7 Quick Takes

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Book sale! As I said in yesterday’s post – since yesterday was the 5th anniversary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s address to schoolchildren that inspired Be Saints! – I’m offering at a discount price. $9/copy or 5 copies for $40.  That includes shipping. Here’s the link to the post, and here’s the link to the bookstore. 

Click on image for a larger view. The book is composed of images of children and young people with quotes from B16’s talk and the saints. 

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"amy welborn"

Went to an interesting talk this week at our Birmingham Museum of Art from Dr. Erika Doss of Notre Dame – she spoke on her research-in-progress on religion and modern American artists.

BMA: You’ll also consider the styles of famous artists such as Joseph Cornell, Mark Tobey, Agnes Pelton, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol. Do you think religious beliefs (or lack thereof) influenced the styles of these artists, or has the religious climate simply influenced how viewers think about them?

ED: The point of my project is to consider how religious beliefs influenced the art that was produced. Sometimes it is more blatant than others. For instance, Mark Tobey made art for the Baha’i temples just after World War I. Afterwards, a lot of his abstract art was influenced by his state of mind and his religious beliefs.

Today, we are reluctant to look at these artists who had faith or particular beliefs because religion is a loaded subject. We are so divided and there are so many stereotypes – the reality is that most of us are just uninformed. People are terrified to talk about Warhol as a Catholic artist, because then it is just called “Catholic art.” My work wants to give the social and religious context of how he works, as a Catholic, gay artist in the twentieth century, and then look at his paintings. Of course it is easy to look at some of his works, like his Last Supper paintings, and assume the religious undertones, but we need to think more about how these religious beliefs shape what and how he created.

BMA: You note that religion was largely excluded from the history of modern American art. Do you believe that the modern art movement was always secular, or have we left out religion as we’ve studied the era in retrospect?

ED: Much of my book is why people don’t talk about religion and art today. For instance, we tend to discuss the abstract art of Mark Rothko in terms of color and brushwork, not necessarily about Rothko as an artist. However, Rothko himself said he wants people to look at his paintings and have some sort of emotion and feeling; it’s important to consider Rothko’s own feelings and beliefs when he painted.

Rothko was the son of an Orthodox rabbi, he was Jewish by birth but not overtly Jewish (and also never renounced his faith). Looking at his paintings, we must consider what it meant to be Rothko – a Jewish artist in post-World War II New York, which was still a very anti-Semitic place. It was not until the Civil Rights Movement that the quota on Jewish students in Ivy League schools was lifted. So, we must look back into that moment and consider the context, especially the religious ones, that affected his work.

Also, sometimes people view abstract art as inherently spiritual simply because of its style. I want to avoid that slippage and categorization – it’s more about the artist and their background.

Pelton is someone I want to read more about this weekend.

The talk was Wednesday evening at the museum, at the same time as Scouts – thanks to everything being close together and no traffic, it was an easy shot – drop off at scouts, shoot over the mountain to the museum, listen & learn, then back for pick-up.  Perfect!

— 3—

Science this week:

"amy welborn"

Part of it as least, as we gear up for plant study in earnest.  Also happening – several other long-term plant experiment/demonstrations scattered about the house – leaves taped up under dark construction paper, slathered with vaseline, beans sprouting, etc.

Science also happened in these ways this past week:

  • A new weekly zoo class for the “junior veterinarian” – he loved it. He’s finally aging out of the “3rd-4th” grade classes into the “5th-8th” levels, and it is much more satisfying to him.
  • A first weekly class in the history of science from a new attempt at a Catholic hybrid/homeschool arrangement here in town. Topic: Marie Curie. The other class was a drama class. Both were deemed “really good.” Success!
  • Over this week, he read Island of the Blue Dolphins – aside from the writing and content work, every day, we ended up talking about some form of sea life or other, including kelp, which led us to swing back around to algae, which we had discussed last week – that’s why I treasure this homeschooling thing – the rabbit holes, the exploration, that eventually show the connectedness of everything and how learning just goes on and on and on.

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This is a repeat from last week but I wanted to add that this week, we all began our volunteering, and it was great for all of us to be able to work with these kids and listen to them read, and read with them.  Yes, the boys (ages almost 11 and 14) participated, too. The readers struggled at times but were determined!

Reposted in case you’re moved to help this outreach….

First, a tiny, historic parish not far from where we live has strong ministries for the local neighborhood, especially for children. We are going to be involved in this fabulous after school reading room – you can read about it on the pastor’s blog here, and if you are able, to help out a bit with the final expenses? Maybe?

