Thursday Notes

I’m in Living Faith today. Here’s the entry. Below are some photos from the day I describe in the devotional.

A very interesting take on YA literature:

The older books depicted girlhood as a preparation for a future where happiness demands sacrifice and the suppression of unbecoming qualities that may very well be “who we are” as adolescents but will not suffice for who we aspire to be in adulthood. In these books, as in life, coming of age requires agency, a conscious and concerted formation toward an ideal of who one hopes to be. When adulthood is no longer a moral achievement but a hormonal eventuality, there is nothing to aspire to or prepare for—no higher education, no vocation, no marriage or motherhood (except as an undesired mistake). Despite their ignorance of second-wave feminism, Louisa May Alcott’s and L. M. Montgomery’s protagonists became, even in adolescence, significantly more intellectually and even professionally accomplished than Blume’s.

It would be unrealistic to deny the existence of young readers who wish for books to play back and amplify their struggles and anxieties, to wrap them in a hug of affirmation for who they are right now, rather than trouble them with the risks and possibilities of who they might one day become. It would be likewise unrealistic to deny that middle-aged women might wistfully recall their own experiences as such readers. As Blume has admitted, the Margaret movie is not for children so much as it is for the “nostalgia audience,” their parents who grew up with the book.

But what would be most unrealistic of all would be to believe that such books speak to the deepest or most universal desires of girlhood. In its quest for realism, YA has lost sight of the fact that young girls possess equally real aspirations for intellectual and ethical self-development that can’t be satisfied or replaced by literary sex ed. An adolescence that never even threatens to issue in adulthood is a distortion of experience, not its honest rendering.

Ted Gioia continues to beat the drum on music, money, streaming and profit. It’s pertinent not only for musicians, but for anyone involved in creating and crafting and putting what you’ve made out into the world.

Passionate music fans are unprofitable. They consume too much at the all-you-can-eat music buffet. They can’t be steered to cheap AI music. They’re skeptical of fake artists. They don’t like to be manipulated.

So they must be replaced by passive listeners…


The only positive thing in this whole story is the first stirrings of a music counterculture that operates outside this vicious circle.

I see signs of it on Bandcamp. I see it on Substack (even here at The Honest Broker). I see it on Patreon. I see it in the artist-centric music startups that reach out to me on a regular basis. I see it in the clubs and in various other fringe and niche areas of the music scene.

So let me conclude by quoting Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

It’s increasingly clear to me that this will be our only genuine solution. If that happens, I might even be grateful that streaming platforms and record labels got so lazy and incompetent—because they will have forced us to create something better.

Read Bede!



Today is the memorial of the Venerable Bede, the author of The Ecclesiastical History of England. But there’s more, of course. 

The Saint we are approaching today is called Bedeand was born in the north-east of England, to be exact, Northumbria, in the year 672 or 673. He himself recounts that when he was seven years old his parents entrusted him to the Abbot of the neighbouring Benedictine monastery to be educated: “spending all the remaining time of my life a dweller in that monastery”. He recalls, “I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture; and amidst the observance of the monastic Rule and the daily charge of singing in church, I always took delight in learning, or teaching, or writing” (Historia eccl. Anglorum, v, 24). In fact, Bede became one of the most outstanding erudite figures of the early Middle Ages since he was able to avail himself of many precious manuscripts which his Abbots would bring him on their return from frequent journeys to the continent and to Rome. His teaching and the fame of his writings occasioned his friendships with many of the most important figures of his time who encouraged him to persevere in his work from which so many were to benefit. When Bede fell ill, he did not stop working, always preserving an inner joy that he expressed in prayer and song. He ended his most important work, the Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, with this invocation: “I beseech you, O good Jesus, that to the one to whom you have graciously granted sweetly to drink in the words of your knowledge, you will also vouchsafe in your loving kindness that he may one day come to you, the Fountain of all wisdom, and appear for ever before your face”. Death took him on 26 May 737: it was the Ascension….

….Bede was also an eminent teacher of liturgical theology. In his Homilies on the Gospels for Sundays and feast days he achieves a true mystagogy, teaching the faithful to celebrate the mysteries of the faith joyfully and to reproduce them coherently in life, while awaiting their full manifestation with the return of Christ, when, with our glorified bodies, we shall be admitted to the offertory procession in the eternal liturgy of God in Heaven. Following the “realism” of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person “not only a Christian but Christ”. Indeed, every time that a faithful soul lovingly accepts and preserves the Word of God, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ anew. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments the Church “reproduces herself” or, to use a more daring term, the Church becomes “Mother of God”, participating in the generation of her children through the action of the Holy Spirit.


And since we’re approaching Pentecost, how about looking at what one of my favorite accounts, A Clerk at Oxford, has to share about Bede and one of his Pentecost homilies:

A person who trusts that he can find rest in the delights and abundance of earthly things is deceiving himself. By the frequent disorders of the world, and at last by its end, such a one is proven convincingly to have laid the foundation of his tranquility upon sand. But all those who have been breathed upon by the Holy Spirit, and have taken upon themselves the very pleasant yoke of the Lord’s love, and following his example, learned to be gentle and humble of heart, enjoy even in the present some image of the future tranquility.

