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In the leadup to Lent, and probably throughout at this rate (I had intended to get this up on Tuesday….)  I’m going to posting some links to and excerpts from various sources.  There is valuable contemporary material out there, but it seems much of it, even the Catholic stuff, neglects some important aspects of Lent.

Perhaps it comes down to this. It’s the difference between understanding Lent as a particularly listcicle-friendly (40 days! 3 disciplines!)  opportunity for an individual’s spiritual growth and understanding it as the entire Church’s solemn call and responsibility to do penance and grow in faith.

Are those different things? Yes.  Think about it. Not in tension, not opposed, but slightly different roads and paradigms.  The first is centered on pleasing ourselves, the second on pleasing God.

It is the distinction highlighted by Francis’ last of three pointers for a good fast: fast to please God alone.  To many of us, this sounds odd, since we have been formed to believe that we need to nothing to please God other than accepting ourselves as we are, haven’t we?

For what happens in modern spiritual discourse is that we have collapsed the two – we please God most of all when we are ourselves and are content with ourselves.  When you dig deeply, that’s true – when we are the selves God created and that above all brings us contentment and peace. But what our spiritual wisdom has always admitted is that to get to that point requires stripping and sacrifice and a hard journey – not simply acceptance of the Good News that we are God’s creatures and loved by him. It is complicated, yes, but the bottom line seems to me that when you remove penance and the organic nature of fallen creation and the role of our fallen selves in that, you really are just left with individuals on a journey to feel okay about themselves, and not much more.

It is the distinction highlighted by Francis’ last of three pointers for a good fast: fast to please God alone.  To many of us, this sounds odd, since we have been formed to believe that we need to nothing to please God other than accepting ourselves as we are.

It’s an intriguing distinction. As an amateur student of the strangeness of modern Catholicism, I am most often struck by the sharp ironies and waves of unintended consequences that mark our slice of history.

We post-Conciliar Catholics were formed in a way that emphasized both individual spiritual freedom yet also the greater weight of  community, perhaps best encapsulated by the sense that no, Mass is not the time to come and focus on God’s presence as an individual. Rather, it is the time in which individuals freely come, but not to pray individually, but rather to do “the work of the people” in liturgy.

(This is why some liturgists think the worst sin one can commit during Mass is to kneel and pray quietly after receiving Communion instead of standing with the group and singing that you are bread ready to be chewed for justice or some such. We are here as the people of God, by God.)

The irony to me is that when you consider pre-Vatican II materials, the sense of communal identity was actually much stronger in those bad old days when (we are told) indvidual piety was emphasized above community.

So why is it that now, we are continually having to be told that we are community, experience community-building experiences and asked how we would like our parishes to create stronger communities?

Part of it is simply cultural and social.  “Community,” period was stronger, sometimes to oppressive extents.  You didn’t have to build community, you were born into it, you lived in it your entire life, and perhaps woe to you if you attempted to crack those walls.

Double-sided and full of shadows – that’s everything, that’s life.

But you see it in older treatments of Lent.   If you read pre-Vatican II popular and catechetical works on Lent, you encounter an unmistakable sense of the season being about the entire Church – the community – engaged in a journey – being willing to sacrifice in order to form itself to be more like Christ, in gratitude for all God has given, in sorrow for sin, with each individual’s efforts being a part of that greater whole, and being important because of it.

But today, we are on our own. Lent is about you and your walk with Jesus and making that better. It’s ironic. Matthew Kelly’s “Best Lent Ever” marketing campaign is the pinnacle of this sensibility: it’s all about Lent as a peak individual consumer experience – like Sandals for the soul.

As an aside on the “best Lent ever” slogan…I’m reminded of the more traditional way of inspiring spiritual fervor during the season, something an older priest up in Indiana used to regularly pull out and that I’ve heard on retreat…not make it your best Lent ever but a reminder that we should approach the season as if it were our “Last Lent ever.”

(The same template might be used for Advent or even about Sunday and reception of Communion….receive Communion as if it might be your last..)

Dire, yes, but as the kids say, you’re not wrong. 

