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Bridget of Sweden

Keeping with our series of interesting saints from all over…here’s Bridget of Sweden.  We’re lucky because the last two popes have written and spoken about her, John Paul II because he named her a co-patroness of Europe in 1999:

Accordingly, during the celebration of the Second Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops, on the eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, it has seemed to me that the Christians of Europe, as they join their fellow-citizens in celebrating this turning-point in time, so rich in hope and yet not without its concerns, could draw spiritual benefit from contemplating and invoking certain Saints who are in some way particularly representative of their history. Therefore, after appropriate consulation, and completing what I did on 31 st-brigidDecember 1980 when I declared Co-Patrons of Europe, along with Saint Benedict, two Saints of the first millennium, the brothers Cyril and Methodius, pioneers of the evangelization of the East, I have decided to add to this group of heavenly patrons three figures equally emblematic of critical moments in the second millennium now drawing to its close: Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. Three great Saints, three women who at different times—two in the very heart of the Middle Ages and one in our own century—were outstanding for their fruitful love of Christ’s Church and their witness to his Cross.

…..

The first of these three great figures, Bridget, was born of an aristocratic family in 1303 at Finsta, in the Swedish region of Uppland. She is known above all as a mystic and the foundress of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour. Yet it must not be forgotten that the first part of her life was that of a lay woman happily married to a devout Christian man to whom she bore eight children. In naming her a Co-Patroness of Europe, I would hope that not only those who have received a vocation to the consecrated life but also those called to the ordinary occupations of the life of the laity in the world, and especially to the high and demanding vocation of forming a Christian family, will feel that she is close to them. Without abandoning the comfortable condition of her social status, she and her husband Ulf enjoyed a married life in which conjugal love was joined to intense prayer, the study of Sacred Scripture, mortification and charitable works. Together they founded a small hospital, where they often attended the sick. Bridget was in the habit of serving the poor personally. At the same time, she was appreciated for her gifts as a teacher, which she was able to use when she was required to serve at Court in Stockholm. This experience was the basis of the counsel which she would later give from time to time to princes and rulers concerning the proper fulfilment of their duties. But obviously the first to benefit from these counsels were her children, and it is not by chance that one of her daughters, Catherine, is venerated as a Saint.

But this period of family life was only a first step. The pilgrimage which she made with her husband Ulf to Santiago de Compostela in 1341 symbolically brought this time to a close and prepared her for the new life which began a few years later at the death of her husband. It was then that Bridget recognized the voice of Christ entrusting her with a new mission and guiding her step by step by a series of extraordinary mystical graces.

5. Leaving Sweden in 1349, Bridget settled in Rome, the See of the Successor of Peter. Her move to Italy was a decisive step in expanding her mind and heart not simply geographically and culturally, but above all spiritually. In her desire to venerate the relics of saints, she went on pilgrimage to many places in Italy. She visited Milan, Pavia, Assisi, Ortona, Bari, Benevento, Pozzuoli, Naples, Salerno, Amalfi and the Shrine of Saint Michael the Archangel on Mount Gargano. Her last pilgrimage, made between 1371 and 1372, took her across the Mediterranean to the Holy Land, enabling her to embrace spiritually not only the many holy places of Catholic Europe but also the wellsprings of Christianity in the places sanctified by the life and death of the Redeemer.

Even more than these devout pilgrimages, it was a profound sense of the mystery of Christ and the Church which led Bridget to take part in building up the ecclesial community at a quite critical period in the Church’s history. Her profound union with Christ was accompanied by special gifts of revelation, which made her a point of reference for many people in the Church of her time. Bridget was recognized as having the power of prophecy, and at times her voice did seem to echo that of the great prophets of old. She spoke unabashedly to princes and pontiffs, declaring God’s plan with regard to the events of history. She was not afraid to deliver stern admonitions about the moral reform of the Christian people and the clergy themselves (cf. Revelations, IV, 49; cf. also IV, 5). Understandably, some aspects of her remarkable mystical output raised questions at the time; the Church’s discernment constantly referred these back to public revelation alone, which has its fullness in Christ and its normative expression in Sacred Scripture. Even the experiences of the great Saints are not free of those limitations which always accompany the human reception of God’s voice.

Yet there is no doubt that the Church, which recognized Bridget’s holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience. She stands as an important witness to the place reserved in the Church for a charism lived in complete docility to the Spirit of God and in full accord with the demands of ecclesial communion. In a special way too, because the Scandinavian countries from which Bridget came were separated from full communion with the See of Rome during the tragic events of the sixteenth century, the figure of this Swedish Saint remains a precious ecumenical “bridge”, strengthened by the ecumenical commitment of her Order.

A bit more from JPII on the 700th anniversary of her birth, in 2002:

Here, at the tombs of the Apostles and in the places sanctified by the blood of the martyrs, St Bridget spent many hours in prayer during the time she was in Rome. Here she drew strength and steadfastness in order to be able to fulfil that extraordinary charitable, missionary and social commitment which made her one of the most notable people of her day.

Contemplating the crucified Lord and in intimate union with his Passion, she was able, with prophetic determination, to complete the mission which Christ had entrusted to her for the good of the Church and society at that time.

