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— 1 —

 

Back from NYC Sunday night, and nowhere near as productive a week as I had hoped this week, especially with one kid in piano camp all day every day. I’m hopeless. Well, maybe not. I did get a sample for a book proposal done, and will send it off to the editor today for his perusal when he returns from vacation. But that’s about it. Sad!

— 2 —

We have some ch-ch-changes in store for the next school year, about which I’ll write more when August hits. Short version: we are returning to Homeschool Land with my youngest for 7th grade.  The situation is disappointing for him (it was basically his

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Never cleaned it up…a good thing.

decision) because he wanted to like it, and it’s possible that in the future, things will refashion themselves and it might work out for him. It’s difficult to discuss – impossible to discuss without getting specific, which I don’t want to do and would be unfair. Who knows what will happen in the future? We don’t know – for right now, he’s looking forward to next year – Mom has promised  – promised – that except for math, it will be Unschooling all the way, plus he doesn’t have to get up so darn early, he’ll be able to maintain the friendships he forged during the year, he’ll have more time to work on his music and it will be quality time – not I’m-exhausted-from-school-and-I-have-to-squeeze-practice-in-before-homework time, and he gets to start off the school year in September with a photography class at the local Catholic homeschool co-op – a far better way to spend your Thursday mornings than parsing participial phrases.

— 3 —

I got a little frustrated with myself last night because it occurred to me I haven’t been reading many books over the past few weeks. I spent several minutes searching the house for Doctor Thorne, which I never did find, and can’t even recall the last time I saw. What? How did this happen?

Then I realized…television. After a desert time, over the past few weeks, good (to me) shows have been airing again – namely Better Call Saul and Fargo, and, at a far lesser level, Veep and Silicon Valley. Seriously – far lesser level. But BCS and Fargo have been absolutely intriguing this season (I watched season 1 of Fargo but not 2, btw), but since they are structured like novels, with an endgame in sight, I find it impossible and fruitless to try to write about them until the season finale has aired. It’s that way with Fargo in particular, which is either a pretentious collection of arresting images about truth, falsehood, 1960’s LA, Peter and the Wolf and Communist East Germany or something almost profound – but I’ll only know when I see how it all turns out this coming week.

— 4 —

That said, I was interested in something the AV Club guy wrote about Fargo (don’t read the original if you plan on watching and don’t want to be spoiled for a major plot event – I’ve chosen the excerpt so it doesn’t reveal it)

[Reference to a feud between two brothers….]  without understanding that the feud wasn’t a cut-and-dry case of extortion, it was just some cartoons poking other cartoons. I appreciate that this reveal was always in the cards, but the timing of everything means that not everything lands quite as it should.

Image result for fargo season 3What the writer is referring to is a conflict between brothers – he is saying that the feud didn’t seem to him to have depth as it played out because we didn’t know the specifics about the events causing it until this second-to-the-last episode.

But here’s the thing: What we did know was that the basics of the feud involved one brother trading something of value in a moment of weakness.

Does that sound familiar?

Yeah, it’s Jacob and Esau, blindingly obvious to me since we first met these two.

So this interests me. The feud had some resonance and more depth for me over the season because I understood it as an expression of another story I know very well. Perhaps the series creatives could do better in not assuming that familiarity and drawing themes out more explicitly, but it’s interesting to me that they don’t think they should have to, and what people are missing without that familiarity.

 

— 5 —

That said, and without seeing the last episode yet, I have hope that I won’t be disappointed in a series which has the Worst Bad Guy With the Grossest Teeth admitting:

The problem is not that there is evil in the world. The problem is that there is good. Because otherwise, who would care.

And it happens in an episode called “Aporia” – which forces me to look stuff up and get a little more knowledge in my brain. Always a good thing.

— 6 —

 

I was talking to someone who has another high-school age kid, and this kid is an athlete. The parent was telling me some things about the experience and it took me a second to process what he was telling me…I thought I didn’t understand…I thought he was kidding…but…

Every family is responsible for raising $2000 for the team, plus there’s a $300 fee for participating, plus we’re responsible for selling a certain number of ads for the programs….plus..

…there was some other fee, but I don’t remember what it was.

You know, there are a lot of aspects to American culture I look at and grumble, That’s what’s wrong with us today…but this? This expectation that for a high school sport for which a family already sacrifices much of its summer and free time during the school year….that family still has to raise/fork over $3000 or more??  Really?

Stop. Step away. 