(She doesn’t blog much anymore – she’s got quite a library of posts – but she is on Twitter. Worth a follow if you do such things. )

Amazon.com: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; The ...

So take a look at An Ecclesiastical History. Here’s a bit of a takeaway from me:

We can never sit still. In matters of evangelization and formation in faith, we might be tempted to say, There. Baptized. Confirmed. Got a parish. Built a church. Good for us. We’ve got this now. 

As Bede’s History makes clear, we are foolish to believe this. The people of his time didn’t believe it. The History is one of progress and regress, of baptism and apostasy.

Never take faith for granted. The darkness that seeks to pull us away doesn’t rest, and neither should we.

A couple more notes:

  • Much of the focus in evangelization of the peoples of this island involves, of course, pointing out the folly of worshiping idols.

For Sigbert, 414 who reigned next to Sigbert surnamed The Little, was then king of that nation, and a friend to King Oswy, who, when Sigbert came to the province of the Northumbrians to visit him, as he often did, used to endeavour to convince him that those could not be gods that had been made by the hands of men; that a stock or a stone could not be proper matter to form a god, the residue whereof was either burned in the fire, or framed into any vessels for the use of men, or else was cast out as refuse, trampled on and turned into dust. That God is rather to be understood as incomprehensible in majesty and invisible to human eyes, almighty, eternal, the Creator of heaven and earth and of mankind; Who governs and will judge the world in righteousness, Whose eternal abode must be believed to be in Heaven, and not in base and perishable metal; and that it ought in reason to be concluded, that all those who learn and do the will of Him by Whom they were created, will receive from Him eternal rewards.

Note who’s doing the reasoned evangelization here: not a cleric, but a lay person – King Oswy.

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope..(1 Pt. 3:15) isn’t just for the ordained or the consecrated.

And, of course, while not many we encounter will be worshiping actual pagan idols, anything of the earth that we rely on for ultimate happiness, hope and peace  – even physical earthly life itself, even freedom from earthly discomfort, even good health – functions as an idol.

Among other lessons in holy living,Aidan left the clergy a most salutary example of abstinence and continence; it was the highest commendation of his doctrine with all men, that he taught nothing that he did not practise in his life among his brethren; for he neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately among the poor whom he met whatsoever was given him by the kings or rich men of the world. He was wont to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity; to the end that, as he went, he might turn aside to any whomsoever he saw, whether rich or poor, and call upon them, if infidels, to receive the mystery of the faith, or, if they were believers, strengthen them in the faith, and stir them up by words and actions to giving of alms and the performance of good works.

His course of life was so different from the slothfulness of our times, that all those who bore him company, whether they were tonsured or laymen, had to study either reading the Scriptures, or learning psalms. This was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him, wheresoever they went; and if it happened, which was but seldom, that he was invited to the king’s table, he went with one or two clerks, and having taken a little food, made haste to be gone, either to read with his brethren or to pray. At that time, many religious men and women, led by his example, adopted the custom of prolonging their fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, till the ninth hour, throughout the year, except during the fifty days after Easter. Never, through fear or respect of persons, did he keep silence with regard to the sins of the rich; but was wont to correct them with a severe rebuke. He never gave money to the powerful men of the world, but only food, if he happened to entertain them; and, on the contrary, whatsoever gifts of money he received from the rich, he either distributed, as has been said, for the use of the poor, or bestowed in ransoming such as had been wrongfully sold for slaves. Moreover, he afterwards made many of those he had ransomed his disciples, and after having taught and instructed them, advanced them to priest’s orders.

It is said, that when King Oswald had asked a bishop of the Scots to administer the Word of faith to him and his nation, there was first sent to him another man of more harsh disposition, who, after preaching for some time to the English and meeting with no success, not being gladly heard by the people, returned home, and in an assembly of the elders reported, that he had not been able to do any good by his teaching to the nation to whom he had been sent, because they were intractable men, and of a stubborn and barbarous disposition. They then, it is said, held a council and seriously debated what was to be done, being desirous that the nation should obtain the salvation it demanded, but grieving that they had not received the preacher sent to them. Then said Aidan, who was also present in the council, to the priest in question, “Methinks, brother, that you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been, and did not at first, conformably to the Apostolic rule, give them the milk of more easy doctrine, till, being by degrees nourished with the Word of God, they should be capable of receiving that which is more perfect and of performing the higher precepts of God.” Having heard these words, all present turned their attention to him and began diligently to weigh what he had said, and they decided that he was worthy to be made a bishop, and that he was the man who ought to be sent to instruct the unbelieving and unlearned; since he was found to be endued preeminently with the grace of discretion, which is the mother of the virtues. So they ordained him and sent him forth to preach; and, as time went on, his other virtues became apparent, as well as that temperate discretion which had marked him at first.


This ideal is one we encounter over and over in our history. The ideal of absolute commitment to the evangelical counsels on the part of the consecrated, the ideal held up to be lived, as much as possible, by those dwelling in the world as well – to be focused, ultimately, on Christ and let your life reflect, not your own desires, but his love. We strive, we fail, but, as the last part of that passage indicates, we’re gently brought along according to our capabilities, but – with the ideal always in sight, not as judgment, but as a promise. For nothing else we rest our eyes on can promise anything that lasts, can it?