This same outcome is what we want for the youth who live near my smaller parish, Holy Rosary. They live in one of the most afflicted neighborhoods of Birmingham, Alabama. The public schools in the area have not always had the highest ratings. We have encountered children who – even in third or fourth grade, and receiving decent grades on their report cards – had extremely low or nearly non-existent levels of literacy. These children often come from irregular family situations and poverty. Some have never really been read to. And in the face of this, our local situation, we want to make a difference.

Thus, thanks to the inspiration of a certain special lady and the great help of many parishioners, friends, and other members of our community, we have started a new apostolate, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Learning Center – named for the first canonized American-born saint and founder of Catholic schools in our country, who also had a religious order that served the poor. The Center just opened this past week. It consists of two rooms and a bathroom in an existing building on our campus, which we renovated so that the youth will have a good place to do homework and read. And there are no concrete block walls or harvest gold drapes. Much to the contrary. Take a look:

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New free desk gathered up curbiside.  It’s the little things that can sometimes help recharge you…

"amy welborn"

A bit of recompense for all the free stuff I’ve put curbside. Donation or curbing it is generally less trouble than trying to sell things, unless good money can be had for The Things.

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Here’s a question – one of many – that I’m pondering. Is the nature of the PR preceding the papal visit to the US – the emojis, the #popeishope stuff, the crystallization of two years of a new direction  – helpful in explaining the nature and role of the papacy to inquiring non-Catholics?

I’m really not sure.

But we’ll see how it all unfolds.

— 7 —

"amy welborn"

Okay, put down the screen. Go draw something or read. Pray. Listen to the sounds of the last summer nights. The internet will go on without us.

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

As we prepare for Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba and the United States, over at the excellent blog Supremacy and Survival, devoted to exploring the English Reformation, Stephanie Mann is marking the 5th anniversary of Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI’s pastoral visit to Scotland and England.  

The Catholic Herald has reposted an editorial written by William Oddie five years ago:

The richness, volume and sheer variety of the teaching the Pope gave us, and its perfect suitability for each of its many very different audiences, ranging from his intellectually hugely impressive address to the leaders of civil society in Westminster Hall to his call to that enthusiastic audience of schoolchildren to aim at becoming saints, was astonishing. And perhaps the first thing that needs to be said is that this was above all a personal triumph for the Holy Father himself. What came over consistently was the huge warmth, the seemingly inexhaustible loving kindness of the Pope’s gentle but nevertheless powerful personality. After all the caricatures, the man emerged.

That talk to schoolchildren was five years ago today, and out of it came our book Be Saints!

Watercolors by the wonderful Ann Engelhart.

Ann was interviewed about her work on this book here. 

The book was also picked up by Ignatius and is available here.  A beautiful introduction to the life of a disciple…IMHO.

Special offer through this weekend:

In honor of this anniversary, you can get Be Saints  for $9.00/copy (including shipping) or five copies for $40.00 (includes shipping).  Go here to the bookstore. If you have problems with any of the forms, just email me at amywelborn60-at-gmail.com.

St. Robert Bellarmine

..is today’s memorial.

From Word on Fire:

In his time as archbishop he dedicated himself to bringing his people into closer union with God by instructing them in the faith. One biographer reports that, at a time when sermons were common in Capua only during Advent and Lent, St. Robert dutifully preached every Sunday and feast day in Capua and went to great trouble to get to the remote portions of his diocese during the week in order to catechize his congregation. Though he was recalled to Rome for service to the universal Church after only a short period of ministry in Capua, he never ceased to be mindful of the education of the faithful.

In the last years of his life he wrote several spiritual books that became immensely popular among the laity. Reportedly the most famous of these was The Mind’s Ascent to God by the Ladder of Created Things. He notes in this work how easy it is for man to forget God since he “can neither see nor easily think about him nor cleave to him in affection…” Therefore, following such masters as St. Paul, St. Bonaventure, and St. Thomas Aquinas, he offers a series of meditations on the works of God to help bring men to greater knowledge and love of the Creator. He demonstrates that we can come to know just how close God is to us by pondering created reality, for it is a true (though by no means comprehensive) reflection of his majesty and perfection.

From B16, back in 2011:

His preaching and his catechesis have that same character of essentiality which he had learned from his Ignatian education, entirely directed to concentrating the soul’s energies on the Lord Jesus intensely known, loved and imitated. In the writings of this man of governance one is clearly aware, despite the reserve behind which he conceals his sentiments, of the primacy he gives to Christ’s teaching.

