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Today is “Good Shepherd Sunday.”

I’m in Living Faith today, reflecting on an experience we had last summer:

 

In the heat of summer, we headed to a large swimming hole. One of the ways you could reach the water was by jumping off a steep, cliff like bank.

For a time, we watched as one young woman stood on the edge, contemplating a jump. Her friends floated in the water below, encouraging her to follow. She vacillated, moving to the edge, then backing away. Again and again, they called her name.

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For deeper understand of this Sunday’s readings, you can find all sorts of links at the excellent Divine Lamp blog. 

Michael Barber’s commentary on the Scriptures are especially helpful. 

There is great depth and richness in the imagery of sheep and shepherd, not reducible to simplistic allusions to gentleness and lambs, as appealing as that may be. It has profound historical resonance in relation to Israel and its kings. It is about intimacy and recognition and protection, for, if you think about it, the rod and staff of Psalm 23 are not decorative. They are for support, they are for warding off enemies. The critique of contemporary shepherds implicit in all of the Scripture readings is directed at their weakness and failure to protect the sheep.

As I’ve mentioned, in the pre-Vatican II liturgy, the Good Shepherd Gospel was proclaimed the Second Sunday after Easter. Here’s the appropriate chapter from the 7th grade catechism With Mother Church. 

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Charles Collins, longtime employee of Vatican Radio and now writing for the  CRUX website, has an article on the problems with Vatican communications, and suggested fixes. 

The communications office has been given the primary task of making sure what the pope says and does is made known to the world as quickly as possible. However, whenever the pope speaks off the cuff – or says something controversial – the Secretariat of State tells everyone in the Vatican to wait, until the “official version” comes out, no matter that the “unofficial,” but authentic, version is all over television and the newswires.

This undercuts the ability of Vatican media to be on top of the news.

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Speaking of Vatican communications, here’s the notification of the newest set of canonization causes to be moved forward on one level or another. I’m going to take the rest of the Short Takes to look at some in more detail. Yesterday, I shared some information on Solanus Casey. 

 

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the heroic virtues of the Servant of God François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church; born 17 April 1928 and died 16 September 2002

Here is a good introduction to the life and truly heroic virtue of Cardinal Thuan, imprisoned by the Communist government in Vietnam for thirteen years, nine of them in solitary confinement.

On 15 August 1975, the feast of the Assumption, he was arrested. He was dressed only Cardinal Van Thuanin his cassock, and had a rosary in his pocket. By October, he was writing messages in jail, on a sheet of paper that a seven-year-old child, Quang, smuggled in. Those pages eventually became books, with hope as their central theme.

He spent 13 years in prison without trial. From Saigon, he was moved shackled to Nha Trang, then to the Vinh-Quang re-education camp in the mountains. Those were hard times.

He was held in solitary confinement for nine years, watched by two guards only for him. Since he could not have a Bible, he scrounged for whatever paper he could find to transcribe about 300 Gospel passages he knew by heart.

He celebrated Mass using the palm of his hand as chalice with three drops of wine and one of water. He got the wine from his family, saying it was to treat his stomach ache. His relatives realised what he meant and sent him a bottle of wine with the label “medicine against stomach ache”. He kept consecrated bread crumbs in cigarette packs.

He was still in isolation in Hanoi when he got a fish to cook, wrapped up in two pages of “L’Osservatore Romano”, which police confiscated when it arrived by mail. He cleaned out the two page and dried them in the sun, as a sign of union with Rome and the pope.

The authorities were concerned about his goodness and his attitude of love towards his persecutors, fearing that the guards might be won over. For this reason, they were changed every two weeks.

The Road of Hope is a collection of his messages to his people that were smuggled out of prison. 

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Pope Benedict XVI mentioned Cardinal Thuan in his encyclical, Spe Salvi:

A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude …; if I pray I am never totally alone. The late Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, a prisoner for thirteen years, nine of them spent in solitary confinement, has left us a precious little book: Prayers of Hope. During thirteen years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope—to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.

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the miracle, attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God Clara Fey, founder of the Institute of the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus; born 11 April 1815 and died 8 May 1894

There does not seem to be a lot in English about Clara Fey, except in Wikipedia, which I am normally loathe to link to, but there just isn’t much out there. 