The marble statue situated on the outside of the Vatican Basilica, near the entrance commonly called the “Door of Prayer”, aptly expresses the ardour of her life and of her spirituality. St Bridget is portrayed in an attitude of pryaer, with the book of her “Revelations” open, carrying a pilgrim’s staff and scrip, intent on contemplating the crucified Christ.

And then in a 2010 GA, B16:

We can distinguished two periods in this Saint’s life.

The first was characterized by her happily married state. Her husband was called Ulf and he was Governor of an important district of the Kingdom of Sweden. The marriage lasted for 28 years, until Ulf’s death. Eight children were born, the second of whom, Karin (Catherine), is venerated as a Saint. This is an eloquent sign of Bridget’s dedication to her children’s education. Moreover, King Magnus of Sweden so appreciated her pedagogical wisdom that he summoned her to Court for a time, so that she could introduce his young wife, Blanche of Namur, to Swedish culture. Bridget, who was given spiritual guidance by a learned religious who initiated her into the study of the Scriptures, exercised a very positive influence on her family which, thanks to her presence, became a true “domestic church”. Together with her husband she adopted the Rule of the Franciscan Tertiaries. She generously practiced works of charity for the poor; she also founded a hospital. At his wife’s side Ulf’s character improved and he advanced in the Christian life. On their return from a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, which they made in 1341 with other members of the family, the couple developed a project of living in continence; but a little while later, in the tranquillity of a monastery to which he had retired, Ulf’s earthly life ended. This first period of Bridget’s life helps us to appreciate what today we could describe as an authentic “conjugal spirituality”: together, Christian spouses can make a journey of holiness sustained by the grace of the sacrament of Marriage. It is often the woman, as happened in the life of St Bridget and Ulf, who with her religious sensitivity, delicacy and gentleness succeeds in persuading her husband to follow a path of faith. I am thinking with gratitude of the many women who, day after day, illuminate their families with their witness of Christian life, in our time too. May the Lord’s Spirit still inspire holiness in Christian spouses today, to show the world the beauty of marriage lived in accordance with the Gospel values: love, tenderness, reciprocal help, fruitfulness in begetting and in raising children, openness and solidarity to the world and participation in the life of the Church.

The second period of Bridget’s life began when she was widowed. She did not consider another marriage in order to deepen her union with the Lord through prayer, penance and charitable works. Therefore Christian widows too may find in this Saint a model to follow. In fact, upon the death of her husband, after distributing her possessions to the poor — although she never became a consecrated religious — Bridget settled near the Cistercian Monastery of Alvastra. Here began the divine revelations that were to accompany her for the rest of her life. Bridget dictated them to her confessors-secretaries, who translated them from Swedish into Latin and gathered them in eight volumes entitled Revelationes (Revelations). A supplement followed these books called, precisely,Revelationes extravagantes (Supplementary revelations).

St Bridget’s Revelations have a very varied content and style. At times the revelations are presented in the form of dialogues between the divine Persons, the Virgin, the Saints and even demons; they are dialogues in which Bridget also takes part. At other times, instead, a specific vision is described; and in yet others what the Virgin Mary reveals to her concerning the life and mysteries of the Son. The value of St Bridget’s Revelations, sometimes the object of criticism Venerable John Paul II explained in his Letter Spes Aedificandi: “The Church, which recognized Bridget’s holiness without ever pronouncing on her individual revelations, has accepted the overall authenticity of her interior experience” (n. 5). Indeed, reading these Revelations challenges us on many important topics. For example, the description of Christ’s Passion, with very realistic details, frequently recurs. Bridget always had a special devotion to Christ’s Passion, contemplating in it God’s infinite love for human beings. She boldly places these words on the lips of the Lord who speaks to her: “O my friends, I love my sheep so tenderly that were it possible I would die many other times for each one of them that same death I suffered for the redemption of all” (Revelationes, Book I, c. 59). The sorrowful motherhood of Mary, which made her Mediatrix and Mother of Mercy, is also a subject that recurs frequently in the Revelations.

In receiving these charisms, Bridget was aware that she had been given a gift of special love on the Lord’s part: “My Daughter” — we read in the First Book of Revelations — “I have chosen you for myself, love me with all your heart… more than all that exists in the world” (c. 1). Bridget, moreover, knew well and was firmly convinced that every charism is destined to build up the Church. For this very reason many of her revelations were addressed in the form of admonishments, even severe ones, to the believers of her time, including the Religious and Political Authorities, that they might live a consistent Christian life; but she always reprimanded them with an attitude of respect and of full fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church and in particular to the Successor of the Apostle Peter.

