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I have never been a fan of emphasizing “vocation” for the laity. My dissent is rooted in two places, I think.

First, quite honestly, my personality type, which is all about preparing, but averse to planning. Some might call this “reactive,” I prefer to think of it as responding to the Spirit.

Better, yes?

Of course God calls and leads us, but it seems to me, from Scripture and the example of the saints, that this calling is mostly about the particular moment we are in and the people and circumstances that surround us. This can certainly have long-term effects and might put us on a path that lasts the rest of our lives on earth, but the emphasis is not on any sense of : this thing that God is calling me to do for the rest of my life but rather for the rest of my life I will respond to what God calls me to in any given moment.

It also strikes me that intense discernment of “vocation” in the world is a luxury good, an expression of privilege. And in the modern world of self-fulfillment, quite often twisted into a baptized version of privileged “life journey,” and a way to avoid serving and meeting the needs of those right in front of us, right now.

There is a spiritually healthy way of talking about lay vocation in the world, I think, but it’s not a way that centers on personal fulfillment. It challenges us to ask: “What does the world need? What do the people in this world need? How can I help? How must I help?”

But you’ve heard all of that before. It’s all an introduction to a brief discussion of a book I read last week, Callings and Consequences: The Making of Catholic Vocational Culture in Early Modern France by Christendom’s Christopher J. Lane.

Exciting!

Well, it was interesting. So there .

The concept of vocation in an early modern setting calls to mind the priesthood or religious life in a monastery or cloister; to be “called” by God meant to leave the concerns of the world behind. Beginning in the mid-seventeenth century, French Catholic clergy began to promote the innovative idea that everyone, even an ordinary layperson, was called to a vocation or “state of life” and that discerning this call correctly had implications for one’s happiness and salvation, and for the social good.

In Callings and Consequences Christopher Lane analyzes the origins, growth, and influence of a culture of vocation that became a central component of the Catholic Reformation and its legacy in France. The reformers’ new vision of the choice of a state of life was marked by four characteristics: urgency (the realization that one’s soul was at stake), inclusiveness (the belief that everyone, including lay people, was called by God), method (the use of proven discernment practices), and liberty (the belief that this choice must be free from coercion, especially by parents). No mere passing phenomena, these vocational reforms engendered enduring beliefs and practices within the repertoire of global Catholic modernity, even to the present day.

The book is not just about the laity, but about how discourse – and processes – related to religious vocations as well – shifted during this period. What was at play was that early Modern tension between the importance of the individual and authority, including parental authority.

Two points I want to share in this space:

First, these reformers sense, as Lane puts it, of the urgency of a proper attitude towards vocational discernment (and remember we are including the laity here, which these writers did) – reflecting the problems that result from people following vocations to which they were not actually called – think individuals entering religious life because of family expectations or pressure or worldly gain, resulting in a church weighted by corruption.

Secondly, related to the individual, was the conviction that God would call one to a vocation that made it “easier” in a sense, to attain salvation, and to discern wrongly – or be manipulated or coerced into the wrong vocation – would put one’s soul at risk.

Vocation, in this rigorist context, became the means by which God determined the graces particularly needed by each person. Choosing the wrong vocation would be to reject the graces needed for one’s salvation.

...Since those who had chosen wrongly would not be equipped to fulfill the duties of their respective states of life, the needs of others would be unmet. As Clugny, for example, explained in Pauline terms, good vocational choices enacted God’s providential plan for a church composed of various members: “The diversity of states and the variety of kinds of life make the church subsist and give it its beauty. If a body had nothing but eyes or feet, it would be monstrous. we are all members of a Body, of which Jesus Christ is the Head.”. When Christians failed to follow God’s call, they were rebellious members of Christ’s body, like a foot trying to be an eye. Especially worrisome in the post-Tridentine era of clerical reform was entrance into the priesthood without a vocation. Hence Claude ply’s catechism warned that parents who forced their sons to be clerics would have to “answer before God for the scandal that their children give to the whole Church..”‘

Right vocational choices were therefore no private matter, between God and the individual. Rigorist vocational reformers hoped not only that more individuals might be saved, but that the body of the church might be healed. Bad priests led Christians into sin more readily than anyone else. Bad religious and laity were no help, either. If no priest, religious, or lay person could be good without the grace of vocation, then ongoing Catholic reform demanded that young Catholics learn to discern rightly God’s will for their lives. Catholic vocational culture in France needed to be remade.