Because it could be, indeed.  Both “best” and “last” indeed center us on the self and the needs of the soul, but with different orientations and expectations. 

And then there is penance.  Fasting serves many purposes, as St. Francis de Sales will tell us. But at root, it is a penitential act, not simply one to help us to “grow in faith” and find peace and joy and focus.  Yes it does, indeed do so, but it does so, Catholic tradition has normally held, because, among other things, the penitential act of fasting is part of the process of ridding our lives of sin and its effects – a process which  of course brings us closer to Christ. Not just because it’s fasting and giving stuff up, but because it is penitential.  I’ll let St. Francis de Sales explain.

 

To treat of fasting and of what is required to fast well, we must, at the start, understand that of itself fasting is not a virtue. The good and the bad, as well as Christians and pagans, observe it. The ancient philosophers observed it and recommended it. They were not virtuous for that reason, nor did they practice virtue in fasting. Oh, no, fasting is a virtue only when it is accompanied by conditions which render it pleasing to God. Thus it happens that it profits some and not others, because it is not undertaken by all in the same manner.

We find some people who think that to fast well during the holy season of Lent it is enough to abstain from eating some prohibited food. But this thought is too gross to enter into the hearts of religious, for it is to you I speak, as well as persons dedicated to Our Lord. We know very well that it is not enough to fast exteriorly if we do not also fast interiorly and if we do not accompany the fast of the body with that of the spirit.

 

The first condition is that we must fast with our whole heart, that is to say, willingly, whole-heartedly, universally and entirely. If I recount to you St. Bernard’s words regarding fasting, you will know not only why it is instituted but also how it ought to be kept.

He says that fasting was instituted by Our Lord as a remedy for our mouth, for our gourmandizing and for our gluttony. Since sin entered the world through the mouth, the mouth must do penance by being deprived of foods prohibited and forbidden by the Church, abstaining from them for the space of forty days. But this glorious saint adds that, as it is not our mouth alone which has sinned, but also all our other senses, our fast must be general and entire, that is, all the members of our body must fast. For if we have offended God through the eyes, through the ears, through the tongue, and through our other senses, why should we not make them fast as well? And not only must we make the bodily senses fast, but also the soul’s powers and passions — yes, even the understanding, the memory, and the will, since we have sinned through both body and spirit.

How many sins have entered into the soul through the eyes, as Holy Scripture indicates? [1 In. 2:16]. That is why they must fast by keeping them lowered and not permitting them to look upon frivolous and unlawful objects; the ears, by depriving them of listening to vain talk which serves only to fill the mind with worldly images; the tongue, in not speaking idle words and those which savor of the world or the things of the world. We ought also to cut off useless thoughts, as well as vain memories and superfluous appetites and desires of our will. In short, we ought to hold in check all those things which keep us from loving or tending to the Sovereign Good. In this way interior fasting accompanies exterior fasting.

This is what the Church wishes to signify during this holy time of Lent, teaching us to make our eyes, our ears and our tongue fast. For this reason she omits all harmonious chants in order to mortify the hearing; she no longer says Alleluia, and clothes herself completely in somber and dark colors. And on this first day she addresses us in these words: Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return [Gen. 3:19], as if she meant to say: “Oh man, quit at this moment all joys and merrymaking, all joyful and pleasant reflections, and fill your memory with bitter, hard and sorrowful thoughts. In this way you will make your mind fast together with your body.”

This is also what the Christians of the primitive Church taught us when, in order to spend Lent in a better way, they deprived themselves at this time of ordinary conversations with their friends, and withdrew into great solitude and places removed from communication with people…….

 

The second condition is never to fast through vanity but always through humility. If our fast is not performed with humility, it will not be pleasing to God…..

But what is it to fast through humility? It is never to fast through vanity. Now how can one fast through vanity? According to Scripture there are hundreds and hundreds of ways, but I will content myself with telling you one of them, for it is not necessary to burden your memory with many things. To fast through vanity is to fast through self-will, since this self-will is not without vanity, or at least not without a temptation to vanity. And what does it mean to fast through self-will? It is to fast as one wishes and not as others wish; to fast in the manner which pleases us, and not as we are ordered or counseled. You will find some who wish to fast more than is necessary, and others who do not wish to fast as much as is necessary. What causes that except vanity and self-will? All that proceeds from ourselves seems better to us, and is much more pleasant and easy for us than what is enjoined on us by another, even though the latter is more useful and proper for our perfection. This is natural to us and is born from the great love we have for ourselves.