In 1349 Bridget left Sweden for good and went on pilgrimage to Rome. She was not only intending to take part in the Jubilee of the Year 1350 but also wished to obtain from the Pope approval for the Rule of a Religious Order that she was intending to found, called after the Holy Saviour and made up of monks and nuns under the authority of the Abbess. This is an element we should not find surprising: in the Middle Ages monastic foundations existed with both male and female branches, but with the practice of the same monastic Rule that provided for the Abbess’ direction. In fact, in the great Christian tradition the woman is accorded special dignity and — always based on the example of Mary, Queen of Apostles — a place of her own in the Church, which, without coinciding with the ordained priesthood is equally important for the spiritual growth of the Community. Furthermore, the collaboration of consecrated men and women, always with respect for their specific vocation, is of great importance in the contemporary world. In Rome, in the company of her daughter Karin, Bridget dedicated herself to a life of intense apostolate and prayer. And from Rome she went on pilgrimage to various Italian Shrines, in particular to Assisi, the homeland of St Francis for whom Bridget had always had great devotion. Finally, in 1371, her deepest desire was crowned: to travel to the Holy Land, to which she went accompanied by her spiritual children, a group that Bridget called “the friends of God”. In those years the Pontiffs lived at Avignon, a long way from Rome: Bridget addressed a heartfelt plea to them to return to the See of Peter, in the Eternal City. She died in 1373, before Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome definitively.

If you would like to take a dip into the Revelations, they are here in various formats. Even a quick look at the pertinent section will disabuse you of the fantasy problems in the Church are a recent development, if you still believed that…

(Mostly a repost from 2014. Sorry. Lazy.)

She was, after the Blessed Virgin herself, the most widely-venerated saint of the Medieval period, and July 22 is her feast day.

As Pope St. Gregory the Great said of her (as is quoted in the Office of Readings today)

 We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.
  At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.
  Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.
  Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognised when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognise me as I recognise you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognises who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher,because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.
I wrote a book about St. Mary Magdalene, rather horrendously titled De-Coding Mary Magdalene (an allusion to the previous DVC-related book…I argued against it, but…lost)…but I did enjoy researching and writing the book – the history of MM’s cultus is quite revealing about both Western and Eastern Christianity. The Da Vinci Code moment has mercifully past, but I hope St. Mary Magdalene’s hasn’t.

Today is the feast day of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, a Capuchin who lived in the Counter-Reformation period.

His story offers the open-minded an opportunity to learn more about the course and form of the Church throughout the ages and the varied forms that sanctity takes….

The best brief-ish biography I found of this saint is, not surprisingly on a Capuchin site. Here. 

Language scholar, humanist, philosopher, theologian, biblicist, preacher, missionary, professor, international administrator, confidant of Popes, Emperors, Kings and Princes, diplomatic envoy, army chaplain, military strategist and morale builder, polemicist, prolific writer – these are but some of the key skills and professional assets you might find on the CV of Julius Caesar Russo.Few modern multinational corporations would not vie to have this practical academic, influential publicist and versatile polyglot as part of their dream team.

But career chosen by this gifted sixteenth century man involved becoming part of a different kind of dream team, an alternative dream team, namely the ‘troubadours of the King of Heaven’ founded by Saint Francis of Assisi and called ‘the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor’. As part of this band of Brothers and as their servant-leader, he travelled barefoot all over Europe and founded churches and religious houses throughout the Holy Roman Empire. He evangelized and encouraged people. When necessary, corrected them while always inspiring them.  He washed dishes and said Mass humbly. He prayed almost incessantly and he willingly lent a listening ear to his Brothers and to all who turned to him for help. In the end, he would die among strangers, while undertaking a mission of mercy far from his native land. This epitome of a Renaissance man, this multi-talented genius and learned Capuchin Brother was none other than Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, one-time Vicar General of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor.

Beatified by Pope Pius VI in 1783, he was canonized by Pope Leo XIII on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 1881, and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1959 by Blessed Pope John XXIII. At the command of the King of Spain, his body is enshrined in the monastery church of the Discalced Franciscan Sisters at Villafranca del Bierzo in Galicia, Spain.

The basics:

  • Born in Brindisi, Italy and named “Julius Caesar” by his father!
  • Both parents died fairly early, he became associated with the Franciscans and then with their branch the Capuchins.
  • A brilliant student known for his mastery of languages, including Hebrew, a rare feat at that time.
  • An accomplished preacher, who, in the Franciscan model, traveled widely.

Brother Lawrence prepared his preaching through prolonged prayer and penance, meditating for hours on the Gospel before preaching a homily. The following quotation may help to give us an insight into how Brother Lawrence’s studied the scriptures, going beyond the literal meaning to the deeper spiritual meaning. The text also gives us a taste of his style of preaching. “When Christ decided to give sight to a man, blind from birth, he placed mud in the man’s eyes – an action that was much more suited to blinding those who see than giving sight to the blind who could not see! So too the Passion and Death of Christ was more likely to destroy the faith of those who believed that He was the Only-begotten Son of God than to commend faith to non-believers. Christ came into this world to do battle with Satan, to turn the world to faith and the true worship of God. He could have accomplished this by using the weapons of His Might and coming as He will come to judge – in glory and majesty just as he manifested himself in his Transfiguration. Who would not then have believed in Christ? But in order that His Victory might be the more glorious, He willed to fight Satan in our weak flesh. It is as if an unarmed man, right hand bound, were to fight with his left hand alone against a powerful army. If he emerged victorious, his victory would be regarded as all the more glorious. So Christ conquered Satan with the Right Hand of His Divinity bound and used against him only the Left Hand of his weak Humanity.”