In her childhood she observed the poor conditions in her town and was resolved to aid the poor in their suffering more so because of the importance her mother placed on Clara Feyhelping those less fortunate than herself.To that end she would later set up a school with some likeminded friends in Aachen in 1837 in order to cater to the educational needs of poor children.

On 2 February 1844 in Aachen she established the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus as a means of leading children to Jesus Christ and to educate them in a religious environment. It was around 1835 that she started to read the works of Saint Teresa of Ávila and even desired to become a Carmelite nun. But in 1841 her spiritual aide Father Wilhelm Sartorius motivated her to instead read the works of Saint Francis de Sales for greater theological inspiration. She and some others made their vows as nuns in 1850. Her order received diocesan approval on 28 January 1848 from the Archbishop of Cologne and the papal decree of praise from Pope Pius IX on 11 July 1862 prior to Pope Leo XIII issuing full papal approval for her order on 15 June 1888

Here’s the website of her order – which was driven from Germany during the Kulturkampf, but returned eventually.

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the martyrdom of the Servant of God Luciano Botovasoa, layperson and father, of the Third Order of St. Francis, killed in hatred of the faith in Vohipeno, Madagascar on 17 April 1947..

.…Lucien Botovasoa, a married man with eight children, who was also a Third Order Franciscan, teacher and a catechist at his parish in Vohipeno, Madagascar.

As the AfLucien Botovasoarican island went from being a colonial outpost to an independent nation, Botovasoa was blacklisted as an enemy of the cause for independence and was killed in 1947 out of hatred of the faith.

Years later a village elder admitted on his deathbed to a local missionary that he ordered the murder of Botovasoa even though Botovasoa had told him he would be by his side to help him whenever he was in need. The elder told the missionary he felt Botovasoa’s presence and asked to be baptized.

 

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the heroic virtues of the Servant of God Elia dalla Costa, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Archbishop of Florence; born 14 May 1872 and died 22 December 1961

The Nazis began to deport Jews after the German occupation of Italy in September Elia Dalla Costa1943. A major rescue effort in Florence was begun by the city’s Jewish leader Rabbi Nathan Cassuto and Jewish resistance fighter Raffaele Cantoni. The operation soon became a joint Jewish-Christian effort, with the cardinal offering guidance.

Cardinal Dalla Costa recruited rescuers among the clergy and supplied letters asking monasteries and convents to shelter Jews. He sheltered Jewish refugees in his own palace for short periods before they could be taken to safety.

Yad Vashem said the cardinal was part of a network that helped save hundreds of local Jews and Jewish refugees from areas previously under Italian control.

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

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“Lachrimae Amantis“
Lope de Vega Carpio (1562-1613), translated by Geoffrey Hill

What is there in my heart that you should sue
so fiercely for its love? What kind of care
brings you as though a stranger to my door
through the long night and in the icy dew

seeking the heart that will not harbor you,
that keeps itself religiously secure?
At this dark solstice filled with frost and fire
your passion’s ancient wounds must bleed anew.

So many nights the angel of my house
has fed such urgent comfort through a dream,
whispered ‘your lord is coming, he is close’

that I have drowsed half-faithful for a time
bathed in pure tones of promise and remorse:
‘tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him.’

Agony in the Garden

Source

Also, from my favorite vintage textbook. We’ll just keep it simple today. That’s the best way.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

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Perhaps"amy welborn" you remember at the beginning of Lent, when I was on a Vintage Catholic tear, I posted a section from a late 19th-century book called The Correct Thing for Catholics.  Somewhat dated, of course, but still, if you think about it, useful.

Well, here’s the author’s advice for these days in particular. Other sites are offering you deep thoughts. I simply offer the correct thing. 

The focus is on Holy Thursday, and in particular the tradition of visiting the altars of repose in various churches – “throngs” of people did this….

 

"amy welborn"

 

"amy welborn"

There won’t be any Seven Quick Takes this week, so here’s an offering for you to read that is take, although not a quick one. I think it’s an essential article to read – Patricia Snow in First Things on screen time. 

Sixty-four years ago, in her novel Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor saw all of this coming. Describing the beautiful movements of a night sky over an artificially lit street in a small town, she commented dryly, “No one was paying any attention to the sky.” The cinema on the lit street was O’Connor’s metaphor of choice for the alienation of modern man, mesmerized by huge, internally generated images as if he were walled up behind his own eye; today everyone has a tiny cinema of his own, on the seat back in front of him or in his pocket, that he can carry everywhere.

Snow offers more than the now routine concerns about the impact of all of this on us. She takes it to a spiritual level, appropriate reading for this week, and this day, in particular, in which we ponder the Real Presence:

For centuries, the Catholic Church has been a place of prayer and recollection, deep reading and peaceful communion. It has been a place of limited social interaction, where the mind can wander and the nerves relax; a quiet place, far from the noise and incessant demands of the world. It has been a place where the poor have had access to certain luxury goods of the rich: great art and music, spaciousness and silence. If the rich have always taken expensive, unplugged vacations in remote, unspoiled places, in our churches the poor, too, have had a place of retreat from the world. The church’s thick walls and subdued lighting, her “precisely-paced” liturgies and the narrowing sight lines of her nave, drawing the eye to the altar and the tabernacle behind it—everything in the church is designed to ward off distractions and render man “still and listening.” Everything is there to draw him into the Church’s maternal embrace, so she can fill him with God.

Besides this way of prayer and contemplation that has been described as a mutual gaze (“I look at him; he looks at me”), there is a second path to God, equally enjoined by the Church, and that is the way of charity to the neighbor, but not the neighbor in the abstract. Catholicism, Christianity generally, and other religions as well have always inveighed against telescopic philanthropy. “Who is my neighbor?” a lawyer asks Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus’s answer is, the one you encounter on the way.

This encounter cannot be elided or put on hold, pushed to the periphery or dissolved into an abstraction. Man cannot vault over the particular to reach the universal, or bypass the present to seize the future. Virtue is either concrete or it is nothing. Man’s path to God, like Jesus’s path on the earth, always passes through what the Jesuit Jean Pierre de Caussade called “the sacrament of the present moment,” which we could equally call “the sacrament of the present person,” the way of the Incarnation, the way of humility, or the Way of the Cross. In C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, a book that teaches by inversion, the fiend Screwtape urges his nephew to envision his human prey as a series of concentric circles, and then “shove all [his] virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy.” The tradition of Zen Buddhism expresses the same idea in positive terms: Be here now.

Both of these privileged paths to God, equally dependent on a quality of undivided attention and real presence, are vulnerable to the distracting eye-candy of our technologies. In an essay in these pages, “Reckoning with Modernity” (December 2015), Bruce Marshall wrote of the Church’s need to discern modernity on her own terms, “by searching her own mystery.” In the past, the Church has censured the content of certain media: the violence in video games, for example, or the pornography available online. But preoccupied with content, and excepting a few recent remarks by Pope Francis, she has overlooked the greater danger of the delivery system itself, or the form of the screen, which for many people turns out to be as irresistible as pornography and as addictive as any narcotic, with the result that it is on its way to becoming as formidable a distracter in the life of the Church as it is everywhere else….

….The Church’s definitive mystery is a mystery of real presence: the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, above all, but also her own uninterrupted presence in the world and in history. There is nothing “virtual” or disembodied about the Catholic Church. Her Gospel—her whole life—is a communication of real presence: God made man; God with us; God still with us, in the sacraments and in the baptized. For centuries, the Church has spread this Gospel by face-to-face encounters, live preaching, tangible sacraments and real texts, media ontologically well suited to a message of Incarnation.

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john baptist de la salle

Today is the feastday of St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, the 17th-18th century French priest, founder of the Christian Brothers, who revolutionized education.

In brief:

Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719) is one of the most important figures in the history of education. As the founder of the Institute for the Brothers of the Christian Schools – not to be confused with the Irish Christian Brothers – he showed a revolutionary fervour for the education of the poor.

In teaching techniques, too, he was an innovator, insisting on grouping pupils together by ability rather than by age. Against the traditional emphasis on Latin, he stressed that reading and writing in the vernacular should be the basis of all learning.

Equally, Catholic dogma should lie at the root of all ethics. Yet de la Salle also introduced modern languages, arts, science and technology into the curriculum. Of his writings on education, Matthew Arnold remarked: “Later works on the same subject have little improved the precepts, while they entirely lack the unction.”

From a LaSallian page:

John Baptist"john baptist de la salle" de La Salle was a pioneer in founding training colleges for teachers, reform schools for delinquents, technical schools, and secondary schools for modern languages, arts, and sciences. His work quickly spread through France and, after his death, continued to spread across the globe. In 1900 John Baptist de La Salle was declared a Saint. In 1950, because of his life and inspirational writings, he was made Patron Saint of all those who work in the field of education. John Baptist de La Salle inspired others how to teach and care for young people, how to meet failure and frailty with compassion, how to affirm, strengthen and heal. At the present time there are De La Salle schools in 80 different countries around the globe.

An excellent summary of the life of the saint can be found at a webpage dedicated to a set of beautiful stained-glass windows portraying the main events.

Not surprisingly, de la Salle left many writings behind. Many, if not all, are available for download at no cost here. 

All are of great interest. De la Salle wrote on education, of course, but since his vision of education was holistic, he is concerned with far more than the transmission of abstract knowledge or skills.

You might be interested in reading his Rules of Christian Decorum and Civility.

It is incredibly detailed. Some might find the detail off-putting or amusing. I see it as a fascinating window into the past and a reminder, really, of the incarnational element of everyday life. The introduction to the modern edition notes:

De La Salle sought, instead, to limit the impact of rationalism on the Christian School, and he believed that a code of decorum and civility could be an excellent aid to the Christian educator involved in the work of preserving and fostering faith and morals in youth. He believed that although good manners were not always the expression of good morals, they could contribute strongly to building them. While he envisioned acts of decorum and civility as observing the established customs and thereby protecting the established social order, he envisioned them more profoundly as expressions of sincere charity. In this way the refinement of the gentleman would become a restraint on and an antidote to self-centeredness, the root of individual moral transgressions as well as the collective evil in human society.

A sample:

Decorum requires you to refrain from yawning when with others, especially when with people to whom you owe respect. Yawning is a sign that you are bored either with the compabruegel-yawning-man.jpg!Largeny or with the talk of your companions or that you have very little esteem for them. If, however, you find that you cannot help yawning, stop talking entirely, hold your hand or your handkerchief in front of your mouth, and turn slightly aside, so that those present cannot notice what you are doing. Above all, take care when yawning not to do anything unbecoming and not to yawn too much. It is very unseemly to make noise while yawning and much worse to yawn while stretching or sprawling out.

You need not refrain entirely from spitting. It is a very disgusting thing to swallow what you ought to spit out; it can make you nauseated. Do not, however, make a habit of spitting often and without necessity. This is not only uncouth but also disgusting and disagreeable to everyone. Take care that you rarely need to do this in company, especially with people to whom special respect is due

Also of interest might be two books on religious formation, gathered here into a single volume. The first centers on the Mass, and the second on the prayer life of a school.  The first was intended, not just for students, but for parents and the general public as well, and once again, offers a helpful and important piece of counter evidence against the ahistorical claim that the laity were not encouraged to “participate” in the Mass before the Second Vatican Council.

Of all our daily actions, the principal and most excellent one is attending Mass, the most important activity for a Christian who wishes to draw down God’s graces and blessings on himself and on all the actions he must perform during the day. jeanbaptistedelasalleNevertheless, few people attend Mass with piety, and fewer still have been taught how to do so well. This is what led to the composing of these Instructions and Prayers to instruct the faithful in everything relating to the holy Sacrifice and to give them a means of occupying themselves in a useful and holy manner when they attend Mass.

To begin with, we explain the excellence of holy Mass, as well as the benefits derived from attending it. Next, we point out the interior dispositions that should animate our external behavior at Mass. Finally, readers learn the means of focusing their attention fully during the time of Mass.

Following this presentation, we explain all the ceremonies of holy Mass. Finally, this book suggests two sets of prayers, one based on the Ordinary of the Mass, the other on the sacred actions performed by the celebrant during Mass. Thus the faithful can alternate between both sets of prayers without growing overly accustomed to either one. Those who prefer can select the one set they like best or that inspires them with greater devotion

 

 

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St. Patrick's Well, Orvieto

What is this and what does it have to do with St. Patrick? See the end of the blog post…

From The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

How do you teach a classroom that’s as big as a whole country? How do you teach a whole country about God?

St. Patrick’s classroom was the whole country of Ireland and his lesson was the good news of Jesus Christ. How in the world did he do it? Well, it was only possible because he depended totally on God.

….

God gave Patrick the courage to speak, even when Patrick was in danger of being hurt by pagan priests who didn’t want to lose their power over the people.

Patrick’s most famous prayer shows us how close he was to God. It’s called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” A breastplate is the piece of armor that protects a soldier’s heart from harm.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.