St Bellarmine thus offers a model of prayer, the soul of every activity: a prayer that listens to the word of God, that is satisfied in contemplating his grandeur, that does not withdraw into self but is pleased to abandon itself to God.

A hallmark of Bellarmine’s spirituality is his vivid personal perception of God’s immense goodness. This is why our Saint truly felt he wasa beloved son of God. It was a source of great joy to him to pause in recollection, with serenity RobertBellarmineand simplicity, in prayer and in contemplation of God.

In his book De ascensione mentis in Deum — Elevation of the mind to God — composed in accordance with the plan of theItinerarium [Journey of the mind into God] of St Bonaventure, he exclaims: “O soul, your example is God, infinite beauty, light without shadow, splendour that exceeds that of the moon and the sun. He raised his eyes to God in whom is found the archetypes of all things, and of whom, as from a source of infinite fertility, derives this almost infinite variety of things. For this reason you must conclude: whoever finds God finds everything, whoever loses God loses everything”.

In this text an echo of the famous contemplatio ad amorem obtineundum — contemplation in order to obtain love — of theSpiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola can be heard. Bellarmine, who lived in the lavish and often unhealthy society of the end of late 16th and early 17th centuries, drew from this contemplation practical applications and applied them to the situation of the Church of his time with a lively pastoral inspiration.

In his book De arte bene moriendi — the art of dying a good death — for example, he points out as a reliable norm for a good life and also for a good death regular and serious meditation that should account to God for one’s actions and one’s way of life, and seek not to accumulate riches on this earth but rather to live simply and charitably in such a way as to lay up treasure in Heaven.

In his book De gemitu columbae — the lament of the dove — in which the dove represents the Church, is a forceful appeal to all the clergy and faithful to undertake a personal and concrete reform of their own life in accordance with the teachings of Scripture and of the saints, among whom he mentions in particular St Gregory Nazianzus, St John Crysostom, St Jerome and St Augustine, as well as the great founders of religious orders, such as St Benedict, St Dominic and St Francis.

Bellarmine teaches with great clarity and with the example of his own life that there can be no true reform of the Church unless there is first our own personal reform and the conversion of our own heart.

Bellarmine found in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius recommendations for communicating the profound beauty of the mysteries of faith, even to the simplest of people. He wrote: “If you have wisdom, may you understand that you have been created for the glory of God and for your eternal salvation. This is your goal, this is the centre of your soul, this the treasure of your heart. Therefore consider as truly good for you what leads you to your goal, and truly evil what causes you to miss it. The wise person must not seek felicitous or adverse events, wealth or poverty, health or sickness, honours or offences, life or death. They are good and desirable only if they contribute to the glory of God and to your eternal happiness, they are evil and to be avoided if they hinder it” (De ascensione mentis in Deum, grad. 1).

These are obviously not words that have gone out of fashion but words on which we should meditate at length today, to direct our journey on this earth. They remind us that the aim of our life is the Lord, God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, in whom he continues to call us and to promise us communion with him. They remind us of the importance of trusting in the Lord, of expending ourselves in a life faithful to the Gospel, of accepting and illuminating every circumstance and every action of our life with faith and with prayer, ever reaching for union with him. Many thanks.

St. Cyprian

His memorial is today.

In the series of our catecheses on the great figures of the ancient Church, today we come to an excellent African Bishop of the third century, St Cyprian, “the first Bishop in Africa to obtain the crown of martyrdom”.

His fame, Pontius the Deacon his first biographer attests, is also linked to his literary corpus and pastoral activity during the 13 years between his conversion and his martyrdom (cf. Life and Passion of St Cyprian, 19, 1; 1, 1).

Cyprian was born in Carthage into a rich pagan family. After a dissipated youth, he converted to Christianity at the age of 35.

He himself often told of his spiritual journey, “When I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night”, he wrote a few months after his Baptism, “I used to regard it as extremely difficult and demanding to do what God’s mercy was suggesting to me. “I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe I could possibly be delivered, so I was disposed to acquiesce in my clinging vices and to indulge my sins….

“But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of my former life was washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, was infused into my reconciled heart… a second birth restored me to a new man. Then, in a wondrous manner every doubt began to fade…. I clearly understood that what had first lived within me, enslaved by the vices of the flesh, was earthly and that what, instead, the Holy Spirit had wrought within me was divine and heavenly” (Ad Donatum, 3-4).

Immediately after his conversion, despite envy and resistance, Cyprian was chosen for the priestly office and raised to the dignity of Bishop. In the brief period of his episcopacy he had to face the first two persecutions sanctioned by imperial decree: that of Decius (250) and that of Valerian (257-258).

After the particularly harsh persecution of Decius, the Bishop had to work strenuously to restore order to the Christian community. Indeed, many of the faithful had abjured or at any rate had not behaved correctly when put to the test. They were the so-calledlapsi – that is, the “fallen” – who ardently desired to be readmitted to the community.

The debate on their readmission actually divided the Christians of Carthage into laxists and rigorists. These difficulties were compounded by a serious epidemic of the plague which swept through Africa and gave rise to anguished theological questions both within the community and in the confrontation with pagans. Lastly, the controversy between St Cyprian and Stephen, Bishop of Rome, concerning the validity of Baptism administered to pagans by heretical Christians, must not be forgotten.

In these truly difficult circumstances, Cyprian revealed his choice gifts of government: he was severe but not inflexible with thelapsi, granting them the possibility of forgiveness after exemplary repentance. Before Rome, he staunchly defended the healthy traditions of the African Church; he was deeply human and steeped with the most authentic Gospel spirit when he urged Christians to offer brotherly assistance to pagans during the plague; he knew how to maintain the proper balance when reminding the faithful – excessively afraid of losing their lives and their earthly possessions – that true life and true goods are not those of this world; he was implacable in combating corrupt morality and the sins that devastated moral life, especially avarice.

“Thus he spent his days”, Pontius the Deacon tells at this point, “when at the bidding of the proconsul, the officer with his soldiers all of a sudden came unexpectedly upon him in his grounds” (Life and Passion of St Cyprian, 15, 1).

On that day, the holy Bishop was arrested and after being questioned briefly, courageously faced martyrdom in the midst of his people.

The numerous treatises and letters that Cyprian wrote were always connected with his pastoral ministry. Little inclined to theological speculation, he wrote above all for the edification of the community and to encourage the good conduct of the faithful.

Indeed, the Church was easily his favourite subject. Cyprian distinguished between the visible, hierarchical Church and the invisible mystical Church but forcefully affirmed that the Church is one, founded on Peter.

He never wearied of repeating that “if a man deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, does he think that he is in the Church?” (cf. De unit. [On the unity of the Catholic Church], 4).

Cyprian knew well that “outside the Church there is no salvation”, and said so in strong words (Epistles 4, 4 and 73, 21); and he knew that “no one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as mother” (De unit., 6). An indispensable characteristic of the Church is unity, symbolized by Christ’s seamless garment (ibid., 7): Cyprian said, this unity is founded on Peter (ibid., 4), and finds its perfect fulfilment in the Eucharist (Epistle 63, 13).

“God is one and Christ is one”, Cyprian cautioned, “and his Church is one, and the faith is one, and the Christian people is joined into a substantial unity of body by the cement of concord. Unity cannot be severed. And what is one by its nature cannot be separated” (De unit., 23).

We have spoken of his thought on the Church but, lastly, let us not forget Cyprian’s teaching on prayer. I am particularly fond of his treatise on the “Our Father”, which has been a great help to me in understanding and reciting the Lord’s Prayer better.

Cyprian teaches that it is precisely in the Lord’s Prayer that the proper way to pray is presented to Christians. And he stresses that this prayer is in the plural in order that “the person who prays it might not pray for himself alone. Our prayer”, he wrote, “is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people, are one (De Dom. orat. [Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer], 8).

Thus, personal and liturgical prayer seem to be strongly bound. Their unity stems from the fact that they respond to the same Word of God. The Christian does not say “my Father” but “our Father”, even in the secrecy of a closed room, because he knows that in every place, on every occasion, he is a member of one and the same Body.

“Therefore let us pray, beloved Brethren”, the Bishop of Carthage wrote, “as God our Teacher has taught us. It is a trusting and intimate prayer to beseech God with his own word, to raise to his ears the prayer of Christ. Let the Father acknowledge the words of his Son when we pray, and let him also who dwells within our breast himself dwell in our voice….

“But let our speech and petition when we pray be under discipline, observing quietness and modesty. Let us consider that we are standing in God’s sight. We must please the divine eyes both with the position of the body and with the measure of voice….

“Moreover, when we meet together with the brethren in one place, and celebrate divine sacrifices with God’s priest, we ought to be mindful of modesty and discipline – not to throw abroad our prayers indiscriminately, with unsubdued voices, nor to cast to God with tumultuous wordiness a petition that ought to be commended to God by modesty; for God is the hearer, not of the voice, but of the heart (non vocis sed cordis auditor est)” (3-4). Today too, these words still apply and help us to celebrate the Holy Liturgy well.

Ultimately, Cyprian placed himself at the root of that fruitful theological and spiritual tradition which sees the “heart” as the privileged place for prayer.

Indeed, in accordance with the Bible and the Fathers, the heart is the intimate depths of man, the place in which God dwells. In it occurs the encounter in which God speaks to man, and man listens to God; man speaks to God and God listens to man. All this happens through one divine Word. In this very sense – re-echoing Cyprian – Smaragdus, Abbot of St Michael on the Meuse in the early years of the ninth century, attests that prayer “is the work of the heart, not of the lips, because God does not look at the words but at the heart of the person praying” (Diadema monachorum [Diadem of the monks], 1).

Dear friends, let us make our own this receptive heart and “understanding mind” of which the Bible (cf. I Kgs 3: 9) and the Fathers speak. How great is our need for it! Only then will we be able to experience fully that God is our Father and that the Church, the holy Bride of Christ, is truly our Mother.

From the Office of Readings:

Cyprian to his brother Cornelius.
  My very dear brother, we have heard of the glorious witness given by your courageous faith. On learning of the honour you had won by your witness, we were filled with such joy that we felt ourselves sharers and companions in your praiseworthy achievements. After all, we have the same Church, the same mind, the same unbroken harmony. Why then should a priest not take pride in the praise given to a fellow priest as though it were given to him? What brotherhood fails to rejoice in the happiness of its brothers wherever they are?
  Words cannot express how great was the exultation and delight here when we heard of your good fortune and brave deeds: how you stood out as leader of your brothers in their declaration of faith, while the leader’s confession was enhanced as they declared their faith. You led the way to glory, but you gained many companions in that glory; being foremost in your readiness to bear witness on behalf of all, you prevailed on your people to become a single witness. We cannot decide which we ought to praise, your own ready and unshaken faith or the love of your brothers who would not leave you. While the courage of the bishop who thus led the way has been demonstrated, at the same time the unity of the brotherhood who followed has been manifested. Since you have one heart and one voice, it is the Roman Church as a whole that has thus borne witness. Dearest brother, bright and shining is the faith which the blessed Apostle praised in your community. He foresaw in the spirit the praise your courage deserves and the strength that could not be broken; he was heralding the future when he testified to your achievements; his praise of the fathers was a challenge to the sons. Your unity, your strength have become shining examples of these virtues to the rest of the brethren. Divine providence has now prepared us. God’s merciful design has warned us that the day of our own struggle, our own contest, is at hand. By that shared love which binds us close together, we are doing all we can to exhort our congregation, to give ourselves unceasingly to fastings, vigils and prayers in common. These are the heavenly weapons which give us the strength to stand firm and endure; they are the spiritual defences, the God-given armaments that protect us.
  Let us then remember one another, united in mind and heart. Let us pray without ceasing, you for us, we for you; by the love we share we shall thus relieve the strain of these great trials.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Here is the background on the devotion.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI from 2008:

Yesterday we celebrated the Cross of Christ, the instrument of our salvation, which reveals the mercy of our God in all its fullness. The Cross is truly the place where God’s compassion for our world is perfectly manifested. Today, as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we contemplate Mary sharing her Son’s compassion for sinners. As Saint Bernard declares, the Mother of Christ entered into the Passion of her Son through her compassion (cf. Homily for Sunday in the Octave of the Assumption). At the foot of the Cross, the prophecy of Simeon is fulfilled: her mother’s heart is pierced through (cf. Lk 2:35) by the torment inflicted on the Innocent One born of her flesh. Just as Jesus cried (cf. Jn 11:35), so too Mary certainly cried over the tortured body of her Son. Her self-restraint, however, prevents us from plumbing the depths of her grief; the full extent of her suffering is merely suggested by the traditional symbol of the seven swords. As in the case of her Son Jesus, one might say that she too was led to perfection through this suffering (cf. Heb 2:10), so as to make her capable of receiving the new spiritual mission that her Son entrusts to her immediately before “giving up his spirit” (cf. Jn 19:30): that of becoming the mother of Christ in his members. In that hour, through the figure of the beloved disciple, Jesus presents each of his disciples to his Mother when he says to her: Behold your Son (cf. Jn 19:26-27).