Already in 1599, three years prior to his election as General Vicar, Brother Lawrence was sent to Austria and the present-day Czech Republic as a missionary to establish the Order in those lands and help buttress the Catholic faith against the constant onslaught of Protestantism. Taking with him with him twelve other Brothers, some of whom had German roots, he established local Fraternities at Vienna, Prague, and Graz a city of in south-east Austria. When the Brothers arrived in Prague they first lived in a hospital caring for the plague victims and preaching to the locals on Sundays and other Church festivals. Their sermons were effective in touching the hearts of many lukewarm Catholics who returned to the practice of the Faith. But at the same time they also were met with derision, which turned at times to life-threatening violence, from Protestants and hostile lapsed Catholics. The citizens scoffed at their poor dress-sense and the fact they went around in their bare feet. Their long beards too became the subject of mockery. Lutheran soldiers in the Imperial Army would call Brother Lawrence “the Wolf-monk’. On another occasion, a Protestant mob tried to push Brother Lawrence off a bridge in Prague and throw him into the river below. But he was rescued at the last minute by the Papal Nuncio’s nephew who happened to be passing by in the company of some of his friends.

Varied Evangelizing Approaches Adapted to Meet Local Needs
In the lands ruled by the Habsburg Emperors at the time there were Anti-Catholics, Non-Catholics, wavering Catholics and pious Catholics; some lived in thriving cities, others lived in isolated country farmhouses. Different audiences required different evangelizing methods. So Capuchins would use what they called “Apostolic Missions’ to visit the country people in their homes or work places and teach them the basic truths of the faith. In the cities they promoted devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and especially the devotion of ‘Forty Hours Adoration’ as well as setting up penitent confraternities dedicated to honouring the Passion and Death of Christ. Brother Lawrence relished every opportunity to engage Protestant Pastors in lively debate and used his writings to persuasively convince them and their adherents of their mistaken way of thinking. Seeing that this mission band was very successful, a new band of Capuchin missionaries was invited to help out. Blessed Benedict to Urbino was one of this second group of missionaries.As Provincial Vicar of Venice, Brother Lawrence began establishing a chain of Capuchin friaries connecting Venice, Trent, and the Tyrol. With an influx of native vocations, these houses of presence and mission would later mushroom, becoming in time six independent Provinces of the Capuchin Order.

  • He engaged with secular leaders at many levels for many purposes.
  • And then…there is that battle:

In 1601 the large Turkish army invaded the lands of the Holy Roman Emperor and were threatening to overrun the Habsburg-ruled lands before going to Rome to stable their horses in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Pope and Emperor were alarmed and patched together an army to block the Turkish threat. Brother Lawrence’s skills as a diplomat were used to cement together a Christian allied force which also included Protestants. At the Emperor’s request Capuchins served as army chaplains to the soldiers and Lawrence was among those appointed. However the small and badly equipped Imperial forces were no match for the invading Turkish army which with 80,000 men was more than four times larger than the 18,000 Christian soldiers who tried to block them.

At the The Battle of Székesfehérvár in Hungary the hopelessly outnumbered Christian army’s field commanders counselled retreat. but Brother Lawrence would not hear of this. Instead he urged the Imperial Forces on to victory, encouraging the flagging soldiers with his fiery words and personally leading the army into the thick of battle with his cross raised aloft for all to see. “Advance! Advance! Victory is ours!” he shouted over and over again and in the end a revitalized Christian army totally routed the Turks. Even the Lutheran soldiers were impressed by this and Brother Lawrence’s morale-boosting efforts were deemed pivotal in snatching a surprising last minute major victory over the invading Turkish forces.

In this noble and excellent two things are especially outstanding: his apostolic zeal, and his mastery of doctrine. He taught with his word, he instructed with his pen, he fought with both. Not deeming it enough to withdraw into himself, and dedicate himself to prayer and study in the refuge of his monastery, and occupy himself only with domestic matters, he leaped forth as if he could not contain the force of his spirit, wounded with the love of Christ and his brothers. Speaking from many pulpits about Christian dogma, about morals, the divine writings, and the virtues of the denizens of heaven, he spurred Catholics on to devotion, and moved those who had been swallowed up by the filth of their sins to wash away their crimes, and undertake the emendation of their lives. … outside the sacred precincts, when preaching to those who those who lacked the true religion, he defended it wisely and fearlessly; in meetings with Jews and heretics, he stood as the standard-bearer of the Roman church, and persuaded many to renounce and foreswear the opinions of false teaching. …

In the three volumes called “A Sketch of Lutheranism” (Lutheranismi hypotyposis), this defender of the Catholic law, mighty in his great learning, seeks to disabuse the people of the errors which the heretical teachers had spread. Therefore, those who treat of the sacred disciples, and especially those who seek to expound and defend the catholic faith, have in him the means to nourish their minds, to instruct themselves for the defense and persuasion of the truth, and to prepare themselves to work for the salvation of others. If they follow this author who eradicate errors, who made clear what was obscure or doubtful, they may know they walk upon a sure path.

