke to Mary of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (cf. 1:36) as proof of God’s power; in spite of her old age her barren state was made fecund.

In her greeting to Mary Elizabeth recognizes that God’s promise to humanity is being fulfilled and exclaims: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:42-43). In the Old Testament, the phrase “blessed are you among women” refers both to Jael (Judg 5:24), and to Judith (Jud 13:18), two women warriors who do their utmost to save Israel.

Instead it is used here to describe Mary, a peaceful young woman who is about to bring the Saviour into the world. Thus John’s leap of joy (cf. Lk 1:44) also calls to mind King David’s dancing when he accompanied the entry of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (cf. 1 Chron 15:29. The Ark that contained the Tablets of the Law, the manna and Aaron’s rod (cf. Heb 9:4) was the sign of God’s presence among his People. The unborn John exults with joy before Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, who in her womb is carrying Jesus, the Son of God made man.

The scene of the Visitation also expresses the beauty of the greeting. Wherever there is reciprocal acceptance, listening, making room for another, God is there, as well as the joy that comes from him. At Christmas time let us emulate Mary, visiting all those who are living in hardship, especially the sick, prisoners, the elderly and children. And let us also imitate Elizabeth who welcomes the guest as God himself: without wishing it, we shall never know the Lord, without expecting him we shall not meet him, without looking for him we shall not find him. Let us too go to meet the Lord who comes with the same joy as Mary, who went with haste to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39).

Let us pray that all men and women may seek God, discovering that it is God himself who comes to visit us first. Let us entrust our heart to Mary, Ark of the New and Eternal Covenant, so that she may make it worthy to receive God’s visit in the mystery of his Birth.

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"amy welborn"

St. Ambrose, today.

It’s appropriate that we start with a passage from his work Concerning Repentance. Appropriate since tomorrow begins the “Year of Mercy.”

70. Nevertheless if we are unable to equal her, the Lord Jesus knows also how to aid the weak, when there is no one who can prepare the feast, or Saint_Ambrose_of_Milan_Holy_Spiritbring the ointment, or carry with her a spring of living water. He comes Himself to the sepulchre.

71. Would that You would vouchsafe to come to this sepulchre of mine, O Lord Jesus, that You would wash me with Your tears, since in my hardened eyes I possess not such tears as to be able to wash away my offense. If You shall weep for me I shall be saved; if I am worthy of Your tears I shall cleanse the stench of all my offenses; if I am worthy that You weep but a little, You will call me out of the tomb of this body and will say: Come forth, that my meditations may not be kept pent up in the narrow limits of this body, but may go forth to Christ, and move in the light, that I may think no more on works of darkness but on works of light. For he who thinks on sins endeavours to shut himself up within his own consciousness.

72. Call forth, then, Your servant. Although bound with the chain of my sins I have my feet fastened and my hands tied; being now buried in dead thoughts and works, yet at Your call I shall go forth free, and shall be found one of those sitting at Your feast, and Your house shall be filled with precious ointment. If You have vouchsafed to redeem any one, You will preserve him. For it shall be said, See, he was not brought up in the bosom of the Church, nor trained from childhood, but hurried from the judgment-seat, brought away from the vanities of this world, growing accustomed to the singing of the choir instead of the shout of the crier, but he continues in the priesthood not by his own strength, but by the grace ofChrist, and sits among the guests at the heavenly table.

73. Preserve, O Lord, Your work, guard the gift which You have given even to him who shrank from it. For I knew that I was not worthy to be called a bishop, because I had devoted myself to this world, but by Your grace I am what I am. And I am indeed the least of all bishops, and the lowest in merit; yet since I too have undertaken some labour for Your holy Church, watch over this fruit, and let not him whom when lost You called to the priesthood, to be lost when a priest. And first grant that I may know how with inmost affection to mourn with those who sin; for this is a very great virtue, since it is written: And you shall not rejoice over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction, and speak not proudly in the day of their trouble. Obadiah 12 Grant that so often as the sin of any one who has fallen is made known to me I may suffer with him, and not chide him proudly, but mourn and weep, so that weeping over another I may mourn for myself, saying, Tamar has been more righteous than I. Genesis 38:26

 

Almost five years ago, we did a spring break trip to Milan (freaky low airfare.  I’ll bet if you flew to Orlando that year for spring break and went to Disney, I spent less than you did on our trip.).  And of course, Milan=Ambrose.