Let each one of us examine our conscience and we will find that all that comes from ourselves, from our own judgment, choice and election, is esteemed and loved far better than that which comes from another. We take a certain complacency in it that makes the most arduous and difficult things easy for us, and this complacency is almost always vanity. You will find those who wish to fast every Saturday of the year, but not during Lent.{2} They wish to fast in honor of Our Lady and not in honor of Our Lord. As if Our Lord and Our Lady did not consider the honor given to the one as given to the other, and as if in honoring the Son by fasting done for His intention, one did not please the Mother, or that in honoring the Virgin one did not please the Savior! What folly! But see how human it is: because the fast that these persons impose on themselves on Saturday in honor of our glorious Mistress comes from their own will and choice, it seems to them that it should be more holy and that it should bring them to a much greater perfection than the fast of Lent, which is commanded. Such people do not fast as they ought but as they want.

There are others who desire to fast more than they should, and with these one has more trouble than with the first group.

The glorious St. Augustine, in the Rule that he wrote for his religious (later adapted for men religious), orders that one follow the community as much as possible, as if he wished to say: Do not be more virtuous than the others; do not wish to practice more fasting, more austerities, more mortifications than are ordered for you. Do only what the others do and what is commanded by your Rule, according to the manner of living that you follow, and be content with that. For although fasting and other penances are good and laudable, nevertheless, if they are not practiced by those with whom you live, you will stand out and there will be some vanity, or at least some temptation to esteem yourself above others. Since they do not do as you do, you experience some vain complacency, as if you were more holy than they in doing such things.

Follow the community then in all things, said the great St. Augustine. Let the strong and robust eat what is ordered them, keeping the fast and austerities which are marked, and let them be content with that. Let the weak and infirm receive what is offered them for their infirmity, without wishing to do what the robust do. Let neither group amuse themselves in looking to see what this one eats and what that one does not eat, but let each one remain satisfied with what she has and with what is given to her. By this means you will avoid vanity and being particular.

 

The third condition necessary for fasting well is to look to God and to do everything to please Him, withdrawing within ourselves in imitation of a great saint, St. Gregory the Great, who withdrew into a secret and out-of-the-way place where he remained for some time without anyone knowing where he was, being content that the Lord and His angels knew it.

 

This is all that I had to tell you regarding fasting and what must be observed in order to fast well. The first thing is that your fast should be entire and universal; that is, that you should make all the members of your body and the powers of your soul fast: keeping your eyes lowered, or at least lower than ordinarily; keeping better silence, or at least keeping it more punctually than is usual; mortifying the hearing and the tongue so that you will no longer hear or speak of anything vain or useless; the understanding, in order to consider only holy and pious subjects; the memory, in filling it with the remembrance of bitter and sorrowful things and avoiding joyous and gracious thoughts; keeping your will in check and your spirit at the foot of the crucifix with some holy and sorrowful thought. If you do that, your fast will be universal, interior and exterior, for you will mortify both your body and your spirit. The second condition is that you do not observe your fast or perform your works for the eyes of others. And the third is that you do all your actions, and consequently your fasting, to please God alone, to whom be honor and glory forever and ever.

Lent 2016

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The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers. He preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honoured.
  To be separated from that love was, in his eyes, the greatest and most extraordinary of torments; the pain of that loss would alone have been hell, and endless, unbearable torture.
  So too, in being loved by Christ he thought of himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet.
  Paul set no store by the things that fill our visible world, any more than a man sets value on the withered grass of the field. As for tyrannical rulers or the people enraged against him, he paid them no more heed than gnats. Death itself and pain and whatever torments might come were but child’s play to him, provided that thereby he might bear some burden for the sake of Christ.
"amy welborn"
Do you remember that 2008-2009 was a “Year of St. Paul?”