With a fine theological sensitivity, Lawrence of Brindisi also pointed out the Holy Spirit’s action in the believer’s life. He reminds us that the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity illumines and assists us with his gifts in our commitment to live joyously the Gospel message.

“The Holy Spirit”, St Lawrence wrote, “sweetens the yoke of the divine law and lightens its weight, so that we may observe God’s commandments with the greatest of ease and even with pleasure”.

I would like to complete this brief presentation of the life and doctrine of St Lawrence of Brindisi by underlining that the whole of his activity was inspired by great love for Sacred Scripture, which he knew thoroughly and by heart, and by the conviction that listening to and the reception of the word of God produces an inner transformation that leads us to holiness.

“The word of the Lord”, he said, “is a light for the mind and a fire for the will, so that man may know and love God. For the inner man, who lives through the living grace of God’s Spirit, it is bread and water, but bread sweeter than honey and water better than wine or milk…. It is a weapon against a heart stubbornly entrenched in vice. It is a sword against the flesh, the world and the devil, to destroy every sin”.

St Lawrence of Brindisi teaches us to love Sacred Scripture, to increase in familiarity with it, to cultivate daily relations of friendship with the Lord in prayer, so that our every action, our every activity, may have its beginning and its fulfilment in him. This is the source from which to draw so that our Christian witness may be luminous and able to lead the people of our time to God.

The sketch offered here is just that…a sketch.  Go to the Capuchin site I linked above for more, or this one – is also good.

I think the life and proclaimed sanctity of St. Lawrence of Brindisi, even as sketched here, points out the inadequacy of some approaches to the Catholic questions and issues.

It is easy, it seems, to read the Gospels and proclaim:  Engaging with power is bad. War is bad. Simplicity is good. Tolerance is good. Embrace. Mercy. Welcome. 

But read this saint’s story carefully. A man who apparently found it not at contradictory to give himself to Christ, hold up St. Francis of Assisi as the emblematic disciple, devote himself to attempt to convert – not simply dialogue with – non-Christians and non-Catholics, move among the corridors of power, minister to the powerful, and inspire an army to go to battle.

Does that fit with what you’ve been hearing about what a “true Christian” does and doesn’t do?

This is why simplistic, The Gospels – n – Me – n- the Holy Spirit Today – doesn’t work.  It can’t coherently account for the complexity of Catholic history because there’s no systematic thinking brought to the table.  There is certainly plenty of space to talk about the shape of the Church and the vision of sanctity through the centuries, but without principles and systematic thinking, we really have nowhere to go.  Simplistic, idealistic thinking cuts us off from the breadth, depth, complexity and even ambiguity of human history and Christ’s church and saints within that history and offers us only the present moment in however those in authority choose to frame the present moment.

Oh…and slightly off topic, as I was reading, a concise expression of how saints deal with church office and authority came to me.

Saints don’t seek office; they seek mission. 

(And the hard part for most saints happens when the mission comes in the form of an office.)

(If you’d like a quick, interesting read – go to archive.org and check out this short book called The Saints of 1881 written by a British priest, about the saints canonized by Leo XIII that year.  Catholic publishing – always looking to build on current events, even then!)

I attended Vanderbilt for my MA.   I was in the graduate school, but my classes were in Vanderbilt Divinity School. (Difference?  I was going for an MA in Church History, not an M.Div – a professional degree. So, Graduate School, not Div School). Most of my classmates were being educated for ministry in some Protestant denomination, mostly Methodist (Vanderbilt being an historically Methodist school) or Lutheran.

One afternoon, I was talking to a friend, a woman who was a Lutheran seminarian.  I cannot remember what seminar we were taking together, but the topic of our conversation was the paper for the course. What would we write about?  We ran over topics, we mused, we discussed.

And what struck me, and what sticks in my mind almost 30 years (!) later  – it’s so weird that I can remember even that we were standing in an office of some sort, talking –  was her end of the conversation. As I said, I don’t remember which class this was, but every possible paper topic she considered had, of course, Martin Luther at the center.  Luther’s views on……Whatever topic as seen through the prism of Luther’s thoughts….     Understanding X in the context of Luther’s writings on Galatians….

And I thought…

How boring.

How boring to have your Christianity defined by the perspective of one theologian who lived in one tiny corner of Christian history. 

(Sorry, Lutherans!)

I’ve thought of that often in the years since, as I’ve been grateful for the dynamic, if sometimes fraught diversity of Catholicism,which simply reflects the reality of what happens when the Word becomes Flesh.  In the Catholic context, it’s most clearly seen, of course, in religious orders, all of which have different – sometimes radically different – charisms and spiritual sensibilities, but co-exist in the awareness that the body as many parts: Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, Jesuits, Cistercians, active orders of women and men….etc.

So it has been over the past two years that I have marveled at some people’s insistence that Pope Francis, in his priorities and public expressions, defines  – or is in the process of redefining Catholicism. What? Actually, that’s not supposed to be the way it is – Catholicism is supposed to define him, as is the case with all of us.  Five tips for happiness from Pope Francis. How can bishops and priests be more like Pope Francis? Following Pope Francis this Lent…..Want to live like Pope Francis?