Rigorist vocational reformers therefore sought to normalize vocational discernment, and one of the biggest challenges in doing so was the effort to Instill the idea that each person was called to a state of life, including all laymen and women. vocational rigorists sought to leave no space for a mediocre laity, and so they offered an inclusive framework for lay vocation…

You can see where this comes from in this post-Protestant Reformation era, an era of now Catholic self-examination and reformation – also an era (in terms of the laity) of slightly more choice – for males of a certain social and economic level, at least.

But into the anxiety steps our friend Francis de Sales, who has a slightly different view. He assumes vocation of course, and the importance of discernment – but then cautions against stressing out about it. Even with something as serious as vocational discernment, “excessive discernment was harmful and the will of Go could not be found simply ‘by force of examination and subtlety of discourse,’ that is, by an unending and convoluted interior search, relying exclusively on one’s own mind.” (33)

Jane de Chantal reflects this mindset – not surprisingly – as she consistently reminds us to stop thinking so much about ourselves: Any one can see that all this is simply self-love seeking its satisfaction.

De Sales recommends a simpler process involving prayer and taking counsel – and then going forward. Also of importance is de Sale’s assertion that even when a “wrong” decision is made, God can bring good fruit: “Yet more surprisingly, a good vocation might come out of bad motives….In short, a sincere will to continue living in this state would render moot any imperfections in choosing to enter it.” (34)

“He emphasized the simplicity of the decision and the abundance of God’s grace, even if one ended up in a state of life for the wrong reasons. The choice of a state was thus a serious choice, but not the hinge on which all one’s life and eternity depended; perfection was possible in every state, and God was generous to all who turned to him.” (34)

Yes, we are each and every one of us called by God – today. Right now. And more than likely, it’s a call related to the people sitting in the next room or at the next cubicle. Any big steps we take begin here.

As he says in another context:

My God ! dear daughter, do not examine whether what you do is little or much, good or ill, provided it is not sin, and that in good faith you will to do it for God. As much as you can, do perfectly what you do, but when it is done, think of it no more ; rather think of what is to be done quite simply in the way of God, and do not torment your spirit.

This coming Sunday is “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and what many of us might not realize, as we hear homilies about 1st century sheep herders and Old Testament imagery, is that Jesus’ words about being a shepherd in today’s Gospel are part of a larger narrative. Jesus alludes to sheep and shepherds in other contexts throughout the Gospels, but it’s important to realize that today’s passage, from John 10, doesn’t just exist as a collection of quotable sayings that Jesus is standing around tossing out. It’s actually the second part of another event – the healing of the man born blind, described in John 9. Go back and read it for yourself!

Jesus’ words about being a shepherd to whom the sheep respond and who gathers and protects, rather than abandons his sheep, is, in fact, not a general illustration, but a continuation of his attack on the Pharisees who had excommunicated the man born blind. This is a case in which the useful, but of course not original division of Scripture into chapters can actually hamper our understanding.

When I wrote about Jesus as the Good Shepherd in the the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, I focused on this passage and placed it in this context.  I took a slightly different angle, though – appropriate to the audience of children, of course – and focused on listening to the voice of Jesus who cares for us and rescues us – and being able to recognize that voice in the midst of all the other voices that call to us.

The excerpts below are just the first and last pages of the section – the first so you can see how they are introduced, and the last, so you can see how each chapter ends – with a tie-back into Catholic-specific stuff and then questions for review and reflection.

Then, the first page of the entry on “Shepherd” from The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. Remember how the book is organized – this first page has a basic explanation, and then the facing page has a more in-depth exploration of the symbol.

