Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Vintage Catholic’ Category

— 1 —

Again with the  Daily Homeschool Report thing – and the short  Wednesday & Thursday report. It will be brief….not much memorable happened, what with all the interruptions, and what was probably most memorable I wasn’t present for.

— 2 —

Ash Wednesday and Lent were the center of prayer.  We went to Mass on Wednesday at the Cathedral, with the Bishop celebrating. Full church, naturally, including many fellow homeschool friends. We’ve also read – along with brother when he gets home – from that 7th grade vintage Catholic text I’ve been posting about. The tone and message are just right.

No copywork today, but yesterday was  this poem by Christian Rossetti:

It is good to be last not first,
Pending the present distress;
It is good to hunger and thirst,
So it be for righteousness.
It is good to spend and be spent,
It is good to watch and to pray:
Life and Death make a goodly Lent
So it leads us to Easter Day.

Latin review, a bit of writing in Writing and Rhetoric.  A bit of Beast Academy,but not too much since we finished one unit and the next one calls for a lot of reading and some careful thinking. Instead, we did review word problems from grade 6 Evan-Moor and will start the new section on Tuesday. (Monday – brother has no school so we won’t either, I suppose!)

Read about Daniel Boone in the history text. Tomorrow – Anthony Wayne – appropriate since he was born in Fort Wayne and my favorite restaurant there was Mad Anthony’s….

He continued his reading in Farenheit 451.  For leisure, he read this and this over the past couple of days and is also reading The Fellowship of the Ring.  The new Pseudonymous Bosch book is out and the library has it on the shelf (as of tonight), so we’ll go fetch that tomorrow.

Rabbit hole: Him holding one of the zillion chargers that fill our house. “How does something get charged? I mean…what happens?” 

Given that electricity is one of those things that I keep learning and relearning and have a terrible time conceptualizing, that’s a hard one for me to answer.  We were short on time, but we took some time to try to find some answers in a couple of books – The Way Things Work and the Usborne book on physics, and it was vaguely satisfying.

This morning was taken up with homeschool classes at the cathedral – drama class (taught by a theater major mom) and history of science, which focused on Mendel.  Lots of conversation about traits later on.

Tomorrow is an actual full day, but it would probably be more art-y and writer-y than anything else.  We’ll see. Next week will be…full. Maybe one “full” day without any activities? Maybe? Glad we got that crayfish dissected on Monday, because there sure wasn’t any other time to get to it this week. Although I do want to find a squid – I’ve read that the best is to find whole frozen squid. My older son said that when his homeschool science class at the science museum dissected a squid, the instructor said “you could eat this if you wanted to” – so I’m trusting that since she made that observation, they weren’t dealing with preserved animals. Maybe we’ll try to hit a couple of the Asian groceries to see what we can find.

And I just remembered something else going on next week that will take out most of another day. Oy.

– 3—

You need to read this Atlantic article on “The Math Revolution.” It’s about the explosion in problem-solving based extracurricular math and the impact it’s having on American students in general and their competitiveness in the global math scene specifically.  The programs we use – Beast Academy right now and the higher math in the past (and future) – are from one of the groups mentioned, The Art of Problem Solving. 

…You wouldn’t see it in most classrooms, you wouldn’t know it by looking at slumping national test-score averages, but a cadre of American teenagers are reaching world-class heights in math—more of them, more regularly, than ever before. The phenomenon extends well beyond the handful of hopefuls for the Math Olympiad. The students are being produced by a new pedagogical ecosystem—almost entirely extracurricular—that has developed online and in the country’s rich coastal cities and tech meccas. In these places, accelerated students are learning more and learning faster than they were 10 years ago—tackling more-complex material than many people in the advanced-math community had thought possible. “The bench of American teens who can do world-class math,” says Po-Shen Loh, the head coach of the U.S. team, “is significantly wider and stronger than it used to be.”

