I’ve recently read three novels that have raised the question, or something like it: What’s the responsibility of a Christian living in an unjust or even evil system?

What impact does the fact of living in that system, with the threat of punishment for violating its norms, have on moral culpability? How is a Christian to act in these systems when systemic norms conflict with Christian norms? And what about the institution? There’s no ambiguity in any of these books – why does institutional Christianity – aka the Church, the Body of Christ – stay silent so very often in the face of systemic injustice and evil?

The books?

Vespers in Vienna, discussed here and here; Uncle Tom’s Cabin, on a re-read for the high school homeschool, discussed here the first go around some years ago, and then, over the last couple of days, Shusako Endo’s 1982 novel, just recently published in English translation, Sachiko.

In the 1930s, two young Japanese Christians, Sachiko and Shūhei, are free to play with American children in their neighborhood. But life becomes increasingly difficult for them and other Christians after Japan launches wars of aggression. Meanwhile, a Polish Franciscan priest and former missionary in Nagasaki, Father Maximillian Kolbe, is arrested after returning to his homeland. Endō alternates scenes between Nagasaki—where the growing love between Sachiko and Shūhei is imperiled by mounting persecution—and Auschwitz, where the priest has been sent. Shūhei’s dilemma deepens when he faces conscription into the Japanese military, conflicting with the Christian belief that killing is a sin. With the A-bomb attack on Nagasaki looming in the distance, Endō depicts ordinary people trying to live lives of faith in a wartime situation that renders daily life increasingly unbearable. Endō’s compassion for his characters, reflecting their struggles to find and share love for others, makes Sachiko one of his most moving novels.

Once more, we see the power and importance of literature. Even at the middlebrow level, like Vespers in Vienna. Literature gives us a window in the struggles of human beings in the past and shows us that what we’re experiencing right now isn’t, at root, unique.

In most things, we’re complicit in injustice or even evil in some respect – that’s the price of living in the world. It’s not heaven, there’s no absolute purity. But when do we draw the line? When does our complicity cross a line into co-operation? When can we say no? When should we? When must we? And what about the Church?

From Vespers in Vienna:

“Take this last war then,” he said. “For the second time in less than twenty-five years Christian has fought against Christian, Catholic against Catholic. And what have the cardinals and the archbishops and the bishops had to say about it? Has one single significant utterance come from their lips? Has any one of them uttered a clear statement that sinful men could understand and be guided by? Has any German archbishop told the Ger- mans that it was a crime to launch flying bombs and rockets against the city of London? Has any Italian bishop spoken a fearless thing? Has any English arch- bishop or bishop dared to condemn the area-bombing of Berlin and the burning alive of German babies with phosphorus bombs? Has the Holy Father ever spoken one clear unambiguous truth that could be understood of the people, by the harlot in her doorway as well as by the pontiff in his palace? Has any cardinal cried out the clean, true, cool gospel of Christ that even men in their taverns respect?

From Uncle Tom’s Cabin:

“O, Dr. G— preached a splendid sermon,” said Marie. “It was just such a sermon as you ought to hear; it expressed all my views exactly.”

“It must have been very improving,” said St. Clare. “The subject must have been an extensive one.”

“Well, I mean all my views about society, and such things,” said Marie. “The text was, ‘He hath made everything beautiful in its season;’ and he showed how all the orders and distinctions in society came from God; and that it was so appropriate, you know, and beautiful, that some should be high and some low, and that some were born to rule and some to serve, and all that, you know; and he applied it so well to all this ridiculous fuss that is made about slavery, and he proved distinctly that the Bible was on our side, and supported all our institutions so convincingly. I only wish you’d heard him.”

From Sachiko:

“We have!” someone responded, his voice almost angry, as though he was ready to strike a blow. Shahei did not answer, but that evening he pondered what sort or reply he would glve when the time came that he would receive such an order.

As a Catholic, he had been instructed by the priests and his parents from the time he was a child that committing suicide was a sin, Just as one must not snatch away the life of another person. one must not selfishly obliterate one’s own life, since it was a gift from God—that was one of the Church’s teachings.

What should he do when he was ordered by his superiors to perform an act that went against those teachings?

There was not a single person in his squadron with whom Shuhei could discuss this problem, since he was the only Christian here.