EPSON MFP image

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

Finally, the chapter on the Second Sunday of Easter (which was traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday until You-Know-What) from the 1947 7th grade textbook which I often share with you. 

A few years ago, this Sunday was one of my Living Faith days. Here’s that reflection.

In the heat of summer, we headed to a large swimming hole. One of the ways you could reach the water was by jumping off a steep, cliff like bank. For a time, we watched as one young woman stood on the edge, contemplating a jump. Her friends floated in the water below, encouraging her to follow. She vacillated, moving to the edge, then backing away. Again and again, they called her name.

MORE

Friday Random

Well, none of that happened. Not sure why. My excuse: still can’t think of that quote.

Update: Got it. Time to get to work.

Here’s some random:

The Catholic Benefits Association (CBA) has been carefully studying the proposals coming from both President Biden’s executive orders and comments from the Department of Health and Human Services. In short, what seems to be coming is tying Medicare and Medicaid funding to accepting the administration’s favored views on gender and abortion — views that are diametrically opposed to a coherent vision of Catholic health care.

Doug Wilson, CEO of CBA, noted that the goal seems to be “to end Catholic health care.” He predicts that the likely requirements coming from the administration “are so far beyond Catholic teaching that Catholic employers of every sort would be faced with complying or shutting down.”

So much of this country’s health care was built by Catholic immigrants — especially by orders of women religious — who wanted to continue the millennia-old tradition of Christ-followers imitating their master by caring for the sick. Their legacy remains profound and must be defended. This is true because of the good that is being done today: millions and millions depend on Catholic facilities for care. 

But it is also true because of what Catholic health care represents for the future. If we are going to resist the infiltration of a secularized, consumerist throwaway medical culture, it will be Catholic health care that leads the way.

An interview with Michele Chronister on “What makes a parish accessible?”

When we look to the lives of the saints (many of whom lived in a time prior to modern medical diagnostic tools) we find that many of them would have fit into one of those categories! The body of Christ, of whose members are initiated through the sacrament of baptism, is lacking if any of the members are excluded from full and active participation. And, although “full and active participation” does sometimes include active participation in lay or ordained ministry, the scope is far broader than that – it encompasses the opportunity to partake in the sacramental life of the Church, uniting the sacrifice of our lives to the sacrifice of the life of Christ.

If even one person is excluded from that sort of participation, which our baptism mandates, then the Church is far poorer for it!…

….

To make a parish truly accessible, we need to start from the firm belief that it is not just good but necessary to have a parish where all the members of the baptized are fully engaged and present in parish life.

We need to shift from thinking “What do we need to do to make sure we are not excluding people with disabilities and that we are offering ministries for them?” to thinking “Our parish is poorer without the contributions of those with disabilities, and it is essential that they are able to fully and actively participate.”


Accessibility is less about serving those with disabilities, and more about acknowledging that God calls them, like all of us, to sainthood, and that we need the gifts that God has given them, in order for the Church to truly flourish.

  • I regularly read New York magazine (checked out from the library) because of the reviews, many of the cultural articles, the food coverage and once in a while, an actual article – even if to give me insight into a polar opposite point of view. Well, this was a very good package, in the April 11 issue:

New York’s annual “Yesteryear Issue” celebrates the magazine’s 54th anniversary by paying homage to the East Village’s Little Ukraine. “The issue tells the neighborhood’s story through successive waves of immigration, and shows how the neighborhood retained its identity and culture,” says features director Genevieve Smith. “These stories are told through a deeply reported history by city editor Christopher Bonanos, as well as first-person accounts and archival photographs and illustrations.”

The issue is an excavation of the neighborhood’s — and the country’s — rich history. Bonanos says, “We all have Ukraine on our minds at the moment, and what’s striking about this little enclave is that it is both an artifact and a living community. The institutions along Second Avenue that got going in the 1940s and 1950s, during the postwar immigration boom, are now leaping into service to send relief back to the old country. But it’s also true that the neighborhood’s Ukrainian-ness has faded, and it’s valuable to record its texture and physicality while a lot of people still remember it well.”