— 7 —

My book sales are certainly seasonal – the saints books and Friendship With Jesus peak from Easter to early June, Bambinelli Sunday at Christmas (duh), and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days around Mother’s Day and Christmas.

The Prove It books have a couple of bumps during the year as well – in the early summer when schools publish their textbook lists for the coming school year, and then August-September when more people (like me) are paying attention and finally getting with the program.

If that’s you – I have a few here for sale. Check it out!

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

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Today’s his feast. I always remember Justin Martyr because he was the first of the Fathers of the Church that I really read, back at the University of Tennessee in a class on the history of Christianity. It was in reading Justin I first grasped the continuity of the St. Justin Martyrapostolic Church with Christ and then forward to the present.

You can access his writings here.

Pope Emeritus B16, from 2007:

In these Catecheses, we are reflecting on the great figures of the early Church. Today, we will talk about St Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, the most important of the second-century apologist Fathers.

The word “apologist” designates those ancient Christian writers who set out to defend the new religion from the weighty accusations of both pagans and Jews, and to spread the Christian doctrine in terms suited to the culture of their time.

Thus, the apologists had a twofold concern: that most properly called “apologetic”, to defend the newborn Christianity (apologhíain Greek means, precisely, “defence”), and the pro-positive, “missionary” concern, to explain the content of the faith in a language and on a wavelength comprehensible to their contemporaries.

Justin was born in about the year 100 near ancient Shechem, Samaria, in the Holy Land; he spent a long time seeking the truth, moving through the various schools of the Greek philosophical tradition.

Finally, as he himself recounts in the first chapters of his Dialogue with Tryphon, a mysterious figure, an old man he met on the seashore, initially leads him into a crisis by showing him that it is impossible for the human being to satisfy his aspiration to the divine solely with his own forces. He then pointed out to him the ancient prophets as the people to turn to in order to find the way to God and “true philosophy”.

In taking his leave, the old man urged him to pray that the gates of light would be opened to him.
The story foretells the crucial episode in Justin’s life: at the end of a long philosophical journey, a quest for the truth, he arrived at the Christian faith. He founded a school in Rome where, free of charge, he initiated students into the new religion, considered as the true philosophy. Indeed, in it he had found the truth, hence, the art of living virtuously.

For this reason he was reported and beheaded in about 165 during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor to whom Justin had actually addressed one of his Apologia.

These – the two Apologies and the Dialogue with the Hebrew, Tryphon – are his only surviving works. In them, Justin intends above all to illustrate the divine project of creation and salvation, which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Logos, that is, the eternal Word, eternal Reason, creative Reason.

Every person as a rational being shares in the Logos, carrying within himself a “seed”, and can perceive glimmers of the truth. Thus, the same Logos who revealed himself as a prophetic figure to the Hebrews of the ancient Law also manifested himself partially, in “seeds of truth”, in Greek philosophy.

Now, Justin concludes, since Christianity is the historical and personal manifestation of the Logos in his totality, it follows that “whatever things were rightly said among all men are the property of us Christians” (Second Apology of St Justin Martyr, 13: 4).

In this way, although Justin disputed Greek philosophy and its contradictions, he decisively oriented any philosophical truth to theLogos, giving reasons for the unusual “claim” to truth and universality of the Christian religion. If the Old Testament leaned towards Christ, just as the symbol is a guide to the reality represented, then Greek philosophy also aspired to Christ and the Gospel, just as the part strives to be united with the whole.

And he said that these two realities, the Old Testament and Greek philosophy, are like two paths that lead to Christ, to the Logos.This is why Greek philosophy cannot be opposed to Gospel truth, and Christians can draw from it confidently as from a good of their own.

Therefore, my venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, described St Justin as a “pioneer of positive engagement with philosophical thinking – albeit with cautious discernment…. Although he continued to hold Greek philosophy in high esteem after his conversion, Justin claimed with power and clarity that he had found in Christianity ‘the only sure and profitable philosophy’ (Dial. 8: 1)” (Fides et Ratio, n. 38).

Overall, the figure and work of Justin mark the ancient Church’s forceful option for philosophy, for reason, rather than for the religion of the pagans. With the pagan religion, in fact, the early Christians strenuously rejected every compromise. They held it to be idolatry, at the cost of being accused for this reason of “impiety” and “atheism”.

Justin in particular, especially in his first Apology, mercilessly criticized the pagan religion and its myths, which he considered to be diabolically misleading on the path of truth.