There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by the particular charism and angle of a particular figure – of course! I certainly am!  A particular figure can help us draw closer to Jesus and the Church, certainly – that person can be our grandmother, our friend, a pastor, a friend, a writer or mystic, an activist or the Pope.  We can see something in that person that sparks us to take a closer look at Christ.

At Christ. 

Just as is the case with religious orders, so it is with saints. As far as I’m concerned, children’s religious education could be totally designed around the lives and thoughts of the saints – you get it all – spiritual formation, history, theology, ecclesiology, liturgy. Boom.

So here are the major saints from this week’s calendar – a typical week, really, expressing the diversity of Christ’s Church and the generous way in which God’s grace permeates all of life, at every stage, in every walk of life and every type of person.  We have men and women, clergy, secular rulers, mystics, martyrs and a fisherman.

These saints  would certainly welcome you, advise you to the best of their ability, teach you, listen to you, pray with you and be glad that you were inspired by some element of their life and thinking, but would also be horrified to think that you might be defining your Christian faith by their particular spiritual path rather than that of Christ through His Church.  Because, you know, that’s humility. Real humility, which understands when stuff is becoming to much about yourself and your personal vision and in humility – backs off.

In most of these images, the gaze of the saints is certainly fixed, and in their example, they invite us to look, not at them, but with them.

"amy welborn"

July 20: Apolinnaris

July 21: Lawrence of Brindisi, Doctor of the Church

July 22: Mary Magdalene

July 23: Bridget of Sweden

July 24: Charbel Maklhouf

July 25: James, Apostle

Come back every day this week for a bit more on each of these saints. 

Sheep

Today’s Gospel:

The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. Then he said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But people saw them going, and many could guess where; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.

B16, Angelus, 7/22/2012:

The Word of God this Sunday presents us once again with a fundamental, ever fascinating theme of the Bible; it reminds us that God is the Shepherd of humanity. This means that God wants life for us, he wants to guide us to good pastures where we can be nourished and rest. He does not want us to be lost and to perish, but to reach the destination of our journey which is the fullness of life itself. This is what every father and mother desires for their children: their good, their happiness and their fulfilment.

In today’s Gospel Jesus presents himself as the Shepherd of the lost sheep of the House of Israel. He beholds the people, so to speak, with a “pastoral” gaze. For example, this Sunday’s Gospel says: As he disembarked, “he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34). Jesus embodies God the Shepherd with his manner of preaching and his works, caring for the sick and sinners, for those who are “lost” (cf. Lk 19:10), in order to bring them back to safety through the Father’s mercy.

Among the “lost sheep” that Jesus rescued there was also a woman called Mary, a native of the village of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, who for this reason was known as “Magdalene”. It is her liturgical Memorial in the Church Calendar of today. Luke the Evangelist says that Jesus cast out seven demons from her (cf. Lk 8:2), that is, he saved her from total enslavement to the Evil One. In what does this profound healing which God works through Jesus consist? It consists in true, complete peace, brought about by the inner reconciliation of the person, as well as in every other relationship: with God, with other people and with the world. Indeed, the Evil One always seeks to spoil God’s work, sowing division in the human heart, between body and soul, between the individual and God, in interpersonal, social and international relations, as well as between human beings and creation. The Evil One sows discord; God creates peace. Indeed, as St Paul says, Christ is our peace, he who made us both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh (cf. Eph 2:14).

In order to carry out this work of radical reconciliation Jesus the Good Shepherd had to become a Lamb, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Only in this way could he keep the marvellous promise of the Psalm: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me / all the days of my life; / and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord / for ever” (Ps 23[22]:6).

Dear friends, these words make our heart beat fast for they express our deepest desire, they say what we are made for: life, eternal life! These are the words of those who, like Mary Magdalene, have experienced God in their life and know his peace. They are words truer than ever on the lips of the Virgin Mary, who already lives for eternity in the pastures of Heaven where the Shepherd-Lamb led her. Mary, Mother of Christ our peace, pray for us!

(The) Grand Canyon

One of the many things I learned on this trip was that if you are really in the know, you leave out the “the” – which makes sense, you know, since it’s called “Grand” not because it’s big, but because the Colorado River used to be called the Grand River.  And you don’t say “The Bryce Canyon” or “The Cloudland Canyon.”

So we’re all cool now, because we say “Yes, we went to Grand Canyon.”

(Not really)

As I think I said before, it really is Grand, no matter why it’s named.  All of my anticipatory cynicism was blown away by the real thing.  But because this series has gone on just too ridiculously long, I’m going to finish up the Grand Canyon portion – Sunday, May 24 to the morning of Tuesday, May 26 – as succinctly as I can.

Bullet points!