"amy welborn"

I also  have a chapter on the beautiful Lorica prayer – or St. Patrick’s Breastplate in The Words We Pray. You can dip into it here and buy the book here. It’s one of my favorites of those I’ve written. 

The point of St Patrick to me has always been he went back.  He (like Isaac Jogues and many others) returned to the people who had caused him much suffering. Why did he return? Because he knew, first hand, that they needed to hear the Gospel. The Gospel is about forgiveness and reconciliation. Who better to bring it to them?

St. Patrick's Breastplate

St. Patrick’s Breastplate in a Wordcloud. Wordcloud made via this. Feel free to share. 

The photograph at the top of the blog post is of St. Patrick’s Well in Orvieto, Italy. No, St. Patrick never traveled to Italy, and no one thinks he does, either. The assumption is that the name of this very deep, intriguingly constructed well is derived from the awareness of “St. Patrick’s Purgatory” in Ireland, a cave so deep it led to Purgatory. 

This incredible 16th century feat of engineering is 72 meters (174.4 feet) deep and 13 meters (43 feet) wide.  Two staircases circle the central opening in a double-helix design, meaning that one person (or donkey carrying empty buckets) can travel down the staircase in one direction and never run into another person (or donkey carrying full buckets) coming up in the other direction.  Seventy-two arched windows in the interior wall of the staircase filter light through the well and illuminate the brick and mortar used to seal it.

Why does a tiny town on top of a plateau of volcanic rock (or “tufa”) have such a thing? For the same reason it has such a stunning duomo!  After the troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sacked Rome in 1527, Pope Clement VII was held hostage in Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome’s holy fortress, for six months.  He finally escaped dressed as a servant and took refuge in Orvieto. It was the perfect spot with its vantage point over the valley.

It didn’t, however, have a reliable source of water without descending from the plateau, something the Pope feared could be a issue if it were sieged.  To solve the problem before it existed, Pope Clement VII commissioned Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, a visionary young Italian architect, to create a well that was at that time called “Pozzo della Rocca”, “Well of the Fortress”. Research had already been done to find the most suitable spot for a well and so the design and construction of Pozzo della Roca was begun immediately.  It was finished 10 years later in 1537, under the reign of Pope Paul III.

It wasn’t until the 1800′s that the well got its new name, as it reminded some of the “well” or “cave” in Ireland called “St. Patrick’s Purgatory”.

 

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The stupidist thing I am currently addicted to are those really short, shot over the shoulder, quick-cut DIY, cooking and Life-hacking videos you find mostly on Instagram, and also on Facebook pages like 5-Minute Crafts.  It makes satisfying that aspirational (which is it all it will ever be) Maker inside that more efficient.

LifeHacks on Instagram.  One of the DIY feeds, if you want to know what I’m talking about.

Glue guns not optional.

That said, this was very funny to me. When you have no more ideas – not a single one – left.

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Fr. Robert Imbelli, always  good and fair writer and thinker, has thoughts on the impact of the post-Conciliar reforms on sacramental life:

But is the challenge before us a doctrinal-pastoral “accommodation” to current cultural “realities,” or (as Saint Paul dares to mount, in the face of the culture of his day), a doctrinal-pastoral mystagogy?

The Corinthians, the Romans, the Galatians were as fractious and divisive as our contemporary divorce and discard culture. Hence Paul’s “accompaniment” of them entailed all the pain and hope of childbirth: “until Christ be formed in you” (Gal 4:19).

Thus Catholicism’s tradition of “Seven Sacraments” should not be construed as some arbitrary numerical concoction. Rather, especially today, it represents the Spirit-guided safeguard of a life-giving sacramental vision that stands in liberating contrast to the stunted secular imagination whose one-dimensional individualism and consumerism ends by suffocating the soul.

However, if as I have suggested the foundational issue is faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of the Church and Savior of the world, then the challenge is primarily that of a renewed Christ-centered proclamation and catechesis.

His is the beloved face revealed in and through the warp and woof of Catholicism’s sacramental tapestry. His is the radiant form to whom believers are sacramentally conformed and transformed.

— 3 —

This is an excellent article from the UK Catholic Herald on the ridiculous recent Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on “biological extinction.”

