Posts Tagged ‘2014’

One of the several saints on today’s calendar is St. Simeon Stylites, who lived this way for 36 years:

From the 6th century historian Evagrius:

In these times [about 440 A.D.] flourished and became illustrious, Simeon, of holy and famous memory, who originated the contrivance of stationing himself on the top of a column, thereby occupying a space of scarce two cubits in circumference. This man, endeavoring to realize in the flesh the existence of the heavenly hosts, lifts himself above the concerns of earth, and overpowering the downward tendency of man’s nature, is intent on things above. He was adored by all the countryside, wrought many miracles, and the Emperor Theodosius II listened to his advice and sought his benediction.

Simeon prolonged his endurance of this mode of life through fifty-six years; nine of which he spent in the first monastery where he was instructed in divine knowledge, and forty-seven in the “Mandra” as it was called; namely, ten in a certain nook; on shorter columns, seven; and thirty upon one of forty cubits. After his departure [from this life] his holy body was conveyed to Antioch, escorted by the garrison, and a great concourse guarding the venerable body, lest the inhabitants of the neighboring cities should gather and carry it off. In this manner it was conveyed to Antioch, and attended, during its progress, with extraordinary prodigies….

…According to another writer, Theodoret, in Simeon’s lifetime, he was visited by pilgrims from near and far; Persia, Ethiopia, Spain, and even Britain. To these at times he delivered sermons.

You’ve heard of him, and perhaps you have thought of him as being nothing more than an extremely strange person.

His life is a radical statement, to be sure, but what is discipleship but radical?

Simeon sought to live his earthly life reaching for God, but don’t think that he therefore separated himself from the needs of others.  Paradoxically, from that distance, he was able to serve, and powerfully.

I wrote about him in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints. He’s under “Saints are people who surprise others.” While that chapter is not online, here are some screenshots of the first couple of pages:

amy_welborn3 amy_welborn2

A word about this book.  When Loyola asked me to write a book of saints for children all those years ago, I though long and hard about a structure.  It seemed that everything had been done: to arrange the saints chronologically according to their lives or according to the liturgical year, or alphabetically.  What might be different?

Then I hit upon this notion of sections, each beginning, “Saints are people who…..”

In addition, I wrote the stories, not just to inform, but also to help children see that the circumstances of their own lives may look much different from those of the saints, but they really are not. The temptations, the obstacles and then, the abundance of grace through Christ mark the lives of the saint, yes, but also our lives – no matter how old we are.

Also, back to the saint – this book suggests that the pillars had held pagan statuary, and were appropriated by the stylite hermits for Christ. Interesting.

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The Conversion of St. Augustine. Fra Angelico

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a great student of St. Augustine, and devoted several General Audience talks to him. As in….five. 

January 9, 2008

January 16

January 30

February 20

February 27

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From the last GA:

The African rhetorician reached this fundamental step in his long journey thanks to his passion for man and for the truth, a passion that led him to seek God, the great and inaccessible One. Faith in Christ made him understand that God, apparently so distant, in reality was not that at all. He in fact made himself near to us, becoming one of us. In this sense, faith in Christ brought Augustine’s long search on the journey to truth to completion. Only a God who made himself “tangible”, one of us, was finally a God to whom he could pray, for whom and with whom he could live. This is the way to take with courage and at the same time with humility, open to a permanent purification which each of us always needs. But with the Easter Vigil of 387, as we have said, Augustine’s journey was not finished. He returned to Africa and founded a small monastery where he retreated with a few friends to dedicate himself to the contemplative life and study. This was his life’s dream. Now he was called to live totally for the truth, with the truth, in friendship with Christ who is truth: a beautiful dream that lasted three years, until he was, against his will, ordained a priest at Hippo and destined to serve the faithful, continuing, yes, to live with Christ and for Christ, but at the service of all. This was very difficult for him, but he understood from the beginning that only by living for others, and not simply for his private contemplation, could he really live with Christ and for Christ.

Thus, renouncing a life solely of meditation, Augustine learned, often with difficulty, to make the fruit of his intelligence available to others. He learned to communicate his faith to simple people and thus learned to live for them in what became his hometown, tirelessly carrying out a generous and onerous activity which he describes in one of his most beautiful sermons: “To preach continuously, discuss, reiterate, edify, be at the disposal of everyone – it is an enormous responsibility, a great weight, an immense effort” (Sermon, 339, 4). But he took this weight upon himself, understanding that it was exactly in this way that he could be closer to Christ. To understand that one reaches others with simplicity and humility was his true second conversion.

But there is a last step to Augustine’s journey, a third conversion, that brought him every day of his life to ask God for pardon. Initially, he thought that once he was baptized, in the life of communion with Christ, in the sacraments, in the Eucharistic celebration, he would attain the life proposed in the Sermon on the Mount: the perfection bestowed by Baptism and reconfirmed in the Eucharist. During the last part of his life he understood that what he had concluded at the beginning about the Sermon on the Mount – that is, now that we are Christians, we live this ideal permanently – was mistaken. Only Christ himself truly and completely accomplishes the Sermon on the Mount. We always need to be washed by Christ, who washes our feet, and be renewed by him. We need permanent conversion. Until the end we need this humility that recognizes that we are sinners journeying along, until the Lord gives us his hand definitively and introduces us into eternal life. It was in this final attitude of humility, lived day after day, that Augustine died.