Well, as I said at the beginning – we read history these days, trying to figure out the present in light of the past. Because it’s all there: uncertain times, the threat of collapse and death, looking to earthly idols for solace, the constant struggle to be faithful, religious leaders who might or might not be actually focused on Christ.

And somehow, the answers always end up being the same. Somehow, that always happens, doesn’t it?

A couple of years ago, I was looking for a printable version of Hemingway’s story, “The Killers,” originally published in 1927 in Scribner’s. What I found was a reproduction of the original, all the better because it had illustrations.

Adding to the experience was the discovery of the piece that directly followed it. It’s an essay by one Grace Hausmann Sherwood called “A Catholic Laywoman’s View-Point.

Sherwood, from my brief research, wrote a couple of books – one a volume of poetry, and the other, a history of a religious order.

I’m going to type out the introduction and then just toss up images of the rest of the piece here. It’s a bit scattered – it seems in part to be a general apologetic for the seemingly counter-cultural aspects of Catholicism as well as an explanation for the role of women in Catholicism. I think anyone who’s interested in Catholicism, religious history, social history and women in religion will find it useful.

It’s also a helpful antidote to the caricature of pre-Vatican II Catholicism as a closed, inner-looking system, Sherwood frequently points to analogies and subversive justification for Catholic practices and beliefs in other faiths and in the secular world, and has no problem in saying, for example, that a Catholic woman is bound by beliefs that seem strange and unnecessary to other women, “as good and often much better Christians than herself..”

And of course, most interesting – and depressing for the current moment – of all is that there was actually a time in which it was perfectly normal for a major, national, popular magazine’s pages to lead directly from stories by Ernest Hemingway to an essay by a religiously observant woman explaining her faith.

Note: you can find the Scribner’s issue here. I’ve reproduced the introduction below, and then given you images of the piece if you don’t want to head over to Google Books.

And before you read – just note how little has changed from her description of the “spiritual commentary” landscape – whose voices are heard? the modernist, the fundamentalist, the layman who has just discovered the things of the spirit for the first time and the minister who is about to give them up…..

At a time like this when our foremost magazines carry almost invariably with each issue one article about religion and sometimes more than one: when even the American Mercury, edited by that famous scoffer, Henry Mencken, falls into line with the publication not so long ago of an article with the significant title: “A New God for America,” it seems not improbable to me that the view-point of the Catholic laywoman might interest the general reader.

For among the many voices which have been heard in this modern pulpit of the printed page, among the modernist, the fundamentalist, the layman who has just discovered the things of the spirit for the first time and the minister who is about to give them up because he has lost his faith in them, the man who thinks that Christ’s example is the only religion needed anywhere and the woman who would offer us Buddha as a substitute for Christ, the missionary’s note-book from some outpost of civilization and the gropings after spirituality of the man in the street—among all these the Catholic woman has been silent. What she thinks of her religion, how she feels about its practices as they relate to her and to her children, how full her share in spiritual things can be in a church governed entirely by men, and by men, at that, without wives, has not been told—if I have kept track of the argument and affirmation, the glimpses of mysticism, the discovery of prayer as a personal necessity, the hunger for spiritual insight, the longing for a definite way to enter upon the spiritual life which has surged like a tide through the pages of our better magazines for months or, rather, years.

At Comment, from Matthew Milliner, who is a professor of history at Wheaton. He notes signs of the continuing appeal of ancient Christiana practices and sensibilities. The continuing popularity and growth of the ancient-future trend among evangelicals, in particular.

His metaphor is the admonition – cited in Scripture and in the words of St. Francis at the beginning of his piece – to leave some part of a field untended or unmown. Don’t try to manage everything, to leave everything neat and controlled.

I like the piece – the missing piece though, is that he can’t or won’t consider (at least here) how the Reformation itself contributed to this mindset. But other than that, he offers plenty of food for thought for all of us, including Catholics, of course.

Accordingly, a new generation of Christians gave their mowers a rest, and stopped assuming that only the ancient Near Eastern or Greco-Roman layers of the past were worthy of investigation. Once we remembered that the Holy Spirit has long been with the church, leading her into all truth, the forgotten flowers began to appear. While teaching at Wheaton College, Professor Robert Webber (1933–2007) faithfully recorded the first of them in his string of remarkable books, but I can testify that in the decades since Webber’s departure, these ancient-future flowers continue to germinate. Without space to name all of them, I can think of at least four recent blossoms, alliterated to bolster my evangelical credibility: meaning, maps, monasticism, and mysticism.

Take maps:

All this is true enough, one might reply. But is the Mappa Mundi “accurate”? Does it not depict griffins and unicorns? While we may have learned more hard facts about biology since the Mappa Mundi was created, at least the map’s creators retained a sense of wonder and reverence about the animals they saw fit to include, however fanciful. The moral wisdom radiating from a leopard or a peacock in medieval bestiaries is far more sophisticated, and playful, than our celebrity-hosted nature shows today, however impressive the camera techniques. We may have expensive lenses to amplify our literal reading of nature, but they had allegorical, moral, and anagogical lenses as well.