The Pass has, since its founding in 1994, been charged with surveying the scholarship on contemporary topics in order to be of use to the Church’s pastors and theologians in the application of the principles of Catholic social teaching. In recent years, it has taken a turn towards publicity seeking, as when it invited Evo Morales of Bolivia and American senator Bernie Sanders last year to discuss the 25th anniversary of Centesimus Annus.

This year’s gambit was to invite the completely discredited Paul Ehrlich, the grandfather – if one might use that natalist term – of coercive population control, presumably to show broadmindedness by inviting the Church’s enemies and to generate notoriety by gratuitously sticking a finger in the eye of the Church’s pro-life witnesses.

This year’s meeting of the Pass was little different from any routine gathering of environmental alarmists at the United Nations. Consider the preamble to the meeting, which is standard man-is-a-cancer-on-the-planet boilerplate..

Robert Royal had a lot to say about the conference at the Catholic Thing website – his articles are gathered here.  (He intended to actually attend the sessions, but they were closed off to the press at somewhat the last minute.)

— 4 —

Donna Cooper O’Boyle has a new book coming out soon – a children’s book on Fatima. And perhaps you can recognize the style of the illustrator? Yes – it’s Ann Engelhart, my friend and colleague and talented artist. I’ve seen some of the interior art, and it’s really lovely, so check it out.

Another recent project of Ann’s, published last year, is The Chestertons and the Golden Key, written by Nancy Carpentier Brown. It’s another lovely book!

And what about us? Yes, we are tossing around ideas for something new. I will be traveling  up that way in June for a joint talk we are doing at Immaculate Conception Seminary Library, so we will hopefully by then have substantive ideas to discuss. 

— 5 —.

Speaking of my books, I just restocked the bookstore. Go here to see what’s available. I’ll include a copy of the Lent Daybreaks with each order – until they run out.

Not there because it’s not yet published…but coming in a few months:

"amy welborn"

— 6 –

Back to the Catholic Herald – Matthew Schmitz this time: “A Beautiful Church for the Poor.”

Mary Douglas, a great anthropologist and devout Catholic, saw this coming. When the bishops of England and Wales lifted the obligation for Friday abstinence, they suggested there was something untoward in the gusto with which Irish labourers observed the fast. Surely, the bishops believed, such outward observance would be better replaced by the more careful and thoughtful cultivation of an interior state of penitence and sorrow, perhaps complemented by a charitable gift?

Such anti-ritualistic arguments were made all across the Catholic world during and after the Council. Douglas, who had studied ritual among primitive tribes, bristled at them. She believed the bog Irish were being treated unfairly because of “a blank in the imaginative sympathy of their pastors”. The hierarchy had been made, “by the manner of their education, dull to non-verbal signals, and insensitive to their meaning”. They came to prefer ethical stances to ritual observance, and so they forgot how to speak to the poor.

For people who have not had the time and training necessary for cultivating a refined interior life or exquisite set of ethical commitments, a simple task like abstaining from meat gives the Christian life a meaning and shape that is no less profound for being inarticulate. In abolishing practices that poor Catholics had treasured for so long, the bishops acted with such violence that it is hard not to see it in terms of class war.

Of course, the Catholic faith is about divine mysteries, not human rituals, however treasured. Thomas Aquinas distinguished ceremonial forms from what was essential to the sacraments. While the sacraments were instituted by God, the form of celebration was determined by man.

This distinction is what gave the fathers of the Second Vatican Council the boldness to tamper with the most ancient rites of the Church. Yet Aquinas saw something that too many in that time did not: ritual cannot be dispensed with and should not be disparaged. We need solemn ceremonial forms not because they are essential but because humans have always tended to comprehend the profound through the trivial.

We need fixed and tangible ways of perceiving divine mysteries. This is why Aquinas defends not only the importance of ritual but also the use of images in Church. He offers three arguments. First, images are necessary for the instruction of simple people. Second, they aid the memory by daily presenting the example of the saints. Third, they help to excite devotion.

Really, though, Aquinas’s three reasons are one. Though he first defends images as useful for the instruction of simple people, he then goes on to explain why they are useful to us all. For learned and unlettered alike, memory is imprinted and emotion aroused “more effectively by things seen than by things heard”. Aquinas was sophisticated enough to realise that all men are simple. If the poor need art and ritual, so does everyone.

— 7 —

Off to finish my own (not nearly as good) essay and two talks for Monday. Happy first day of the St. Joseph Novena….

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

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