Today Mary dwells in the joy and the glory of the Resurrection. The tears shed at the foot of the Cross have been transformed into a smile which nothing can wipe away, even as her maternal compassion towards us remains unchanged. The intervention of the Virgin Mary in offering succour throughout history testifies to this, and does not cease to call forth, in the people of God, an unshakable confidence in her: the Memorare prayer expresses this sentiment very well. Mary loves each of her children, giving particular attention to those who, like her Son at the hour of his Passion, are prey to suffering; she loves them quite simply because they are her children, according to the will of Christ on the Cross.

And from 2011, from a visit to Germany:

When Christians of all times and places turn to Mary, they are acting on the spontaneous conviction that Jesus cannot refuse his mother what she asks; and they are relying on the unshakable trust that Mary is also our mother – a mother who has experienced the greatest of all sorrows, who feels all our griefs with us and ponders in a maternal way how to overcome them. How many people down the centuries have made pilgrimages to Mary, in order to find comfort and strength before the image of the Mother of Sorrows, as here at Etzelsbach!

Let us look upon her likeness: a woman of middle age, her eyelids heavy with much weeping, gazing pensively into the distance, as if meditating in her heart upon everything that had happened. On her knees rests the lifeless body of her son, she holds him gently and lovingly, like a precious gift. We see the marks of the crucifixion on his bare flesh. The left arm of the corpse is pointing straight down. Perhaps this sculpture of the Pietà, like so many others, was originally placed above an altar. The crucified Jesus would then be pointing with his outstretched arm to what was taking place on the altar, where the holy sacrifice that he had accomplished becomes present in the Eucharist.

A particular feature of the holy image of Etzelsbach is the position of Our Lord’s body. In most representations of the Pietà, the dead Jesus is lying with his head facing left, so that the observer can see the wounded side of the Crucified Lord. Here in Etzelsbach, however, the wounded side is concealed, because the body is facing the other way. It seems to me that a deep meaning lies hidden in this representation, that only becomes apparent through silent contemplation: in the Etzelsbach image, the hearts of Jesus and his mother are turned to one another; the hearts come close to each other. They exchange their love. We know that the heart is also the seat of the deepest affection and the most intimate compassion. In Mary’s heart there is room for the love that her divine Son wants to bestow upon the world.

Resources related to today’s feast, because they are about Mary:

Pray the Rosary 


my now-free e-book, Mary and the Christian Life

…is kind of a big deal.

It’s a feast, not just a memorial. That means that there are Sunday-like three readings at Mass, rather than the usual daily two. You can read them here. 

In 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI signed a post-Synodal exhortation for the Synod of the Bishops of the Middle East on this date. He said – and note what I’ve bolded:

Providentially, this event takes place on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a celebration originating in the East in 335, following the dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection built over Golgotha and our Lord’s tomb by the Emperor Constantine the Great, whom you venerate as saint. A month from now we will celebrate the seventeen-hundredth anniversary of the appearance to Constantine of the Chi-Rho, radiant in the symbolic night of his unbelief and accompanied by the words: “In this sign you will conquer!” Later, Constantine signed the Edict of Milan, and gave his name to Constantinople. It seems to me that the Post-Synodal Exhortation can be read and understood in the light of this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and more particularly in the light of the Chi-Rho, the two first letters of the Greek word “Christos”. Reading it in this way leads to renewed appreciation of the identity of each baptized person and of the Church, and is at the same time a summons to witness in and through communion. Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!

"amy welborn"


Jump back to 2006, and the Angelus on 9/14:

Now, before the Marian prayer, I would like to reflect on two recent and important liturgical events: the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, celebrated on 14 September, and the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, celebrated the following day.

These two liturgical celebrations can be summed up visually in the traditional image of the Crucifixion, which portrays the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross, according to the description of the Evangelist John, the only one of the Apostles who stayed by the dying Jesus.

But what does exalting the Cross mean? Is it not maybe scandalous to venerate a shameful form of execution? The Apostle Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (I Cor 1: 23). Christians, however, do not exalt just any cross but the Cross which Jesus sanctified with his sacrifice, the fruit and testimony of immense love. Christ on the Cross pours out his Blood to set humanity free from the slavery of sin and death.