Philosophy, on the other hand, represented the privileged area of the encounter between paganism, Judaism and Christianity, precisely at the level of the criticism of pagan religion and its false myths. “Our philosophy…”: this is how another apologist, Bishop Melito of Sardis, a contemporary of Justin, came to define the new religion in a more explicit way (Ap. Hist. Eccl. 4, 26, 7).

In fact, the pagan religion did not follow the ways of the Logos, but clung to myth, even if Greek philosophy recognized that mythology was devoid of consistency with the truth.

Therefore, the decline of the pagan religion was inevitable: it was a logical consequence of the detachment of religion – reduced to an artificial collection of ceremonies, conventions and customs – from the truth of being.

Justin, and with him other apologists, adopted the clear stance taken by the Christian faith for the God of the philosophers against the false gods of the pagan religion.

It was the choice of the truth of being against the myth of custom. Several decades after Justin, Tertullian defined the same option of Christians with a lapidary sentence that still applies: “Dominus noster Christus veritatem se, non consuetudinem, cognominavit – Christ has said that he is truth not fashion” (De Virgin. Vel. 1, 1).

It should be noted in this regard that the term consuetudo, used here by Tertullian in reference to the pagan religion, can be translated into modern languages with the expressions: “cultural fashion”, “current fads”.

In a time like ours, marked by relativism in the discussion on values and on religion – as well as in interreligious dialogue – this is a lesson that should not be forgotten.

To this end, I suggest to you once again – and thus I conclude – the last words of the mysterious old man whom Justin the Philosopher met on the seashore: “Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and his Christ have imparted wisdom” (Dial. 7: 3).

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As I noted in 7 Quick Takes…and have probably noted elsewhere, either passive-aggressively or outright grumpily, because of the 16-year old’s work schedule, this summer won’t have quite the travel theme as previous years…

But that’s fine. He needs to work and I’m already stupidly amazed at the difference in my bank account between now and last summer.

But just because three-week long trips are impossible this year, that doesn’t mean we’ll stay put. So this weekend…

Saturday was taken up with things around the house, then the earliest Vigil Mass to be found in town, since son had to work from 5:30-10:15 Saturday night and 9:30-6 on Sunday. The alternative would have been a 7 am Sunday Mass…and no one was really in favor of that, so a 4pm Mass it was, followed by dropping one off at work and then the other off at the movies and…what the house to myself for a couple of hours? Gee, when this school year ended, I didn’t think that was going to happen again until 2021 or thereabouts….

On Sunday, after dropping Working Man off (we only have one car at the moment – I have no plans to get another one until closer to the beginning of school), the 12-year old and I headed south and west a little to the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge.

We’d been there a couple of years ago, but didn’t return last summer, and so here we were.

The location is noted for the blooming of Cahaba Lilies:

The lily requires a very specialized habitat—swift-flowing water over rocks and lots of sun—and thus is restricted to shoal areas at or above the fall line. In Alabama, the Cahaba lily is restricted to the Black Warrior, Cahaba, Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Chattahoochee river systems. Plant bulbs and seeds spend the winter buried in the rocky riverbed. There the water’s current securely wedges the seeds and bulbs into the rock crevices. Leaves begin to emerge above the water line in mid-April, following the spring floods (dates are approximately two weeks later in eastern Georgia and South Carolina). Flower stalks develop after the leaves are fully emerged, with each stalk capped by six to nine buds surrounded by protective casings called bracts. Flowering commences in mid-May, reaching its peak in late May and early June, with sporadic flowering until late June.

There were still some in bloom (I didn’t get any closeups), although they are clearly at the end of the season.

The water was cold, but it was not crowded, and a little over an hour was enough for a beginning of the season sort-of-wild-swim.

I was a little nervous because the last time we were there, M had spotted a water moccasin in a rock crevice…but none this time made themselves seen.

But this fellow did:

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It was sort of amazing. We were driving down the gravel road that led to the river, when M said, “Wait…is that an owl?” When he spotted it, it wasn’t as obvious as in this photo – it was lower, and on a log across some water, in the midst of forest. I really don’t know how he saw it, but he did, and since there were no other cars coming or going, we just sat there for a few minutes, watching him – and him watching us, which he clearly was, flying up to a higher branch to get a closer look, and never taking his very large eyes of us. I had the window open, but something told me I might want to close it – he was that intent on us.

Just a couple of miles down the road, after the river, we stopped at this park – the West Blocton Coke Ovens Historic Park. It’s just what it says.

“Blocton” was so named because of a huge block of coal found at some point in the 19th century. The area – all of this part of Alabama, really – had, for a time, a large coal industry, even after the Yankees came through. All of this industry (including in Birmingham, of course) produced the foundation of many of the ethnic communities in this area – the Jewish, Greek, Eastern European and Italian roots of Birmingham are as deep as any other and go right back to the beginnings of commerce and industry here.

So, as one of the historic markers I read along the way said, at some point there was a synagogue in this small town, on the street that is now lined with empty storefronts – and there’s an Italian Catholic cemetery in the area. I didn’t have time on Sunday to look for it, but I will definitely be back at some point this summer for the search for it and for the sign that marks the location of the synagogue.

(Rabbit hole warning – here’s an article from the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities about the West Blocton Jewish community…with a connection to famed Yankees announcer Mel Allen…)

The coke ovens park was simple and well done – the walkway runs in between two now overgrown ovens (go to the webpage to see what they would originally have looked like), where train tracks would have been. Ruins of any sort are always so intriguing to me – ruins of 5th century Rome or 19th century American industry. They are a continual reminder to me not to get too attached to my own endeavors…

After that, we stopped at a roadside barbecue place – it was decent, although way to saucy for me. I generally like my pulled pork dry and let me sauce it up myself as I see fit, thanks!

Today, the Working Man had a day off, so after a decent sleep, we headed north this time, to Hurricane Creek Park. M and I had tried to go there a year ago or so, I think, but at the time it was only open weekends, which I didn’t know at the time. It’s now open every day.

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It’s pretty interesting – north of Cullman, here’s the history:

In 1961, Buddy Rogers purchased 120 acres of land in Cullman County and got to work making a dream come true. Buddy was a decorated fighter pilot in World War II who spent time after the war studying aerial photography near Denver. There, he spotted and then fell in love with a place called Seven Falls. After returning to his home in Alabama he joined the Air National Guard and it was when he was doing some aerial photography for them that he spotted an area that reminded him of his beloved Seven Falls. He went back later on foot to explore and found another natural area to fall in love with.  Just off what was then the new Highway 31, a narrow gorge dropped 500 feet through massive rock walls, cut by a clear little creek that reached its widest point at the very bottom. All around were the rock walls of the gorge, only slightly obscured by virgin hardwood forest, pine trees, and wildflowers. He decided right then and there that he would make it his life’s work to create a park out of the land.

 

And he did – even constructing a cable car system, I presume, to get to the creek at the bottom.

The park is now owned by the county, and only minimally maintained, although whatever happens seems to get the job done.  I wish I’d read that blog post cited before we went, so we could have looked for the remnants of the cable car – more ruins!

But that’s okay – we’ll be back. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous spot – one of the more beautiful and easily accessible spots in an hour radius of Birmingham.

The rest of the week? Busy stuff. All those kinds of appointments that you put off during the school year that then get piled up either right after school ends or right before it begins again in August because you have all summer to take care of it, you know.  And then a trip to Atlanta for…argh…the National History Bee….and..I can’t even with that, it’s so ridiculous.

But New York City awaits….

If you have any interest in keeping up with these adventures on a sort-of-daily basis, follow me on Instagram, especially Instagram Stories. 

 

 

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— 1 —

Are you in the Long Island area, or able to get there easily?

Ann Engelhart and I will be giving a talk at the library of the Theological Library of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington.   PDF flyer is here. 

Come see and hear us, and say hello! I’ll probably be wearing the same dress I have on in the headshot! Because I own maybe four dresses and only really like one of them!

I’ll be in the area for a few days before that with one of my younger sons.

— 2 —

Well, by the time most of you read this Summer Will Have Begun. One has been out of school for a week, and is busy working at his two jobs (one for The Man and the other a less formal arrangement, but $$$ nonetheless), and the other finishes up school on Friday. And by “finishes,” I mean…finishes. By his own choice. More on that…later. For his part, he might put it this way:

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And as for me? I’m like:

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Really!

— 3 —

The whole job thing for the 16-year old means that summer might be weird, and not as travel heavy as before. I am trying not to look back at we were doing exactly a year ago today:

A time for everything…everything has its season…just keep repeating and be grateful….

It’s okay, really. We do have a bit of travel planned (New York, obviously), and on the days that my son has off, we’ll be exploring our own area with gusto. Younger son and I have a big trip planned in July for a week during which older son will be away at an academic kind of activity in Chicago.