Rifkin trains her teachers to expect challenging questions from students at every level, even from pupils as young as 5, so lessons toggle back and forth between the obvious and the mind-bendingly abstract. “The youngest ones, very naturally, their minds see math differently,” she told me. “It is common that they can ask simple questions and then, in the next minute, a very complicated one. But if the teacher doesn’t know enough mathematics, she will answer the simple question and shut down the other, more difficult one. We want children to ask difficult questions, to engage so it is not boring, to be able to do algebra at an early age, sure, but also to see it for what it is: a tool for critical thinking. If their teachers can’t help them do this, well—” Rifkin searched for the word that expressed her level of dismay. “It is a betrayal.”

Now, here’s the problem. The normal course of events upon the explosion of a phenomenon like this is for education reformers to step up and say, “Oh, this is so great…let’s mandate this paradigm for all math teachers everywhere at every level, rewrite all the texts and ask Bill Gates to fund a new nation of workshops. Everyone should do this now.” 

Well, no. While I think the problem-solving angle is helpful and fundamentally worthwhile (I say that as a non-math person, too), I also don’t think it’s necessary for every student to buy into it or become experts in this way of doing math. What should happen? More support of these kinds of efforts in all sorts of communities for more students and the freedom for schools, teachers and communities that want to make this a part of their offering without worrying about how it fits into federal or state standards.

In other words, facilitate the flourishing, but for heaven’s sake don’t mandate it. Just stop mandating educational things and you will be amazed how much matters will improve.

— 4 —

Last week, with a break in the weather, I got outside for a walk and listened to the In Our Time podcast (the best) on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, appropriate considering all of our American Revolution -study. A typically excellent program offering really interesting context for Paine, and, related to the education issue, one more illustration of how “school” does not equal “education.”  Paine, like so many of his peers, had only the most basic school-based education and learned everything else in the context of apprenticeships, intense discussion and study circles and self-study.

Go here for the In Our Time podcast page. 

— 5 —

For something completely different – if you are a Cracker Barrel fan (I’m not) you might be interested in this new fast-casual concept under construction that I drive by at least twice a day –  they are debuting  it right here in Birmingham,  and it’s called Holler & Dash.   Not many details, but from what I can pick up, it seems like a pretty smart concept.  You can follow the progress on the new place on Facebook, and when they make it to your neighborhood, know we had it here first.

— 6–

Commentary from the back seat in the – not kidding – twelve minutes it takes to drive home from basketball practice with an 11-year old.

  • Recounts the course of practice. Then…
  • “What’s that song….when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…???”
  • (I answer. That’s Amore.)
  • Pause.
  • “That book…Anna and the King of Siam….is it in third person?”
  • (Me telling him yes, that Anna had written a first-person account, but this was a third-person, slightly fictionalized account, and the musical was based on that.)
  • (I have no idea where that came from. We have neither seen nor talked about it recently.)
  • Pause.
  • Recites haiku he wrote yesterday.
  • Pause.
  • “I would hate to be an amphibian. Your skin would be so wet and slimy all the time.”
  • (Me making the counterargument that it would be all you know, so no matter. He had a counterargument, but I don’t recall the details.)
  • Car stopped in front of Orthodox church, with large icon on the side. Pause.
  • “The proportions on that icon are wrong.”
  • (Me explaining that it was just like all icons, and proper proportions weren’t the point.)
  • And, home.

— 7 —

 

It’s Friday. Stations day.

A Stations of the Cross for teens:

"amy welborn"

Biblical Way of the Cross for everyone:

For Ave Maria press, we wrote John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross. The current edition is illustrated with paintings by Michael O’Brien.

"amy welborn"

 

Reconciled to God – a daily devotional. Also available in an e-book format. Still time! Only .99.

amy-welborn-3

 

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

Read Full Post »

…1947 style.

More from a 1947 7th-grade text, part of the The Christ Life Series in Religion.