Thus we can see that the two sources, the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of St Paul, converge and agree on the fundamental point: the Risen One spoke to Paul, called him to the apostolate and made him a true Apostle, a witness of the Resurrection, with the specific task of proclaiming the Gospel to the Gentiles, to the Greco-Roman world. And at the same time, Paul learned that despite the immediacy of his relationship with the Risen One, he had to enter into communion with the Church, he himself had to be baptized, he had to live in harmony with the other Apostles. Only in such communion with everyone could he have been a true apostle, as he wrote explicitly in the First Letter to the Corinthians: “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (15: 11). There is only one proclamation of the Risen One, because Christ is only one.

As can be seen, in all these passages Paul never once interprets this moment as an event of conversion. Why? There are many hypotheses, but for me the reason is very clear. This turning point in his life, this transformation of his whole being was not the fruit of a psychological process, of a maturation or intellectual and moral development. Rather it came from the outside: it was not the fruit of his thought but of his encounter with Jesus Christ. In this sense it was not simply a conversion, a development of his “ego”, but rather a death and a resurrection for Paul himself. One existence died and another, new one was born with the Risen Christ. There is no other way in which to explain this renewal of Paul. None of the psychological analyses can clarify or solve the problem. This event alone, this powerful encounter with Christ, is the key to understanding what had happened: death and resurrection, renewal on the part of the One who had shown himself and had spoken to him. In this deeper sense we can and we must speak of conversion. This encounter is a real renewal that changed all his parameters. Now he could say that what had been essential and fundamental for him earlier had become “refuse” for him; it was no longer “gain” but loss, because henceforth the only thing that counted for him was life in Christ.

…..

Turning now to ourselves, let us ask what this means for us. It means that for us too Christianity is not a new philosophy or a new morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ. Of course, he does not show himself to us in this overwhelming, luminous way, as he did to Paul to make him the Apostle to all peoples. But we too can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ’s Heart and feel him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we truly become Christians. And in this way our reason opens, all Christ’s wisdom opens as do all the riches of truth.
Therefore let us pray the Lord to illumine us, to grant us an encounter with his presence in our world, and thus to grant us a lively faith, an open heart and great love for all, which is capable of renewing the world.

 

 

From 2006

This mutual compenetration between Christ and the Christian, characteristic of Paul’s teaching, completes his discourse on faith.

In fact, although faith unites us closely to Christ, it emphasizes the distinction between us and him; but according to Paul, Christian life also has an element that we might describe as “mystical”, since it entails an identification of ourselves with Christ and of Christ with us. In this sense, the Apostle even went so far as to describe our suffering as “the suffering of Christ” in us (II Cor 1: 5), so that we might “always [carry] in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (II Cor 4: 10).

We must fit all this into our daily lives by following the example of Paul, who always lived with this great spiritual range. Besides, faith must constantly express humility before God, indeed, adoration and praise.

Indeed, it is to him and his grace alone that we owe what we are as Christians. Since nothing and no one can replace him, it is necessary that we pay homage to nothing and no one else but him. No idol should pollute our spiritual universe or otherwise, instead of enjoying the freedom acquired, we will relapse into a humiliating form of slavery.

Moreover, our radical belonging to Christ and the fact that “we are in him” must imbue in us an attitude of total trust and immense joy. In short, we must indeed exclaim with St Paul: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8: 31). And the reply is that nothing and no one “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8: 39). Our Christian life, therefore, stands on the soundest and safest rock one can imagine. And from it we draw all our energy, precisely as the Apostle wrote: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4: 13).

Therefore, let us face our life with its joys and sorrows supported by these great sentiments that Paul offers to us. By having an experience of them we will realize how true are the words the Apostle himself wrote: “I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me”; in other words, until the Day (II Tm 1: 12) of our definitive meeting with Christ the Judge, Saviour of the world and our Saviour.

 

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Yes, it’s Sunday, but you are still allowed to think about him.

First, in case you don’t make it to the end of this post, I’ll put this at the beginning: A page with a few of the many Lenten sermons he gave – the sermons themselves are on Word docs, which is annoying, but there you have it.