  • Our Sunday route, as I explained before, was a rather convoluted one from our AirBnB near Fredonia, Arizona, back up to Kanab, Utah for Mass, and then back down to the Grand Canyon. We stopped at the Jacob Lake Inn, which has a famous bakery, bought some baked goods, saw snow (the North Rim Lodge had opened on the 15th..in the midst of snowfall)  and at that point, it was still a little early.  As I recall, it was before noon, and we couldn’t count on getting in our rooms until four, and we would have a full day tomorrow and as much time as we wanted on Tuesday for the Canyon, I decided to take a little detour – to the Vermillion Cliffs.
  • All we did was drive (I had bought the boys sandwiched at the Jacob Lake Bakery, so they had sustenance..after having risen at, um, 6:30 AM or whatever it was. But it was a stunning drive.  There’s a point at which you pull around a curve on 89A, having just driven through woods – you see an overlook, and beyond you, to the north, you see them. 
  • We drove down and around a bit, but there was really nothing to “do” in the area in which we drove except be amazed, and I’m the only one who can sustain that for longer periods of time, so early afternoon, we turned around and headed back.
  • Remember, we were at the North Rim. The entrance to the park is about 12 miles or so from the Lodge. You drive and drive – hoping to see the famed bison and deer in the meadows (we didn’t – they are probably active at night) – and finally you’re there.
  • We checked in, got into our room even though it was a little early, took in that first amazing view from the lounge in the Lodge, and then got into our cabin, which I liked a lot. (See this entry for more on the accomodations a lot )
  • Then our first “hike” – the ritual Bright Angel Trail hike. This begins at the Lodge, is paved, and follows a short portion of the rim out to Bright Angel Point, which juts into the Canyon.  Along the way are various other jutting points, unguarded, on which people like to stand and do daring things.  I was nervous just watching people I didn’t know pull these stunts.

  • After a dinner of pretty good pizza from the café, we settled in for the night. I went to do laundry at the campsite, the boys took a screen break.
  • The next day, we drove and walked. You can see a lot of the North Rim via driving to various points, and considering the North Rim is less visited, and it was quite early in the season, it was very easy to do – efficient!
  • We first drove down the Cape Royal Road – this is a great outline of the drive, giving you all the stopping points. When we stopped at the Cape Final parking lot, I’d thought we might do that hike, which is pretty long – but then my 14-year old said, “Why don’t we just walk up that hill over there?”

So we did:

They spent a lot of time searching the rocks.  The older boy found a geode early on, so the competition was on….

This was also the parking lot where I backed into a small pine tree that jump behind my car. I took a bit of paint off and left some tar.  I worked hard to get that tar off before I dropped car off and waited for several weeks for some demand for restitution, but apparently either there were enough other scratches on the bumper or those car rental agencies in Las Vegas are used to cars being returned in much, much worse shape than with a quarter-sized patch of paint missing….

  • It’s a great drive, and the odd thing is that even though you think, “Why do I want to stop and see the Grand Canyon from different viewpoints? I mean…is it really that different every time?” Answer: yes.
  • As I recall, after all of that, we returned to the Lodge for lunch. Sandwiches, which were good and not outrageously priced.  After that, a bit of a rest, then back on the road.  We drove to the parking lot for the North Kaibab Trailhead – this is one of the trails that goes into the canyon and by gosh, we were going to do it!  We wouldn’t, of course, go all the way to the canyon bottom, but I wanted to attempt to get to the Supai Tunnel (are you laughing yet?) – four mile round trip.  It would be our only activity for the rest of the day…..
  • I’ll add at this point that I was annoyed that the visitor information in the Ranger station didn’t tell us much about this trail. The information was certainly there for the asking, but it wasn’t being suggested – but why? Why were they holding back? What did they think we were? Wimps from East of the Mississippi?
  • It didn’t take long for me to figure out why, in fact, this trail wasn’t pushed on the casual hiker. It’s hard for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, it’s really hard coming back up. Because, of course, you’re coming up the canyon walls. As it turned out, we got to Coconino Overlook (.7 mile down) and that was enough. We all agreed that the hike back up was going to be challenging enough at that point, and we had no need to triple the distance. We couldn’t even.
  • The second reason is that this trail is also used by the mules. You also share trails with mules and horses at Bryce, but there’s a difference:  Bryce is dry and deserty, and the trails are wider, sandy and gravel-y.  The North Kaibab trail is narrow, is in forest and is mostly dirt, which means in the spring it is muddy and also that the animals have no room to do their business (which they do frequently on the trail rides) except on the trail.  It was kind of a mess. It was a pretty gross mess at times, with no way to avoid it all except by stepping into Grand Canyon.
  • Despite the relative difficulty and the mess, I’m glad we did what we did – I would hate to have gone without hiked even just a bit down into the canyon.
  • Finally, we headed up to Imperial point. You could see so much of the canyon, plus so much of what lay to the north, including the Vermillion Cliffs.

And that was it….you can see that even if you’re not a big hiker, you can easily see what the North Rim has to offer in a (long) day.  I suppose it’s a copout for the backcountry folks, but that’s not us, and I although I harbor thoughts of someday, if I stay healthy and in shape, attempting a Rim-to-Rim, I was very satisfied with what we experienced in a day and a half.

Next up: Ranger Jake!

— 1 —

Here’s some fun news!  Diana von Glahn, aka The Faithful Traveler, is starting a daily radio show on Real Life Radio. 

And every Friday…I’ll be on it!