Besides the contradiction between the Christian teaching “Thou shalt not kill” and the mission of a soldier, a different conflict now stabbed at him painfully…

It was a problem he would have to resolve on his own. He knew that there was not a single priest in Japan who could respond In any fashion to this contradiction

I’m going to post the next as a screenshot – I don’t have time to transcribe. The pastor here is a Protestant pastor of a chapel Shuhei has wandered into in Tokyo.

Just a brief recap of Sachicko. First off, it was absorbing in its way, but it might be my least favorite Endo novel. It’s far longer than most of the others, less cohesive and more straightforward, less allusive and poetic.

That said, I still enjoyed the experience of reading it, and you might too. Endo offers an invaluable, close look at the lives of Japanese Catholics before World War II, weaving in the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe. I actually found the sections of the book focused on Kolbe the most compelling – they were the most evocatively written, with the chapters on Auschwitz, in which Kolbe’s experiences are really just a shadow in the corner reflecting off the experiences, first another prisoner, and secondly, a camp commander, particularly artful. It’s an artfulness and subtlety that’s missing from the sections focusing on Sachiko and her longtime friend……, perhaps showing the difficulty of  turning autobiography into literature. The distance and necessity of using imagination rather than memory makes stronger fiction, at least in this case.

But the question remains.

We are in this world, but not of it, but then we are called – no, commanded – to bring light into this very same world. What does that mean?

Don’t expect to find an easy answer, ever. And don’t expect the question to ever go away.

St. Blaise

Today’s the feast of St. Blaise.

In the recently published collection of previously (mostly) unpublished letters of Flannery O’Connor, we run across this:

The Churches ceremony of Baptism is so elaborate! I keep trying to think of some way in fiction that I could convey the richness against the threadbareness of the other but my thought is none to productive. The Church takes care of everything and I am always struck fresh with it on St. Blases Day when you have your throat blessed. The One True Holy Catholic & Apostolic Church taking time out to bless my throat! And these people around here have to scratch their religion out of the ground. (16)

The One True Holy Catholic & Apostolic Church taking time out to bless my throat!

So much of the verbiage we hear these days from Church people, ordained and lay, is really all implying that two thousand years of practice and tradition is not only inadequate to the 21st century, but actually an obstacle to authentic faith, giving you that feeling that you’d be better off scratching your religion out of the ground, daily.

Watch out for that.

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who help in ordinary ways.”

(Click on images for larger versions. I just grabbed these screenshots from whatever is available online. I don’t have any copies of the book at home at the moment!)

St. Blaise is the figure standing in the cave to the left.

It seems to me that this is such a vital point – saints are people who help in ordinary ways – to remember, especially in these days of empowerment and awesomeness.

Mass, instant communication, mobility and relative prosperity and political and social freedom have had an interesting impact on the way we think about and present spirituality. It’s something I think about a lot. It’s something I wonder about.

In short: even in spiritually-minded circles, the spiritually-fulfilled life is presented as one in which you are doing the amazing, world-changing things that God put you on earth to do and – although this part might go unsaid, it’s certainly implicit in the way this is hustled: in doing the amazing, world-changing things and not hiding your light under a bushel, you’ll find satisfaction, make a living and be known and affirmed. 

This isn’t the Gospel.

The Gospel, as concretely expressed in the crucifix hanging in front of you as you go to Mass this morning, and as you’ll hear articulated in the second reading from Paul is, Let God love others through you. They might kill you for it. It doesn’t matter. Keep loving.

Not “fulfillment.” Sacrifice.

As St. Francis of Assisi emphasizes over and over again – the Christian life is rooted in love that calls, bottom line, for sacrificing our own will to the will of God. That’s the poverty to which St. Francis aspired: a poverty of will. That’s why Philippians 2 was one of his primary Scriptural reference points.

We like to refashion the saints as model 21st century achievers and doers, but Christian virtue and the power of the Christian life isn’t about using the circumstances of your life to build yourself up or feel fulfilled. It’s about being in the midst of the circumstances of your life, surrounded by the people that God has put there, and trying to love them as Jesus loves us: sacrificially and obediently.

In ordinary ways, here in Ordinary Time.


Note: I had purchased that collection when it came out, and was decidedly put off by the editing and commentary. In that respect, I agree completely with Cassandra Nelson’s review here.



Two entries on candles from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. One in the section on “In Church” and the other in the section “At Home.”

Another great piece from Roseanne T. Sullivan in Dappled Things. 

On Candlemas, the prayers said by the priest as he blesses the candles with holy water and incense include the symbols of fire and light as metaphors for our faith and for Christ Himself. The choir sings the Nunc Dimittis or Canticle of Simeon with the antiphon “Lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuæ Israel” (“Light to the revelation of the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel”) after each verse. A solemn procession may be made into the church building by the clergy and the faithful carrying the newly blessed candles to reenact the entry of Christ, the Light of the World, into the Temple.

From a sermon by Saint Sophronius, bishop in today’s Office of Readings.

Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ. 

 The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.  

The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

From a 1951 book of family faith formation:

Finally on the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple, we put the light of Christ into our children’s hands for them to carry still further into the world. The Church has never been reluctant to place her destiny in the hands of the rising generations. It was once the custom at Candlemas for her to give each of her members a blessed candle to hold high and bear forth to his home. It was a beautiful sign of our lay priesthood and its apostolate in action. Now the blessed candles seldom get beyond the altar boys who are wondering whether to turn right or left before they blow them out.

Because the ceremony has died of disuse in many places, because we want our family to appreciate the great gift of light as a sign of God’s presence, because we all must have continual encouragement to carry Christ’s light of revelation to the Gentiles on the feast of Hypapante (Candlemas), we meet God first at Mass and then we meet Him again in our home in the soft glow of candles relighted and carried far.

And now for some #B16 from 2011

This is the meeting point of the two Testaments, Old and New. Jesus enters the ancient temple; he who is the new Temple of God: he comes to visit his people, thus bringing to fulfilment obedience to the Law and ushering in the last times of salvation.

It is interesting to take a close look at this entrance of the Child Jesus into the solemnity of the temple, in the great comings and goings of many people, busy with their work: priests and Levites taking turns to be on duty, the numerous devout people and pilgrims anxious to encounter the Holy God of Israel. Yet none of them noticed anything. Jesus was a child like the others, a first-born son of very simple parents.

Even the priests proved incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Saviour. Alone two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, discover this great newness. Led by the Holy Spirit, in this Child they find the fulfilment of their long waiting and watchfulness. They both contemplate the light of God that comes to illuminate the world and their prophetic gaze is opened to the future in the proclamation of the Messiah: “Lumen ad revelationem gentium!” (Lk 2:32). The prophetic attitude of the two elderly people contains the entire Old Covenant which expresses the joy of the encounter with the Redeemer. Upon seeing the Child, Simeon and Anna understood that he was the Awaited One.

Among the tombs

It’s all about the framework.

You wake up in the morning, and your day probably has some sort of framework. Some context which will guide your steps that day. More than one, without doubt.

There might be the framework of whatever big picture issues interest you, from politics to sports to what’s going on in your community or your tribe of interest.

There’s the framework of your family and what’s going on with them and what will be asked of you today because you are who you are in that family.

There’s the framework of the Stuff You Gotta Do Today: get the oil changed, clean out the cabinets, shovel the drive, start your taxes.

There’s the framework of your work, where ever or whatever that is. That’s a big one.

And then there’s your personal framework of what desires, goals or necessities are driving you today. Your framework might involve keeping your cool with demanding people today, staying away from alcohol, being more intentional with your relationships, trying to reclaim some sense of self-worth or just getting healthy.

It’s different for everyone, that framework.

But one of the points of the Catholic Church as a universal thing, a Body with one Head, is a framework. No matter who we are or what we’re doing or what state in life we’ve embraced, been called to or stumbled into, we’re all taking those steps within the same framework: Life in Christ.

Problem? Challenge? That all-embracing framework doesn’t just happen or sprout up in our lives. It’s there, in the shape and details of God’s Word as revealed in Scripture and developed in the Church’s Tradition. Which means it’s most accessible to us, in our daily lives, in the daily prayer of the Church, from the specific feasts and seasons to the Scripture readings at Mass and the content of the daily cycle of prayer, to saints’ memorials.

Make of the readings the Church shares today and every day what you will, engage with the saints in whatever way fits, bring these rhythms into your daily life in whatever way possible, but the fact is:

We live differently when we frame our days with what the Body of Christ offers us.

When we begin and end by listening to that Word of God and considering a saint or two and letting the liturgical year shape our year in even small ways, we see ourselves differently in this world. We see the world as more than simply material, we see human activities and history as meaningful, not just busy, we see that life is, yes, hard and strange and mysterious, but taken in this framework, we also see that our difficulties and suffering are not unique to our lives, to our time and place, but are shared and are, in some way, meaningful and even overcome.

To be specific:

When your Monday, February 1 is framed, not primarily by scrolling through news, giving minutes or even hours to your latest social media obsessions, or even being overwhelmed by personal matters from dawn to nightfall, but instead is framed by:

God had foreseen something better for us…

Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord….

“Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”

Help us to live in the hope of heaven today:
make us ready to do your will on earth.

 and forgive us our trespasses,  as we forgive those who trespass against us,…

Lord, give our bodies restful sleep;
and let the work we have done today
be sown for an eternal harvest….

St. Brigid, pray for us….

Now, Master, you let your servant go in peace.  You have fulfilled your promise...

Even in snippets. Even in your subconscious.

It’s different.

It’s the difference between remaining chained among the tombs….. and being free.

It’s the difference between seeing what Jesus can do then begging him to leave you so you can just keep living in the same cramped fear….. and welcoming him and inviting him to remain instead.

It’s hard to hang on sometimes. The world is freaking insane.

Make it saner – or at least your own life. Start with the framework. Examine what you’ve got critically, and with the willingness to change, shift and outright demolish. Start and begin differently. Hang your breaks on different hooks. Lean on different walls when you need to pause and regroup.

And maybe… build something new.

Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis
what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.

4th Sunday

….of Ordinary Time. (Septuagesima Sunday in the older calendar)

7:15 am Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul, Birmingham Alabama. Over a hundred in attendance. One of four weekend Masses. Masses have been public in this diocese since Easter, after a short pause. Every other pew roped off, but no reservations required.

Some notes:

First, I’m in Living Faith today. Go here for that.

Secondly – as we proceed through Ordinary Time for just a few more weeks, remember that the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories offers a way to introduce children to Scripture that’s tied in with the use of Scripture in the Catholic liturgy.

Finally, January 31 is the memorial of St. John Bosco. Want to know more? The old Catholic Encyclopedia entry is a good place to start.  Another good intro at the EWTN site.

I wrote about him in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

(You can click on individual images to get a clearer view.)

That’s today’s Gospel.

It’s also the framework for the introduction to my Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like…..
…a mustard seed.
…a treasure hidden in a field

Think about the most important things in your life: feelings, ideas, emotions, realities, and hopes. Now try to explain these things in a way that communicates the depth and breadth and truth of what you’ve experienced.
It’s hard. It might even be impossible. For we all know this: no matter how eloquent we are, what we express only touches on the surface of what’s real. What’s more, the deeper and more important the reality, the more challenging it is to adequately express.


But we still try, because we are created to do so. We’re created in God’s image, which means we’re created to be in deep communion, to understand, to imagine, to love and create. And so to do so, we depend on metaphors and similes, signs and symbols.

Signs and symbols are not add-ons to human communication. All communication, from letters to words to hugs to great paintings, is symbolic. For what are signs and symbols? They are expressions that represent something beyond themselves.

So, yes, written and oral speech is symbolic. Gestures are symbols. Images, music, food, nature – all of what we see can be incorporated into life in symbolic ways.

Just as Jesus himself used that most absorbing means of human communication – the story – to communicate with us, so did he use deeply symbolic language as well as signs. The Scriptures are woven with imagery that remains fundamental to our understanding of God: rock, shepherd, right hand…

Spirituality involves the deepest realities of all: the human soul and its relation to the Creator. Signs and symbols play an especially rich and important role in this part of life.

Signs and symbols have always been important in Christian life and faith. Human beings are, of course, natural artists and communicators, so we use symbols to express deep realities. Early Christianity developed in an environment in which persecution was a frequent fact of life, so symbols became a way to communicate and build bonds and pass on the truths of the faith in ways that hostile outsiders could not understand.
Signs and symbols have played a vital role in Christian life over the centuries for another reason: for most of Christian history, most Christians could not read. In these pre-literate societies, most people learned about their faith orally, as parents, catechists and clergy passed on prayers and basic teachings. They also learned about their faith in the context of cultures in which spiritual realities were made visible throughout the year, through symbolic language and actions: they lived in the rhythm of liturgical feasts and seasons. They participated in the Mass and other community prayers, rich with symbolic gestures, images and even structured in a highly symbolic way, from beginning to end. Their places of worship, great and small, were built on symbolic lines, and bore symbolic artwork inside and out.

These people might not have been able to read – but they could read.

Their books were made of stone, of paint, of tapestry threads, of gestures, chant and the seasons of the year.
They could indeed read – they could read this rich symbolic language of the faith. Their language was one that communicated the realities of salvation history and God’s mercy and love through images of animals, plants, shapes and design. They knew through these symbols that God is justice, God is beauty and with God, there waits a feast.

7 Quick Takes

— 1

Oh good. Another crazy week of me reading about news I really barely understand, breaking by the hour.

Well, I guess that’s not all I did. I worked on some fiction. I rewrote something I had to write for someone. I recorded a couple of things. I did research for a little thing that’s due Monday. I read things.

Watched a couple of movies (click back to read my takes), went out to a new local wine bar with a friend, studied Arizona. Wrote a few blog posts about saints and the Mexico City Policy. That kind of thing.

— 2 —

Last year about this time, I shared an extraordinary video with you of a sermon from evangelical pastor Francis Chan, in which he honestly and courageously explored the issue of the Eucharist, Real Presence and Christian history and unity.

Well, fast forward a year, and one of the featured speakers at the FOCUS mega-conference SEEK21 (which is virtual this year) is…Francis Chan. Good call by the organizers. Very good call!

Here’s an interview with Francis Chan from OSV:

Our Sunday Visitor: What was the spark that led you to begin looking into the practices of the early Church, its unity and its belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Were you nervous about how this message would be heard and accepted? And, ultimately, how has your community reacted to what sounded like a very Catholic sermon?

Chan: I had some friends challenge me to study the first 300 years of Church history. They asked me to consider how much time I spent studying theology and history from the past 500 years versus the first 1,500 years. Honestly, I wasn’t that nervous about how the message would be accepted. I was a bit naive. I assumed people would just see me as a godly man, seeking God, seeking truth and being honest with the process. I had no idea that it would create such a stir. The responses have been mixed. Most people seemed to follow the logic, but there have been plenty who immediately reject anything that sounds Catholic.

— 3 —

All of our public library branches around here are open, but most only for brief hours, like 10-2. That’s when we’re doing our Very Important Education, and since letting people sit in libraries at tables would apparently be a super-spreader event, it’s not like we’d go there during our Very Important Education Hours to work. But there’s one branch that actually has normal hours now (although still no seating), so I got down there the other day and checked out a slew of books (lots of Arizona guidebooks, a couple of novels) and some New Yorkers.

Of interest in the one I’ve read so far was a review of book on the early history of animation which sent me on a real rabbit trail through YouTube. I finally did make myself stop.

In “Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation” (Atlantic Monthly Press), Reid Mitenbuler recalls that flood—and points out that the vintage cartoons within it were often censored by later distributors in ways that robbed them of their original spice and sex appeal. Of the kinds of popular books that have proliferated in the past few decades—the little thing that changed everything (cod, longitude, porcelain), the crime or scandal that time forgot (Erik Larson’s specialty)—none are more potent than the tale of the happy band of brothers who came together to redirect the world. The genre runs from Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” through Jenny Uglow’s “The Lunar Men,” and Mitenbuler’s “Wild Minds” is an attempt to do the same for the history of American animation.

“Wild Minds” assembles its history with love and a sense of occasion. The chronicle that results, as Mitenbuler explains in a prefatory note, also appears at a moment when, for the first time in the history of the form, everything is available. Obscurities that in the past one would have waited years to find in a stray moma screening are now online. Even the lewd (though government-sponsored) “Private Snafu” cartoons, made for G.I.s during the Second World War and written by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, can be found at a touch of the YouTube tab. The act of pulling everyone together in this way is new, and significant. The peculiar excellence of “The Right Stuff” was not that it showed astronauts to the world but that it showed the astronauts as worldly. Wolfe explained that they were far from dim-witted test pilots: they knew what they were doing and what was being done to them. Mitenbuler’s larger aim is similar: to show us that the best cartoonists were not haphazard artisans but self-aware artists, working against the constraints of commerce toward a knowing end of high comic, and sometimes serious, art. The book’s governing idea lies in its heroes’ collective intuition that animated films could be a vehicle for grownup expression—erotic, political, and even scientific—rather than the trailing diminutive form they mostly became. A cartoon tradition that could seem child-bound, sexless, and stereotyped was once vital, satiric, and experimental.

Very early animation has a single theme, the fluidity of form: what’s sometimes called the first fully animated film, the French “Fantasmagorie” (1908), is a two-minute-long study in visual metamorphosis, stick figures caught in a constantly changing two-dimensional world….

Which then somehow led to Wladyslaw Starewicz, the inventor of stop-motion animation….with insects.

There’s much, much more, of course – including a film that is said to have inspired Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.

— 4 —


Via this review in CWReport, I learned of a newly-translated-into-English novel by Shusaku Endo…and promptly ordered it. It’ll arrive tomorrow. (I ordered the paperback, not the $95/hardcover, in case you were wondering.)

Sachiko is the best Catholic novel I have read in a long time. Avoiding a sappy and simplistic depiction of a harsh reality, Endō honestly presents the doubts and dilemmas of Christians – Japanese, American, Polish – amidst hostile surroundings in a world where violation of the Fifth Commandment was the norm. Through the character of Sachiko and his beautiful tribute to St. Maximilian Kolbe, Endō affirms that it is possible to be a Christian witness even in the bloodiest conflict of all time.

— 5 —

A blog post on a true thing that more of us need to be aware of: Enlightenment ideologies warped our understanding of Medieval and Renaissance history – add the Reformation to that and you’ve got a lot of myth-busting on your plate.

The Enlightenment historiography is still the most successful propaganda ever made; it refused to die, because the [anti-Christian] sentiment which these thinkers had promoted seems to be popular ever since. Demonizing the Other is the best way to begin a fight, because it gives you the feeling of the moral superiority. In our case, this has been done by distorting and misinterpreting historical facts, and inventing myths and false villains and heroes. This genius propaganda has affected and influenced most of us, therefore it’s not surprising how our imagination has been constructed. For example, when we think or talk about [the] historical horrors, the vast majority will think of the those ‘dark’ Middle Ages. Ironically, we rarely realize that the most morbid and inhumane crimes were committed during the Enlightenment and Modern era.

— 6 —

I do a lot of archive-org.-ing, and ran across this good collection of vintage Catholic pamphlets from Boston College.

Lots of what you would expect – rosary and other devotional pamphlets, several on the Spanish Civil War, seasonal devotionals, and then, interesting pieces like this: “What Blind Women Can Do!” – by a Father Jean-Marie J. Bauchet. It’s a series of sketches describing the lives of several blind women whom this priest had helped enter religious life, as well as his general reflections.

A few years ago, I posted on another archive.org find on, as it happens, the Blind Sisters of St. Paul.

— 7 —

"amy welborn"

Lent is coming, people! Septuagesima Sunday this coming Sunday. Go here for Lent Prep posts. And if you care to, order this family devotional for you and for others!

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

As promised and expected, rescinded today by executive order.

Here is a factsheet on the policy from the Population Research Institute.

Basically, every president, very early on, stakes out a position on this. It was instituted during Reagan’s administration, in 1984.

In response, the Senate voted (in the typically complicated Senatorial way) on an amendment to an amendment to a bill to table an expression of support for the policy, and Senator Joe Biden voted in support of Reagan’s Mexico City Policy.

Clinton, after running as, if not quite pro-life, but in a way that made pro-lifers think he might not be their enemy, was on record, in a 1986 letter to Arkansas Right to Life, as opposing government funding for abortion….reversed the Mexico City Policy on his first day in office, as the crowds were gathering for the March for Life. I vividly remember that because the Catholic circles I ran in at the time were all very up on Clinton and how he was really big-tent-pro-life-and-not-just-anti-abortion-because-justice. And then, his first day,  not only this, but more:

With a stroke of a pen, President Clinton marked the 20th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade Friday by dismantling a series of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Administration abortion restrictions, only hours after tens of thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators rallied across the street from the White House.

* Ended a five-year ban on fetal tissue research, which scientists believe holds the possibility of benefiting patients with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, Huntington’s disease, spinal cord injuries and other conditions.

* Overturned the so-called gag rule that restricted abortion counseling at 4,000 federally funded family planning clinics nationwide.