Bishop, evangelist, teacher, writer, spiritual director and friend.

Links to his works – start with the most familiar, Introduction to the Devout Life, and go on from there.  Don’t forget his correspondence with St. Jane de Chantal, either. 

From Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s General Audience presentation on Francis de Sales, back in 2011: 

In his harmonious youth, reflection on the thought of St Augustine and of St Thomas Aquinas led to a deep crisis. This prompted him to question his own eternal salvation and the predestination of God concerning himself; he suffered as a true spiritual drama the principal theological issues of his time. He prayed intensely but was so fiercely tormented by doubt that for a few weeks he could "amy welborn"barely eat or sleep.

At the climax of his trial, he went to the Dominicans’ church in Paris, opened his heart and prayed in these words: “Whatever happens, Lord, you who hold all things in your hand and whose ways are justice and truth; whatever you have ordained for me… you who are ever a just judge and a merciful Father, I will love you Lord…. I will love you here, O my God, and I will always hope in your mercy and will always repeat your praise…. O Lord Jesus you will always be my hope and my salvation in the land of the living” (I Proc. Canon., Vol. I, art. 4).

The 20-year-old Francis found peace in the radical and liberating love of God: loving him without asking anything in return and trusting in divine love; no longer asking what will God do with me: I simply love him, independently of all that he gives me or does not give me. Thus I find peace and the question of predestination — which was being discussed at that time — was resolved, because he no longer sought what he might receive from God; he simply loved God and abandoned himself to his goodness. And this was to be the secret of his life which would shine out in his main work: the The Treatise on the Love of God.

…..

As the Pastor of a poor and tormented diocese in a mountainous area whose harshness was as well known as its beauty, he wrote: “I found [God] sweet and gentle among our loftiest rugged mountains, where many simple souls love him and worship him in all truth and sincerity; and mountain goats and chamois leap here and there between the fearful frozen peaks to proclaim his praise” (Letter to Mother de Chantal, October 1606, in Oeuvres, éd. Mackey, t. XIII, p. 223).

Nevertheless the influence of his life and his teaching on Europe in that period and in the following centuries is immense. He was an apostle, preacher, writer, man of action and of prayer dedicated to implanting the ideals of the Council of Trent; he was involved in controversial issues dialogue with the Protestants, experiencing increasingly, over and above the necessary theological confrontation, the effectiveness of personal relationship and of charity; he was charged with diplomatic missions in Europe and with social duties of mediation and reconciliation.

….

In reading his book on the love of God and especially his many letters of spiritual direction and friendship one clearly perceives that St Francis was well acquainted with the human heart. He wrote to St Jane de Chantal: “… this is the rule of our obedience, which I write for you in capital letters: do all through love, nothing through constraint; love obedience more than you fear disobedience. I leave you the spirit of freedom, not that which excludes obedience, which is the freedom of the world, but that liberty that excludes violence, anxiety and scruples” (Letter of 14 October 1604).

It is not for nothing that we rediscover traces precisely of this teacher at the origin of many contemporary paths of pedagogy and spirituality; without him neither St John Bosco nor the heroic “Little Way” of St Thérèse of Lisieux would have have come into being.

Dear brothers and sisters, in an age such as ours that seeks freedom, even with violence and unrest, the timeliness of this great teacher of spirituality and peace who gave his followers the “spirit of freedom”, the true spirit.

St Francis de Sales is an exemplary witness of Christian humanism; with his familiar style, with words which at times have a poetic touch, he reminds us that human beings have planted in their innermost depths the longing for God and that in him alone can they find true joy and the most complete fulfilment.

MORE

One of the more interesting Francis de Sales-related books I have read over the past year are some of his letters “to persons in the world,” collected here in this book found at the Internet Archive. (I’m sure they are in more contemporary bound versions but this is online…and free).

It is well worth downloading and keeping on hand. So much pertinent, valuable, wise advice and insight. Perhaps begin with his 10/14/1604 letter to Jane de Chantal. It’s long and rich and contains, among other bits, tremendous insight on true liberty in Christ.