It was very good, respectful of tradition and the role of faith. Here’s the main article, with many other smaller features, including one on St. George Ukrainian Church, a neighborhood centerpiece that is not at all in decline with, according to the piece, 5000 members.

In the soft light of the nave, with the image of Christ Pantocrator in the dome overhead, the congregation — currently numbering about 5,000 — now gathers for weekday and weekend masses. Since the invasion, the church has been open from sunup to sundown for prayers; one morning last week, Father Shyshka performed four straight hours of confession. Weekend services have been attracting the kind of turnout usually reserved for holidays, and on a recent Friday, easily a hundred attendees showed up for evening mass. It was Lenten Week, when part of the liturgy calls for the congregation to prostrate themselves: Men and women, the elderly and small children, all face forward on the aisle floors.

I think Kurosawa was an artist of the highest order who could as easily entertain as he could push the medium in new directions. Audiences weren’t always on board with him when he tried to move beyond his more entertaining films, but time has been much kinder to his extra efforts than some other directors like Ford.

That being said, I’ve waxed on about how he’s a born entertainer, and yet the circumstances of his birth, the country he worked in and the time he was born, is a big obstacle for some people. Old, foreign, black and white movies that aren’t widescreen can get dismissed as “art house”. People want colors. They want stars they know. They don’t want to read a movie. They want their widescreen TVs filled to the edges with image. It’s just a lot of little things that add up to, “that’s too different from what I’m used to, I don’t want to put in the effort. Just entertain me.”

And yet, Kurosawa made some of the most effortlessly entertaining action films of all time. I don’t imagine that this audience of well-informed and erudite film watchers are put off by such things as subtitles, but for those who do find such things to a hinderance to enjoying a film, I would really still encourage you to discover Kurosawa. Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, High and Low, The Bad Sleep Well, Scandal, Drunken Angel, and my personal favorite Ikiru are the exact kinds of movies that people say that they want. Smart, with great characters, and well-filmed action, Kurosawa, for decades, made entertainment for everyone.

And here’s his “definitive ranking” of Kurosawa’s films.

Today’s first reading from Mass, continuing in Acts, is the Conversion of Saul. Here’s one page on my retelling in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes.

By the way, as I’ve written before, organization of a book’s content is very important to me – the clarification and focus really speeds along the writing process. So, I was asked to write Heroes as kind of a sequel to Saints but also as a look at church history. I didn’t want to do a chronological arrangement – boring and not right for a non-textbook book for this age group. And also not as helpful in reaching my real goal in all of these books, which is to help the reader (of any age) connect these figures and events with their own lives in the present – we’re all part of one journey, all guided by the same Lord, moving in the same direction, and one of the reasons we still pay attention to these figures and events from the past is what they can teach us about responding to God in the present. So I organized the events and figures in categories related to the virtues. Each section begins with a narrative from Scripture – mostly the Gospels – and then moves on to explore how that virtue was lived out in these figures and events.

Again, no Amazon links above. Links go to publisher. Most of the books are available through any online Catholic retailer, of course.

And then, a couple more related entries from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories and the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols.

From the secretary, St. Bureaucratis Parish, to Inquirer, c/o Ethiopian Embassy:

In response to your recent query:

  • Please provide three copies of your birth certificate, marriage certificates and high school transcripts.
  • The schedule for the next year of our “Come and See our Joy-filled Family of Faith, Community and Ministry for Everyone” adult formation is attached.
  • Your assigned sponsor will contact with you within three months.
  • Please go to the website to sign up for an appointment date with our Life-long Into Adulthood Faith Formation and Inclusive Ministry Director.
  • Please send a copy of your Covid vaccine record

Today’s first reading was proclaimed in 2020 during Easter season on April 30 while most of the Catholic world was still in hard lockdown, and I riffed (at length, of course) about it here.

My point: Post-Vatican II liturgical life prioritized the role and presence of community in celebration. This has, it seems, two unintended consequences: First, to minimize the object nature of the ritual action, and secondly, to ill-equip Catholics to engage in sacramental life when that community life is disrupted.

