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Archive for the ‘Works of Mercy’ Category

Insights from past homilies of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

2006:

What happens in Baptism? What do we hope for from Baptism? You have given a response on the threshold of this Chapel:  We hope for eternal life for our children. This is the purpose of Baptism. But how can it be obtained? How can Baptism offer eternal life? What is eternal life?

In simpler words, we might say:  we hope for a good life, the true life, for these children of ours; and also for happiness in a future that is still unknown. We are unable to guarantee this gift for the entire span of the unknown future, so we turn to the Lord to obtain this gift from him.

We can give two replies to the question, “How will this happen?”. This is the first one: through Baptism each child is inserted into a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death because these companions are God’s family, which in itself bears the promise of eternity.

This group of friends, this family of God, into which the child is now admitted, will always accompany him, even on days of suffering and in life’s dark nights; it will give him consolation, comfort and light.

This companionship, this family, will give him words of eternal life, words of light in response to the great challenges of life, and will point out to him the right path to take. This group will also offer the child consolation and comfort, and God’s love when death is at hand, in the dark valley of death. It will give him friendship, it will give him life. And these totally trustworthy companions will never disappear.

No one of us knows what will happen on our planet, on our European Continent, in the next 50, 60 or 70 years. But we can be sure of one thing:  God’s family will always be present and those who belong to this family will never be alone. They will always be able to fall back on the steadfast friendship of the One who is life.

2007

A washing of regeneration: Baptism is not only a word, it is not only something spiritual but also implies matter. All the realities of the earth are involved. Baptism does not only concern the soul. Human spirituality invests the totality of the person, body and soul. God’s action in Jesus Christ is an action of universal efficacy. Christ took flesh and this continues in the sacraments in which matter is taken on and becomes part of the divine action.

We can now ask precisely why water should be the sign of this totality. Water is the element of fertility. Without water there is no life. Thus, in all the great religions water is seen as the symbol of motherhood, of fruitfulness. For the Church Fathers, water became the symbol of the maternal womb of the Church.

2008

Yet it does not seem out of place if we immediately juxtapose the experience of life with the opposite experience, that is, the reality of death. Sooner or later everything that begins on earth comes to its end, like the meadow grass that springs up in the morning and by evening has wilted. In Baptism, however, the tiny human being receives a new life, the life of grace, which enables him or her to enter into a personal relationship with the Creator for ever, for the whole of eternity. Unfortunately, human beings are capable of extinguishing this new life with their sin, reducing themselves to being in a situation which Sacred Scripture describes as “second death”. Whereas for other creatures who are not called to eternity, death means solely the end of existence on earth, in us sin creates an abyss in which we risk being engulfed for ever unless the Father who is in Heaven stretches out his hand to us. This, dear brothers and sisters, is the mystery of Baptism: God desired to save us by going to the bottom of this abyss himself so that every person, even those who have fallen so low that they can no longer perceive Heaven, may find God’s hand to cling to and rise from the darkness to see once again the light for which he or she was made. We all feel, we all inwardly comprehend that our existence is a desire for life which invokes fullness and salvation. This fullness is given to us in Baptism.

2009

Dear friends, I am truly glad that this year too, on this Feast day, I have been granted the opportunity to baptize these children. God’s “favour” rests on them today. Ever since the Only-Begotten Son of the Father had himself baptized, the heavens are truly open and continue to open, and we may entrust every new life that begins into the hands of the One who is more powerful than the dark powers of evil. This effectively includes Baptism: we restore to God what came from him. The child is not the property of the parents but is entrusted to their responsibility by the Creator, freely and in a way that is ever new, in order that they may help him or her to be a free child of God.

2010

At the Jordan Jesus reveals himself with an extraordinary humility, reminiscent of the poverty and simplicity of the Child laid in the manger, and anticipates the sentiments with which, at the end of his days on earth, he will come to the point of washing the feet of the disciples and suffering the terrible humiliation of the Cross. The Son of God, the One who is without sin, puts himself among sinners, demonstrates God’s closeness to the process of the human being’s conversion. Jesus takes upon his shoulders the burden of sin of the whole of humanity, he begins his mission by putting himself in our place, in the place of sinners, in the perspective of the Cross.

2011

Dear parents, the Baptism, that you are asking for your children today, inserts them into this exchange of reciprocal love that is in God between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; through this act that I am about to carry out, God’s love is poured out upon them, showering them with his gifts. Your children, cleansed by the water, are inserted into the very life of Jesus who died on the Cross to free us from sin and in rising, conquered death

2012

And what are “the springs of salvation”? They are the Word of God and the sacraments. Adults are the first who should nourish themselves at these sources, so as to be able to guide those who are younger in their development. Parents must give much, but in order to give they need in turn to receive, otherwise they are drained, they dry up. Parents are not the spring, just as we priests are not the spring. Rather, we are like channels through which the life-giving sap of God’s love must flow. If we cut ourselves off from his spring, we ourselves are the first to feel the negative effects and are no longer able to educate others. For this reason we have committed ourselves by saying: We will “draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation”.

2013

It is not easy to express what one believes in openly and without compromises. This is especially true in the context in which we live, in the face of a society that all too often considers those who live by faith in Jesus as out of fashion and out of time.

On the crest of this mentality, Christians too can risk seeing the relationship with Jesus as restrictive, something that humiliates one’s fulfilment; “God is constantly regarded as a limitation placed on our freedom, that must be set aside if man is ever to be completely himself” (The Infancy Narratives: Jesus of Nazareth)

But this is not how it is! This vision shows that it has not understood the relationship with God at all, for as we gradually proceed on our journey of faith, we realize that Jesus exercises on us the liberating action of God’s love which brings us out of our selfishness, our withdrawal into ourselves, to lead us to a full life in communion with God and open to others.

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"amy welborn"

— 1 —

Well, hello there.

We have stuck around home for Christmas. Rather than traveling, we have been doing grandson/nephew duty for the past few days, and are happy to do it and give his parents a break. Plus, I was still fantasizing that I could “get” “work” “done” during the time here. But, par for the course: hah. Very funny.

Which means you will not be seeing much of me over the next month, and if you do, scold me and send me packing back to the Word document where I belong. I’ll toss up entries about saints and such, but we’re in crunch time now, that time in which I must think ahead to the time in which I will *not* be in crunch time, and how wonderful that will be.

I checked this out from the library today, and I told them….mid February, when the book’s done and basketball is winding down…here we go….

 

— 2 —

Spend less time analyzing celebrity deaths online, thinking of how to sadly yet wittily condemn 2016 to oblivion or bitingly condemn those condemning 2016 to oblivion… and instead spend more time chatting with your actual neighbors, seeing how they’re doing, and swapping stories about life, face-to-face. Try it. It makes for far more sanity and a deeper perspective on what’s real. Probably better for your eyes and joints, too.

— 3—

Are you a Catholic? Then you, like most Catholics, probably had one question on your mind as December 26 dawned. And that question is:

So, when’s Ash Wednesday this year?

Well,since you asked.

"amy welborn"

(Feel free to swipe and share)

A little later, so a bit of reprieve, unlike this past year when it was February 10, when Super Serious Catholics – who observe Christmas til Candlemas – have barely brushed away the last of the pine needles.

So, yes. March 1. If you’re prepping for a parish or school, check out my Lenten devotional from Liguori, also available in Spanish.