 

The effects of this liberty are a great suavity of
soul, a great gentleness and condescension in all that
is not sin or danger of sin ; a temper sweetly pliable to
the acts of every virtue and charity.

For example : interrupt a soul which is attached to
the exercise of meditation ; you will see it leave with
aunoyance, worried and surprised. A soul which has
true liberty will leave its exercise with an equal coun-
tenance, and a heart gracious towards the importunate
person who has inconvenienced her. For it is all one
to her whether she serve God by meditating, or serve
him by bearing with her neighbour : both are the will
of God, but the bearing with her neighbour is necessary
at that time.

The occasions of this liberty are all the things which
happen against our inclination ; for whoever is not
attached to his inclinations, is not impatient when they
are contradicted.

This liberty has two opposite vices, instability and
constraint, or dissolution and slavery. Instability, or
dissolution of spirit, is a certain excess of liberty, by
which we change our exercises, our state of life, with-
out proof or knowledge that such change is God’s
will. On the smallest occasion practices, plan, rule
ure changed; for every little occurrence we leave our
rule and laudable custom : and thus the heart is dissi-
pated and ruined, and is like an orchard open on all
sides, whose fruits are not for its owners, but for all
passers by.

Constraint or slavery is a certain want of liberty by
which the soul is overwhelmed with either disgust or
anger, when it cannot do what it has planned, though
still able to do better.

For example : I design to make my meditation every
day in the morning. If I have the spirit of insta-
bility, or dissolution, on the least occasion in the
world I shall put it off till the evening for a dog
which kept me from sleeping, for a letter I have to
write, of no urgency whatever. On the other hand,
if I have the spirit of constraint or servitude, I
shall not leave my meditation at that hour, even
if a sick person have great need of my help at the
time, even if I have a despatch which is of great
importance, and which cannot well be put off, and
so on.

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For your First Communicant.  For your students, if you’re a catechist, DRE or pastor:

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"amy welborn"
"amy welborn"
"amy welborn"

More here.

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— 1 —

It’s that time of year. Between basketball games, piano recitals (M’s program does far more than the winter-and-spring-routine. It’s all for the good, but still), and Scout activities, there are no free weekends, and I am in a constant state of low-level seething.

All we need now is a Project to really set me off and send me to Kayak, VRBO or researching international and online schools.

 

— 2 —

In case you have missed it, I’ve started a (for the moment) daily homeschool report. I do it not because I think what we do is so great (it isn’t), but to just put an account of what a sort-of-normal homeschool life is like out there for people who might be looking into it. It’s not “normal” because there is no such thing in the homeschooling world – everyone is different. We don’t do an across-the-board curriculum, we don’t have a particular philosophy, we do no online classes and there’s only one kid doing this at the moment – but what we do is what we do, and dissatisfaction with the brick-n-mortar school is growing at such a pace, I just wanted to put this out there so that people can see it can be done, it’s interesting, and if your only options are schools that don’t meet your child’s needs, and you have the opportunity, your child will not miss anything by homeschooling, and will gain a great deal.

 

– 3—

Last weekend, we watched two older movies, one good and one, so sad.  I had seen The Mouse that Roared ages ago- as kid myself, on TV, and remembered it being funny and screwball and crazy. It’s not. (As I ponder this, I actually think I might have read the book, and that left a positive impression. Maybe?) Peter Sellers is his usual brilliant self, but the movie as a whole is that usual late 50’s/early 60’s awkward comedic lameness.  And good lord, Jean Seberg is the worst. At least it was short.

 

— 4 —

The next night, however, we had better luck with Great Expectations.  My memories held up on that one.

The thing is, with your Star Wars fans, no matter how young they are, Obi-Wan gives you an in with older films, even for the reluctant. Chances are they will be very interested to see Alec Guiness in anything, particularly in a younger incarnation. They watched The Lavender Hill Mob and Kind Hearts and Coronets with that enticement, and so with this one – especially since it was his first film and he is SO YOUNG.

Depending on how everyone feels, we will probably try to get Bridge over the River Kwai in sometime this weekend – that takes a commitment.