So, no. No complaints. Just gratitude. Lots and lots of gratitude for it all, past and especially present.

— 4 —

No listening this week – the weather has been rainy and chilly, so I haven’t been walking – which is my listening time. I did read, though. I sped through this one.

Peter Andreas’ parents were Kansas-born Mennonites who married in the late 1950’s – his mother was quite young – just seventeen – when they wed. As the years went by, she…evolved and your normal, everyday Mennonite pacifism turned into an intense 60’s radicalism. The mother separated from the dad, filed for divorce, took the kids to Berkeley (of course) and then with Peter, the youngest, whom she basically kidnapped and headed to find a good revolution down in South America, first in Chile, then in Peru.

I usually avoid childhood-centric memoirs. I find it hard to trust the author’s memory, perhaps because my old childhood memories are so sketchy, and I have generally have no idea if I am really remembering something, remembering a photograph, or remembering a story I was told about what I think I’m remembering.

Take The Glass Castle, which so many loved.I was put off from the book’s opening story, which is a very detailed recollection of an admittedly traumatic event, but which Walls recounts in quite close detail including dialogue between her 3-year old self and others in the hospital. Sorry, I didn’t buy it, not for a second.

I had moments of skepticism in this one, too, but was ultimately won over by the fact that Andreas based the book, not only on his own memories, but on his mother’s voluminous and detailed journals – and other writings.

So I guess so….

Andreas seems to have survived this strange childhood, emotional and mental health intact, able to see his mother’s faults, forgive and hang on to the good fruit that came out of the situation, as much suffering as he endured

Anyway, it’s a fascinating, dreadful and ultimately hopeful story, even as it serves as warning to any of us parents, even if we have not grown into adulthood from our Mennonite youth then happened to kidnap our children and run off South America in search of revolution.

Basically: What of your own crap are you burdening your kids with? And can you please try to stop?

— 5 —

Speaking of books, via the blog Tea at Trianon, children prefer real books: 

There is a common perception that children are more likely to read if it is on a device such as an iPad or Kindles. But new research shows that this is not necessarily the case. In a study of children in Year 4 and 6, those who had regular access to devices with eReading capability (such as Kindles, iPads and mobile phones) did not tend to use their devices for reading – and this was the case even when they were daily book readers. Research also found that the more devices a child had access to, the less they read in general. It suggests that providing children with eReading devices can actually inhibit their reading, and that paper books are often still preferred by young people. These findings match previous research which looked at how teenagers prefer to read. This research found that while some students enjoyed reading books on devices, the majority of students with access to these technologies did not use them regularly for this purpose. Importantly, the most avid book readers did not frequently read books on screens. (Original Post)

As I was re-reading this (on a screen!), a thought popped into my head in answer to the question why? Because honestly, I prefer reading a book as a book myself – especially non-fiction and longer, more complex fiction. I wonder if childrens’ preference for the physical book has something to do with a sense of accomplishment. Children tend to like feeling as if they have completed something, built something, finished something – and can point to that thing and say, “I did that.”  Think about younger readers and the satisfaction they get from successfully reading a whole book – especially a chapter book! – all by themselves.  Swiping through a series of screens just would not (I wouldn’t think) produce that same feeling of satisfying accomplishment as being able to hold a physical book full of pages of lovely pictures and big words, snapping it shut, holding it out and crawing, I read this! 

— 6 —

People, I cannot tell you how many posts I have brewing in my brain, and one of them is an extra-screedy screedish rant on technology in school classrooms. It’s coming. Hold me to it.

— 7 —

Speaking of books….I posted this last week, but I still like it, so here you go – coming in a few months.

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It’s still May, so it’s a good time to read a free book about Mary. Originally published by Word Among Us, now out of print and available in a pdf version here.

Amy Welborn and Michael Dubruiel

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

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Today is “Good Shepherd Sunday.”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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St. George is in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.  The only part of the chapter that is online in any form is the last page, so I grabbed that and scanned the first page of the chapter from a copy – so take a look. In the first part of the chapter I try to strike the balance between what we think we know about George and the legendary material. But I also always try to respect the legendary material as an expression of a truth – here, the courage required to follow Christ. He’s in the section, “Saints are people who are brave.”

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More on the book. You can buy it online, of course, or at any Catholic bookseller – I hope. If they don’t have it, demand it!

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Buy signed copies of some of my other books for children here. 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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