Note, again, how the child is treated as a full-fledged member of the Body of Christ, with responsibilities and the capacity to know his or herself and receive grace fruitfully and grow in union with Christ. No pandering, no dumbing-down. Nor is it about rule-following or a shallow embrace of external actions, as our caricatures of pre-Vatican II life tell us it must have been.  It is, as the textbook says, about becoming “more intimately united with Christ.”

Read and contrast to the prevalent contemporary understanding of Lent, which is that it’s about focusing my efforts so God can help me get my life together and feel better about it all.

There is a difference between the two emphases. Subtle, but real between “strengthening the soul’s life” and “having a great Lent.” It’s all about the focus. Is it about me or about Jesus, the Gospel and our mission, as parts of his Body, in a broken world?

And news flash: there is not much about Lent in the CCC, but what is there emphasizes that yes, it is still a penetential season. 

(click on graphics for bigger versions)

 

As living members of Christ’s Mystical Body we must participate in all His life. Today this means waging war on those passions which have been gaining ground in our soul and usurping the reign which belongs to Christ alone. Only a coward flees from a call to arms in a just cause. We, who in Confirmation have been sealed with the Spirit as soldiers of Christ, must fight courageously under His leadership. Is there any special self-indulgence weakening our spiritual life, .t us have en-tire confidence that with Cod’s grace we can overcome our faults.

Lent is a time of action and spiritual growth—not a time of gloom and repression, but a time of strong positive effort. Through our vigorous efforts of this season, we grow stronger spiritually, for we become more intimately united with Christ. It is in the Mass, above all, that we receive the grace we need in order to be victorious in the struggle upon which we are entering. Is it•possible for you to assist at daily Mass during Lent, offering yourself with the divine Victim to atone for sin and to gain renewed vigor? Exactly what spiritual gains will you aim to make during this Lent? Join in the prayer of the Church today “that our fasts may be acceptable to thee and a means of healing to us. Through our Lord”

ashwednesday1

 

ashwednesday2

Read Full Post »

(Originally posted, in part, three years ago. Some additions.)

Finally, some more Vintage Catholic for you  – a 7th grade textbook published in 1935 by MacMillan, part of The Christ Life Series in Religion.  Authors are the famed liturgist Dom Virgil Michel OSB, another Benedictine, and Dominican sisters.

Note the tone.  It treats the young reader, not as consumer or client to be served or pandered to, but as a part of the Church with a vital role to play and a spiritual life capable of “courageous penance.”   I really love the paragraphs on p. 146 that set the global scene for the season.

On the eve of Septuagesima, with Vespers, the solemn evening prayer of the Church, all the members of the Mystical Body of Christ, bidding farewell to the Alleluia, suggestive of the joys of the Christmas Period, turn their steps toward the mountainous paths which lead to Easter. Thousands and thousands of people upon the stage of life are adjusting themselves to their roles in this drama—this drama which is real life. Old men are there and old women, youths and maidens, and even little children. From all parts of the world they come and from all walks of life—kings and queens, merchants and laborers, teachers and students, bankers and beggars, religious of all orders, cardinals, bishops, and parish priests, and leading them all the Vicar of Christ on earth. All are quietly taking their places, for all are actors in the sublime mystery drama of our redemption. We, too, have our own parts to play in this living drama. And there is no rehearsal. We begin now, on Septuagesima, following as faithfully as we can the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which comes to us particularly in the Mass and the sacraments.

If you click on the images, full-screen, readable versions should come up. 

"Charlotte Was Both"

"Charlotte Was Both"

 

What is also missing is that contemporary pervasive, nervous, anxiety-ridden definition of Lent as essentially about helping you feel a certain way about life and yourself, and if you follow these steps, it’s going to be a super dynamic time for you and give you a fabulous sense of purpose. None of that.  Just a sense of respect for each person’s capacity to respond to God, and trust that God is drawing each one to him.

Read Full Post »

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

 

****

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

20151229_133315

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!

20151229_133527

 

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.

20151229_133542

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

"amy welborn"

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).

amy-welborn5

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

"amy welborn"

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:

Read Full Post »

 

"amy welborn"

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.

"amy welborn"

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: