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Martha and Jonah

Today’s Mass readings. Let’s think about them. Both are about responsiveness to God’s call, God’s voice, the presence of God. 

Sensing that presence and hints of the call, what’s our response? To rationalize it away? Diminish it? Try to prioritize our own present concerns? Run? Get really busy? Define them as rigid ideology?

Or…do we sit quietly, listen – and respond? 

Here’s the Great Fish (not today’s reading – but yesterday’s – but it’s all I’ve got on Jonah from my stuff) from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. Link not 

 

Today’s Gospel for Mass is the Martha/Mary story from Luke. Here’s a repeat from this past summer, when the Sunday Gospel was the same.

Image result for velazquez mary martha

We are now in the heart of summer, at least in the northern hemisphere. This is the period in which schools are closed and the greater part of the holidays are concentrated. Even the pastoral activities in parishes are reduced and I myself have suspended the Audiences for a while. It is therefore a favourable time to give priority to what is effectively most important in life, that is to say, listening to the word of the Lord. We are also reminded of this by this Sunday’s Gospel passage with the well known episode of Jesus’ visit to the house of Martha and Mary, recounted by St Luke (10: 38-42).

Martha and Mary are two sisters; they also have a brother, Lazarus, but he does not appear on this occasion. Jesus is passing through their village and, the text says, Martha received him at her home (cf. 10: 38). This detail enables us to understand that Martha is the elder of the two, the one in charge of the house. Indeed, when Jesus has been made comfortable, Mary sits at his feet and listens to him while Martha is totally absorbed by her many tasks, certainly due to the special Guest. 
We seem to see the scene: one sister bustling about busily and the other, as it were, enraptured by the presence of the Teacher and by his words. A little later Martha, who is evidently resentful, can no longer resist and complains, even feeling that she has a right to criticize Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me”. Martha would even like to teach the Teacher! Jesus on the other hand answers her very calmly: “Martha, Martha”, and the repetition of her name expresses his affection, “you are anxious and troubled about many things; only one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (10: 41-42). Christ’s words are quite clear: there is no contempt for active life, nor even less for generous hospitality; rather, a distinct reminder of the fact that the only really necessary thing is something else: listening to the word of the Lord; and the Lord is there at that moment, present in the Person of Jesus! All the rest will pass away and will be taken from us but the word of God is eternal and gives meaning to our daily actions.

Dear friends, as I said, this Gospel passage is more than ever in tune with the vacation period, because it recalls the fact that the human person must indeed work and be involved in domestic and professional occupations, but first and foremost needs God, who is the inner light of Love and Truth. Without love, even the most important activities lose their value and give no joy. Without a profound meaning, all our activities are reduced to sterile and unorganised activism. And who, if not Jesus Christ, gives us Love and Truth? Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us learn to help each other, to collaborate, but first of all to choose together the better part which is and always will be our greatest good.

****

Let’s talk about that painting. I do love it. But then, I just love Velázquez, period. I probably stood in front of Las Meninas for fifteen minutes when I saw it in the Prado a few years ago. I didn’t want to leave. I’ve seen many well-known paintings in person after getting to know them in reproduction form, but the difference between the real and the reproduction was never as vivid as it was to me with that work.

Anyway, what do you see in that painting?

There are varied interpretations. My initial gut reaction – immediate – was that the resentful-looking young woman in the foreground is Martha herself. But most experts don’t see it that way.

One view:

It is one Velázquez’s early genre paintings, referred to as bodegones, which seems simple at first sight, but may be harder to decipher. We are to interpret the kitchen scene in light of the image of Christ speaking to Mary and Martha in the upper right corner. Christ rebukes Martha for criticizing her sister Mary for sitting at Christ’s feet while she works to prepare the meal. Jesus explains that Mary has chosen the better part and that it will not be taken away from her. Is the older woman, in turn, rebuking the younger one? If so she seems to be calling her to harder work, not less of it. Or, is she pointing her directly to the scene, reminding her of her more important duties?

The young woman has a look that attracts sympathy. She’s been working hard: just look at her red hands! You can see her youth in her pale and smooth skin, which contrast strongly with the older woman. Is she new to the work and being taught how to do it (or chastised for not doing it well enough)? She’s looking away from it and must be longing for something else. Is she feeling like Martha, wanting to get away from it, either fed up with it and/or wishing for something better. Her red hands (unused to work?) contrast with her earrings and lace head-cover.

The older woman clearly has more experience and perhaps more wisdom. Is she more like Martha, encouraging harder work, or is she actually encouraging the opposite by pointing to Christ in the image? Her hand that points to the image also contains a rosary wrapped around it, showing her devotion to prayer. She’s clearly admonishing or encouraging the younger woman, which may place her in the role of Christ pointing to the “one thing necessary” that Christ named in Mary’s devotion.

The image from the Gospels could be a painting on the wall, though some have suggested it could also be a mirror or even a window into the scene. Any of those options, however, still indicate that the painting of the two women should be interpreted in light of Christ’s encounter with Mary and Martha in Luke 10. The relation of work, prayer, and hospitality are the key themes that connect them. 

Another:

“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” depicts a scene of a maid preparing garlic mayonnaise to go with the fish that will be served for dinner. The maid’s expression indicates she is upset and the woman behind her is calling attention to a scene in the upper right corner of the painting. We can not be sure if the smaller scene (like an inset) is intended to be a reflection in a mirror, a hatch (an opening) through which we are looking into an adjacent room, or a painting on the kitchen wall. Velázquez used devices such as reflections and paintings within paintings throughout his career.

In the usual interpretation of this painting, the two figures in the kitchen and the figures in the upper right hand scene are many centuries apart in time. The smaller scene shows Jesus seated in the home of Martha and Mary (Luke 10: 38-42). Mary is seated at his feet and Martha is standing behind her. In the biblical story, Martha became busy serving food and drink while Mary seemed oblivious to the fact that her sister was doing all of the work alone. Instead of helping her sister, Mary sat down and listened to Jesus. Martha was frustrated at this and wondered if Jesus cared that her sister was leaving all of the serving chores up to her; she hoped Jesus would ask Mary to help her. Jesus told Martha that her concern was misplaced and that in sitting and listening to him, Mary had made a good choice.

The frustration of the maid pictured by Velázquez is similar to that of Martha. She is trying to make preparations for a meal but is working by herself and is distraught about all that needs to be done. The woman behind her is calling the maid’s attention to the scene of Jesus, Martha, and Mary; pointing out that spiritual nourishment is an important part of life as well.

It has been suggested this kitchen scene is not set in seventeenth century Spain but rather is in the home of Martha and Mary when Christ was there. If this interpretation of the painting is accepted, the person believed to be an upset maid in the kitchen is actually Martha herself and the second woman with Jesus in the smaller scene is another guest.

I did it for me

Okay, I am going to be thinking about and writing about much more than El Camino this week – promise. But in prep – in case you are doing a rewatch – here are my blog posts from six years ago on some of the last half of the last season.

I will say that even as I remain absolutely convinced that El Camino will involve some sort of redemption arc  – in some way – for Jesse, whose conscience has nudged him almost since the beginning – I’m humbled by re-reading these posts and seeing how consistently wrong my predictions were. So. You know. Ignore me. 

Oh, and the premier was in LA tonight – here are photos of those present, if you’re interested. The  major players not present were Bob Odenkirk and Anna Gunn – the latter of whom who has probably been the most reticent about the the show since it ended, either because she just wanted to move on, or because she was still smarting from her character receiving so much hate during the course of the show. But I do wonder if that’s an indication that they’re not in the film in any way…or just conflicting schedules or… more Gilliganesque misdirection?

Embed from Getty Images

In prep for the first half of the last season – Should Walter White die? Well, I was sure wrong about that one….

Live Free or Die

Rabid Dog

 

 

Thoughts before the second half of the first season. Jeez Louise I clung to that Jesse will die for the sins of Walter White conviction for a long time. 

To’hajiilee

One of the most intriguing aspects of Breaking Bad to me has always been that we’ve never really – really – gotten deep inside Walter White’s soul.   Compare Walt to Tony Soprano, who had a psychiatrist, for example.  There have been times when Walt has explained what he is about, but it’s always in short, usually enraged bursts about empire and family.  Never have we seen or heard Walt really work through the moral calculus of his actions – not only in terms of the lives he has taken directly in pursuit of his goal, but (more importantly, to me), the damage his “product” does.   I think it’s a feature, not a bug.  I’m glad it hasn’t been spelled out and I think the work has been all the stronger for the absence of direct address and exposition.  It’s respectful of the viewer and stimulating.

That said, Breaking Bad viewers are waiting for a lot of things to happen, some to explain, and others to resolve.  They were waiting for the Hank – Walt confrontation.  Waiting for Jesse to break free.  Waiting for Walt, Jr to discover the truth.  Waiting for Walt to be exposed.

But what I’ve been waiting for is Walt to explain why his family’s financial needs justify profoundly damaging the lives of thousands of other human beings.  Yes, Walt has directly killed some people in pursuit of his goal, and I want to see him confront that wrong, but even that is less important to me at this point than some acknowledgement of the really incredible human damage his beautiful, pure, blue meth has wrought.  To me, this has always been the central point:  Walt’s pride blinded him.  Blinded him to other ways to deal with his situation, and most of all, blinded him to the humanity of other human beings – from the direct victims of his violence to Jesse Pinkman to the users of his product.   I don’t care if he’s punished or killed or whatever.  I don’t care if he feels guilty.  I just want some sense of how he understood and justified his actions.

The tricks and twists and turns grab me and make me gasp and then stand up and cry with millions of others, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” at the television when the screen goes to “Created by Vince Gilligan” at the end of these episodes, and it’s a fantastic ride.   And although (almost) everything I’ve seen over the past few years assures me that Gilligan and his team are keyed into the reality that they are portraying: that the fruit of pride is dehumanization and death, at this point, I’m just not sure, and it’s giving me one more reason to hold my breath during these last three episodes of Breaking Bad. 

Granite State

As I watched and thought about this episode, I was overcome with an oppressive feeling of helpless imprisonment.   As Todd politely says before politely offing yet one more innocent,  “…this isn’t personal.”

That is the point, isn’t it?   Walt doesn’t view any of the human beings he comes into contact with as persons – including his own family.   They are objects, all of them, from Jesse to Gale all the way down to the anonymous victims of his product.

And all to serve and feed in his apparently insatiable pride.   This isn’t a story of a good guy gone bad.  It’s a story of a prideful man who refused a better way every single time it’s offered to him.  You might even say he rejects grace, for that’s what it is, even when it’s another criminal who’s raising the possibility.

Nope, can’t have it.  Not only because it involves suffering, but mostly because it might require humility and admitting that he is a human being surrounded by other human beings.

At the beginning of last season’s Mad Men, we see Don Draper reading The Inferno.  If you recall, for Dante, the bowels of Hell, where Satan reigns, is not a hot place.  It is ice-cold, and Satan himself is frozen in place, separated from all, suffering for eternity because of his…pride.

So Walter White ends up in the frozen north, isolated, alone and broken because of pride.

But he still doesn’t seem to know it.   His pride breaks everything, but he just doesn’t get it.  Not even now.   Seeing Elliott and Gretchen on television after months in frigid isolation doesn’t produce a recognition that most of the rest of us might see a glimmer of:  Ah yes.   I’ve caused unimaginable pain, and, this might be why…..

No, he gets all Heisenberg, and part of the audience – Team Walt – cheers.

Will it be turned on its head?  We’ll see.   All I could feel after this episode was the deep, deep grief for this world that isn’t real, but actually is, you know.   It’s real because everyone is broken because of fear, greed, and the root of it all, pride.  They don’t need revenge.  There’s not one vengeful act that would help a single character in this world or that would mend a single broken soul or restore a shattered relationship.   It would be just more of the same, more, more and yet more of the same.

What is it they need?  As we watch, what is it that we want so deeply for these people, for this whole little broken world playing out on our screens?

Is it just revenge?

Or do we sense in our bones that they need – and deserve- something more?

No, it’s not a real place.

But maybe…it is.

Felina (the series finale)

There have been no psychiatric sessions, no voice overs, hardly any reflective conversations.   Walter White made a decision, and for years now, we have watched him act.  We know his reasons, and even before his “confession” to Skylar in this finale, we know that his fundamental motivation has been the pleasure of feeding ego and pride.  We’ve seen him hesitate before acting at times, we’ve heard some justification, but we’ve never been privy to any explicit interior struggle over what he’s done to other human beings.

In a way, that’s frustrating, but seen another way, it’s also keeps what we see very pure, in a way, and focused.

Walter White had, as Gilligan referred to it in the after show, his “Precious,” and that’s where he died.    That was what he was about – creating a product that no one else could duplicate, this pure result of a process he had perfected. He did it, and doing so was what made a dying man feel alive.   You could also argue that the satisfaction that we see is also about his “success” as a teacher, for the lab in the desert is Jesse’s work.

At what price?

Well, he doesn’t care.   Walter White says a few things in this episode and even makes a confession of sorts to Skylar, but the one thing he never says is, “I’m sorry.”

And that’s okay, because he’s not.   If he were sorry, he should say it, but since he’s obviously not really …then for him to do so would be false.

Who is Walter White?

Walter White is a dying man who operates in the world as a chemical agent – which means as an agent of change.  Remember in the flashback in “And the Bag’s In the River” – he converses with Gretchen about the chemical composition of the human body.   The numbers don’t add up to 100% and Gretchen asks:

Gretchen Schwartz: Sodium, 0.04%. Phosphorus, 0.19%.
Walter White: Point-one-nine. There we go. So the whole thing adds up to… 99.888042%. We are 0.111958%. Shy.
Gretchen Schwartz: Supposedly that’s everything.
Walter White: Yeah? I don’t know, it just… it seems like something’s missing, doesn’t it? There’s got to be more to a human being than that.
Gretchen Schwartz: What about the soul?
Walter White: The soul? There’s nothing but chemistry here.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, is Walter White.   That’s his creed, his ethos and his reality.

Gilligan’s “Mr. Chips to Scarface” quote gets all the airplay, but one that is even more important is this:

“I’m pretty much agnostic at this point in my life. But I find atheism just as hard to get my head around as I find fundamental Christianity. Because if there is no such thing as cosmic justice, what is the point of being good? That’s the one thing that no one has ever explained to me. Why shouldn’t I go rob a bank, especially if I’m smart enough to get away with it? What’s stopping me?” – source. 

Walter White didn’t say he was sorry because he wasn’t.  And the wreckage he leaves behind – on every front –  no getting around it –  reveals the end of Gilligan’s exploration of the question he’s posed himself, and I have to admire him because the answer offered onscreen is an honest one.

A weak materialist creates something that affords him a sense of power, even as he lives, powerless in the face of impending and inevitable death.  It’s a delusion, but he persists because it satisfies him.  It’s pleasurable.  I liked it. 

It’s the way he lived, it’s the way he died.  No epiphanies or sorrow, just a consistent, soulless vision.

Vaguely unsettling?

Good. 

 

Monday

Back from a quick trip to Charleston. We are here, we are back, and the next few weeks – Mondaywell, up to January – will be crazy in a few ways. I think. I don’t know.

I do know it’s finally raining here. A good, solid rain, the likes of which we haven’t seen for weeks. Finally. And hopefully it means we will finally see under 90-temperatures during the day, which we also haven’t seen in weeks. I’m a fan of heat and not at all a fan of cold, but something less than 95 for weeks on end will be great. Just great.

So to digest.

Writing: I finished a thing last Thursday. Haven’t heard back from the editor who requested it, so I don’t know if it passed muster or not. We will see. If it doesn’t with him, someone else will probably like it well enough.

Now that that is out of my brain, I can turn to other things, blog posts and some more fiction. Oh, I do have a story out there. Huh. Haven’t heard back about that. Don’t know what’s happening.

Today, Filmgoing and writing Son offers thoughts on Joker. He actually saw it with Son #5 – took him (at my request – I didn’t want to see it, not because I’m sensitive – just wasn’t interested enough). Son #5 liked it a lot more than Son #2 did, and it provided for much good conversation on the drive back as he reflected on it.

Oh yes – news that the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols won an award!

More on the book here. (Not an Amazon link)

Listening: The music at the 9 am Mass at the cathedral in Charleston was lovely. On point, full but restrained choir – that is to say, modest and in service to the liturgy. The cathedral was stripped bare of statues because they are about to embark on a massive replastering project. As my son reports it, they were going to repaint, but then discovered that the old plaster had never been well-maintained, and that in order to do a paint job that would actually last, the entire interior would need to be replastered – necessitating closing the Cathedral for months – Mass will be held in the parish hall until (gulp) Holy Week!

Lesson?

Maintenance is good. Take care of things properly!

Listened to a couple of these lectures on The Iliad on the trip. 

And many, many replays of the Breaking Bad soundtrack. Favorites seem to be “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” “Baby Blue,” the Peddlers “On a Clear Day,” “El Paso,” and “Take My True Love by the Hand.”

Reading: Not much last week except magazine articles – oh, including a New Yorker snagged from a Little Library at a park in Charleston. Thanks, whoever! Haven’t finished but this article on measles and vaccination was fairly balanced, I thought. 

Oh, I did skim much of The Society of the Spectacle. I got it, but found this article very helpful. More on this as I pull my thoughts together. 

That’s about all I have time to digest right now. Some photos from the weekend. Followed by thoughts on the Good Samaritan – today’s Gospel.

 

 

Below – from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. 

 

Many early Church Fathers interpreted this parable allegorically (as they did with all of Scripture) in a very interesting way – as Pope Benedict XVI put it, in his 2013 message on the World Day of the Sick:

 Various Fathers of the Church saw Jesus himself in the Good Samaritan; and in the man who fell among thieves they saw Adam, our very humanity wounded and disoriented on account of its sins (cf. Origen, Homily on the Gospel of Luke XXXIV,1-9; Ambrose, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, 71-84; Augustine, Sermon 171). Jesus is the Son of God, the one who makes present the Father’s love, a love which is faithful, eternal and without boundaries. But Jesus is also the one who sheds the garment of his divinity, who leaves his divine condition to assume the likeness of men (cf. Phil 2:6-8), drawing near to human suffering, even to the point of descending into hell, as we recite in the Creed, in order to bring hope and light. He does not jealously guard his equality with God (cf. Phil 2:6) but, filled with compassion, he looks into the abyss of human suffering so as to pour out the oil of consolation and the wine of hope.

Here’s an extensive blog post by a scholar on Augustine and this parable.

This same scholar follows up that blog post with a series of short blog posts exploring a stained glass window in the Chartres Cathedral that not only expresses this allegorical interpretation, but further ties it into the Genesis narrative of Creation and Fall. Very interesting and worth a look – and perhaps more intriguing than “Through this parable, we learn we should be nice to everyone!”

(Yes, I know it’s Sunday….)

On this feast of St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusians, you might want to read this talk that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave in 2011 at the Charterhouse of Serra San Bruno:

I chose to mention this socio-cultural condition because it highlights the specific charism of the Charterhouse as a precious gift for the Church and for the world, a gift that contains a deep message for our life and for the whole of humanity. I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, “expose” themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent “void”, which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most real Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every creature: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones…. God,Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.

The monk, in leaving everything, “takes a risk”, as it were: he exposes himself to solitude and silence in order to live on nothing but the essential, and precisely in living on the essential he also finds a deep communion with his brethren, with every human being.

Some might think that it would suffice to come here to take this “leap”. But it is not like this. This vocation, like every vocation, finds an answer in an ongoing process, in a life-long search. Indeed it is not enough to withdraw to a place such as this in order to learn to be in God’s presence. Just as in marriage it is not enough to celebrate the Sacrament to become effectively one but it is necessary to let God’s grace act and to walk together through the daily routine of conjugal life, so becoming monks requires time, practice and patience, “in a divine and persevering vigilance”, as St Bruno said, they “await the return of their Lord so that they might be able to open the door to him as soon as he knocks” (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4); and the beauty of every vocation in the Church consists precisely in this: giving God time to act with his Spirit and to one’s own humanity to form itself, to grow in that particular state of life according to the measure of the maturity of Christ.

In Christ there is everything, fullness; we need time to make one of the dimensions of his mystery our own. We could say that this is a journey of transformation in which the mystery of Christi’s resurrection is brought about and made manifest in us, a mystery of which the word of God in the biblical Reading from the Letter to the Romans has reminded us this evening: the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and will give life to our mortal bodies also (cf. Rom 8:11) is the One who also brings about our configuration to Christ in accordance with each one’s vocation, a journey that unwinds from the baptismal font to death, a passing on to the Father’s house. In the world’s eyes it sometimes seems impossible to spend one’s whole life in a monastery but in fact a whole life barely suffices to enter into this union with God, into this essential and profound Reality which is Jesus Christ.

This is why I have come here, dear Brothers who make up the Carthusian Community of Serra San Bruno, to tell you that the Church needs you and that you need the Church! Your place is not on the fringes: no vocation in the People of God is on the fringes. We are one body, in which every member is important and has the same dignity, and is inseparable from the whole. You too, who live in voluntary isolation, are in the heart of the Church and make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through your veins.

Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis [the cross is steady while the world is turning], your motto says. The Cross of Christ is the firm point in the midst of the world’s changes and upheavals. Life in a Charterhouse shares in the stability of the Cross which is that of God, of God’s faithful love. By remaining firmly united to Christ, like the branches to the Vine, may you too, dear Carthusian Brothers, be associated with his mystery of salvation, like the Virgin Mary who stabat (stood) beneath the Cross, united with her Son in the same sacrifice of love.

 

St. Francis of Assisi

 

From The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bullet points for brevity’s sake.

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

Okay, break time.

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

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

Back to bullet points.

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

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

Why?

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

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

“I am the servant of all”  

*******

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

Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE

****

Finally:

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

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

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

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

—1 —

From The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols

 

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

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

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

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

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

Bullet points for brevity’s sake.

— 2 —

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

— 3 —

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

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

— 4 —

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

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

Why?

— 5 –

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

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

“I am the servant of all”  

— 6 —

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

Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

Here’s an interview Ann and I did with Lisa Hendey:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE

— 7 —

Finally:

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow?

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

 


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

Tuesday

Hey folks – my brain has been taken up by a couple of writing projects over the past Tuesdayweek, hence the lack of deep blogging. So to get back up to speed, we’ll digest:

Writing: As noted, doing a bit of work around here. I had a Living Faith set due – and by the way, I’m in Living Faith today. Go here for that. 

Working on an article for another publication.

Writer son has more posts up – about his writing progress, and a new feature on his blog – movie news notes. 

Reading: Rereading Souls and Bodies   in a close way. I keep starting Wilfrid Sheed’s Office Politics and then forgetting that I’m reading it, mostly because I’m reading it via archive.org and don’t have a hard copy hanging about calling to me.

As well as the books I noted here. 

I’ve read a few interesting articles this week, which I’ll share on Friday, probably. Well, here’s one – from New York magazine – about the islands of New York City:

We know this about our largest islands — the skyscraper came of age in Manhattan because of geological restrictions. But we can easily forget that the city is, in fact, a vast collection of islands. Every borough but the Bronx floats off from the Atlantic seaboard. No one can agree on the precise number of islands in New York waters — 30-odd, depending on how you count — but they are part of what makes the city so extraordinary, located at the mouth of one of the world’s largest natural harbors. The islands are our silent neighbors. It is easy to live here and never notice them. Until one day, driving down the FDR, you might look out at the pile of rocks off the southern coast of Roosevelt Island and wonder, What is that place?

Even the smallest of these islands holds in its tiny footprint morality tales, histories that can help us see ourselves more clearly: the planned community of Roosevelt, the tourist trap of Liberty, the slow-burning human-rights violation of Rikers. As with Pralls, we have more than once considered the islands repositories for waste or trash. More recently, that story has begun to change, and not just because we’ve become more attuned to our harbor ecology. As the last large industrial sites of the greater islands of New York are built over with condos and shops, and public housing is slowly sold away to private developers, these almost-water dots that are the city’s lesser islands have become newly contested spaces, fought for by conservationists, historians, activists, and developers.

Watching: Son and I are doing a rewatch of the last season of Breaking Bad in prep for 
El Camino.  It only prompts more curiosity about what the new film will be about. The whole series is about the impact of sin – wrongdoing, if you will – on the human soul and community. How one man’s monstrous pride can corrupt and destroy countless lives. It’s about the many, many moments that such a person has to turn in another direction, to make another choice, but refuses. The logical place to go, thematically, is to explore those continuing resonances and how, in such a reality, any redemption at all can be found, how the tearing can be mended and what cost.

Listening:  Thank goodness I don’t have to listen to the Heritage Mass setting being played every day for a while. Son played his first parish Mass, and did great. We’ll see if it leads to more! Even if I have to listen to that setting again! Everything comes with a price… Now it’s back to getting this conquered. 

And more and more guitar – we don’t pay for lessons, but he just depends on Youtube to teach him. Like this one! 

Also – a podcast!

Here – from Greg and Jennifer Willits, and Mac and Katharine  Barron  in their podcast What We’re Dealing With. ..

….the conversation prompted by this article continues.

I’m so glad to hear these conversations happening. To think. Inspired in part by a novel published decades ago and now out of print, about the Church in a time long past.

The conversation on the podcast revolved around themes of authenticity and persona and about the risk of telling the truth about life and work in Catholic institutions.

Well worth listening to, pondering and taking action on.

My really deep point is in a slightly different direction, though. I’m trying to excavate at an even deeper, perhaps more painful level.

What I want to figure out is how the whole contemporary gestalt in which individuals develop religious sales pitches based on aspects of their personal qualities and histories impacts our understanding of what faith is. 

It’s not just about Instagram Spiritual Influencers. It’s about the Preachers n’ Sneakers, it’s about the congregation sitting in judgment of the minister or priest’s sense of humor and friendliness and warmth. It’s about me fixated on how everything presented to me affects my feelings about myself and my self-worth, and judging it true or false based on that. It’s about loyalty and adherence to a cause or idea that’s rooted, not in the content of that idea, but on the attraction of the presenter.

I also am interested in engaged that tussle we all feel between digital life and IRL. In so many ways, it’s easier to engage online than it is in person. Does your digital presence enhance authentic human interaction or enable avoidance? Are we tight friends with people we’ve never actually met, but don’t know our neighbors’ names? Are we all about the online evangelization, but never invite anyone we actually know to our actual parish? Is our parish obsessed with getting the social media game on point – but does anyone from the parish, paid or volunteer, reach out in a systematic way to each and every human being who lives in the parish boundaries? (Remember – the canonical definitions of “parish” and “pastor” encompass every soul within the boundaries, not just the Catholics.) Are we fascinated with the stories and families of people who present themselves to us online – but know little to nothing about those families who sit near “our pew” every Sunday?

The online religion world can certainly help. Any person who learns a little bit, who feels encouraged, and who then reaches out in real life because of it – helpful. But as The Hack shows us – no matter what the form, any media can be a valuable tool to enrich our actual lives – or a means to avoid them.

 

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