When the moral dimension is considered, the Mappa Mundi is very “accurate” indeed—and, I repeat, superior. Many in the present have tried to “decolonize” their maps by de-centring North America and Europe. Good for them. But these reconstructions are far less daring than the Mappa Mundi, which puts what is now India, Iraq, and Iran on top, with England (where the map itself was made!) tucked off in a corner. The Enlightenment gave us Eurocentrism, not the Middle Ages.

But if Eurocentrism is to be lamented, how about self-centrism? Indeed, Google Earth’s only centre is the scroller’s will. But the centre of the world, the navel, for the Mappa Mundi is the Holy Land itself, the only land that has the privilege of being the centre thanks to God’s election of the chosen people (not by merit but by grace). Moreover, it is only Jerusalem that has any right to be the centre of Christendom, as the diverse Christian communities—Armenian, Orthodox, Coptic, Syrians, Ethiopian, Franciscan—radiating in every direction from the Holy Sepulchre attest. (And lest Protestants be left out, it was a California Episcopalian who designed the star in the Sepulchre’s dome!) A simpler way of putting it is that only Jerusalem-centred maps like the Mappa Mundi are up to date, for only they can make sense of new research regarding global Christian communities on offer in books like Vince Bantu’s extraordinary A Multitude of Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity.

Monday, Monday

Had a great, quick trip up to Louisville to take a couple of family members to the touring production of Hadestown – which, in almost every respect, was comparable to the Broadway production (which I’ve seen twice) – the exception here, unfortunately, was Persephone, who was much weaker than the rest of the cast, clear throughout the evening, and especially so during the coda “We Raise Our Cups” – which she leads, unmiked. Didn’t work well, unfortunately, because that’s a great moment.

And those of you who’ve seen it on Broadway might wonder how one particular mechanical aspect of the production was handled – I’ll just say, creatively, and well. It worked. Perhaps not quite as dramatic as what’s possible on a permanent stage, but more than good enough.

Me on Hadestown in the past.

Excellent charcturie at Cultured, just-right brunch at North of Bourbon and Mass at the gorgeous St. Louis Bertrand.

(Where, incidentally, they still use the Communion rail and it’s not a big deal at all, guys.)

Here’s some links to get you going:

I’m in Angelus News today writing about Mrs. Davis. I only had 900 words, so choices had to be made. I have more to say, and I’ll have a couple (at least) posts here about the show later in the week.

Also at Angelus today, a piece by Mgr. Richard Antall on Leon Bloy.

He was a poet in prose, the writer of memorable aphorisms and striking metaphors. He described his life as a country where it never ceased to rain. “Time,” he said, “was a dog who only bit poor people.”

Although praised by serious writers like Jorge Luis Borges, few read Bloy’s books today. He is still widely quoted by an unlikely range of thinkers, including unbelievers. Pope Francis cited him in his first homily after the conclave, saying, “When one does not profess Jesus Christ — I recall the phrase of Léon Bloy — ‘Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.’ ”

This ungrateful beggar, the irascible pilgrim of the absolute in a world of the relative, the scourge of all hypocrites, “the hurler of curses” as he entitled a chapter in the “Pilgrim of the Absolute,” and the enemy of complacency died a pious old man on the outskirts of Paris.

From the New York Times, a nice piece on the Dorothy Day ferry between Staten Island and Manhattan:

For more than a half-century, she had lived intermittently on Staten Island, where she found space to decompress from the demands of editing The Catholic Worker newspaper and living in the Catholic Worker community on the Lower East Side — there are many dozen communities around the world — where she helped to provide food, housing and other services.

In the winter of 1927, for example, Day boarded the ferry to Staten Island and, as Paul Elie recounted in his book “The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage,” sat on the deck and wrote in her journal. The waters were restless, the air foggy, her mind troubled.

“A most consuming restlessness was upon me so that I walked around and around the deck of the ferry, almost groaning in anguish of spirit,” she later wrote. “Perhaps the devil was on the boat.”

Two days later, Day went to a Catholic church in Staten Island’s Tottenville section and was baptized.

As Elie wrote, the ferry ride for Day could be “at once a retreat and a pilgrimage.” She breathed in the salt-scented air, imagined the far-off destinations of passing ships, felt the anxieties of urban life wash away. The ferry induced meditation.

On another ferry ride, in 1950, Day jotted down her thoughts: “The trip is so beautiful. The sky and water is so lovely in all its moods that I often find myself just thinking, and thinking ‘to the point’ on what has been going on down below the surface of my mind.”

Now, on this ferry gliding across New York’s Upper Bay, you could almost see Dorothy Day by the window, apart from and a part of the waterborne crowd, taking in the awesome ordinary.

That harried man hurriedly eating a sloppy sandwich. Those sea gulls dodging and darting in the ferry’s wake. That mother chasing after her toddling toddler. Those two boys speaking in Spanish about their video game. The hum of the engines felt in the feet. The dance of the churning-white waters.

Unreal Manhattan became real as the Dorothy Day eased into its berth at Whitehall Terminal. Bells sounded, gates lowered and we made our way to solid ground, saints and sinners all.

How to raise children like the saints:

Pray for their deaths, leave them in the care of others and join a monastery, leave THEM in a monastery..

and so on. 

How’s that for a book proposal?


Today (May 22) is the memorial of St. Rita, known for many things, among them, her clear-eyed view of her children’s lives, earthly and eternal:

Rita Lotti was born near Cascia in Italy in the fourteenth century, the only child of her parents, Antonio and Amata. Her parents were official peacemakers in a turbulent environment of feuding families.

At an early age Rita felt called to religious life; however, her parents arranged for her to be married to Paolo Mancini. Rita accepted this as God’s will for her, and the newlyweds were soon blessed with two sons.

One day while on his way home, Paolo was killed. Rita’s grief was compounded with the fear that her two sons would seek to avenge their father’s death, as was the custom of the time. She began praying and fasting that God would not allow this to happen. Both sons soon fell ill and died, which Rita saw as an answer to her prayers.

From The Church’s Most Powerful Novenas. 

Whether or not your faith can take you that far at the moment, it’s worth pondering, worth allowing your self-understanding as a parent  – or simply a person who is connected to others – to be jolted, challenged and questioned.

It’s worth pondering on what we really believe and what we really want and hope for others and what we really think would be the worst and best things that could ever happen to them.

Raising children to be fulfilled in this world, happy with who they are in this world, and helpful to others in this world is good of us, but it’s also very 21st century First World of us. Parental bonds naturally bring deep desires to protect our children from any kind of harm or suffering, and of course it makes sense to have our parental goal be that vision of thriving, successful adults. Who still call, of course.

But if we’re parenting like the saints, we’re nudged to consider different definitions and frameworks and paradigms. We’re sometimes even confronted with examples of what we’d today call bad – terrible – parenting.

That is not to say that we look to saints because all of their decisions were good ones. They weren’t and we don’t. It is also true that there is nothing much easier than using religion as a tool to manipulate others and escape responsibility. I’m really involved in church and God clearly has a mission for me that requires all my time there  can often be more simply translated as thanks for the godly excuse to stay away from my family! 

But if we’re serious about the Catholic thing, we do look to patterns, and the pattern we see is that when the saints think about other people, they’re concerned, first and foremost, with the state of their souls.

Now, we’d argue that  – we are too! Because we can quickly direct our purported concern with “souls” into that “self-fulfillment” door that rules the present day. That is: your deepest desires, as you understand them at this moment, must come from God – because they’re so deep and you can’t imagine being yourself without them. So this is what God wants. What you want. And that’s: fulfillment, happiness and feeling okay about what you’re doing here and now. What more can we want for ourselves, for our children?

St. Rita offers….another paradigm.

And so does S. Marie de l’Incarnation – the great mystic and missionary to New France, died in 1672, canonized in 2014. 

Let’s look at From Mother to Son: The Selected Letters of Marie de l’Incarnation to Claude Martin.  It seems appropriate to talk about this fascinating relationship on the memorial of St. Rita.

Marie was widowed at the age of twenty, left with a young son. She spent years – not only working in a family business and supporting her son – but discerning. It was a discernment that led to her, at the age of 32, when her son was 11 – into joining the Ursulines, and, a few years later, heading to Canada, where she would live, minister, and eventually die, never having seen her son with her physical eyes again.

(She was beatified in 1980 and canonized in 2014) 

So yes, she left her son with relatives so she could join a cloistered convent then sail across the sea.

The argument is made that viewed in historical context, this decision is not as strange as it seems to us today. Families tended to be more extended, parents died a lot, one-fourth of all marriages in France during this period were second marriages, children were sent off to school, sent to live in better circumstances with better-off relations and so on.

All of this is true, but we also know from Marie’s story that her son did not cheerfully accept either of her decisions – he ran away and turned up at the convent gate, and so on.

But, as it does, life went on, and in the end, Claude entered religious life himself as a Benedictine, and he and his mother exchanged letters for decades – and he eventually worked hard to collect her writings and present them to the world as the fruit of the mind of a saintly woman. From one of her letters to him:

You were abandoned by your mother and your relatives. Hasn’t this abandonment been useful to you? When I left you, you were not yet twelve years old and I did so only with strange agonies known to God alone. I had to obey his divine will, which wanted things to happen thus, making me hope that he would take care of you. I steeled my heart to prevail over what had delayed my entry into holy religion a whole ten years. Still, I had to be convinced of the necessity of delivering this blow by Reverend Father Dom Raymond and by ways I can’t set forth on this paper, though I would tell you in person. I foresaw the abandonment of our relatives, which gave me a thousand crosses, together with the human weakness that made me fear your ruin. 

When I passed through Paris, it would have been easy for me to place you. The Queen, Madame the Duchess d’Aiguillon and Madame the Countesss Brienne, who did me the honor of looking upon me with favor and who have again honored me with their commands this year, by their letters, wouldn’t have refused me anything I desired for you. I thanked Madame the Duchess d’Aiguillon for the good that she wanted to do for you, but the thought that came to me then was that if you were advanced in the world, your soul would be in danger of ruin.  What’s more, the thoughts that had formerly occupied my mind, in wanting only spiritual poverty for your inheritance and for mine, made me resolve to leave you a second time in the hands of the Mother of goodness, trusting that since I was going to give my life for the service of her beloved Son, she would take care of you….I have never loved you but in the poverty of Jesus Christ in which all treasures are found….