* Revoked prohibitions on the importation of RU486–known as the French “abortion pill”–for personal use, if the Food and Drug Administration determines that there is no justification for the prohibitions.

* Allowed abortions at U.S. military hospitals overseas, if they are paid for privately.

* Reversed a 1984 order which prevented the United States from providing foreign aid to overseas organizations that perform or promote abortion.

Abortion rights advocates said Clinton’s actions were nothing short of historic.

It was eye-opening, to say the least.

And then, of course, Bush reinstated the Mexico City Policy on his first day, and then Obama reversed it on his.

And then Trump:

The executive order was signed January 23, one day after the anniversary of the far-reaching Roe v. Wade decision that mandated legal abortion throughout the U.S.

Originally instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Mexico City Policy states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

From USCCB testimony back in 2001:

The argument has been made by abortion proponents that the Mexico City Policy is nothing more than “powerful” U.S. politicians forcing their policies on poor nations. But, frankly, the opposite is true. First, the policy forces nothing: Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may choose to apply for U.S. tax funds, and to be eligible, they must refrain from abortion activity. On the other hand, NGOs may choose to do abortions or to lobby foreign nations to change their laws which restrict abortion, and if they choose that path they render themselves ineligible for U.S. money. As we saw last time the policy was in place, only two out of hundreds of organizations elected to forfeit the U.S. money for which they were otherwise eligible. (1) But it was and will be entirely their choice.

Far from forcing a policy on poor nations, the Mexico City Policy ensures that NGOs will not themselves force their abortion ideology on countries without permissive abortion laws in the name of the United States as U.S. grantees.

And as we have learned from our experience in international conferences on population, it is not the Mexico City Policy but the United States’ promotion of permissive abortion attitudes through funding of such programs that is likely to cause resentment.(2) This is especially true when it is perceived as a means by which the West is attempting to impose population control policies on developing nations as conditions for development assistance.

The Mexico City Policy is needed because the agenda of many organizations receiving U.S. population aid has been to promote abortion as an integral part of family planning – even in developing nations where abortion is against the law.(3) So, far from being perceived as an imposition on developing nations, the Mexico City Policy against funding abortion programs has been greeted by those nations as a welcome reform. The vast majority of these countries have legal policies against abortion, and virtually all forbid the use of abortion as merely another method of birth control.(4)

Two other pieces on the policy from the PRI. Here, on the Trump administration’s extension of it, and then here, on the impact of the policy.

And now, like clockwork, the pendulum swings back. Almost 40 years ago, Joe Biden expressed support of the Mexico City Policy (consistent with his views for many years opposing government funding of abortion – he didn’t flip on Hyde until 2019), and today, as promised and expected, he signed an executive order rescinding the Mexico City Policy.

Thomas Aquinas

First off, of course, the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas is the day for the Hillbilly Thomists to release their new album.

If you haven’t already, today is the perfect day to check out the wonderful Aquinas 101 series:

Over the past few years, this date has ended up being one of my Living Faith days.


Who is he? Who is this man–this Lord, friend, teacher–full of power but hanging powerless on a cross?

Our faith is marked by questions. We seek, trusting that there must be a source to satisfy the hungers we have been born with. St. Thomas Aquinas was a man of questions and answers, all born of deep hunger and love for God. Balanced, he prayed the Mass with intense devotion, wrote beautiful hymns, sacrificed much to give himself wholly to God and share with the world the fruit of his search.

Also, if you have seen Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series, you know that Aquinas is featured in the first set. Here’s a teaser:

I wrote the prayer book that accompanies the first series, and so did several chapters on Thomas.  There are no excerpts available online, as far as I can tell, but here’s a couple of paragraphs from the first chapter:

Catholicism is not all theology. It is caritas . It is sacrament, communion, art, family life, religious life, the saints. It is all of this and more, but what we can’t help but notice is that even these seemingly uncomplicated aspects of the disciples’ lives lead to questions. What is “love” and what is it proper for me to love and in what way? How does Jesus come to meet me through the sacraments of his Body, the Church? How do I know the Scriptures that I’m supposed to be living by are God’s Word? God is all-good, why does evil and seemingly unjust suffering exist? How can I sense God’s movement and will in the world, in my own life? And what is the difference?  Theological questions, every one of them.