(What you might not know is that Milan, as the center of Lombardy in northern Italy, has been the focus of so much attempted conquest and other warfare over the centures, has very little ancient, medieval or even Renaissance architecture or infrastructure.  The basilica of St. Ambrose is an anomaly in the city. Leonardo’s Last Supper barely survived the Allied bombing of WWII.)

But first, to the Duomo –
In the crypt of the Duomo – the baptistry where St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine:

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The Metro stop is nearby, and an underground corridor passes the baptistry.  You can peek out at the passengers rushing by, and if you are on the other side you could peek in to the baptistry – if you knew it was there.

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A different type of modern transport juxtaposed with the ancient.   Some wheels from the city’s bike-sharing service in front of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio –

one of the four churches built by Ambrose. (of course what we see is not the original – but is the result of building and rebuilding on the site.)

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In other places you can find photos of the body of St. Ambrose in the crypt.  I  didn’t take his photo though. I probably could have – a little girl stuck her camera right through the grate and got a shot of the vested skeleton and no one stopped her. But it just didn’t feel right to me. Maybe because the boys were with me and I didn’t want to model “getting a good shot” as even Step Two (after “pray”) in “What To do in the Presence of Important Saints’ Relics.”

B16 at a General Audience, speaking about St. Ambrose:

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like further to propose to you a sort of “patristic icon”, which, interpreted in the light of what we have said, effectively represents “the heart” of Ambrosian doctrine. In the sixth book of the Confessions, Augustine tells of his meeting with Ambrose, an encounter that was indisputably of great importance in the history of the Church. He writes in his text that whenever he went to see the Bishop of Milan, he would regularly find him taken up with catervae of people full of problems for whose needs he did his utmost. There was always a long queue waiting to talk to Ambrose, seeking in him consolation and hope. When Ambrose was not with them, with the people (and this happened for the space of the briefest of moments), he was either restoring his body with the necessary food or nourishing his spirit with reading. Here Augustine marvels because Ambrose read the Scriptures with his mouth shut, only with his eyes (cf. Confessions, 6, 3). Indeed, in the early Christian centuries reading was conceived of strictly for proclamation, and reading aloud also facilitated the reader’s understanding. That Ambrose could scan the pages with his eyes alone suggested to the admiring Augustine a rare ability for reading and familiarity with the Scriptures. Well, in that “reading under one’s breath”, where the heart is committed to achieving knowledge of the Word of God – this is the “icon” to which we are referring -, one can glimpse the method of Ambrosian catechesis; it is Scripture itself, intimately assimilated, which suggests the content to proclaim that will lead to the conversion of hearts.

Thus, with regard to the magisterium of Ambrose and of Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from witness of life. What I wrote on the theologian in the Introduction to Christianity might also be useful to the catechist. An educator in the faith cannot risk appearing like a sort of clown who recites a part “by profession”. Rather – to use an image dear to Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose -, he must be like the beloved disciple who rested his head against his Master’s heart and there learned the way to think, speak and act. The true disciple is ultimately the one whose proclamation of the Gospel is the most credible and effective.

Like the Apostle John, Bishop Ambrose – who never tired of saying: “Omnia Christus est nobis! To us Christ is all!” – continues to be a genuine witness of the Lord. Let us thus conclude our Catechesis with his same words, full of love for Jesus: “Omnia Christus est nobis! If you have a wound to heal, he is the doctor; if you are parched by fever, he is the spring; if you are oppressed by injustice, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire Heaven, he is the way; if you are in the darkness, he is light…. Taste and see how good is the Lord:  blessed is the man who hopes in him!” (De Virginitate, 16, 99). Let us also hope in Christ. We shall thus be blessed and shall live in peace.

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

Who, what, when, where, why….

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

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Something simple:

"amy welborn"

It’s from this book, which I found at an estate sale last year, and recounted here, with lots more examples of the pages.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

And…if you want a free book to help you reflect on the Cross, go here, to access The Power of the Cross. 

The app for John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross is available here. 

"amy welborn"

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