More thoughts here.

Saturday Random

I’m off an a quick jaunt up north. Check out Instagram Stories if you’re interested.

Some notes:

Finished a short piece on Mrs. Davis for a publication. After it’s out, I’ll do a deep dive into the series in this space. I spent enough time watching it and thinking about it, I might as bring something else out of it!

Here’s an excellent article from the New Yorker about the Louisville Orchestra. The occasion for the piece was a recent concert of the orchestra with cellist Yo-Yo Ma in…Mammoth Cave.

The beginning was intensely dramatic. Audience members, numbering five hundred, walked down the sixty-eight steps of the cave’s Historic Entrance. Inside, voices floated out of the murk: members of the Louisville Chamber Choir and of the orchestra were singing a wordless, rising-and-falling chant that started out as a unison and then grew in polyphonic complexity. After walking a quarter mile or so, spectators took up positions on the sides of Rafinesque Hall, one of Mammoth’s largest internal chambers. The orchestra was to one side; Tines and the choristers paced about; Ma sat at the center. The acoustics were, needless to say, reverberant, yet individual lines remained distinct. Despite the damp, cool surroundings, the sound had an unexpected warmth.

Source: Yo-Yo Ma Instagram

Interesting! But the piece goes into the origins of the ensemble, which once again reveal that people are complex:

To understand why Louisville, Kentucky, has a lofty status in the world of contemporary classical composition—a status reaffirmed the other day, when Yo-Yo Ma and the Louisville Orchestra presented a première inside Mammoth Cave, Kentucky’s chief natural wonder—you have to go back to 1948, when a singular character named Charles Farnsley became the city’s mayor. Deceptively folksy in manner, Farnsley professed nostalgia for the Confederacy and sported a Southern gentleman’s string tie. At the same time, he gravitated toward the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, dismantling aspects of segregation and promoting adult education. Most unusually, he adored modern classical music—the more dissonant the better. A writer for High Fidelity visited him in 1953 and found him demonstrating Ampex tape recorders at the public library. “Play me some Stravinsky and Villa-Lobos and some Edgard Varèse, boys,” he hollered.

In 1948, the Louisville Orchestra, which had been founded eleven years earlier, was in financial crisis. Farnsley, who had audited classes with the émigré Jewish-German musicologist Gerhard Herz, at the University of Louisville, offered a radical suggestion: Why not use some of the money that had been slated for celebrity soloists to instead commission new works? Supporting composers, Farnsley said, would be “a much greater, more lasting service to music.” More practically, he believed that such a policy would attract national press and boost the city’s profile. He even spoke of establishing a record label, which, he thought, would drum up revenue. Robert Whitney, the orchestra’s gifted and furiously hardworking young music director, endorsed the plan, although he wondered whether the audience would be able to keep up with Farnsley’s enthusiasms. The mayor, one associate reported, “doesn’t like any music that was written before 1920.”

Thus began the Louisville revolution, which riveted the classical world in the nineteen-fifties. After a decade, the orchestra had commissioned a hundred and thirty-two scores and recorded about a hundred. No American ensemble had ever done anything comparable, and none has done so since.

Have you heard about the guy who goes out and pays day laborers and food stand owners to spend the day at Disneyland? It’s so fantastic. There’s a TikTok account, but I don’t have that contraption on my contraption, so here’s the Instagram account.

Today’s the memorial of St. Bernardine (Bernardino) of Siena:

At 22, he entered the Franciscan Order and was ordained two years later. For almost a dozen years he lived in solitude and prayer, but his gifts ultimately caused him to be sent to preach. He always traveled on foot, sometimes speaking for hours in one place, then doing the same in another town.

Especially known for his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, Bernardine devised a symbol—IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek—in Gothic letters on a blazing sun. This was to displace the superstitious symbols of the day, as well as the insignia of factions: for example, Guelphs and Ghibellines. The devotion spread, and the symbol began to appear in churches, homes and public buildings. Opposition arose from those who thought it a dangerous innovation. Three attempts were made to have the pope take action against him, but Bernardine’s holiness, orthodoxy, and intelligence were evidence of his faithfulness.

General of the Friars of the Strict Observance, a branch of the Franciscan Order, Bernardine strongly emphasized scholarship and further study of theology and canon law. When he started there were 300 friars in the community; when he died there were 4,000. He returned to preaching the last two years of his life, dying while traveling.

I’m sure there are other collections out there, perhaps some with more contemporary translations, but this is one I grabbed from archive.or. It’s worth your time. If you’re interested in that sort of thing. They give you an intriguing snapshot of the time, for these sermons were, of course, not being given during Mass, but outside of it, probably outdoors, to the entire community, wealthy and poor. He uses examples from all walks of life, from bakers to shoemakers to farmers, and has great concern for local political squabbles.

Weirdly, this painting of St. Bernardine of Siena is in our very own Birmingham (AL) Museum of Art.

So, for example, his sermons on vanity.