Therefore, from being a sign of malediction, the Cross was transformed into a sign of blessing, from a symbol of death into a symbol par excellence of the Love that overcomes hatred and violence and generates immortal life. “O Crux, ave spes unica! O Cross, our only hope!”. Thus sings the liturgy.

In 2008, Benedict was in Lourdes on 9/14:

“What a great thing it is to possess the Cross! He who possesses it possesses a treasure” (Saint Andrew of Crete, Homily X on the Exaltation of the Cross, PG 97, 1020). On this day when the Church’s liturgy celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Gospel you have just heard reminds us of the meaning of this great mystery: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that men might be saved (cf. Jn 3:16). The Son of God became vulnerable, assuming the condition of a slave, obedient even to death, death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:8). By his Cross we are saved. The instrument of torture which, on Good Friday, manifested God’s judgement on the world, has become a source of life, pardon, mercy, a sign of reconciliation and peace. “In order to be healed from sin, gaze upon Christ crucified!” said Saint Augustine (Treatise on Saint John, XII, 11). By raising our eyes towards the Crucified one, we adore him who came to take upon himself the sin of the world and to give us eternal life. And the Church invites us proudly to lift up this glorious Cross so that the world can see the full extent of the love of the Crucified one for mankind, for every man and woman. She invites us to give thanks to God because from a tree which brought death, life has burst out anew. On this wood Jesus reveals to us his sovereign majesty, he reveals to us that he is exalted in glory. Yes, “Come, let us adore him!” In our midst is he who loved us even to giving his life for us, he who invites every human being to draw near to him with trust.

This is the great mystery that Mary also entrusts to us this morning, inviting us to turn towards her Son. In fact, it is significant that, during the first apparition to Bernadette, Mary begins the encounter with the sign of the Cross. More than a simple sign, it is an initiation into the mysteries of the faith that Bernadette receives from Mary. The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith, for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us. It is this mystery of the universality of God’s love for men that Mary came to reveal here, in Lourdes. She invites all people of good will, all those who suffer in heart or body, to raise their eyes towards the Cross of Jesus, so as to discover there the source of life, the source of salvation.

The Church has received the mission of showing all people this loving face of God, manifested in Jesus Christ. Are we able to understand that in the Crucified One of Golgotha, our dignity as children of God, tarnished by sin, is restored to us? Let us turn our gaze towards Christ. It is he who will make us free to love as he loves us, and to build a reconciled world. For on this Cross, Jesus took upon himself the weight of all the sufferings and injustices of our humanity. He bore the humiliation and the discrimination, the torture suffered in many parts of the world by so many of our brothers and sisters for love of Christ. We entrust all this to Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother, present at the foot of the Cross.

Blessed Benedict Daswa

Beatified today in South Africa, a Catholic convert, catechist, school principal and father of eight, he was martyred in 1990 for trying to stop a (literal) witch-hunt.

In November 1989, heavy rains and lightning strikes were prevalent in the Venda area. This was not seen as a natural phenomenon. Some members of the community became very concerned as to who was responsible.

In early 1990, after a heavy downpour on Thursday 25th January, there were several lightning strikes in the area. The Headman, his council and the community met to discuss their concerns. It was agreed that a traditional healer be consulted to identify the witch who was responsible for the burnings. For this purpose a contribution of R5 per person was agreed on.

Benedict arrived after the decision was taken. His explanation that lightning was a natural phenomenon was greeted with scepticism. He argued against following the old ways and for blaming witches for causing lightning strikes.

When the decision held, Benedict refused to pay the R5 contribution. He argued that his Catholic faith prevented him from taking part in anything connected with witchcraft. Many in the community saw him as belittling the traditional beliefs and conspired to get rid of him because to them he was a stumbling block because of his Catholic faith and consistent stand against witchcraft.

On 2nd February 1990, Benedict drove his sister – in – law and her sick child to the doctor in Thohoyandou. En route, he picked up a man who asked for his help to take a bag of mealie meal to his home in a village adjacent to Mbahe.

Around 7.30 pm, Benedict returned to Mbahe. After leaving his sister – in – law and child near their home, he told his daughter he would return after taking his other passenger and his bag of mealie meal to the next village.

Returning home, Benedict found his way blocked by tree logs across the road. When he alighted, a mob of youths and adults came from behind trees and began throwing large stones at him. Bleeding and injured he left the car and ran across a soccer field hoping for assistance from nearby rondavels (round huts) one being a Shebeen.