Traditional Catholic life, as it had evolved over the centuries, balanced this, by presenting a solidly objective sense of the workings of grace through word, matter and action and then allowing culturally-varied traditions and practices to grow up around these rituals.

But you always knew, even if your community had to be on the move or went through other changes, that the sacramental actions, even if minimally performed, were valid and powerful and connected you to God and the wider global community of the Body of Christ.

And so, I reflected:

Each of us is brought into being by God, who invites and calls us to be in communion – with other human beings, with the cosmos he has made us part of, and with him. Our religious rituals and devotions are woven into that reality and express it. It’s particularly evocative and meaningful when they express God’s actions and our connection to each other in our community and culture.

In short: the whole crew gathering for the baptism and celebrating into the night afterwards. Maybe with a procession between the church and the house just because.

But there’s a risk, there, isn’t it? It’s a risk that the party can take over, that First Communicant is most concerned with how many envelopes are coming his way, that the wedding becomes a fashion show, a battle ground, or maybe both. That all of these moments become social markers, the actual meaning pushed aside. This happened before the modern era, it happens now.

The anti-minimalist argument has always centered on the risk of magical thinking. I’d argue that the modern sociological emphasis also leads to magical thinking. The magic just has a different locus: the “community.”

And so the opportunity comes to revisit and rethink. It’s too bad we have to live with restrictions. But can the restrictions be a chance to refocus? 

Can the disappointment at only being able to do the minimum, in the end, work to reveal the power and grace given to us within that minimum, and the amazing love of God who sends people to meet us on the road, and with a splash of water, gives us …everything? 

I will add that there have always been actually pastoral pastors and ministers who have listened to seekers’ and inquirers’ stories in the mode of the apostle Philip. They have been open to the presence of the seeker on the road. They’ve taken the time to instruct and answer their questions. And when the Spirit moves, they don’t hold up more and more hoops. They stop the chariot right there, and go find some water.

And….Felicidades!

Thursday Random

Still here, of course. Not super busy, but a little sideswiped by the SCOTUS leak and wondering what to say about it all. Not that I don’t know what I think, but my hesitancy is more about the number of different angles on which to comment and to consider whether my great temptation to center my commentary on the commentary is a sell-out. But in wanting to comment on the commentary, I’ve also been waylaid by my desire to use a great quote from….somebody…that I used..sometime in the past…but can’t remember the exact wording of, can’t remember who said it and can’t find my previous uses of the quote. The wording of which I can’t recall.

Yes, so that’s caused some delay.

If past experience holds, it will make its way to the top of my brain in due time. It’s there, just resting.

As well as mental considerations related to end-of-year stuff. Not that I’m busy like so many of the rest of you, but Mental Space is being taken up by Decisions and Plans and Schedules. It’s weird. Everything is basically the same now, but in three months, it’s going to be completely – completely – different, and for sure, I’m going to be like:

Anyway, I hope to get my thoughts together on SCOTUS later today and buckle up and start hitting the list of the rest of my saved post ideas (including sharing more of my Catholics-in-the-South presentation). Until then a couple of randoms for you, both related to history and fading or obscured but persistent images:

“The ghosts of Binham, Norfolk. Henry VI and St Michael, just two details of the screen. The 15c screen was whitewashed and painted with Biblical texts in the mid-16c, but as this flaked off the figures began to show through.”

Then, closer to home – really interesting. There’s a cave with a lot of ancient art somewhere in northeastern Alabama. It’s called “19th Unnamed Cave” and is at an undisclosed location to prevent degradation of the site, but here you go:

The 19th Unnamed Cave is the most extensive of all known cave art sites in the Southeastern United States. Simek and his colleagues have been steadily documenting these sites over the past several decades—and, in a new study published today in the journal Antiquity, they report that the 19th boasts even more images than are visible to the naked eye. By creating 3-D scans of the cave, they revealed previously unseen giant figures, including life-size drawings of humans in enigmatic regalia and an 11-foot-long diamondback rattlesnake.