Sermon 28 is on vanity. It’s applicable to the present moment, perhaps not in every particular, since social morays and cultural expectations do change over time, but in the basic spiritual orientation, largely neglected today, even in the self-consciously Christian world. What’s deemed necessary and credible in “evangelization” is framed differently in an affluent, image-oriented culture.

This lengthy sermon goes all over the place and reflects, of course, his time – a time in which social and economic class and position were reflected in dress, sometimes by local law (called sumptuary laws). So there is a touch of that in this sermon – attempting to punch above your weight with your clothing is a manifestation of vanity – but just a bit. More important to Bernardine is the message that attempting to draw attention to oneself and using clothing as an indicator of wealth and privilege is vanity, and therefore sinful.

It’s also unjust:

The fifth sin and sign of the displeasure of God is injustice: and here we will pause a little, for if thou look well into this sin thou wilt see that of ten which thou dost commit, nine are comprised in this one. Thou wilt give thy daughter to a man as his wife; and neither he who taketh her in marriage, nor her father, nor her mother , doth consider whence come her possessions ; whereas if they were wise, they would have considered it their duty to think of this before all else : whence come these possessions, whence come these garments, of what is her dowry made up ?

For many times, and most times, it is made up of robbery, of usury, and of the sweat of the brow of peasants,, and of the blood of widows, and of the marrow of wards and orphans. “Who would take one ‘ of those petticoats and squeeze it and wring it, would see issue therefrom the blood of human beings. Woe is me ! Do you never think how great cruelty is this, that thou shouldst dress thyself in garments that this man hath gained for thee, who perisheth with cold? …..

The first of the other five is called superfluity: The first of the whereas you must reflect that when God gave the garment of skin to Adam, he gave it to him out of decency, and to protect him from the heat and the cold, so that it might be fitted to his needs, and in this all the holy Doctors agree; and he had one only and no more. thou who hast so many of them, and keepest them in a chest, see to it, forsooth, that they be not moth-eaten; see to it that thou dost put them out in the morning sun to air, and shake them well, and look to them often. And now weary thyself in such work as much as thou wilt, yet shalt thou not be able to hinder but that moths shall consume them, since that the garment which is not worn, is always spoiled; and that which is spoiled is a loss. Go, then, and give an account of this in the other life. And because of this said Saint James in the fifth chapter of his Canonical Epistle : Vestimenta tua a tineis contesta sunt –  Your garments are moth-eaten; and if they are not consumed by material moths, yet they will be consumed by spiritual ones.

Knowest thou what are spiritual moths ? They are cursed avarice. Tell me, whence cometh it, that thou dost weary thyself with so much work all the year for these, * and dost never wear them? Thou dost weary thyself all the year, shaking them and hanging them up on poles; and a poor woman standeth yonder and doth freeze with cold, because that she hath not even so much clothing as she hath need of. What thinkest thou that her shivering doth cry out to God in respect of thee ? ….And thou lookest on at the poor man who doth perish with cold, and thou takest no heed thereof. Thou dost not hear any sound of cries, forsooth. Knowest thou why ? Because thou sufferest not from the cold; thou dost fill thy belly with good food, thou dost drink thy fill, and thou hast many garments upon thy back, and ofttimes dost thou sit by a fire. Thou takest thought for naught else: with a full belly thou art comforted in thy soul. And how many shirts, women, have you sent down here to those unfortunate prisoners, eh ?

It’s an interesting alternative to a world in which evangelists and spiritual thought leaders get (and seek, even indirectly) flattery and are emulated for their makeup tips, hair, skin and clothing choices, in which spiritual encouragers and inspirers are more often than not revenue-seeking influencers with Bible quotes tastefully scattered on their feed.

And then this sermon on accumulating stuff and alms.

Now consider for a little that which God doth command us. A very little thing doth he command us. He doth not command that thou should give  more than thou canst give. He doth not wish that thou shouldst leave thyself with naught. He saith: Wouldst thou give an alms ? Then give it. Canst thou not give a loaf? No ? Then give a part of one. Canst thou not give wine ? Then give some water which hath -been poured over the lees. If thou canst not give even such wine, then give some vinegar mixed with water. Canst thou not clothe a poor man? No. Give him at the least, as perchance thou canst, a pair of drawers, or a shirt. Canst thou not aid the sick man ? See that thou hast at least pity upon him : have compassion on him, comfort him with words. Canst thou not deliver him from prison? No. Visit him, send him some- times a little soup, and have compassion for him. If thou dost take thought for this, it will be well for thee ! And therefore do I say that God will judge with perfect justice.

In a time in which, in one way or another, the prosperity Gospel reigns, Bernardine – as well as other spiritual writers from the breadth and depth of Christian tradition – serve as a corrective. He preached to mixed groups, to wealthy and to poor, and his words to the wealthy are always about the folly of putting faith in these worldly things and God’s judgment that awaits those who hoard and ignore the cries of the poor.

Following Christ, it seems, is not about mimicking and attempting to baptize contemporary values of achievement and self-fulfillment, but of something more simple and basic: loving as Christ did and treating the gift of life on earth as one to keep giving, poured out as He did.

You might also like his sermon on the tongue – that is, on speech, in which he riffs off his understanding of the anatomy of the tongue to offer his listeners advice on the wise and charitable use of the gift of speech.