He ran into a rondavel kitchen to hide. When the mob arrived they challenged the woman owner of the rondavel indicating that they would kill her if she did not reveal where Benedict was hiding.

Hearing their threat, Benedict came out. He asked them why they wanted to kill him. When Benedict saw one man from the mob coming towards him with a knobkerrie he added the prayer: “God, into your hands receive my spirit” as he was dealt a fatal blow from the knobkerrie which crushed his skull. Boiling water was then poured over his head.

The woman, who owned the rondavel, ran to tell Mackson, Benedict’s brother, what had happened. After calling the Police, he stayed with Benedict’s body throughout the night.

Police came and after surveying the crime scene remained in their car during the night due to widespread violence and burnings in the area. The following morning a police photographer and forensic specialist arrived and an investigation started. A number of people were arrested for Benedict’s brutal murder. When the case came to court it was dismissed through lack of evidence

An interesting interview with the bishop who initiated the cause:

Do you remember when you first heard about Benedict Daswa? What impact
did his story have on you the first time you heard it?

I heard about Benedict as soon as he was killed in 1990. Many people met violent deaths around that time in this country. It was a very sad event. It made no impact on me at the time. However, on the 10th anniversary if his death in 2000, I heard how the local Catholics remembered Benedict by gathering together for a special Mass. They then went to the place where he was ambushed and his widow placed flowers in the middle of the road. Then Benedict’s death began to have a real impact on me and it crossed my mind that he might have been a martyr for the faith. Some inquiries among those who knew him well indicated that Benedict was somebody very special and that we should do something about it.

What did you decide to do?
We began to talk about him with some of the local people and among the priests. We hadn’t a clue about what to do or what procedures to follow or where to find the money, etc, to investigate his life and death. To get Benedict beatified as a martyr looked like an impossible or at least a very long term project. It seemed more like a dream than a project. Very few dared to believe that a poor remote diocese like Tzaneen was going to produce the first local African saint. We thought we wouldn’t be around to see all this happen.

Trusting in God we decided to go ahead, to find out what had to be done and get on with the task of investigating his life and death. Since then, the Lord has been very good to us, opening doors and meeting needs as the occasion requires. A strong steak of stubbornness also helped.

Witch craft and witch hunts still carrying on in rural South Africa.
People in Daswa’s home village say the situation hasn’t improved since
his death. Has his death made any difference at all to the way people think about witch craft and dark arts?

Witch craft is something deep in African culture and it is very unlikely that the belief in it is going to change any time soon. It was surely through some special grace from God that Benedict Daswa was able to put the dark areas of his culture outside of himself, as it were, and see it as anti-light and therefore opposed to his new found Christian faith.  He saw that in his life as a Christian there was no place for things like witchcraft, sorcery, muti, ritual murder, etc. benedict-daswaHe realised he couldn’t stop people believing in witchcraft, but that he could try and challenge witchcraft accusations where no proof is required before a person is found guilty.  And so he publicly opposed the smelling out of so called witches in order to protect innocent lives. In time, Benedict’s courageous witness will surely inspire many other people to follow his example and intervene at a level of witchcraft accusations by demanding proof of guilt before someone can be banished or killed.

Benedict Daswa has been criticised for turning away from his Venda and Lemba traditions to embrace the church? What do you feel about that?

I believe Benedict only left behind him the traditions which were in conflict with his faith. Otherwise he remains deeply embedded especially in the traditional culture of the extended family. Every year around Christmas, he brought together family members and close relatives to cement the family bonds and to deal with any troublesome issues.

You are promoting Benedict Daswa as a martyr for the faith and as an apostle of life. What do you mean by apostle of life?

Obviously we have in mind the innocent lives lost or harmed by such things like ritual murder, witchcraft, etc. It is worth remembering that the Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957 is still enforced in this country, but is presently under review. This act makes witchcraft illegal and carries heavy penalties for witchcraft related crimes, but since 1996 we have another and far more serious attack on human life through legalised abortion.

Legalised abortion has already claimed the lives of more than one million innocent unborn babies in this country. Some claim that abortion is just one issue among many and that we should not get too worked up about it. But surely the right to be born is the only and supreme issue for the 50 million babies who will never see the light of day in 2015.  Benedict Daswa can indeed be an inspiration figure for all who are involved in promoting the culture and gospel of life everywhere and be truly regarded as an apostle of life.


A BBC radio program on Blessed Benedict Daswa

An official site

The official beatification site

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