So our own spiritual lives, like Thomas’ call for balance. Emphasizing the intellect too much, I find a cave in which to hide, avoid relationship and communion with God and others.  But in disparaging theology, I reject the life of the mind, a mind created by God to seek and know him, just as much as my heart is. I may even avoid tough questions, not just because they are challenging, but because I’m just a little bit afraid of the answers.  Theological reflection from people with deep understanding helps me. It opens me to the truth that God is more than what I feel or personally experience, and this “more” matters a great deal.

He’s in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints not surprisingly,  under “Saints are People Who Help Us Understand God.”  Here’s a page:


St. Angela Merici

It’s her day today.

You can find any number of vintage treatments of St. Angela Merici at the Internet Archive, including this mod repackaging, if you like.

Gee, if only she’d used a vision board or a dream life journal, she could have actually accomplished something with her life!

My point? Saints are made not, at base through planning and endlessly thinking about what they want or what they want their life to look like, but by living deeply in the moment and in that same moment listening to God and being led by him. St. Francis of Assisi didn’t set out to found a religious order with a certain charism. He heard Rebuild my church and so he literally….started to rebuild a church. And his brothers came, and a mission slowly developed in tension, in response.

So with St. Angela. She didn’t set out, envisioning a teaching order. She simply listened to God, saw the great needs in the world around her – poverty, corruption, confusion – and set out to help in a way both completely ordinary but also quite new.

The age in which Angela lived and worked (the 16th Century), was a time which saw great suffering on the part of the poor in society. Injustices were carried on in the name of the government and the Church, which left many people both spiritually and materially powerless and hungry. The corruption of moral values left families split and hurting. Wars among nations and the Italian city-states left towns in ruins.

In 1516, Angela came to live in the town of Brescia, Italy. Here she became a friend of the wealthy nobles of the day and a servant of the poor and suffering. Angela spent her days in prayer and fasting and service. Her reputation spread and her advice was sought by both young and old, rich and poor, religious and secular, male and female. But still, Angela had not yet brought her vision to fruition.

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After visiting the Holy Land, where she reportedly lost her sight, Angela returned to Brescia, which had become a haven for refugees from the many wars then wracking Italy. There she gathered around her a group of women who looked toward Angela as an inspirational leader and as a model of apostolic charity. It was these women, many of them daughters of the wealthy, some orphans themselves, who formed the nucleus of Angela’s Company of St. Ursula. Angela named her company after St. Ursula because she regarded her as a model of consecrated virginity.

Angela and her original company worked out details of the rule of prayer, and promises, and practices by which they were to live. The Ursulines opened orphanages and schools. In 1535, the Institute of St. Ursula was formally recognized by the Pope and Angela was accorded the title of foundress.

During the five remaining years of her life, Angela devoted herself to composing a number of Counsels by which her daughters could happily live. She encouraged them to “live in harmony, united together in one heart and one will. Be bound to one another by the bond of charity, treating each other with respect, helping one another, bearing with one another in Christ Jesus; if you really try to live like this, there is no doubt that the Lord our God will be in your midst.”

In 1580, Charles Borromeo, Bishop of Milan, inspired by the work of the Ursulines in Brescia, encouraged the foundation of Ursuline houses in all the dioceses of Northern Italy. Charles also encouraged the Ursulines to live together in community rather than in their own homes. He also exhorted them to publicly profess vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These actions formalized Angela’s original “company” into a religious order of women.

You can find St. Angela Merici’s writings all over the place – there aren’t that many, only three: the Counsels, the Rule and the Testament.

Here’s an excerpt from the Counsels, good advice for all of us, whether we are Ursulines or not:

Love your dear daughters equally; and do not prefer one more than another, because they are all creatures of God. And you do not know what he wants to make of them.

For how do you know, you, that those who seem to you to be the least and lowest are not to become the most generous and most pleasing to his Majesty? And then, who can judge the heart and the innermost secret thoughts of any creature?

And so, hold them all in your love and bear with them all equally, for it is not up to you to judge the handmaids of God; he well knows what he wants to make of them, Who (as Scripture says) can turn stones into children of heaven.

As for you, do your duty, correcting them with love and charity if you see ~ them fall into some fault through human frailty, and thus you will not cease to prune this vine which has been entrusted to you.

And after that, leave it to God; he will do marvellous things in his own time, and when it pleases him.

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