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I won’t do a reading/watching/listening digest today – how about a trip digest instead?Or perhaps a museum digest, for that is what this amounts to, I think.

This past weekend, we headed up Kansas City way for my older son to take a second look img_20181006_140933at Benedictine. We attended a Raven Day last fall when he was a junior, but now as a senior, he’s been accepted there for next year (as well as three other schools) and we thought it would be good for him to experience it as a seriously potential student – spend the night in a dorm, and so on.

I was originally going to drive up, as we did last year, but then I thought…why? It’s a solid 11-hour drive from here, which is comparable to what I used to do when my daughter attended William and Mary, and I didn’t mind doing it last fall – we saw Sights along the way and back , but for this three day weekend, I decided…nope. We’re flying.

(I lived in Lawrence for five years of my childhood – so this was a familiar sight.)

So, in and out of Birmingham with pretty reasonable fares. We left early Saturday morning, arrived in Kansas City about 1, rented a car and made our way down to, first, the College Basketball Experience for people to stretch their legs, then to a barbecue place for people to watch the Gators, and then to our hotel down in the Country Club district, which is this quite lovely early 20th century faux Spanish/Italianate shopping area. I’d booked this hotel, envisioning an evening of wandering around, but rain interfered with that plan – so there was some walking, but not much and it was wet.

(Note: the College Basketball experience is not worth the money. I guess if you are local and are having a birthday party, it might be, but not for a visitor – there just wasn’t enough to do.)

Sunday morning, youngest son and I went to Mass at the closest church (older son would be going with students in the evening), which just happened to be an FSSP parish. It was very interesting – a small church and packed for the 9 am low Mass (one of three Sunday Masses celebrated there) We didn’t hang around, but the people we encountered were friendly and welcoming and, yes, normal, in case you’re wondering. A majority of the women wore veils, but when I say “majority” I mean over half – by no means all. But veils are becoming an increasingly common sight at my own Cathedral parish, so that’s no big deal to our eyes at this point. Since it was low Mass, there was no music, of course. The church is beautiful and charming, but wow, it’s small and they could definitely use a larger facility.

img_20181007_123746Next stop, after checking out of the hotel, was at Winstead’s Steakburgers for a solid breakfast, then right up the road to the absolutely wonderful Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. What a treasure – with free admission, to boot. (Parking in the garage costs $10….)

I was very impressed with the collection, and we probably only took in a third of it (I’m thinking we’ll be back in the area regularly over the next five years, so…no pressure). I’ve put images of some of my favorites below with a bit of commentary.  You should be able to click on every image and get a larger one.

I didn’t know this about Rouault – that he had been apprenticed as a stained glass artist. You can see it.

I was moved by the descriptive note on this Manet. It prompted me to consider, once more, all the poor excuses I make….

On the far left, the work of a local artist, Wilbur Niewald, whose work I loved. It’s interesting that his work has become more representational over the decades – this is an early work called Facade I.  On the right is a fabulous lectern support – description in the middle. The fellow is struggle with the serpent, bracing himself, his clunky feet pointed inward.

On the far left, with note next to it, is an aquamanile – a water vessel used for ceremonial purposes, either secular or religious. Then a gorgeous terra cotta Madonna and Child (and others) from Tuscany. I didn’t take a photo of it, but the explanatory note was very good, explaining the symbolism of the various fruits on the border and even the frogs that are scattered in the group (a symbol of resurrection). On the far right, a small Bosch that was part of an exhibit about the layers in paintings. 

A wonderful and pretty large Asian collection. Enlarge that top left photo and see why I found it so enchanting – it flows with gentle, steady energy, and the figure embodies quiet joy. To the right up there is detail of a Jain chapel, then we have an amazingly thin jade disc with dragons and a wild Chinese funerary figure.

Also from China was the amazing statue I highlighted yesterday – from the 6th century: “Central Asian Caravan Woman Rousing her Camel While Nursing.” The best.

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Finally, these two John Singer Sargents – the top one, at least, is a study – not sure about the bottom. Both are completely absorbing.

All right then…

Then to the excellent and quite interesting museum dedicated to what’s been salvaged from the sunken Arabia steamboat. From the museum’s website:

The Arabia Steamboat Museum is a unique Kansas City attraction: a time capsule of life on the American frontier in the mid-nineteenth century.  It is not your typical museum.  Visitors have the one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience the everyday objects that made life possible for pioneers in the 1800s.  It is the largest single collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world.

The Steamboat Arabia was one of many casualties of the perilous Missouri River.  The Mighty Missouri, as it was often called, is the longest river in the United States and has claimed nearly 400 other steamboats over its 2,500 mile course.  In September 1856, the Arabia was carrying over 200 tons of cargo intended for general stores and homes in 16 mid-western frontier towns.  The steamer was still fully loaded when it hit a tree snag and sank just 6 miles west of Kansas City.  Due to erosion, the Missouri River changed course over time, and the Arabia was buried underground for over a century – along with all of its precious cargo. Lying 45-feet deep beneath a Kansas cornfield, the Arabia’s payload was protected from light and oxygen and was thus remarkably well preserved.

Using a metal detector and old maps to guide the search, an amateur archaeologist began the search for the lost steamer.   Located a half-mile from the present river’s course, 5 men and their families would begin the adventure of a lifetime … recovering the Steamboat Arabia.  What they found will astound you.

Being a private museum, it’s not free, but it’s worth every penny of admission. Begin with the tour – it’s very helpful and engaging to have a human being set the event and objects in context. It’s just amazing to be able to walk amid this array of quite ordinary objects, clean and looking as if they could be put to use right now.

(By the way, no human beings died in the accident. The only life lost was a mule.)

We then made our way up to Atchison, with a stop to watch some Vikings football and eat. Once in Atchison, I dropped my older son off on campus, and my younger son and I were able to visit with one of my former students, from ages past, who happens to be married to a Benedictine faculty member – delightful.

Since I’d been to the event last year, I didn’t feel the need to go through it again, so after checking in with the older one on Monday morning, younger son and I headed up to St. Joseph, Missouri. We might have done some nature in one of the local state parks, but it had been raining so much over the past two days and still looked a little threatening, so I thought – I really img_20181008_115443don’t want to tramp around in the mud and wet leaves and perhaps get rained on again – so St. Joseph it was.

What a delightful surprise. A surprise, but not surprising, because every time I travel, even five miles from home, I encounter something new to me, some corner of human life that’s intriguing, a chance to learn about more ways in which human beings do things differently – and are so deeply the same.

This time it was the Patee House Museum – a HUGE local history museum in building originally constructed as a hotel, but over the years used as a women’s college (three different times), headquarters for the Pony Express, the Union Army and, for most of the 20th century, a shirt factory.

It’s now filled – and I mean filled with artifacts from St. Joseph’s history. Much of the downstairs has been divided and fashioned to be like period shops and businesses, other rooms (the ballroom, bathroom, ladies’ parlor and so one) furnished to look as they would have in the hotel’s heyday. There’s a train engine in the former courtyard. Exhibits cover topics like the Pony Express (headquartered here during its short history) and the Buffalo Soldiers. There’s a carousel. And cars. And Walter Cronkite’s father’s dental office equipment. And a piece of rope from the horrible final lynching that happened in the town – in 1933. And just… a lot of stuff.

Well worth the $6 admission.

Next to the Pattee House is the house where Jesse James lived and was shot by the Ford brothers. It’s been moved here from its original location, but it’s also filled with interesting memorabilia from the period and from the exhumation and DNA confirmation that the body was actually Jesse James’. Made me want to read Ron Hansen’s book, which I never have.

Then it was time to head back to Atchison, where we stopped by the river – in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, who rested there on July 4, 1804 and, as the placard said, “ate some corn.”  The head of the music department had kindly responded to my query about M having some practice time, and so we headed up the hill, found the department and he spent an hour getting to play on a nice Steinway baby grand  – very much appreciated!

Cardinal Newman is featured in Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series. As I noted last week in an entry about St. Francis of Assisi, I wrote a prayer/meditation companion book for the series Praying with the Pivotal Players.  Below are pages from a chapter on “The Idea of the University.” Note that this book is designed to aid the reader in personal reflection, so the chapter leads from Newman’s general points to suggestions on how his thought in this area might lead and challenge us in our spiritual growth.

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There are four more chapters on Newman in the book. 

More Newman in a book I’ve had a hand in:

My book Be Saints!  – illustrated by the artist Ann Engelhart – was inspired by a talk to young people that Pope Benedict XVI gave on his visit to England in 2010. 

amy welborn

 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI beatified Newman on that visit. So naturally, on that visit, he had many interesting things to say about him:

In an interview on the plane to England:

He was a man of great spirituality, of humanity, of prayer, with a profound relationship with God, a personal relationship, and hence a deep relationship with the people of his time and ours. So I would point to these three elements: modernity in his life with the same doubts and problems of our lives today; his great culture, his knowledge of the treasures of human culture, openness to permanent search, to permanent renewal and, spirituality, spiritual life, life with God; these elements give to this man an exceptional stature for our time.

At the prayer vigil before the beatification:

Let me begin by recalling that Newman, by his own account, traced the course of his whole life back to a powerful experience of conversion which he had as a young man. It was an immediate experience of the truth of God’s word, of the objective reality of Christian revelation as handed down in the Church. This experience, at once religious and intellectual, would inspire his vocation to be a minister of the Gospel, his discernment of the source of authoritative teaching in the Church of God, and his zeal for the renewal of ecclesial life in fidelity to the apostolic tradition. At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly. The truth that sets us free cannot be kept to ourselves; it calls for testimony, it begs to be heard, and in the end its convincing power comes from itself and not from the human eloquence or arguments in which it may be couched. Not far from here, at Tyburn, great numbers of our brothers and sisters died for the faith; the witness of their fidelity to the end was ever more powerful than the inspired words that so many of them spoke before surrendering everything to the Lord. In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied. And yet, the Church cannot withdraw from the task of proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth, the source of our ultimate happiness as individuals and as the foundation of a just and humane society.

Finally, Newman teaches us that if we have accepted the truth of Christ and committed our lives to him, there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives. Our every thought, word and action must be directed to the glory of God and the spread of his Kingdom. Newman understood this, and was the great champion of the prophetic office of the Christian laity……more.

And then, of course the homily at the Mass:

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).    .…more

This site offers more quotes from Benedict on Newman:

Conscience for Newman does not mean that the subject is the standard vis-à-vis the claims of authority in a truth less world, a world which lives from the compromise between the claims of the subject and the claims of the social order. Even more, conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself. It is the overcoming of mere subjectivity in the encounter of the interiority of man with the truth from God. The verse Newman composed in 1833 in Sicily is characteristic: “I loved to choose and see my path but now, lead thou me on!” Newman’s conversion to Catholicism was not for him a matter of personal taste or of subjective, spiritual need. He expressed himself on this even in 1844, on the threshold, so to speak, of his conversion: “No one can have a more unfavourable view than I of the present state of Roman Catholics.” Newman was much more taken by the necessity to obey recognized truth than his own preferences – even against his own sensitivity and bonds of friendship and ties due to similar backgrounds. It seems to me characteristic of Newman that he emphasized the priority of truth over goodness in the order of virtues. Or, to put it in a way which is more understandable for us, he emphasized truth’s priority over consensus, over the accommodation of groups

 

Seriously.

How can that prize not go to “Central Asian  Caravan Woman Rousing Her Camel While Nursing?”

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From the wonderful Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art  in Kansas City, where we’ve been this weekend.

7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

Heading out for the long weekend, but the weather indicates that rain is going to be a feature of our location, so here’s hoping I do more than sit on a runway on Saturday. As per usual, check Instagram, especially stories, for updates.

 — 2 —

I’ve blogged almost every day this past week about one thing or another, so just click backwards for some more of this kind of thing if you like. In particular, you might be interested in yesterday’s posts on St. Francis of Assisi.

— 3 —

Today’s the feastday of St. Faustina, who’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

 

 

— 4 —

Every other day or so I offer a digest of what I’m reading, watching, listening to and so on. I’ve not read any books since yesterday, but I did read this article – which you should be able to access if you’re interested – on the collapse of early 19th century religious orders in Peru. 

For many years, the sudden collapse of the major religious orders in Peru shortly after independence has interested this author. For the religious orders, Lima had been what it was for the viceroy: the center of the organizational structure for most of the continent with the stately conventos and lavishly endowed churches to attest to the importance of that position. Yet, within a relatively short period, 1826-1830, the grandeur faded and the power disappeared. Why?

And even if you’re not interested…I’ll tell you what interested me. First the tone of the article – published in 1982 and written by Antonine Tibesar, a Franciscan friar and historian – deeply scholarly, but refreshing in its (not surprising) deep understanding of religious life from the inside. Secondly – well, the history – a good thing, since it’s an article about history. What Tibesar is asking is just what the title suggests: in the early 19th century, religious orders collapsed in Peru. Why? Well, the simple and obvious answer is that the Spanish government had been sporadically, but intensely determined to secularize religious orders (that is put the orders out of business and require any man or woman who sought to remain a priest or nun to prove they had a means of support and place themselves under the control of a bishop) and that drive made its way over to the newly independent Peru.

There were other shenanigans, which I can’t quite parse out, perhaps because I’m tired. But in the end, Tibesar blames other religious as much as he does the secular governments for the capitulation.

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And I only go on as long as I have about this as a reminder of the complexities of religious history: that if Catholicism is struggling in Europe and South America – well, it has been struggling, off and on, in often profound ways – for centuries.

— 5 –

A couple of local churchish notes. First, the rector of our Cathedral has made available a booklet he’s put together about baptism in the Extraordinary Form – which is happening more and more down here.  You might find it interesting and useful. 

— 6 —

Secondly, the Church in Russellville, Alabama is experience tremendous growth, people-wise, and needs a building to match. Here’s more at our rector’s blog about it, plus a video about the parish. 

The Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen made a great deal of money through his work on television and the talks and special media appearances he did besides. But one of the (surprising?) things we discover upon studying his life is that not only did he donate most of his earnings to the missions, but he also used some of his funds to build churches in poor areas — including in the South. There are churches in Alabama that were built by Archbishop Sheen! In spite of the celebrity he enjoyed, he lived rather frugally and was quite generous where it mattered the most.

I am not aware of a Fulton Sheen-like person who might help with this current project and great need, but it is similar in scope.  In the small town of Russellville, Alabama(pop. approx. 10,000), there is the parish of the Good Shepherd. Or as many of its parishioners know it — “Buen Pastor”. The town has a large population of Hispanic immigrants, many of whom work in the area chicken processing plants (maybe in the past you’ve eaten some chicken that met its fate in Russellville!). In the past, the church was built with great support from Filipino immigrants. With some exceptions, the Catholic population in Russellville has long had a large immigrant component.

The current church seats 200. Each Sunday, Fr. Vincent Bresowar, its pastor, has to put out chairs wherever he can find the space. Under his good leadership the parish has grown. But he is only one priest: he could add more Masses to accommodate the growing community, but priests are only supposed to say so many Masses per day (basically, two Monday-Saturday and three on Sunday, max). Fr. Bresowar routinely has to go over the “legal limit” to accommodate his community. He generously does so — but celebrating so many Masses wears down a priest. I know this from experience.

What they need in Russellville is a new and larger church. Fr. Bresowar has purchased an adjacent property to ensure sufficient space for the new church and a real parking lot that begins to accommodate the crowds. He has had a local architect design a building that actually looks like a church and he has employed a great consultant to help with the interior decoration. Cutting every possible corner while also recognizing that a church building is built first of all for the glory of God, Fr. Bresowar has come up with a plan that will cost in the ballpark of $2.5 million.

Bishop Robert J. Baker, in consultation with the College of Consultors of the Diocese of Birmingham, has approved a Capital Campaign so that Fr. Bresowar and parishioners may begin in earnest to raise the needed funds. Remember: this is a primarily immigrant community. They are very resourceful people and will do their part. But they are not pulling in large salaries. They are open to life and have numerous families. They are often helping their families in their home countries, who live in destitution. Some of them will be able to give “in-kind”, helping with the construction and finishing. They will host many fundraisers. But in the end, we need to go outside this community to raise the money needed.

 

— 7 —

Finally, from the Catholic Herald  – Michael Duggan on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s glimmers of religion:

Leigh Fermor was full of admiration and respect for the role that the monks of the West had played in history, for the centuries in which they were the only guardians of things he loved: literature, the classics, scholarship and the humanities. He also found that the company of the small number of living monks‎ he was permitted to speak with was like the company of any civilised, well-educated Frenchmen “with all the balance, erudition and wit that one expected, the only difference being a gentleness, a lack of haste, and a calmness which is common to the whole community”.

More profoundly, he also came to appreciate the role of monasteries in what is sometimes called the economy of salvation. It was their belief in the necessity and efficacy of prayer – “a principle so utterly remote from every tendency of modern secular thought” – that explains the sacrifices these men made. Vows embracing poverty, chastity and obedience were destined to smite “all fetters that chained them to the world, to free them for action, for the worship of God and the practice of prayer; for the pursuit, in short, of sanctity.”

Leigh Fermor smiled at the fact that the monastic habitat should prove “favourable to ambitions so glaringly opposed”: his ambition, on the one hand, to get a book finished and his publisher off his back, and, on the other hand, the ambitions of the monks. These men, he found, could still embark on those “hazardous mystical journeys of the soul” which culminate in “blinding moments of union with the Godhead”, the very inkling of which, “since Donne, Quarley, Herbert, Vaughan and Traherne wrote their poems, has drained away from life in England”.

In the Introduction to A Time to Keep Silence, Paddy grappled briefly with the question of what his experiences inside the monastery walls might ultimately signify. He wrote that he was profoundly affected by the places he described. Though unsure about what his feelings amounted to, he was convinced that they were “deeper than mere interest and curiosity, and more important than the pleasure an historian or an aesthete finds in ancient buildings and liturgy”. In monasteries, he found “a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world”. Describing himself as no stranger to “recalcitrance or scepticism or plain incapacity for belief”, he implies nevertheless that he had been the beneficiary of a “supernatural windfall”.

In the end, Paddy never fully cashed in this windfall. A Time to Keep Silence was published in 1957, but there were to be no more books on an exclusively religious theme. His life (a quite extraordinary one, in ways I have barely touched on here) was filled with many different interests, pleasures and friendships, some of which would have thrown up serious obstacles to any burgeoning Catholicism.

He had an open relationship with his wife, Joan Rayner, who was also a committed atheist.  While he stayed on in Rome to witness (and “swoon” at) the coronation of Pope John XXIII in 1958, his primary reason for being in the Eternal City in the first place was to conduct an affair with a young divorcee.  Three pages of A Time to Keep Silence are devoted to the conflicts and mysteries of chastity.

I am speculating, of course, but perhaps Leigh Fermor’s temperament – that old, latent religious mania – sometimes led him back towards the threshold of belief, only for his appetites to lead him away again, down the path of least resistance, garlanded with pleasures, adored by friends and lovers, and adoring them in return.

Many of us know some version of this dilemma.  We need a strong motive to turn our backs on the worldly delights which converged on Patrick Leigh Fermor like iron filings on a magnet, in favour of the less certain rewards that emanate from spiritual dread and spiritual joy.  As Artemis Cooper has pointed out to me, Paddy (unlike, say, Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene) “could live without answers to the big questions: what am I doing here, why is there evil in the world, what has God got to do with it.  These big themes didn’t preoccupy him much.”

To those who’ve read the books and letters, this observation has the ring of truth.  But could it be that Patrick Leigh Fermor was able to live a life seemingly unpreoccupied by God because of the knowledge that he had acquired at first-hand in places like Saint Wandrille and La Grande Trappe?

This was the knowledge that, all the while, in those monasteries scattered across the West, which he called “silent factories of prayer”, there were other civilized, well-educated gentlemen just like him who had succeeded in abandoning everything.  And that they had done so in order to help their fellow-men, and themselves, to meet something he had intuited himself during those brief pockets of time spent in monastic cells, woods and cloisters, something which he and most of us push to the back of our minds for most of the time, and to which he gave a name: “the terrifying problem of eternity”.

There is a strange thread of connection between all of these items. I’m not sure what it is, exactly….

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

I went ahead and just scanned one of the chapters about St. Francis  from my book Praying with the Pivotal Players – the companion prayer/meditation guide to Bishop Barron’s series. 

You should be able to get a clearer view by clicking on each image. I hope it gives you a good sense of the book – which you might enjoy whether or not you’ve watched the videos. (fyi – I make no royalties from this book – I wrote it for a fee, and that’s it.)

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

For more on St. Francis today – go here. 

 

Thursday

Is it Thursday already? Well, well. A busy weekend is coming, and it involves travel. You Thursdaymight want to follow on Instagram for a taste. It’s not an exotic or novel destination, but hopefully, we’ll see new things.

Today’s the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, of course. Go here for a mega post with links to some of the many things I’ve written about St. Francis over the years. Bottom line takeaway? Read Francis for yourself. He didn’t write much. It’s all available, free. You might be surprised. 

So, on to the digest routine. Today it will be just reading:

Reading: I finished 1808: The Flight of the Emperor. How a Weak Prince, a Mad Queen, and the British Navy Tricked Napoleon and Changed the New World.  It was a decent, popular introduction to the events, but left me with many questions – there are works out there that go into more depth, but, as  I said, this serves as a good, easy-to read introduction.

(Reminder: I knew nothing about this before a couple of weeks ago, when I listened to a BBC 4 radio program on the creation of the nation of Brazil.)

Short version: Brazil was, of course, a Portuguese colony. In 1807, Napoleon was about to invade Portugal, and in order to save, if not that slip of the Iberian peninsula, perhaps the core and economic engine of the empire, the Royal Court hopped on boats and sailed across the Atlantic to Rio. All of them. Plus thousands of retainers and lesser nobility.1808 brazil They just….left.

It was certainly interesting to read about the stark contrast between aristocratic life in Portugal and the roughness of life in Rio. What’s most interesting though, as it usually is, is the inevitability of the Law of Unintended Consequences – for the ironic result of the decampment was, ironically, the independence of the colony, which came sooner than anyone could have predicted, and probably much more peaceably, because of the presence of the royal family in the land for more than a decade and the continued presence, even after everyone else had returned, of regent Pedro I.

And…then…there are the rabbit trails. My ‘satiable curiosity leads me down many, which is why sometimes it takes me longer to read a book like this than it should. Today’s rabbit trails were all about slavery – specifically slavery and religious orders in Brazil.

Ahem. [Clears throat for rant.]

History. It’s a wonderful thing. Really. What do they say? To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant? Well, not they, but Cardinal Newman, of course.

And I do agree with that. But that doesn’t mean that I also agree with the way that most religious history is presented most of the time by most well-meaning Catholics.

For the truth is, the triumphalist narrative, while not as overt as it was, perhaps before Vatican II, still reigns. That narrative which drains history of complexity and ambiguity and which lives in fear, most of all, of a secularist or (just as bad!) Prog Catholic being able to chortle See! The Church does change! 

And I get it. I taught high school, for pete’s sake.

So what passes for passing on our Church’s history is really a lot of  intense apologetics – much of which is truly quite legit – and parsing to make sure that we all understand that it wasn’t, strictly speaking and properly defined, the actual Church that was responsible for this bad thing or seemed to have maybe perhaps changed. A little bit.

But guess what? That smooth narrative isn’t real, isn’t honest, and, in the end – as we see in the present moment – makes the sins and inadequacies of the Church even more of a shock to the system and harder to deal with and understand – and, I might add – fix. 

So, take slavery. If you have only the most cursory understanding of the Church and slavery – from the sympathetic side – all you have probably heard is Bartolomo de las Casas – Church always taught slavery was intrinsically wrong – everything else anti-Catholic Black Legend Stuff. 

Well, this brief blog post isn’t about theology or ethics, but just history. And to be honest about history demands that we admit that for most of history, the Church did not present a 100% counter-cultural face when it came to the institution of slavery – although one can argue that the Catholic view of the humanity of enslaved persons was counter-cultural, yes. In a way.

I’ll just limit this to sharing what I read related to this very narrow slice of history, a couple of articles digging a little more deeply into various aspects of this issue.

“The Plantations of St. Benedict: The Benedictine Sugar Mills of Colonial Brazil.” 

-Sugar plantations which provided the economic foundation of Benedictine presence in Brazil and which were worked primarily by enslaved persons, as was the the case with most religious foundations in the New World, with the exception of those run by the Franciscans.

The author examines the economics of the system, but also makes some observations about treatment, arguing that the Benedictine plantations treated slaves more humanely than did most others, encouraging marriage and some independent economic activity.

“Slave Confraternities in Brazil: Their Role in Colonial Society.”

This article interested me because I’m particularly curious about how the official Church explained and co-existed with very official slavery. If you care to create a JSTOR account and log in, this article offers another, fascinating layer to the story.

“One of the most important colonial institutions which joined church and society in the Brazilian cities were the lay confraternities which were attached to churches, convents and monasteries. These voluntary associations of laymen and women joined people of all classes and races in common religious activities and social works of mercy. In colonial Brazil there were separate lay associations for different races, although these racially suggested societies might parade together during religious festivals and share side altars in a common church. Free blacks, mulattoes and slaves joined separate religious associations since the white confraternities were very exclusive and discriminatory towards the poorer non-white population. The slave confraternities of the cities of 18th century Brazil were the only lay religious associations in that society which were open to all people regardless of class, race, sex or ethnic background. However as the century wore on some of the black brotherhoods tended to differentiate among themselves according to tribal distinctions, language, social condition and the extent of assimilation in Portuguese America. The larger slave confraternities like the Rosary brotherhood usually had a more diverse membership of free and slave brothers, mulattoes, Creoles and tribal Africans, blacks and whites.”

And finally, some chunks of a book on Jesuit economic activity – chunks because I read it on Google Books, and I only had about 75% of the pertinent pages available to me that way. If you’d like to take a shot at it, go here, and start on page 502. The author lays out – I think fairly – the conflicts within the order about slavery. There were voices opposed to it – powerful ones – but in the end, practical exigencies won out.

(Click for larger version – also go to above link.)

 

 

 

(Some of you might be aware that, of course, North American Jesuits were no strangers to slavery either – a couple of years ago, Georgetown University acknowledged the role that slavery had played in its beginnings – specifically, the 272 slaves that were sold by Maryland Jesuits to get then Georgetown College out of debt.) 

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Jesuits: Rationalizing capitulation to the culture since the 17th century!

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It’s a serious question, and an intriguing one. This isn’t the first time I’ve made this observation. I have no answer – just an observation.

If we critique the contemporary Church for capitulating to culture and powers and principalities – do we bring the same critique to the past? Or do we say, “Well, we have to understand the context – what else could the Church have done? Hindsight is 20/20, you know.”

If we’re super comfortable with the Church integrating certain novel aspects of contemporary culture into belief and practice – do we bring the same approach to the Church’s actions in the past? Or do we say, “The Church was wrong and sinful and should obviously apologize.”

Just something to think about.

 

St. Francis

From The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols

This is a gathering of material from previous posts on the saint. 

We all love St. Francis, and most of us know a bit about him, too.

But as many have noted over the years, St. Francis is like Jesus in more ways than one. Like Jesus, he’s put to many uses by people with sometimes wildly varied agendas.

In general, though, we all agree that in essence, Francis of Assisi decided to follow Jesus by giving up material things and living with and for the poor, he really loved nature and he founded a religious order in order to spread his message.

There’s truth in that common portrait, but there are also distortions and gaps.

Because Francis lived so long ago and because the written record is challenging to interpret, the search for the “real Francis” is a fraught one. A few years ago, Fr. Augustine Thompson set to the task, and produced a biography that anyone seriously interested in Francis should read.  I’ve written about it a couple of times, including here. 

Bullet points for brevity’s sake.

  • Francis didn’t have a plan.  He did not set out to form a band of brothers – at all.   His conversion was a personal one, and the life he lead for the first couple of years after it was the life of a penitent, pure and simple.
  • What was his conversion, exactly?  This actually is a knottier problem than we assume.  It wasn’t simply rejecting a life of relative wealth for a life lived in solidarity with the poor, through Christ.  In fact, well, it doesn’t seem to be fundamentally about that at all.
  • Screen shot 2014-10-05 at 11.50.50 PMFrancis doesn’t say much about this at all himself.  He refers to being “in his sins.”  After his traumatic battle experiences, Christ drew him closer, he abandoned all for Christ, lived as a rather sketchy hermit-type penitent on the outskirts of Assisi, and then, in a crucial moment, encountered a leper.
  • As he describes it himself, lepers had been figures of particular horror to him when he was “in his sins.”  But now, God intervened, converted him, and the leper became a person through whom Francis experienced peace and consolation.
  • Francis sought to do penance, live the Gospel and be a servant.  He did not intend to draw followers, but did, and their initial way of life was simply living in this same way, only in community.
  • It wasn’t until their form of life was approved by Pope Innocent that preaching entered the picture – it was an element that the Pope threw into his approval.  This was a surprise to Francis.

Okay, break time.

To me, this is most fascinating because, as I mentioned in the other blog post,when we read history, we often read it with the eyes of inevitability.  As in:  everything unfolds according to intention and human plan.  Just as it is with life in general, this is not the way history is, and it’s not the way the life of Francis was – well, not according to his plan.  For he didn’t have one.

But this interesting turn of events shows how the Spirit shakes us up and turns us in a slightly different direction from where we thought we were going.  It happened to Francis.  He adapted, shakily and slowly.  It happens to us.

Back to bullet points.

  • When you actually read Francis’ writings, you don’t see some things that you might expect.  You don’t, for example, read a lot of directives about serving the poor.   You don’t see any general condemnations of wealth.  You don’t read a call for all people, everywhere, to live radically according to the evangelical counsels.
  • You do read these sorts of things – although not exactly – in the early guidelines for the friars and the few letters to fellow friars that have come down to us.
  • But surprisingly, it’s not what is emphasized.  So what is?
  • Obedience. 
  • When Francis wrote about Christ embracing poverty, what he speaks of is Christ descending from the glory of heaven and embracing mortal flesh – an act  – the ultimate embrace of poverty – not just material poverty, but spiritual poverty – the ultimate act of obedience.
  • Through this act of obedience, Christ is revealed as the Servant of all.
  • So, as Francis writes many times, his call was to imitate Christ in this respect:  to empty himself and become the lowly servant of all.  To conquer everything that is the opposite: pride, self-regard, the desire for position or pleasure.
  • Francis wrote that the primary enemy in this battle is our “lower nature.”  He wrote that the only thing we can claim for ourselves are our vices and all we have to boast about is Christ.
  • Francis also emphasized proper celebration and reception of the Eucharist – quite a bit.  He had a lot to say about proper and worthy vessels and settings for the celebration of Mass.  He was somewhat obsessed with respectful treatment of paper on which might be written the Divine Names or prayers.  He prescribed how the friars were to pray the Office.
  • The early preaching of the Franciscans was in line with all of this as well as other early medieval penitential preaching: francis of assisithe call to the laity to confess, receive the Eucharist worthily, and to turn from sin.
  • Praise God.  Whatever the circumstances – and especially “bad” circumstances – praise God.
  • Accept persecution.  It’s interesting that Francis routinely resisted church authorities affording his order any privileges or even writing them letters allowing them to preach in a certain vicinity.  He felt that if they entered an area and were rejected, this was simply accepting the Cross of Christ, and should not be avoided.
  • Begging was not a core value for Francis, as we are often led to believe.  He and his friars did manual labor.  In the early days, begging was only allowed on behalf of sick and ailing brothers, and then only for things like food.  No money, ever.
  • He really didn’t like telling people what to do.  Well, my theory was that he actually did – what we know about his personality, pre-conversion, indicates that he was a born leader.  Perhaps his post-conversion mode was not only an imitation of the Servant, but a recognition that his “lower nature” included a propensity to promote himself and direct others.
  • That said, Francis’ emphasis on servanthood meant that his writings don’t contain directions for others beyond what the Gospel says (repent/Eat the Bread of Life) unless he’s forced to – when composing a form of life and so on.   This tension, along with ambiguities in the Franciscan life, made for a very interesting post-Francis history, along with problems during his own lifetime as well.

To me, Francis is a compelling spiritual figure not simply because he lived so radically, but, ironically, because the course of his life seems so normal. 

Why?

Because he had a life.  That life was disrupted, and the disruption changed him.  Disoriented him.  He found a re-orientation in Christ: he found the wellspring of forgiveness for his sins and the grace to conquer them (a lifetime struggle).  His actions had consequences, most of which were totally unintended by him, and to which he had to adapt, as he sought to be obedient to God.  His personality and gifts were well-equipped to deal with some of the new and changing circumstances in his life, and ill-equipped for others.  He died, praising God.

Yes, Francis was all about poverty. All about it.  He was about the poverty of Christ, who was obedient and emptied himself.

“I am the servant of all”  

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What can you do to celebrate the feastday of St. Francis of Assisi? Pick some flowers? Pet a wolf?

Maybe.

Or (after you pray) you could read his writings. 

Hardly anyone does, unfortunately. It’s too bad because there’s no reason to avoid them. They aren’t lengthy or dense, and you don’t have to pay to read them. You could read – not deeply, but you could do it – his entire corpus in part of an evening.

Here are links to all his extant works, although you can certainly find them in other places. 

The bulk of what he left was addressed to his brothers, but since most of us are not Franciscans, I’ll excerpt from his Letter to the Faithful:

Of whose Father such was the will, that His Son, blest and glorious, whom He gave to us and who was born for us, would offer his very self through His own Blood as a Sacrifice and Victim upon the altar, not for His own sake, through whom all things were made (cf. Jn 1:3), but for the sake of our sins, leaving us an example, so that we may follow in his footsteps (cf 1 Pet 2:21). And He willed that all might be saved through Him and that we might receive Him with a pure heart and our own chaste body. But there are few, who want to receive Him and be saved by Him, though His yoke is sweet and His burden light (cf. Mt: 11:30). Those who do not want to taste how sweet the Lord is (cf. Ps 33:9) and love shadows more than the Light (Jn 3:19) not wanting to fulfill the commands of God, are cursed; concerning whom it is said through the prophet: “Cursed are they who turn away from Thy commands.” (Ps 118:21). But, o how blessed and blest are those who love God and who do as the Lord himself says in the Gospel: “Love the Lord thy God with your whole heart and with your whole mind and your neighbor as your very self (Mt 22:37.39).

Let us therefore love God and adore Him with a pure heart and a pure mind, since He Himself seeking above all has said: “True adorers will adore the Father in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:23) For it is proper that all, who adore Him, adore Him in the spirit of truth (cf. Jn 4:24). And let us offer (lit.”speak to”) Him praises and prayer day and night (Ps 31:4) saying: “Our Father who art in Heaven” (Mt 6:9), since it is proper that we always pray and not fail to do what we might (Lk 18:1).

If indeed we should confess all our sins to a priest, let us also receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ from him. He who does not eat His Flesh and does not drink His Blood (cf. Jn 6:55.57), cannot enter into the Kingdom of God (Jn 3:5). However let him eat and drink worthily, since he who receives unworthily eats and drinks judgement for himself, and he does not dejudicate the Body of the Lord (1 Cor 11:29), that is he does not discern it. In addition let us bring forth fruits worthy of penance (Lk 3:8). And let us love our neighbors as our very selves (cf. Mt 22:39). And if one does not want to love them as his very self, at least he does not charge them with wicked things, but does good (to them).

Moreover let those who have received the power of judging others exercise it with mercy, just as they themselves wish to obtain mercy from the Lord. For there will be judgment without mercy for those who have not shown mercy (James 2:13). And so let us have charity and humility; and let us give alms, since this washes souls from the filth of their sins (cf. Tob 4:11; 12:9). For men lose everything, which they leave in this world; however they carry with them the wages of charity and the alms, which they gave, for which they will have from the Lord a gift and worthy recompense.

We should also fast and abstain from vices and sins (cf Sir 3:32) and from a superfluity of food and drink and we should be Catholics. We should also frequently visit churches and venerate the clerics and revere them, not only for their own sake, if they be sinners, but for the sake of their office and administration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which they sanctify upon the altar and receive and administer to others. And let us all know firmly, since no one can be saved, except through the words and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which the clerics speak, announce and minister. And only they should minister and not others. Moreover the religious especially, who have renounced the world, are bound to do more and greater things, but not to give up these (cf. Lk 11:42).

We should hold our bodies, with their vices and sins, in hatred, since the Lord says in the Gospel: “All wicked things, vices an sins, come forth from the heart.” (Mt 15:18-19) We should love our enemies and do good to them, who hold us in hatred (cf. Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27). We should also deny ourselves (cf. Mt 16:24) and place our bodies under the yoke of servitude and holy obedience, just as each one has promised the Lord. And no man is bound out of obedience to obey anyone in that, where crime or sin is committed. However to him whom obedience has been committed and whom is held to be greater, let him be as the lesser (Lk 22:26) and the servant of the other friars. And let him show and have mercy for each one of his brothers, as he would want done to himself, if he were in a similar case. Nor let him grow angry with a brother on account of the crime of a brother, but with all patience and humility let him kindly admonish and support him.

We should not be wise and prudent according to the flesh, but rather we should be simple, humble and pure. And let us hold our bodies in opprobrium and contempt, since on account of our own fault we are all wretched and putrid, fetid and worms, just as the Lord say through the prophet: “I am a worm and no man, the opprobium of men and the abject of the people.” (Ps 21:7) Let us never desire to be above others, but rather we should desire that upon all men and women, so long as they will have done these things and persevered even to the end, the Spirit of the Lord might rest (Is 11:2) and fashion in them His little dwelling and mansion (cf. Jn 14:23).

Why such a long excerpt? To give you a taste of what St. Francis was actually concerned about, which is perhaps not what we have been led to believe.

St. Francis is, not suprisingly, one of Bishop Barron’s “Pivotal Players.” So that means I wrote about him in the prayer book. 

Last year, I wrote a lengthy post on Francis. It’s linked here. Earlier this year, I noted that it was unfortunate that a bishop had cited the “Prayer for Peace” as having been penned by St. Francis – it’s wasn’t. 

 

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SO…I decided to write a book trying to communicate this to kids.  I worked, of course, with my friend Ann Engelhart, and the result is Adventures in Assisi, in which two contemporary children travel in Francis’ footsteps, confront their own need for greater charity and humility, and experience the fruit. It’s intended to be a discussion-starter, to get kids talking and thinking and praying about how they treat each other, and how they think about Christ in relationship to their own lives.

I mean..it’s not hard to get kids to get into animals or Christmas creches.  But St. Francis of Assisi was fundamentally about imitating Christ in his poverty of spirit, and I thought that aspect of the saint’s life was woefully underrepresented in Francis Kid Lit.

I’ll have more about it in the next couple of days, but we’ll start with an interview Ann and I did with Lisa Hendey:

Q: What prompted you to write/illustrate “Adventures in Assisi” and what will our readers discover in this book?

Amy: I love history and I love to travel and the saints are central to my Catholic spirituality. In my teaching and writing, I’ve always particularly enjoyed bringing Catholic tradition and history to readers and listeners and many of my books reflect that interest.

St. Francis of Assisi has always interested me not only because his is a truly compelling, radical figure, but also because he is  rather mysterious.  The radical nature of his conversion and the singularity of his journey is unique, but the legends and stories that have grown around him over the past eight hundred years have only added to the mystique and have always piqued my curiosity.  My earliest encounters with Francis were both quite memorable, although both were rooted, I now understand, in more fiction, personal ideology and a cultural moment than fact – reading NIkos Kazantzakis’ St. Francis as a teenager and seeing Brother Sun, Sister Moon with my friends from the Catholic campus ministry in college.  Despite the serious limitations of both, what moved me in these works was my vivid and thought-provoking encounter with the possibility that radical sacrifice was, paradoxically, the path to fullness of life.

In the subsequent years, I encountered St. Francis here and there.  I taught his story when I taught high school theology.  I wrote about him in the Loyola books. I wrote about his prayers in The Words We Pray.  Over the years, I probably read every existing children’s picture book about Francis to my own children, most of which were about either the wolf of Gubbio or the Christmas creche.

And then, a few years ago, I read the new biography of Francis by Fr. Augustine Thompson OP  – Francis of Assisi: A New Biography.  It’s a tight, compact, rich work, and Fr.Thompson’s insights struck me to the core, so once again, St. Francis moved me…. MORE

Q: Ann, please say a few words on the artwork in this new book. How did you conceive of the characters “look”? What type of research do you have to undertake to artfully depict a venue like Assisi?

Ann: I was able to visit Assisi on two occasions, once with my teenage children and another time alone with my husband. I was able to walk the same paths as the characters in this book as they followed St. Francis’ footsteps.

I took countless photos because the style of my work is quite detailed, and I wanted the reader to authentically experience the exquisite Umbrian landscapes, the extraordinary architecture that is both grand and humble, and the simple beauty of the country roads and olive groves that surround St. Francis’ hilltop hometown….

MORE

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Finally:

How about that Peace Prayer of St. Francis, guys?!

Nope.
The incorrect association of “Make me an instrument of your peace” with St. Francis runs so deeply now, it’s presented, unquestioningly, that way on the USCCB website, but still. It shouldn’t be this way. Truth matters, in areas great and small.

I explored the matter in my book The Words We Pray.  There are a couple of pages available for perusing online.  I think the actual history of the prayer makes it even more interesting than it is as a mythical pronouncement of St. Francis. Also, when Make me a channel of your peace comes to define the saint, we miss out on even more challenging words. Try it. Read his letters and Rule. 

A bit more on who didn’t write what – some other incorrect attributions out there. 

 

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