Tens of thousands of Native American rock paintings (known as pictographs) and carvings (petroglyphs) adorn boulders and canyon walls across North America. But archaeologists have only recently identified artworks in the dark zones of the continents’ caves. They now know of about 100 art-filled chambers in the vast limestone cave system of the Southeast. The first site was found in 1979, when cavers spotted an image of a bird while exploring a cave, now dubbed Mud Glyph Cave, in Tennessee. Later, in the mid-1990s, Simek, who was then studying another newly discovered site in Tennessee, put out a message on a caving forum, wondering if users had noticed any similar artwork during their trips underground. Tips started pouring in.

The Ancient Art Archive

I’ve been highlighting elements of my books related to Mary – here are a few images from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

More:

Mary and the Christian Life

Salve Regina

Ave Maria and Memorare

Mary in Catholic Signs and Symbols

We’ll start with the more confusing one – James. As is the case with (in English) “Mary” – there are a lot of “James” in the New Testament narratives, so sorting them out is a challenge. And perhaps not even really possible.

Today’s feast celebrates James “the Lesser” – as opposed to James the Greater, brother of John, one of the first four apostles called by Jesus, present at the Transfiguration, feast June 25, etc.

This James, son of Alphaeus, is often identified with the James who was head of the Church in Jerusalem and the author of the New Testament letter.  That’s what Pope Benedict went with in his 2007 General Audience talk: 

Thus, St James’ Letter shows us a very concrete and practical Christianity. Faith must be fulfilled in life, above all, in love of neighbour and especially in dedication to the poor. It is against this background that the famous sentence must be read: “As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead” (Jas 2: 26).

"amy welborn"

At times, this declaration by St James has been considered as opposed to the affirmations of Paul, who claims that we are justified by God not by virtue of our actions but through our faith (cf. Gal 2: 16; Rom 3: 28). However, if the two apparently contradictory sentences with their different perspectives are correctly interpreted, they actually complete each other.

St Paul is opposed to the pride of man who thinks he does not need the love of God that precedes us; he is opposed to the pride of self-justification without grace, simply given and undeserved.

St James, instead, talks about works as the normal fruit of faith: “Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit”, the Lord says (Mt 7: 17). And St James repeats it and says it to us.

Lastly, the Letter of James urges us to abandon ourselves in the hands of God in all that we do: “If the Lord wills” (Jas 4: 15). Thus, he teaches us not to presume to plan our lives autonomously and with self interest, but to make room for the inscrutable will of God, who knows what is truly good for us.

Now, Philip. I think this GA talk really highlight’s B16’s catechetical skills. We don’t know that much about Philip, but Benedict takes what we do know, and hones it down in the most practical…pastoral way:

The Fourth Gospel recounts that after being called by Jesus, Philip meets Nathanael and tells him: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (Jn 1: 45). Philip does not give way to Nathanael’s somewhat sceptical answer (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”) and firmly retorts: “Come and see!” (Jn 1: 46).

In his dry but clear response, Philip displays the characteristics of a true witness: he is not satisfied with presenting the proclamation theoretically, but directly challenges the person addressing him by suggesting he have a personal experience of what he has been told.

The same two verbs are used by Jesus when two disciples of John the Baptist approach him to ask him where he is staying. Jesus answers: “Come and see” (cf. Jn 1: 38-39).

We can imagine that Philip is also addressing us with those two verbs that imply personal involvement. He is also saying to us what he said to Nathanael: “Come and see”. The Apostle engages us to become closely acquainted with Jesus.

In fact, friendship, true knowledge of the other person, needs closeness and indeed, to a certain extent, lives on it. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that according to what Mark writes, Jesus chose the Twelve primarily “to be with him” (Mk 3: 14); that is, to share in his life and learn directly from him not only the style of his behaviour, but above all who he really was.

"amy welborn"

Indeed, only in this way, taking part in his life, could they get to know him and subsequently, proclaim him.

Later, in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, one would read that what is important is to “learn Christ” (4: 20): therefore, not only and not so much to listen to his teachings and words as rather to know him in person, that is, his humanity and his divinity, his mystery and his beauty. In fact, he is not only a Teacher but a Friend, indeed, a Brother.