— 5 —

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is the Wedding at Cana. To get a head start, consider this, from B16 in 2006

If we take this as our starting-point, we can now also understand the second part of Jesus’ answer: “My hour has not yet come”. Jesus never acts completely alone, and never for the sake of pleasing others. The Father is always the starting-point of his actions, and this is what unites him to Mary, because she wished to make her request in this same unity of will with the Father. And so, surprisingly, after hearing Jesus’ answer, which apparently refuses her request, she can simply say to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Jesus is not a wonder-worker, he does not play games with his power in what is, after all, a private affair. No, he gives a sign, in which he proclaims his hour, the hour of the wedding-feast, the hour of union between God and man. He does not merely “make” wine, but transforms the human wedding-feast into an image of the divine wedding-feast, to which the Father invites us through the Son and in which he gives us every good thing, represented by the abundance of wine. The wedding-feast becomes an image of that moment when Jesus pushed love to the utmost, let his body be rent and thus gave himself to us for ever, having become completely one with us – a marriage between God and man. The hour of the Cross, the hour which is the source of the Sacrament, in which he gives himself really to us in flesh and blood, puts his Body into our hands and our hearts, this is the hour of the wedding feast. Thus a momentary need is resolved in a truly divine manner and the initial request is superabundantly granted. Jesus’ hour has not yet arrived, but in the sign of the water changed into wine, in the sign of the festive gift, he even now anticipates that hour.

Jesus’ “hour” is the Cross; his definitive hour will be his return at the end of time. He continually anticipates also this definitive hour in the Eucharist, in which, even now, he always comes to us. And he does this ever anew through the intercession of his Mother, through the intercession of the Church, which cries out to him in the Eucharistic prayers: “Come, Lord Jesus!”. In the Canon of the Mass, the Church constantly prays for this “hour” to be anticipated, asking that he may come even now and be given to us. And so we want to let ourselves be guided by Mary, by the Mother of Graces of Altötting, by the Mother of all the faithful, towards the “hour” of Jesus. Let us ask him for the gift of a deeper knowledge and understanding of him. And may our reception of him not be reduced to the moment of communion alone. Jesus remains present in the sacred Host and he awaits us constantly. Here in Altötting, the adoration of the Lord in the Eucharist has found a new location in the old treasury. Mary and Jesus go together. Through Mary we want to continue our converse with the Lord and to learn how to receive him better. Holy Mother of God, pray for us, just as at Cana you prayed for the bride and the bridegroom! Guide us towards Jesus – ever anew! Amen!

 

 

 

— 6

Solitaire!

As I mentioned on Instagram, I was shocked and ashamed to discover a few days ago that my younger sons did not know how to play Solitaire.  I’m not sure how this passed them by. They do play actual real games with physical objects – not only video games – but perhaps, considering they don’t spend a lot of time on actual computers, where they might encounter that version of it – it makes some sense.

Anyway,  taught them, and it’s good. It probably won’t last, but it’s been a thing this week for them to feel a bit of boredom, spy their cards, and  just start playing.

"amy welborn"

— 7 —

Hey…Lent begins in less than a month….

Time to order your parish/school materials – even if you want to order some for a group of friends or a class…here you go!

A Stations of the Cross for teens:

"amy welborn"

Biblical Way of the Cross for everyone:

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

"amy welborn"

There’s also a digital edition in app form.

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

amy-welborn-3

Looking for a book study for a group? How about Matthew 26-28: Jesus’ Life-Giving Death from Loyola. 

"amy welborn"

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

It’s not humble.

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

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

Not humble.

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

And I thought, who are you? 

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

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

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

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

What the Church gives. 

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

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

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

So there’s that battle, always.

But back to humility.

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

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

-Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy

 

****

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

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

Huh.

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In anticipation of the release of Silence at some unannounced date in 2016, I’m going to read as much Shusaku Endo as I can. I have read several of his novels, but by no means all, so I started yesterday and today with one that was on my shelf, unread: The Sea and the Poison.  