God put the tongue ‘in man’s head.

Knowest  thou why he put it in the head rather than in any other place ? Because in the head are all the senses. And these senses surround the tongue placed among them, showing that whatsoever thou speakest, thou shouldst speak with caution, since thou canst do naught which the senses do not perceive, and according as thou speakest, so shalt thou be esteemed.

11.God placed the tongue lower than the ears, and he placed one ear on this side, and the other on that side,  and they keep the tongue in the middle between them, and keep guard over it one on each side. And therefore when thou speakest thou shouldst consider : from which side do I speak ? I shall be overheard if I speak here, for here is the right ear. If I speak there, there is the left ear, which doth hear what I say.

12. The tongue is placed under the two eyes, signifying the two kinds of knowledge that a man ought to have; the namely, to know how to distinguish the true and the false, and when a thing is not true, never to say it. And the true thing if thou knowest it, thou mayest say it most times without sinning, but not always.

13. The tongue is placed below the nostrils of the nose, it is also below so that when thou sayest aught about thy neighbour, first thou touchest thyself, to see whether thou hast the same fault. I know not whether thou hast given heed to this, that when one man wisheth to speak of another, first he toucheth his nose, and then commenceth to speak, proving first in regard to himself that he is full of the very fault of which he doth accuse his neighbour. And therefore do ” not point out that thou art good and thy neighbour bad ; look first to thyself, and afterwards to thy neighbour. And of such as these speaks Saint Matthew, in the seventh chapter: Hypocrita, eilce primum trabem de oculo tuo. Thou hypocrite, who wishest to show that thou art esteemed a good man, cast out first the beam out of thy own eye, and then re- prove others. Thou, on the other hand, who art reproved by some one for that which thou hast not done, but which he himself hath done, say to him : Wipe thy nose !


You don’t have too look very far on the Catholic internet to find tales of parents of small children being given the stink-eye at Mass, breast-feeding moms ordered to leave the church by officious ushers, and snide comments and idiotic questions being posed to parents of large families.

I don’t doubt a single one, but a few years ago, I had an experience that illustrates the truth that perception can be deceiving.

I was at Mass by myself. A bit into it, a woman slipped into the pew ahead of me with two little boys, ages maybe two and four. They were…little boys.  I know about little boys.  No problem.

As we knelt for the Eucharistic Prayer, I slid down my (empty) pew so I wasn’t right behind the little boys, but instead, on the other side of the mom.  Why?  Because she was tall, the two people sitting ahead of her were both tall, I’m short, and I prefer to see the altar, if possible, rather than the backs of peoples’ heads.

At the sign of peace, she turned to me, and after we exchanged the sign, she hesitated, looked at me ruefully and said, apologetically, “I’m sorry. I know they’re…wiggly.”

And it struck me…she thinks I moved because I was bothered by her sons.  When it was nothing of the sort!  I said, “Oh, heavens.  They’re fine.  I have five kids.”

And that was that.  Except…do you see?  As she initially saw it, I was bothered by her kids.  Add to that the fact that I didn’t dawdle and left as soon as the priest was out the door, she could have easily have been composing a social media post in her head about the woman at Mass who moved to get away from her kids and couldn’t wait to get away from them at the end of Mass.  Unwelcoming! When in fact, I just couldn’t see the altar, and right at the end of Mass, felt my phone vibrating and saw that it was a call from one of my two sons who were off on a rafting trip for the weekend.  So yeah, I wanted to see what was up with a phone call from that situation.

No, you can’t mistake a glare or unwelcoming words.  But I guess the bigger point is to never be too quick to judge anyone, no matter what end of the dynamic you happen to live on at that moment….right?



Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?

…might just be one of my favorite Scripture verses. An arresting, pointed reminder.

Why are you standing around? What are you looking at?

In leaving, Jesus is profoundly present. Just before he left this earthly realm, he gave quite specific instructions…be my witnesses…make disciples of all nations. 

A reminder:

In this age of easy global media reach, in this age that celebrates individual achievement and impact, we are tempted to think that of course the ideal way to be obedient to Jesus’ instructions is to make a difference and set the world on fire.

Well, yes. Sort of.

But don’t forget where that starts.

It starts in our lives, in our particular state in life. It begins with, first, our own relationship with God, our own stance, our own openness, our own humility. And then the circles widens: family, neighbors, fellow workers.

To fulfill our duties in ordinary life, letting the love of Christ live and grow in us, bringing Christ to each and every interaction whether it be washing dishes, conducting a meeting, comforting a child, hammering a nail?

To do that? Even those quiet, ordinary tasks are ways to be his witnesses to all nations. 

That’s where it begins. But don’t be tempted to believe that because the witnessing begins in such an ordinary, small, quiet place, it ends there. It doesn’t. It never does. 

We all live hidden, “unhistoric” lives, lives hidden from the world, yet lives that change the world around us for good or ill in untold unknown ways. We have a choice—to live a hidden life of deceit or of integral holiness. Nothing is hidden from God, nor even man entirely.

The retelling from my Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. 

Click on each page for a fuller look. You can get the book here (not an Amazon link, btw).

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