How will we be able to get to know him properly by being distant? Closeness, familiarity and habit make us discover the true identity of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Philip reminds us precisely of this. And thus he invites us to “come” and “see”, that is, to enter into contact by listening, responding and communion of life with Jesus, day by day.

Then, on the occasion of the multiplication of the loaves, he received a request from Jesus as precise as it was surprising: that is, where could they buy bread to satisfy the hunger of all the people who were following him (cf. Jn 6: 5). Then Philip very realistically answered: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (Jn 6: 7).

Here one can see the practicality and realism of the Apostle who can judge the effective implications of a situation.

We then know how things went. We know that Jesus took the loaves and after giving thanks, distributed them. Thus, he brought about the multiplication of the loaves.

It is interesting, however, that it was to Philip himself that Jesus turned for some preliminary help with solving the problem: this is an obvious sign that he belonged to the close group that surrounded Jesus.

On another occasion very important for future history, before the Passion some Greeks who had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover “came to Philip… and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus’. Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus” (cf. Jn 12: 20-22).

Once again, we have an indication of his special prestige within the Apostolic College. In this case, Philip acts above all as an intermediary between the request of some Greeks – he probably spoke Greek and could serve as an interpreter – and Jesus; even if he joined Andrew, the other Apostle with a Greek name, he was in any case the one whom the foreigners addressed.

This teaches us always to be ready to accept questions and requests, wherever they come from, and to direct them to the Lord, the only one who can fully satisfy them. Indeed, it is important to know that the prayers of those who approach us are not ultimately addressed to us, but to the Lord: it is to him that we must direct anyone in need. So it is that each one of us must be an open road towards him!

There is then another very particular occasion when Philip makes his entrance. During the Last Supper, after Jesus affirmed that to know him was also to know the Father (cf. Jn 14: 7), Philip quite ingenuously asks him: “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14: 8). Jesus answered with a gentle rebuke: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father: how can you say, “Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?… Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me” (Jn 14: 9-11).

These words are among the most exalted in John’s Gospel. They contain a true and proper revelation. At the end of the Prologue to his Gospel, John says: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (Jn 1: 18).

Well, that declaration which is made by the Evangelist is taken up and confirmed by Jesus himself, but with a fresh nuance. In fact, whereas John’s Prologue speaks of an explanatory intervention by Jesus through the words of his teaching, in his answer to Philip Jesus refers to his own Person as such, letting it be understood that it is possible to understand him not only through his words but rather, simply through what he is.

To express ourselves in accordance with the paradox of the Incarnation we can certainly say that God gave himself a human face, the Face of Jesus, and consequently, from now on, if we truly want to know the Face of God, all we have to do is to contemplate the Face of Jesus! In his Face we truly see who God is and what he looks like!

The Evangelist does not tell us whether Philip grasped the full meaning of Jesus’ sentence. There is no doubt that he dedicated his whole life entirely to him. According to certain later accounts (Acts of Philip and others), our Apostle is said to have evangelized first Greece and then Frisia, where he is supposed to have died, in Hierapolis, by a torture described variously as crucifixion or stoning.

Let us conclude our reflection by recalling the aim to which our whole life must aspire: to encounter Jesus as Philip encountered him, seeking to perceive in him God himself, the heavenly Father. If this commitment were lacking, we would be reflected back to ourselves as in a mirror and become more and more lonely! Philip teaches us instead to let ourselves be won over by Jesus, to be with him and also to invite others to share in this indispensable company; and in seeing, finding God, to find true life.

Many years ago, I wrote a study guide for B16’s collected General Audience talks on the Apostles and other early Church figures. The study guide is available online in pdf form – so if you have a church discussion group and would like to use it, or even just for yourself  – there it is. 

Below are the pages from the unit which include St. James the Lesser. You can find the rest at the link, and feel free to use as you wish. 

Both images from St. John Lateran in Rome. 