(pdf sample here)

daybreaks-lent

Speaking of self-promotion, if you are a woman looking for a daily devotional for 2017, dayscheck out mine. It’s a perennial, which means that it’s not explicitly tied to 2017 moveable feast dates. But I did try to make the February-March entries Lent-ish, the April-May entries Easterish, and so on. Moreover, since most Catholic female-centric devotionals are directly pitched at women who are mothers, this might be a good choice for a woman who is not a mother, or to whom motherhood is not a defining anchor of her spirituality.  Check it out.

 

— 4 —

 

A couple of election-related pieces that echo points I’ve tried to make here.

One of my favorite bloggers, just-retired U of Wisconsin law prof Ann Althouse, writes in relation to an essay in Elle by a woman super-concerned about how to raise a son in “Trump’s America.”

Since President Trump will be out of office by the time your child is 8, I’d suggest not talking about any of that. Piazza frets about “explaining sensitivity and nonviolence” to the boy. I’d suggest demonstrating it, beginning by not going out of your way to express contempt for the President.

A child — boy or girl — lives with real people, and these people set the example that the child will copy. It’s not really very much about explanations and characters on television. How about not putting on the television and not talking about politics and sex in front of young children? Give them a real, comprehensible, simple, gentle environment that is on their level.

Piazza worries about explaining “the president’s picks for attorney general and CIA director voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.” Frankly, she shouldn’t try to explain that to anyone, since she doesn’t even understand it herself. Votes against the Violence Against Women Act were not votes for violence against women. If you don’t know why, at least have some modesty and restraint about your potential to confuse and unnecessarily rile other people.

Let children be children. And let adults who don’t want to understand law — including things like federalism — have some peace. Your hysteria is not helping….

Explanations are overrated. The power of the presidency is overblown. Find love and meaning where it really is.

It’s much simpler than you’re willing to say, perhaps because you have a career writing columns about feminism and politics. That’s nice for you, but be careful. It’s a brutal template, and you are having a baby.

And Kevin Williamson on the absurdity and fundamental wrongness of our imperial presidency and why for God’s sake do we have to have Obama’s America or Trump’s America or anyone in particular’s America , when, you know…it’s not supposed to be that way. 

The idea that a large, complex society enjoying English liberty could long endure without the guiding hand of a priest-king was, in 1776, radical. A few decades later, it became ordinary — Americans could not imagine living any other way. The republican manner of American presidents was pronounced: There is a famous story about President Lincoln’s supposedly receiving a European ambassador who was shocked to see him shining his own shoes. The diplomat said that in Europe, a man of Lincoln’s stature would never shine his own shoes. “Whose shoes would he shine?” Lincoln asked.

As American society grows less literate and the state of its moral education declines, the American people grow less able to engage their government as intellectually and morally prepared citizens. We are in the process — late in the process, I’m afraid — of reverting from citizens to subjects. Subjects are led by their emotions, mainly terror and greed. They need not be intellectually or morally engaged — their attitude toward government is a lot like that of Trump’s old pal Roy Cohn: “Don’t tell me what the law is. Tell me who the judge is.”

For more than two centuries, we Americans have been working to make government subject to us rather than the other way around, to make it our instrument rather than our master. But that requires a republican culture, which is necessarily a culture of responsibility. Citizenship, which means a great deal more than showing up at the polls every two years to pull a lever for Team R or Team D, is exhausting. On the other hand, monarchy is amusing, a splendid spectacle and a wonderful form of public theater.

But the price of admission is submission.

 

— 5 —.

I have a contribution to a “Best Books I read in 2016” article, but it hasn’t been posted yet. This is a place holder for that.  But I can tell you right now, without knowing who else contributed and what books they’ll discuss, mine will be the lowest brow. Guaranteed.

 

— 6—

Oh, can I come back to this point? A year does not “suck” or need to be prayed to  end or told to go home because celebrities died.

children-in-aleppo

Source

— 7 —

 

Have you seen this? Do you need a time-suck? Try this site, Radio Garden, in which you can just move your cursor and explore radio stations streaming from around the world. There have always been websites with lists of such stations (which I like because you can find stations by genre), but this is the first one that I’ve seen with this kind of framework. My quick conclusion: Everyone around the world is listening to really bad music at the same time! We are Family!

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

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It is apt that people are starting to talk about Silence around the time of the feast of St. Francis Xavier, who introduced  Christianity to Japan in 1549. Here is a good, short summary of the two years he spent there. 

You can read in more detail about his time in Japan here, in the old biography and letter collection I cited in the last post. The chapter to which this link will take you contains the biographer’s summary as well as a letter from Francis Xavier to the Society back in Goa…which is well worth your time.

As I noted in the previous entry, Francis Xavier’s mission method encompassed all of the works of mercy – which is the traditional Catholic way of evangelization. These days, the a_xavier_2006sp2“instruct the ignorant” part of the works of mercy is often ignored, downplayed or disparaged, for various reasons: The specifics of religious truth are too complicated, are an obstacle to the Big Picture Truth that Jesus Loves You, or maybe even actually aren’t that true at all – not in the sense of being false but in the sense of not mattering very much, all things considered. 

But Francis Xavier, S.J., put “instruct the ignorant” front and center when it was called for – as in when those he was seeking to bring to Christ lived out of false belief systems. For him, understanding their beliefs and then relentlessly tearing them down was an essential work of mercy. Yes, he accompanied them….pointing out their errors and inviting them to the fullness of the truth with every step he took alongside them.

First, Xavier’s detailed explanation of the mission field that he found: his take on Japanese society and culture, and in particular religious practice. What he found was a system of sects, whose members were called bonze. The beliefs of these sects were rooted in Chinese beliefs and had evolved into an elaborated eternal life insurance profit-making scheme.

(Forgive the formatting – I cut and pasted from the text at the archive.org site and don’t have time to reformat. Basketball game.)

At the 
same time, the bonzes and the bonzesses, when preaching to 
the people about these laws, persuade them that profane per 
sons, occupied with worldly business, are unable themselves to- 
observe these five precepts ; but that they themselves are ready 
to make satisfaction for all the evil or inconvenience which 
may happen to them in consequence of breaking them, on con 
dition of the people giving them convents, yearly revenues, and 
money for all necessary uses : in short, of paying them every 
kind of honour and homage.

Xavier found the Japanese to be highly intellectual and interested in engaging in theological conversation – so that is what he did.

We used to preach twice a
day, and after the sermon there was always a good long dis
pute concerning religion. Thus we were continually occupied
either in preaching or in answering questions. Many bonzes
were often present at the sermons, and a great number of
others, both of the common people and of the nobility. The
house was always full of men, so full, that at times some were
shut out for want of space. Those who asked us questions
pressed them so well home, that the answers we gave enabled
them thoroughly to understand the falsehood of their own laws
and founders, and the truth of the Christian law. After dis
putes and questionings for many days, they at last began to
give in and betake themselves to the faith of Christ.

And when you read his account of the discourses, what you discover is…not much has changed. Human beings still fall into the same errors we always have, and we also have the very same questions about faith.

Xavier’s angle with the bonze – the weakness in their system he discerned – was that they had no Creation account or philosophy.

The Japanese doctrines teach absolutely nothing concerning 
the creation of the world, of the sun, the moon, the stars, the 
heavens, the earth, sea, and the rest, and do not believe that 
they have any origin but themselves. The people were greatly 
astonished on hearing it said that there is one sole Author and 
common Father of souls, by whom they were created. This 
astonishment was caused by the fact that in their religious tra 
ditions there is nowhere any mention of a Creator of the uni- 
verse. If there existed one single First Cause of all things, 
surely, they said, the Chinese, from whom they derive their 
religion, must have known it. For the Japanese give the Chinese 
the pre-eminence in wisdom and prudence in everything relat 
ing either to religion or to political government. They asked 
us a multitude of questions concerning this First Cause of all 
things ; whether He were good or bad, whether the same First 
Cause were the origin of good and of evil. We replied that 
there exists one only First Cause, and He supremely good, with 
out any admixture of evil.

And he answered their very natural questions about God’s timing: If this is so great and so true…why is this the first we’re hearing of it?

Before their baptism the converts of Amanguchi were greatly 
troubled and pained by a hateful and annoying scruple that 
God did not appear to them merciful and good, because He had 
never made Himself known to the Japanese before our arrival, 
especially if it were true that those who had not worshipped 
God as we preached were doomed to suffer everlasting punish 
ment in hell. It seemed to them that He had forgotten and as 
it were neglected the salvation of all their ancestors in permit 
ting them to be deprived of the knowledge of saving truths, and 
thus to rush headlong on eternal death. It was this painful 
thought which, more than anything else, kept them back from 
the religion of the true God. But by the divine mercy all their 
error and scruple was taken away. We began by proving to 
them that the divine law is the most ancient of all. Before re 
ceiving their institutions from the Chinese, the Japanese knew 
by the teaching of nature that it was wicked to kill, to steal, to 
swear falsely, and to commit the other sins enumerated in the 
ten commandments, a proof of this being the remorse of con 
science to which any one guilty of one of these crimes was cer 
tain to be a prey. We showed them that reason itself teaches 
us to avoid evil and to do good, and that this is so deeply im 
planted in the hearts of men, that all have the knowledge of 
the divine law from nature and from God the Author of nature 
before they receive any external instruction on the subject. If 
any doubts were entertained on the matter, an experiment might 
be made in the person of a man without any instruction, living 
in absolute solitude, and in entire ignorance of the laws of his 
country. Such a man, ignorant of and a stranger to all human 
teaching, if he were asked whether it were or were not criminal 
to kill, to steal, or to commit the other actions forbidden by the 
law of God, and whether it were right to abstain from such 
actions, then, I say, this man, so fundamentally without all hu 
man education, would most certainly reply in such a manner as 
to show that he was by no means without knowledge of the 
divine law. Whence then must he be supposed to have re 
ceived this knowledge, but from God Himself, the Author of 
nature? And if this knowledge is seen among barbarians, what 
must be the case with civilized and polished nations ? This 
being so, it necessarily follow that before any laws were made 
by men the divine law existed innate in the hearts of all men. 
The converts were so satisfied with this reasoning, as to see 
no further difficulty; so that this net having been broken, 
they received from us with a glad heart the sweet yoke of our 
Lord. 



One more:

The bonzes are persons of acute mind, and are very fond 
of studying, especially what relates to the future ; they are fond 
of considering what will happen to them, what will be their 
end, and all questions of this nature. There were some of the 
bonzes who, in the course of their meditations, had come to 
believe that there was no way of saving souls in their system. 
They argued in this way : It is necessary above all things that 
there should exist a single origin of all things ; now, in their 
books there is not a word on the subject, for there is a won 
derful silence in them all as to the creation of the universe; 
and therefore if any of their predecessors were acquainted with 
this first principle a thing not confirmed by any authority, 
written or traditional they must have kept the knowledge to 
themselves and hid it from their descendants. 

Now, men of this sort were wonderfully delighted with the 
divine law. One of them embraced the faith of Jesus Christ 
at Amanguchi, after being many years in the university of Ban- 
dou, where he had a flourishing reputation for learning. Before 
we came to Japan he had thought of becoming a bonze; after 
wards he changed his mind and married. The reason he as 
signed for this change was, that he had seen the falsehood and 
emptiness of the Japanese religions, and therefore did not be 
lieve in them at all, but he was bound to pay his homage to 
the Author and Creator of the universe. Our Christians were 
overjoyed at his accession, for he was and was thought to be 
the most learned man of the city.

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Over the next few weeks and months, we will be hearing much about Shusaku Endo’s great novel Silence, and, of course, of Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation, which was screened this week in Rome.

This is a novel that is very easy to misunderstand, and I am very interested to see what Scorsese does with it. By saying “easy to misunderstand,” I am not suggesting that there is only one way to “understand” or interpret the novel, though. Not at all. I do think that Silence Endothere are unquestionable misinterpretations, however, and most of them come out of a lack of awareness of the Japanese, particular Catholic, as well as personal context  out of which Endo was writing.

In other words, you can’t fruitfully read Silence if your only frame of reference are 2016 culture wars and ecclesiastical and theological divisions. Silence is not about that. So forget it.

So yes, I’ll be writing more about it in the coming weeks – this very short piece I wrote years ago for Ligouri still stands up. As I say in the beginning, it was so short because that was the mandate from the magazine – write 540 words….oy.

Anyway, what I am working on is a study guide for the novel. I am doing this just for myself and anyone else who is interested, and I’ll make it available as soon as I finish it – hopefully next week. It will be amended once I see the film, but I did want to put something out there sooner than that. I’m sure that many parishes and other groups will be using Silence as a group study focus over the coming months, so I just wanted to join the fray and put what I hope will be a helpful resource out there. It will just be a free download – no signing up for mailing lists required!

Anyway, this is accidentally pertinent. In doing all that reading for women and the Reformation, I came across this really interesting article in a book on early modern women and religion. 

“Women Apostles in Early Modern Japan, 1549-1650” by Columbia Theological Seminary historian Haruko Nawata Ward tells stories that we don’t usually hear, as our focus on Japan during this period is, naturally enough on martyrdom. You can probably access much of the article by searching Google Books – since you probably don’t want to pay $150 for a copy..

Anyway, Ward uses documents from missionaries to tell the stories:

Working in the difficult environment of Japan, and always understaffed, the missionaries relied heavily upon laity in the work of evangelization. They quickly recognized women’s contributions and the importance of collaborating with women in their shared apostolic mission. …

…The best known of these was Naito Julia, a former abbess of a Buddhist nunnery, who was inspired by Jesuit missionaries and established a society of Christian women catechists called the Miyaco no bicuni (Nuns of Miyako). Women catechists’ success in converting people is well documented by the Jesuits; however, because of their success the government banished the Miyaco no bicuni from Japan in 1614. The Jesuits continued to record the history of these women, who became contemplatives, during their exile in the Philippines until 1656.  ….Women catechists of Julia’s society took the three vows of virginity, poverty and obedience under the supervision of two Jesuits. Following the Jesuit model, these women were active evangelists, preachers, teachers catechizers, baptizers, pastoral leaders, and religious debaters. 

The details of the community’s life were recorded by Jesuit Juan de Salazar after the group had been exiled to the Philippines. He felt it was important to preserve their history.

Usually she taught non-Christians Christian doctrine, catechizing them so that they would be converted to our holy faith and be baptized, and at the same time, she attended to the teaching of Christians, instructing them so that they would be ready to confess and receive the holy sacrament. And she was so busy with these holy ministries that regardless of her deep desire to retreat so as to make the [spiritual] exercises of our father Saint Ignatius, she was seldom able to obtain them from the fathers of our Society because they were continuously sending her to evangelize in various kingdoms, cities and private houses where our own could not go. 

Moreover, the Jesuits granted Julia full authority to baptize on their behalf. Salazar explains that Japanese noblewomen of the highest rank would not speak with men, not even Buddhist clergy. Julia opened the door for the conversion of these women: not only was she a noblewoman of royal blood which allowed her access to other noblewomen, but she was also gifted with intelligence, prudence, and versatile knowledge of Buddhist doctrine and was thus able to differentiate “false” Buddhist teachings from the “true” teachings of the Catholic faith. Julia was apparently very successful at this task: “Convinced by the reasoning of Lady Julia, many ladies of Japan with their daughters and families accepted our holy faith and received baptism by her hand because we [the Jesuits] were not able to administer it. 

Incidentally, traditional barriers between the sexes throughout Asia were a major reason that Protestant denominations began sending women as missionaries to the continent during their great missionary century, the 19th.

This cultural reality also sheds light on the purpose of female “deacons” in the early Christian church. There is certainly ambiguity about this role as it was lived out in the Church, but what is consistent is that it was not at all the sacerdotal diaconate related to the presbyterate and episcopacy, and existed so that women could be ministered to in certain ways in a culture in which the taboos against male and female interaction outside the family were strong.

In 1613, Julia and her companions were arrested, publicly humiliated (stripped naked in public) and tortured. They would not renounce their faith, so the shogunate expelled them from Japan. They arrived in Manila in 1615, and lived there, in a different way of life: enclosed now, rather than active, but dedicated to prayerful support of the Jesuit missions.

The Society saw to it that the women received adequate donations to sustain themselves, noting that they ‘only cared about the greater glory of God and obtaining the greatest happy progress for the Province and our Society of Jesus, whom they, like a sweetest mother, keep i the most intimate part of their hearts.’ 

She tells the story of many more, some martyrs and some beatified and canonized. As I said, I read this article in an anthology, but Ward has a book on the subject Women Religious Leaders in Japan’s Christian Century, 1549-1650.   

As I keep saying in my very boring way…if you want to stay sane in the Crazy Present Moment…read history. It helps. It really does. 

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— 1 —

It was a quiet Thanksgiving here. The boys were in Florida (as you read this, I’ll be on my way to get them), so it was just my studying-for-law-school-finals daughter and I.

— 2 —

I tried to get work done, but was only marginally successful, distracted as I was by a blog post in my head (which I birthed) as well as by the emergence of some ridiculous winter/early spring European airfares…some under $400…..

So, yes. Going to finally get to London….

— 3—

Thanksgiving morning, we headed just a mile or so down the road to the Jimmie Hale Mission, a local Christian ministry known for work with the homeless and those in recovery. You can read their history here.

The work this morning was simple and didn’t take long: delivery of Thanksgiving meals to the homebound. Our meals were destined for a senior public housing apartment building downtown – all but one found their proper recipients because that one lady, we learned after we’d knocked on her door for a few minutes, had recently died.

— 4 —

We returned home, daughter worked, I went to the park and walked a few miles to the tune of my favorite podcast, the BBC’s In Our Time. Today was an episode on the Baltic Crusades – interesting and depressing – and part of one on Justinian’s Code. It was a gorgeous day, with the temperature in the mid-70’s. Thankful.

— 5 —.

And no, I didn’t cook. No regrets!

Neither of us was interested in any kind of elaborate meal or buffet situation. While poking around online to see what might be open, I saw that a restaurant called Five just down the road was doing something interesting and worthwhile: they were serving a “Thanksgiving Feast” free of charge to anyone and everyone who came in. If you couldn’t pay, that’s fine, but if you wanted to offer a donation, all of the money collected would be going to the Firehouse Shelter – another local service for the homeless and otherwise distressed.

So we headed down there, and had just the right size meal, with no temptations to gorge or go crazy. There were definitely a few folks off the streets, setting down their bags of belongings or a skateboard on the floor beside them, settling into good, nourishing plates of hot food, alongside others who would be (we hope…) offering donations for the shelter.

A grand idea!

 

— 6 —

I can’t believe it was Thanksgiving two years ago we went to Germany to visit my daughter who was living there at the time. While there, I bought two lovely Advent candles, …..candles decorated and marked with numbers so that the candle burned the days away. Since I bought two, that means this year…none were left. So I looked online, and indeed found some fimg_20161124_181525.jpgor sale. None as charmingly decorated as those I’d purchased in Germany, but I like this one just fine:

— 7 —

And…here we are. Advent!

 Here is the devotional I wrote for Liguori this year. It is  too late to order them in bulk for your parish, but you can certainly order an individual copy – here (Amazon). 

Link to (Liguori site) English versiondaybreaks

Link to (Amazon site) Spanish version.

2016 Advent Devotional

Link to excerpts from Spanish version.

And an endorsement from Deacon Greg Kandra!

“This ravishing collection brings Advent and Christmas, literally, home. In brief essays that are by turns inspiring, surprising, and unexpectedly moving, Amy Welborn helps us see the coming of the Christ child in things we take for granted. This captivating little book is one to read, treasure, share, give—and read again!

But…do you want something…right now? Okay, how about this:

Here’s a digital version of the family Advent devotional I wrote for Creative Communications for the Parish. Only .99!

And don’t forget…Bambinelli Sunday. 

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

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One of the pained questions bandied about on social media over the past two weeks since the election has been the soul-wrenching…But what do we tell the children?

The issue, being, I suppose, how do we explain to children and young people that a person of questionable character is now their president?

Well….

You got me!

Which is apparently just one more instance of my absolute lack of empathy for that particular bubble (since we’re also talking a lot about bubbles nowadays).

Because…well, I mean….what have you been telling your children? About politics? About leaders? About the history of these United States? About the history of the world?

That Dear Leader loves them will take care of them and that they should seek to emulate Dear Leader in all of life?

Or, if you haven’t reached those fascist lengths, have you actually been presenting political leaders to your children as first-tier, go-to role models?

Really?

Gene Healy said it well:

For most families, however, the “conversation” needn’t be so fraught with angst. It might even be the occasion for a valuable lesson: Tell your kids the truth: the president can be a bad person, even a terrible one. You don’t have to admire him if he doesn’t deserve it. And just because he’s a creep doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to be one too.

Up to a certain age, belief in Santa Claus is charming, and entirely harmless. Blind faith in presidential benevolence is neither. If you’re teaching your kids that the president reliably tells the truth and does the right thing, then the future citizens you’re raising may turn out gullible and easily led.

Why lie to them? After all, in living memory, presidents have conducted themselves abominably in their personal relationships, lied us into war, and, in former Nixon aide John Dean’s memorable phrase, “use[d] the available federal machinery to screw [their] political enemies.” Trump, who seems positively gleeful about the prospect of turning the federal machinery against his enemies, seems unlikely to set a higher standard of presidential character.

In a more innocent time, Americans raised their children to look up to the president—and they did. The political scientist Fred Greenstein interviewed hundreds of grade-schoolers for a 1960 article in the American Political Science Review, “The Benevolent Leader: Children’s Images of Political Authority.” The children evinced “strikingly favorable” attitudes toward political leaders, especially the president.

In fact, Greenstein found it almost impossible to elicit any skepticism from the children he interviewed, despite “a variety of attempts to evoke such responses.” Far more typical were statements like “[the president] gives us freedom” and “he has the right to stop bad things before they start.”

That pattern of “juvenile idealization of the President” persisted in subsequent studies of children throughout the 1960s. Nor was it limited to juveniles: writing in 1970, presidential scholar Thomas Cronin observed that even college students’ textbooks of the era offered a comic-book vision of presidential “omnipotence” and “moralistic-benevolence.” “The student learns that the presidency is ‘the great engine of democracy,’ the ‘American people’s one authentic trumpet’”; moreover, “if, and only if, the right man is placed in the White House, all will be well, and, somehow, whoever is in the White House is the right man.”

Americans grew up fast in the years that followed, however. Throughout the early 1970s, the public learned that presidents had lied about Vietnam, turned intelligence agencies against U.S. citizens, and abused their powers for political gain. Americans came to grips with the revelation that their president, our national father figure, could be a foul-mouthed, [expletive deleted] crook.

 

We hope political leaders are of good character, just as we hope this for all people. But there is no reason to plant the expectation that they will be saints, and in fact, as Healy points out, there is a danger in doing so. Perhaps it is not the best path to encourage little citizens to be complete cynics since…

…because…

Huh.

Yes, as the daughter of a political scientist and one raised in a highly politically aware household during the 1960’s and 70’s no less, I’d say we as a citizenry are better off with more cynicism rather than less.

tumblr_mei7vew8wx1qfy2kdo1_500

 

And I do wonder, for those who are stressing out about the exquisite agony of the present teachable moment…what have you been teaching your children? What have you been telling your kids about the ebb and flow of American history anyway? That’s it’s been nothing but a divinely-ordained glorious stream of…glory?

I don’t. My formal and informal conversations with my kids about American history and society over the past 30 + years have been conducted over the following lines, which, I might add, are a bit more skeptical than those my parents conducted with me and in my presence…but not much.

  • The American experiment in human liberty has been radical, breathtaking and important.
  • At the same time, the relationship between American civic ideals and Catholic social and political philosophy are fraught, evolving and frankly, sometimes in conflict, as uncomfortable as it makes us feel to say it.
  • The history of the United States that they will be taught, even in Catholic schools, was written, first by Protestants of English origin and then by secularists. The actual history of the Western hemisphere, of which the United States is only a part, is far richer, complex and less linear when you include the stories of indigenous people who were here first and then the Catholics who were here second.
  • Ideals are one thing, but the reality of American history courses with injustice: against Native Americans, Africans and now the unborn most of all.
  • Abortion. This nation declares its dedication to the equality of all persons, but not only allows but celebrates, funds and exports legalized killing of the most vulnerable and voiceless. Abortion.

Walker Percy’s novels, especially Love in the Ruins and The Thanatos Syndrome are precise and telling satires informed by an honest, pained assessment of This American Life:

What a bad joke: God saying: here it is, the new Eden, and it is yours because you’re the apple of my eye, because you the lordly Westerners, the fierce Caucasian-Gentile-Visigoths, believed in me and in the outlandish Jewish Event even though you were nowhere near it and had to hear the news of it from strangers.
      But you believed and so I gave it all to you, gave you Israel and Greece and science and art and the lordship of the earth, and finally even gave you the new world that I blessed for you. And all you had to do was pass one little test, which was surely child’s play for you because you had already passed the big one.
      One little test: here’s a helpless man in Africa, all you had to do is not violate him. That’s all.  You flunked!

So….you are distressed and conflicted about what to tell the children about these United States, its ideals, reality and leaders?

Welcome to my world.

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I’ll go a bit a further, play on a previous post, and suggest that if you want to inoculate your children against future crushing disappointments about the shape of American civic life, you might consider doing this:

Get yourselves back to church.

Sorry. I know you thought it was a prison, and maybe you truly experienced it that way, and maybe the people in charge fed that by acting like they were the prison guards, but maybe now you see the Big Picture consequences, and that raising kids God- and transcendent-free isn’t raising them to be free at all.

Ironic!

No guarantees, but it might help.

So why not try engaging with the Real instead of constantly trying to recreate it. Worship the Ultimate instead of the idols your yearning has constructed in trying to fill the gap you’ve created as you’ve pushed the Transcendent away, leaving only cracked clay idols crumbling in its place.

What to tell your children?

Tell them about God. It makes explaining human non-godlike behavior a lot easier.

Offer them some good news that frees them from enslavement to worldly powers as they seek life’s meaning and purpose.

Tell them that the yearning and hope they feel has a source and an object that won’t crumble or die and, even better, really, really loves them.

Tell them that they were put here on earth because God wants them to be, loved them into existence so they  can love Him back and love and serve all other beings that God also loved into being, and that because all of us are creatures and none of us are God, we can do much, but we can only do so much, and what we can do when agape  is at work is good and holy and enough.

In other words, God is God so…big relief…you don’t have to be, and neither do I, neither does the president, so let’s smash those idols.

Tell them that it is good that we are all here, now, and that this present moment glistens but briefly as past flows into the future in an amazing, complex, dense, beautiful universe, and this moment is not forever, but it is real, and it is mystery, it is glory and it is Cross.

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Selections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

Angelus address, 2006

He is Love and Truth, and neither Love nor Truth are ever imposed: they come knocking at the doors of the heart and the mind and where they can enter they bring peace and joy. This is how God reigns; this is his project of salvation, a “mystery” in the biblical sense of the word: a plan that is gradually revealed in history.

2008:

Today’s Gospel insists precisely on the universal kingship of Christ the Judge, with the stupendous parable of the Last Judgment, which St Matthew placed immediately before the Passion narrative (25: 31-46). The images are simple, the language is popular, but the message is extremely important: it is the truth about our ultimate destiny and about the criterion by which we will be evaluated. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25: 35) and so forth. Who does not know this passage? It is part of our civilization. It has marked the history of the peoples of Christian culture: the hierarchy of values, the institutions, the multiple charitable and social organizations. In fact, the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world, but it brings to fulfilment all the good that, thank God, exists in man and in history. If we put love for our neighbour into practice in accordance with the Gospel message, we make room for God’s dominion and his Kingdom is actualized among us. If, instead, each one thinks only of his or her own interests, the world can only go to ruin.

Dear friends, the Kingdom of God is not a matter of honours and appearances but, as St Paul writes, it is “righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rm 14: 17). The Lord has our good at heart, that is, that every person should have life, and that especially the “least” of his children may have access to the banquet he has prepared for all. Thus he has no use for the forms of hypocrisy of those who say: “Lord, Lord” and then neglect his commandments (cf. Mt 7: 21). In his eternal Kingdom, God welcomes those who strive day after day to put his Word into practice. For this reason the Virgin Mary, the humblest of all creatures, is the greatest in his eyes and sits as Queen at the right of Christ the King. Let us once again entrust ourselves to her heavenly intercession with filial trust, to be able to carry out our Christian mission in the world.

2009:

But in what does this “power” of Jesus Christ the King consist? It is not the power of the kings or the great people of this world; it is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, that can melt a hardened heart, bring peace amid the harshest conflict and kindle hope in the thickest darkness.

2010

Dear Friends, we can also contemplate in Christian art the way of love that the Lord reveals to us and invites us to take. In fact, in the past “in the arrangement of Christian sacred buildings… it became customary to depict the Lord returning as a king — the symbol of hope — at the east end; while the west wall normally portrayed the Last Judgement as a symbol of our responsibility for our lives” (Encyclical Spe Salvi, n. 41): hope in the infinite love of God and commitment to ordering our life in accordance with the love of God.

2007 homily:

We find ourselves again before the Cross, the central event of the mystery of Christ. In the Pauline vision the Cross is placed within the entire economy of salvation, where Jesus’ royalty is displayed in all its cosmic fullness.

This text of the Apostle expresses a synthesis of truth and faith so powerful that we cannot fail to remain in deep admiration of it. The Church is the trustee of the mystery of Christ: She is so in all humility and without a shadow of pride or arrogance, because it concerns the maximum gift that she has received without any merit and that she is called to offer gratuitously to humanity of every age, as the horizon of meaning and salvation. It is not a philosophy, it is not a gnosis, even though it also comprises wisdom and knowledge. It is the mystery of Christ, it is Christ himself, the Logos incarnate, dead and risen, made King of the universe. How can one fail to feel a rush of enthusiasm full of gratitude for having been permitted to contemplate the splendour of this revelation? How can one not feel at the same time the joy and the responsibility to serve this King, to witness his Lordship with one’s life and word?

2010

Participation in the lordship of Christ is only brought about in practice in the sharing of his self-abasement, with the Cross. My ministry too, dear Brothers, and consequently also yours, consists wholly of faith. Jesus can build his Church on us as long as that true, Paschal faith is found in us, that faith which does not seek to make Jesus come down from the Cross but entrusts itself to him on the Cross. In this regard the true place of the Vicar of Christ is the Cross, it lies in persisting in the obedience of the Cross.

This ministry is difficult because it is not in line with the human way of thinking — with that natural logic which, moreover, continues to be active within us too. But this is and always remains our primary service, the service of faith that transforms the whole of life: believing that Jesus is God, that he is the King precisely because he reached that point, because he loved us to the very end.

And we must witness and proclaim this paradoxical kingship as he, the King, did, that is, by following his own way and striving to adopt his same logic, the logic of humility and service, of the ear of wheat which dies to bear fruit.

2011, in Benin

The Gospel which we have just heard tells us that Jesus, the Son of Man, the ultimate judge of our lives, wished to appear as one who hungers and thirsts, as a stranger, as one of those who are naked, sick or imprisoned, ultimately, of those who suffer or are outcast; how we treat them will be taken as the way we treat Jesus himself. We do not see here a simple literary device, or a simple metaphor. Jesus’s entire existence is an example of it. He, the Son of God, became man, he shared our existence, even down to the smallest details, he became the servant of the least of his brothers and sisters. He who had nowhere to lay his head, was condemned to death on a cross. This is the King we celebrate!

Without a doubt this can appear a little disconcerting to us. Today, like two thousand years ago, accustomed to seeing the signs of royalty in success, power, money and ability, we find it hard to accept such a king, a king who makes himself the servant of the little ones, of the most humble, a king whose throne is a cross. And yet, the Scriptures tell us, in this is the glory of Christ revealed; it is in the humility of his earthly existence that he finds his power to judge the world. For him, to reign is to serve! And what he asks of us is to follow him along the way, to serve, to be attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcast. The baptized know that the decision to follow Christ can entail great sacrifices, at times even the sacrifice of one’s life. However, as Saint Paul reminds us, Christ has overcome death and he brings us with him in his resurrection. He introduces us to a new world, a world of freedom and joy. Today, so much still binds us to the world of the past, so many fears hold us prisoners and prevent us from living in freedom and happiness. Let us allow Christ to free us from the world of the past! Our faith in him, which frees us from all our fears and miseries, gives us access to a new world, a world where justice and truth are not a byword, a world of interior freedom and of peace with ourselves, with our neighbours and with God. This is the gift God gave us at our baptism!

2012:

In the second reading, the author of the Book of Revelation states that we too share in Christ’s kingship. In the acclamation addressed “to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood”, he declares that Christ “has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:5-6). Here too it is clear that we are speaking of a kingdom based on a relationship with God, with truth, and not a political kingdom. By his sacrifice, Jesus has opened for us the path to a profound relationship with God: in him we have become true adopted children and thus sharers in his kingship over the world. To be disciples of Jesus, then, means not letting ourselves be allured by the worldly logic of power, but bringing into the world the light of truth and God’s love. The author of the Book of Revelation broadens his gaze to include Jesus’ second coming to judge mankind and to establish forever his divine kingdom, and he reminds us that conversion, as a response to God’s grace, is the condition for the establishment of this kingdom (cf. 1:7). It is a pressing invitation addressed to each and all: to be converted ever anew to the kingdom of God, to the lordship of God, of Truth, in our lives. We invoke the kingdom daily in the prayer of the “Our Father” with the words “Thy kingdom come”; in effect we say to Jesus: Lord, make us yours, live in us, gather together a scattered and suffering humanity, so that in you all may be subjected to the Father of mercy and love

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— 1 —

It’s the feast of St. Martin of Tours! Let’s begin, as we often do, with the pastoral and clear catechesis of B16, from a 2007 Angelus talk:

Today, 11 November, the Church remembers St Martin, Bishop of Tours, one of the most celebrated and venerated Saints of Europe. Born of pagan parents in Pannonia, in what is today Hungary, he was directed by his father to a military career around the year 316. Still an adolescent, Martin came into contact with Christianity and, overcoming many difficulties, he enrolled as a catechumen in order to prepare for Baptism. He would receive the Sacrament in

"Amy welborn"

Unknown Artist, St. Martin of Tours, 16th cent.

his 20s, but he would still stay for a long time in the army, where he would give testimony of his new lifestyle: respectful and inclusive of all, he treated his attendant as a brother and avoided vulgar entertainment. Leaving military service, he went to Poitiers in France near the holy Bishop Hilary. He was ordained a deacon and priest by him, chose the monastic life and with some disciples established the oldest monastery known in Europe at Ligugé. About 10 years later, the Christians of Tours, who were without a Pastor, acclaimed him their Bishop. From that time, Martin dedicated himself with ardent zeal to the evangelization of the countryside and the formation of the clergy. While many miracles are attributed to him, St Martin is known most of all for an act of fraternal charity. While still a young soldier, he met a poor man on the street numb and trembling from the cold. He then took his own cloak and, cutting it in two with his sword, gave half to that man. Jesus appeared to him that night in a dream smiling, dressed in the same cloak.

Dear brothers and sisters, St Martin’s charitable gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist, supreme Sign of God’s love, Sacramentum caritatis. It is the logic of sharing which he used to authentically explain love of neighbour. May St Martin help us to understand that only by means of a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if a world model of authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.

Let us turn now to the Virgin Mary so that all Christians may be like St Martin, generous witnesses of the Gospel of love and tireless builders of jointly responsible sharing.

— 2 —

Appropriate for theY St. Martin is also mentioned in the 2005 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:

Finally, let us consider the saints, who exercised charity in an exemplary way. Our thoughts turn especially to Martin of Tours († 397), the soldier who became a monk and a bishop: he is almost like an icon, illustrating the irreplaceable value of the individual testimony to charity. At the gates of Amiens, Martin gave half of his cloak to a poor man: Jesus himself, that night, appeared to him in a dream wearing that cloak, confirming the permanent validity of the Gospel saying: “I was naked and you clothed me … as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:36, 40).[36] Yet in the history of the Church, how many other testimonies to charity could be quoted! In particular, the entire monastic movement, from its origins with Saint Anthony the Abbot († 356), expresses an immense service of charity towards neighbour. In his encounter “face to face” with the God who is Love, the monk senses the impelling need to transform his whole life into service of neighbour, in addition to service of God. This explains the great emphasis on hospitality, refuge and care of the infirm in the vicinity of the monasteries. It also explains the immense initiatives of human welfare and Christian formation, aimed above all at the very poor, who became the object of care firstly for the monastic and mendicant orders, and later for the various male and female religious institutes all through the history of the Church. The figures of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Giuseppe B. Cottolengo, John Bosco, Luigi Orione, Teresa of Calcutta to name but a few—stand out as lasting models of social charity for all people of good will. The saints are the true bearers of light within history, for they are men and women of faith, hope and love.

 

— 3—

The Life of St. Martin written by a contemporary and defender, Sulpitius Severus:

ACCORDINGLY, at a certain period, when he had nothing except his arms and his simple military dress, in the middle of winter, a winter which had shown itself more severe than ordinary, so that the extreme cold was proving fatal to many, he happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens a poor man destitute of clothing. He was entreating those that passed by to have compassion upon him, but all passed the wretched man without notice, when Martin, that man full of God, recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak in which he was clad, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar purposes. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Upon this, some of the by-standers laughed, because he was now an unsightly object, and stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar. They especially felt this, because, being possessed of more than Martin, they could have clothed the poor man without reducing themselves to nakedness. In the following night, when Martin had resigned himself to sleep, he had a vision of Christ arrayed in that part of his cloak with which he had clothed the poor man. He contemplated the Lord with the greatest attention, and was told to own as his the robe which he had given. Ere long, he heard Jesus saying with a clear voice to the multitude of angels standing round — “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.” The Lord, truly mindful of his own words (who had said when on earth — “Inasmuch as ye have done these things to one of the least of these, ye have done them unto me”), declared that he himself had been clothed in that poor man; and to confirm the testimony he bore to so good a deed, he condescended to show him himself in that very dress which the poor man had received. After this vision the sainted man was not puffed up with human glory, but, acknowledging the goodness of God in what had been done, and being now of the age of twenty years, he hastened to receive baptism. He did not, however, all at once, retire from military service, yielding to the entreaties of his tribune, whom he admitted to be his familiar tent-companion.[11] For the tribune promised that, after the period of his office had expired, he too would retire from the world. Martin, kept back by the expectation of this event, continued, although but in name, to act the part of a soldier, for nearly two years after he had received baptism.

The whole thing is fairly short and quite interesting to read – as I read this ancient documents, what I am always looking for is commonalities – of human nature, of belief, of human choices and reactions. Consider the reactions of the bystanders described in the passage above.

Has anything really changed?

Underneath all that is “new” for us…has anything fundamental about who we are and the redemption for which we yearn really changed?

— 4 —

Martin of Tours
By Charles L. O’Donnell

“AS I today was wayfaring”—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—low—
Said Christ in heaven’s evening—
The Holies yet more hushed and slow—
“I met a knight upon the road;
A plumed charger he bestrode.

“He saw the beggar that was I—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—long—
Head and foot one beggary—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—song— 
One that shivered in the cold
While his horse trailed cloth of gold.

“Down he leaped, his sword outdrawn—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—swells—
Cleaved his cloak, laid half upon—
Holy! now a peal of bells—
Shoulders that the cross had spanned;
And I think he kissed my hand.

“Then he passed the road along,
Holy, Holy, Holy!—laud— 
Caroling a knightly song—
Holy! in the face of God.
Yea, Father, by Thy sovereign name,
Begging is a goodly game.”

 

— 5 —.

The author of the poemwas a priest, and not only a priest and a poet but a scholar and president of Notre Dame. Well.

Restoration

From these dead leaves the winds have caught
And on the brown earth fling,
Yea, from their dust, new hosts shall rise
At the trumpet call of Spring.

Thus may the winds our ashes take,
But in that far dusk dim,
When God’s eye hath burnt up the worlds,
This flesh shall stand with Him.

— 6 —

Restoration

From these dead leaves the winds have caught
And on the brown earth fling,
Yea, from their dust, new hosts shall rise
At the trumpet call of Spring.

Thus may the winds our ashes take,
But in that far dusk dim,
When God’s eye hath burnt up the worlds,
This flesh shall stand with Him.

— 7 —

Advent begins in about two weeks. The first Sunday of Advent is November 27.

Still time to order resources for your parish or school! Just.
Here is the devotional I wrote for Liguori this year.

Link to English version.

daybreaks

Link to Spanish version.

2016 Advent Devotional

Link to excerpts from Spanish version.

And an endorsement from Deacon Greg Kandra!

“This ravishing collection brings Advent and Christmas, literally, home. In brief essays that are by turns inspiring, surprising, and unexpectedly moving, Amy Welborn helps us see the coming of the Christ child in things we take for granted. This captivating little book is one to read, treasure, share, give—and read again.

 

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

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 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us.”

-1 Samuel 8:19

Some post-election thoughts. These are very specific. I have a lot more, but who knows what will become of them.

As I watched the course of the presidential campaign over the past couple of years, my long-held convictions about a fundamental problem with the shape of the process were confirmed. The reactions of the supporters of Clinton since the election have only deepened those convictions.

It all comes down to this: the office of the presidency has become too important. 

There are both spiritual and political dimensions to this.  I’ll take the political first.

So most of you, I trust, are familiar with the United States Constitution and the general shape of our government. There are three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. The intention of the founders was to create a system in which power would be balanced and checked. Hence the term “checks and balances.”

The President is the head of one of those branches – the executive.

He is the head of the executive branch which “executes” the laws that the legislature enacts and the judicial branch evaluate in terms of their constitutionality.

Here is Article II of the Constitution, which delineates the powers and responsibilities of the president. 

He is not the king. He is not a “ruler.” Moreover, he is not the representative of anyone’s soul, identity or deepest yearnings.

But of course, that limited sense of the president has not held.

I sometimes think, although it was probably inevitable, that it was unfortunate that a hero was chosen as our first president. It sets the bar high and imbues the office with an aura prone to idealization and idolatry – hence the 1865 fresco in the rotunda of the dome of the US Capitol, The Apotheosis of George Washington– which depicts Washington rising to the heavens in glory. “Apotheosis” means deification. 

washington

How much better it would have been, I think, if John Adams had been our first president!

The temptation of make too much of the presidency is also an extension of this country’s deeply-rooted sense of its own role in Divine Providence, beginning with the Puritans, continuing through the Revolution and formation of the nation and reaching a peak of sorts in the 19th century.

The expansion of the federal government, especially the executive branch, has not helped.  Beginning with the Progressive Era then escalating, of course with the Great Depression and World War II – big, global problems that seemed to call for big solutions that, once in place, are all but impossible to roll back. And yes, books have been written on the “Imperial Presidency.”

But now we are at a point at which people spend years of their lives, sacrifice their family and personal lives and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to attain this office, an office which has far more power than the founders intended, partly because the branch of government which it heads has far more power than it should.

Yes, there are and always have been profound differences in views about the shape and direction that the United States government should take. People with varying views group themselves in political parties to put forward their view and bring it into power. So in a way, yes, the President does “embody” something and that something can involve not only administrative responsibilities but the ideals that shape this direction. Fine.

But it’s too much. 

There is something wrong when the country is more or less constantly thinking about the president: who it is now, and who it will be in a few years. Don’t you resent the obsession and the attention to the office of the presidency? I do.

It seems to be a sign of a fundamental instability and lack of a core, as well as celebrity culture.

And of course politicians play on this. “Make America Great Again.” “Build a better world for our children.”  It’s all part of the same thing.

Which brings us to the spiritual, as it always does.

Over the past few days, protests have broken out over the country, centered on the meme #NotMyPresident. The anger, shock, dismay and yes, grief, is on full display.

When I look at this on the news or on my social media feeds, I see, above anything else, a spiritual vacuum.

There is room, of course, and if your conscience demands it, an obligation to express hesitation and opposition to a stated program of action with which you disagree or feel some aspect of your life to be threatened by. But even so, most people would, you know, wait for the person to actually take office and make decisions to make a judgment on how to react to that. To engage in this kind of protest at this stage is nothing more than attempts at intimidation.

No, what I sense goes deeper, and it’s not just the events of the last couple of days that lead me to that, but also the spiritual dimension of what I wrote above.

It’s too much. It shouldn’t be that important. 

But for some reason, it is. Why?

Well, when God has been chased out of your life, when the transcendent is simply what you make it to be, it is almost inevitable that the inborn yearning that we have for certainty in identity, belonging and meaning will be transferred.

Basically, this: If the election of the head of the executive branch sends you spinning and feeling distraught because the president doesn’t represent your values and moves you to disrupt your life to cry out  #NotMyPresident! …the presidency is too important to you. It’s become an idol.

It is possible to have high expectations of our leaders’ competence and abilities without deifying them or expecting them to embody your personal values and be crushed and outraged  and moved to violence and hatred when they don’t.

Perhaps a good way to get my point is to take it down a level. Think about the governor of your state. The mayor of your city or town.

When you consider who to vote for those offices, what enters into your decision-making? I’m going to guess it’s pretty practical.  I would think it would seem pretty strange to deal with the identity of your governor or mayor in the deeply personal way that some seem to be dealing with the presidency.

I don’t vote for mayor, governor, Senator or President, looking to have my ultimate personal values reflected or my sense of the ideal human being or social construction represented. After all, then I would never vote, would I? And if a candidate I vote for happens to win and hold office, I don’t look to he or she to do anything but move the workings of government in the general direction which he or she promised, and do as little harm as possible.

I can understand being upset. I really can. I can even sympathize with the identity politics aspect of this and the disgust with Trump’s personal character. Absolutely! Perhaps you are saying that you will be “embarrassed” to have Trump as president. Well, there are some of us who have been mostly  “embarrassed” by the president of the United States since the Gerald Ford days, more or less continually, for various reasons, so it gets to a point at which you realize…he’s just the president and there’s no need for me to tie who I am, even as an American, to the identity of who the president is today. 

So yes, the angst seems totally out of proportion to what this office *should* be about. I mean…who among us who was alive and sentient in, say 1977, looks back and says, “Gerald Ford! His presidency was satisfying because it represented me and satisfied my soul!” ?  Or..”That Ford presidency really did a number on me. Never been the same since, and what is life, my friends, anyway?”

So yes, resist.

Resist the temptation to put your trust in kings.

Resist their attempts to exploit your yearning for meaning and the transcendent.

Resist…and be free. 

 

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Today is the feast day of St. Leo the Great.  In a General Audience in 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict spoke of Leo, as part of the series he was doing on great figures in the Church.

The times in which Pope Leo lived were very difficult:  constant barbarian invasions, the gradual weakening of imperial authority in the West and the long, drawn-out social crisis forced the Bishop of Rome – as was to happen even more obviously a century and a half later during the Pontificate of Gregory the Great – to play an important role in civil and political events. This, naturally, could only add to the importance and prestige of the Roman See. The fame of one particular episode in Leo’s life has endured. It dates back to 452 when the Pope, together with a Roman delegation, met Attila, chief of the Huns, in Mantua and dissuaded him from continuing the war of invasion by which he had already devastated the northeastern regions of Italy. Thus, he saved the rest of the Peninsula. This important event soon became memorable and lives on as an emblematic sign of the Pontiff’s action for peace. Unfortunately, the outcome of another Papal initiative three years later was not as successful, yet it was a sign of courage that still amazes us:  in the spring of 455 Leo did not manage to prevent Genseric’s Vandals, who had reached the gates of Rome, from invading the undefended city that they plundered for two weeks. This gesture of the Pope – who, defenceless and surrounded by his clergy, went forth to meet the invader to implore him to desist – nevertheless prevented Rome from being burned and assured that the Basilicas of St Peter, St Paul and St John, in which part of the terrified population sought refuge, were spared.

"amy welborn"We are familiar with Pope Leo’s action thanks to his most beautiful sermons – almost 100 in a splendid and clear Latin have been preserved – and thanks to his approximately 150 letters. In these texts the Pontiff appears in all his greatness, devoted to the service of truth in charity through an assiduous exercise of the Word which shows him to us as both Theologian and Pastor. Leo the Great, constantly thoughtful of his faithful and of the people of Rome but also of communion between the different Churches and of their needs, was a tireless champion and upholder of the Roman Primacy, presenting himself as the Apostle Peter’s authentic heir:  the many Bishops who gathered at the Council of Chalcedon, the majority of whom came from the East, were well aware of this.

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Aware of the historical period in which he lived and of the change that was taking place – from pagan Rome to Christian Rome – in a period of profound crisis, Leo the Great knew how to make himself close to the people and the faithful with his pastoral action and his preaching. He enlivened charity in a Rome tried by famines, an influx of refugees, injustice and poverty. He opposed pagan superstitions and the actions of Manichaean groups. He associated the liturgy with the daily life of Christians:  for example, by combining the practice of fasting with charity and almsgiving above all on the occasion of the Quattro tempora, which in the course of the year marked the change of seasons. In particular, Leo the Great taught his faithful – and his words still apply for us today – that the Christian liturgy is not the memory of past events, but the actualization of invisible realities which act in the lives of each one of us. This is what he stressed in a sermon (cf. 64, 1-2) on Easter, to be celebrated in every season of the year “not so much as something of the past as rather an event of the present”. All this fits into a precise project, the Holy Pontiff insisted:  just as, in fact, the Creator enlivened with the breath of rational life man formed from the dust of the ground, after the original sin he sent his Son into the world to restore to man his lost dignity and to destroy the dominion of the devil through the new life of grace.

This is the Christological mystery to which St Leo the Great, with his Letter to the Council of Ephesus, made an effective and essential contribution, confirming for all time – through this Council – what St Peter said at Caesarea Philippi. With Peter and as Peter, he professed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. And so it is that God and man together “are not foreign to the human race but alien to sin” (cf. Serm. 64). Through the force of this Christological faith he was a great messenger of peace and love. He thus shows us the way:  in faith we learn charity. Let us therefore learn with St Leo the Great to believe in Christ, true God and true Man, and to implement this faith every day in action for peace and love of neighbour.

You can access the writings of Leo the Great here….

He’s in The Loyola Catholic Book of Saintsunder “Saints are People who are Strong Leaders.”

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