This was not Endo’s first novel, but it was one that brought him early acclaim. Published in 1958, it is based on historical events that Endo was the first to deal with in literature: the vivisection of eight American POW’s at a Japanese university hospital near the end of the war. 

It was natural for me to read this book with Silence (published a few years later) in mind, and for similar themes to strike me: characters in professions dedicated to human well-being put in situations in which their action or inaction will result in others suffering and being killed; these situations being agonizingly fraught; a sense of being trapped in a situation in which there is no “good” outcome; the depravity of human brutality on full display.

sea and poison endo

 

And, of course, the question of…how?

It is, of course, a different book though. The focus is a bit more diffuse, as several characters come other scrutiny, and the characterization does not have a great deal of depth – they really do function as representatives of a culture rather than as people, but that is, perhaps, Endo’s point: to critique the nihilism of Japanese culture as it was at the time.

The book begins well after the war, in a town – a suburb, perhaps – of Tokyo.  A man and his wife have just moved there, the man needs medical treatment and for it goes to the closest doctor, one Sugoru, who lives and works in dreary conditions, is mysterious and withdrawn, but who also has a surprising skill in the particular treatment in question, but with no human connection – bedside manner – at all.

We then move further back in history, to the end of the war at the hospital, where we remain for the rest of the novel. It’s a short book, so it doesn’t take long for us to meet the rest of the characters and get a sense of the situation: physicians, residents and nurses weary of war dealing with very ill, elderly patients – everything, it seems, is hopeless. War weighs on the situation, of course, but just as heavily is the politics of the hospital administration.

Sugoru, a young intern, has a conscience and cares for his patients, but he is really the only one.  In short order, he is pulled into the experiments – given a choice, to be sure – but with no real argument presented against it.  The prisoners, it is assumed, are going to die anyway, so why not in a way that will benefit others?

Now, here is what was interesting to me. Two other characters involved in the experiments are examined in depth. We get flashbacks exploring the backgrounds of Toda, another intern, and Nurse Nobu Ueda. Toda has absolutely no conscience, and never has. The void is illustrated through various stories from his childhood and youth. The nurse has experienced great suffering and loss, and her motivation for saying yes to participation are tied into that only in a reactive, complex way. For her, it is that by doing so, she will be a part of a secret of the chief surgeon’s life, a secret that his German wife – who has recently humiliated the nurse – will not be.

Anyway, what interests me is that Endo gives quite a bit of time to exploring the background and motivations of two characters who say yes to participation with little hesitation or pangs of conscience, but of Sugoru’s background – the one who begins the story and who is the only one to clearly have regrets – we know nothing. That’s a deliberate choice, of course, and it’s interesting to me.  Endo is known for stories in which Japanese pantheistic culture and Western theism are in conflict, but that is not the case here, at least explicitly. Sugoru is not a Christian (the only character who is, presumably, is the German woman, who at one point asks, in a rage and in relation to another situation, if no one fears God’s judgment), so it is fascinating to me that Endo has chosen to not go into his background.

What is the effect of this? In a way, it simply renders him more of an Everyman. His conscience is not due to any specific experiences. This – conscience –  is what makes us human beings – the failure of conscience, nihilism and total disregard for human life must be explained because it is a deviation.

The Sea and Poison is about excusing evil, about how evil can live under the veil of normalcy and about the tragic pointlessness of life defined by nihilism. It is about how evil can be domesticated as one more dimension of human attempts to gain power, to gain advantage over others or even, most paradoxically of all, to find meaning. How could this have happened? How could we have done this?

Endo invites his Japanese readers – and all of us –  to confront this question. A conscience, human sympathy and respect for life are natural elements of human existence – but consciences of individuals and societies can be deadened and they can be distracted by festering wounds to the point that once, again, we see how true it is that the one fixated on the self is, paradoxically, the one who loses the self in the end.

After the procedure, several of the characters try to make sense of what they have done. They pause and study the location, they mentally revisit the moment. Resigned, they turn away and move on. Nothing has changed for any of them, except for Sugoru, for whom everything has changed, even though, like the sea, it all still looks the same.

A disturbing, thought-provoking book.

 

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