Long-time readers will probably remember this post. But given the nature of the Internet and how quickly readers come and go, I thought it was worth reprinting here.

Mother’s Day is a few days away, but I thought I’d toss this out there, especially for any priests, deacons or other preachers who might wander by.

My mother & a friend in Nogales, 1950’s.

The question of how to “recognize” mothers at a Mother’s Day Mass is a fraught one.

There is, of course, the view (mine) that everything that happens at Mass should relate only to the liturgical year. Stop doing all the other stupid things, thanks. As a community, we’re free to celebrate whatever in whatever way we choose outside of Mass, but when it comes to Very Special Mass in Honor of Very Special Groups of any sort – scouts, moms, dads, youth, ‘Muricans….I’m against it.

But of course, over the years, American sentimental pop culture creeps into the peripheries of liturgical observance, and quite often, here we are at Mass on the second Sunday of May, with the expectation that the Moms present must be honored.

I mean…I went to the trouble to go to Mass for the first time in four months to make her happy…you’d better honor her….

This is problematic, however, and it’s also one of those situations in which the celebrant often feels that he just can’t win. No matter what he does, someone will be angry with him, be hurt, or feel excluded.

Because behind the flowers and sentiment, Mother’s Day is very hard for a lot of people – perhaps it’s the most difficult holiday out there for people in pain.

So when Father invites all the moms present to stand for their blessing at the end of Mass and the congregation applauds….who is hurting?

  • Infertile couples
  • Post-abortive women
  • Post-miscarriage women
  • Women whose children have died
  • People who have been abused by their mothers
  • People with terrible mothers, even short of outright abuse
  • Women who have placed children for adoption
  • People who’ve recently lost their mothers. Or not so recently.
  • Women who are not now and might never be biological or adoptive mothers and who wonder about that and are not sure about how they feel about it.

And then there are those of us who value our role as mothers, but who really think Mother’s Day is lame and would just really prefer that you TRY TO GET ALONG FOR ONE STUPID DAY instead of giving me some flowers and politely clapping at Mass.

So awkward.

Nope. Making Mothers stand up, be blessed and applauding them (the worst) at Mass is a bad idea for a lot of reasons.

It’s not that people should expect to be sheltered from the consequences of their choices and all that life has handed them when the enter the church doorway.

The Catholic way is the opposite of that – after all, the fundamental question every one of us carries is that of death, and every time we enter a Catholic church we are hit with that truth, sometimes more than life-sized.

No, the question is more: Catholic life and tradition has a lot to say and do when it comes to parenthood – in ways, if you think about it, that aren’t sentimental and take into account the limitations of human parenthood and root us, no matter how messed-up our families are or how distant we feel from contemporary ideals of motherhood – in the parenthood of God. Live in that hope, share it, and be formed by that, not by commercially-driven American pop culture.

So here’s a good idea. It happened at my parish a couple of years ago, and is the standard way of recognizing the day there now.

Because, indeed, we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it.  So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials and even Super-Authentic-and-Relatable-Instagram-Influencers let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.

Bring it!

So, quite simply, at the end of Mass as we were standing for the final blessing, the celebrant mentioned that it was Mother’s Day (it hadn’t been mentioned before this), and said that as such, it was an appropriate day to pray for our mothers, living and deceased, and to ask our Blessed Mother for her intercession for them and for us. Hail Mary…

Done.

And done in a way that, just in its focus, implicitly acknowledges and respects the diversity of experiences of motherhood that will be present in any congregation, and, without sentiment or awkward overreach, does that Catholic thing, rooted in tradition  – offers the whole mess up, in trust.

Continuing from yesterday – images from my books – today the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols– related to the Blessed Mother.

(Previously:

Mary and the Christian Life

From The Words We Pray: the Salve Regina

From The Words We Pray: the Ave Maria and the Memorare.)

Remember the structure: Each entry has two pages. The left-side page features a beautiful illustration and a short definition. The facing page features a longer explanation, suitable for older children.

There’s a section on Mary, of course:

Some of the entries (first page).

EPSON MFP image

For more information.

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