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We’ll be talking about traveling with children/family travel, etc….the show begins on August 3, so be sure to tune in – we’ve recorded our first segment already and it was a lot of fun.  I’m really looking forward to working with Diana on this project. 

— 2 —

Speaking of travel….(you knew this was coming)….

We had a great day visiting Warm Springs, Georgia. 

Warm Springs, of course, is the site of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House.

It’s in east-central Georgia, and we’re in centralish Alabama, so you’d think we’d have visited sooner.  Well, it’s not that quick of a trip from Birmingham, really.  It took a little over 2 ½ hours to get there, on a path that took us on I-20, then down exit 205 through all kinds of nice places – and I mean that.  Take a look at this lovely Art Deco theater in Manchester, Georgia.

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When I had envisioned this trip, uh, two days ago, I had thought we would be able to cram a lot more in that we did.   And perhaps if we’d left at 7 am rather than 8, we would have, but darn that  change to the Eastern Time Zone.  I’d thought we might run through Columbus and hit the Infantry Museum, or maybe get to Albany’s Chehaw Park Zoo (small, it says, but free w/our Birmingham Zoo membership, so why not) or their little river-themed aquarium but because we got a later start and because Warm Springs took longer – in a good way – than I’d anticipated – all that will have to wait.

(Also in later trips to the area will be Andersonville, although that will be tough – I’ve been there, and it’s so very sad and awful…so maybe in a couple of years – and in a more hopeful theme, the Habitat for Humanity headquarters in Americus. )

And the Jimmy Carter stuff?

Nah.

SO…what did we see.

— 3—

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Here’s the basics:  FDR heard about the perhaps healing properties of the springs in 1924.  He visited, fell in love with the area, began coming regularly, and soon after used a big chunk of his own fortune to purchase a by then-dilapidated resort hotel and 1200 acres around the springs, with the intention of building a rehabilitation facility.  It grew into a large, wonderful institution, which, even more wonderfully, outlived its usefulness for polio patients with the advent of the polio vaccine in 1955.  At the point it transitioned into offering services for people with a wide range of disabilities, which it still does today.  It seemed pretty busy on our visit. 

FDR had a small (6-room) house built nearby, which is of course, where he died on April 12, 1945 after suffering a stroke while having his portrait painted.  The famous photograph of the man with a tear-streaked face playing the accordion as FDR’s body passed by? That happened in front of Georgia Hall, the main building at the Warm Springs center.

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We began there, at Georgia Hall, and took a brief, self guided walking tour of the quadrangle.  Most of the original buildings are not used for their original purposes, since, of course, there are no more polio patients, and I am not even sure if they have long-term residential patients.

(Forgive the quality of some of these photographs.  I got increasingly irritated with my camera because it seemed as if the lens were dirty.  I kept wiping it clean, but the pictures still looked fuzzy.  WHY?  Maybe because you had inadvertently pushed the scene selector to “soft” – that’s why.)

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In the quadrangle.  What you see is an area with stairs, and ground composed of various materials to give patients practice in walking on different surfaces. 

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This was the children’s solarium.  When it was in use, it had a ceiling-high birdcage in the center. 

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“Polio Hall of Fame” – busts of researchers and others instrumental in the fight against the disease. 

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The chapel was locked, but I got this shot through a window.  There is extra space in the front for room for wheelchairs and gurneys. FDR last attend a service here on Easter Sunday a couple of weeks before he died. 

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Again, through a window.  This is an indoor pool that was constructed for patients for whom transportation down the hill to the outdoor pools was too difficult.  

— 4 —

The historic pools:

(In addition to the actual pools, there is a small exhibit in the building.  The admission to the Little White House includes admission to the pools. There is no cost to tour the rehabilitation facility.)

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The pools are empty, of course, but spring water comes up in a fountain on one end.  Forgive the soft focus!!!

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— 5 —

The Little White House...first a small, very good museum that gave a good overview of FDR’s life in general and in relation to Warm Springs.  Many personal artifacts on display including a couple of wheelchairs and braces.

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People sent FDR canes as gifts…

FDR last portrait

That final portrait…fuzzy.

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The dining area – it is really one big space with the living room below.  It’s a dogtrot design, with the path between these two spaces extending between a back patio and the front foyer and front door. That’s the easel on which the portrait was sitting. 

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— 6 —

Afterwards, we headed about 7 miles out of town, up Pine Mountain to Dowdell Knob – a wonderful overlook where FDR enjoyed coming and even hosting barbecues.  (That stone structure is the grill, filled in so people won’t mess with it. The placard said that the “picnics” were served on cloth-covered tablecloths with china and glassware.)

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There’s also a statue of FDR there, which you can see at the link.

— 7 —

Not done yet!  Also in Warm Springs is a National Fish Hatchery.  There’s a teeny-tiny aquarium with some gar and bass and such and an explanation of the Hatchery’s purpose and work.  There are display pools with fish you can feed, and one with an alligator….

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Then down to Albany where we saw the Ray Charles Memorial…very musical! Also very, very buggy – I was going to try to go to Radium Springs – it sounded interesting – but at 96 degrees,  I scratched the prospect of exploring more bug-infested waters and we moved on….

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

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