This attitude of profound humility before the only Lord Jesus led him also to experience an intellectual humility. Augustine, in fact, who is one of the great figures in the history of thought, in the last years of his life wanted to submit all his numerous works to a clear, critical examination. This was the origin of the Retractationum (“Revision”), which placed his truly great theological thought within the humble and holy faith that he simply refers to by the name Catholic, that is, of the Church. He wrote in this truly original book: “I understood that only One is truly perfect, and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are completely realized in only One – in Jesus Christ himself. The whole Church, instead – all of us, including the Apostles -, must pray everyday: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (De Sermone Domini in Monte, I, 19, 1-3).

Augustine converted to Christ who is truth and love, followed him throughout his life and became a model for every human being, for all of us in search of God. This is why I wanted to ideally conclude my Pilgrimage to Pavia by consigning to the Church and to the world, before the tomb of this great lover of God, my first Encyclical entitled Deus Caritas Est. I owe much, in fact, especially in the first part, to Augustine’s thought. Even today, as in his time, humanity needs to know and above all to live this fundamental reality: God is love, and the encounter with him is the only response to the restlessness of the human heart; a heart inhabited by hope, still perhaps obscure and unconscious in many of our contemporaries but which already today opens us Christians to the future, so much so that St Paul wrote that “in this hope we were saved” (Rom 8: 24). I wished to devote my second Encyclical to hope, Spe Salvi, and it is also largely indebted to Augustine and his encounter with God.

In a beautiful passage, St Augustine defines prayer as the expression of desire and affirms that God responds by moving our hearts toward him. On our part we must purify our desires and our hopes to welcome the sweetness of God (cf. In I Ioannis 4, 6). Indeed, only this opening of ourselves to others saves us. Let us pray, therefore, that we can follow the example of this great convert every day of our lives, and in every moment of our life encounter the Lord Jesus, the only One who saves us, purifies us and gives us true joy, true life.

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If you read the excerpt above, you will not a reference to a “pilgrimage to Pavia.”  Pavia is the small city in northern Italy where you will find the tomb of St. Augustine.  Benedict made his pilgrimage in April of 2007, and the shrine has a full – very full account at this page, which includes links to information about the saint’s impact on Ratzinger and his importance in the latter’s work. 

(And on a truly more minor note – St. Augustine is in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints under “Saints are People Who Help us Understand God”)

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We have been to both Milan and Pavia, and I’ll be talking about those trips with…….


As I’ve mentioned before, Diana tries to structure her daily shows around the saint and feasts of that particular week.  So this week, I had a lot to say about our family travel to Milan (where St. Augustine was baptized)

Under the Milan duomo, the site of the baptistry where Ambrose baptized Milan. The subway walkways are right outside the door.

Pavia (where he is buried)

The church where Augustine’s tomb is located. How his remains arrived here from North Africa and then Sardinia is related here. 

…and…St. Augustine, Florida!  St. Augustine is so named because the Spanish landed on August 28, 1565. St. Augustine, like most of Florida, is fun for families, but my main piece of advice was…if you can swing it…avoid it during the summer. I have a high tolerance for heat -in fact, I prefer it and would be fine moving to the tropics today (I think) but there is something about the town of St. Augustine that produces a rather intense, reduce-you-to-a-puddle effect. Every photo I have of any of us in St. Augustine is marked by burning hot red cheeks and sweaty hair sticking up all over the place.

By the way…I loved Pavia.  One of those great mid-sized European cities, full of life and authentic, deep culture, not affected and strained. It was a thirty-minute train ride from Milan and a delightful Sunday afternoon. With chocolate.

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Earlier this week, our Cathedral hosted a beginning-of-the-school-year Mass for Catholic homeschoolers.  I knew they had done this before, years ago, but had seen nothing recently.  Back in the spring, a bunch of moms were talking while kids were racing around a local Catholic school gym, donated for our use for the afternoon, and the expressed need and desire for just a few more opportunities for fellowship and connecting sparked the idea for the Mass, and since I seem to have the fewest kids and the most free time, I offered to get it going…and it went…a spectacular success.  It was so great to see a couple hundred (or more, perhaps) parents, grandparents and kids present.  Four priests concelebrating, homeschoolers serving as servers, lectors and cantor. It’s great to be in a place where people are supportive of homeschooling, and don’t feel threatened by it.

Photo courtesy of Fr. Doug Vu. 

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Speaking of homeschooling…well, schooling, formation and education in general…here’s a resource you might be interested in:  a website for Fr. Junipero Serra, to be canonized by Pope Francis in DC in a month!


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

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It’s one of those places we’ve passed countless times, and every time, I’ve vaguely thought, “We should check that out.”

And yesterday, we finally did.

It’s a Georgia state park, Sweetwater Creek State Park, about 20 miles west of Atlanta. The entrance is ten minutes off of I-20, so yes, it’s very convenient on that Birmingham-Atlanta run, which we made yesterday.

We arrived at the park at 4, which gave us three good hours to enjoy it. We weren’t super prepared – should have had swimsuits and towels in the car – but we made do.

The heart of the park is a ruined mill. The visitor’s center has an excellent display about the history of the mill, as well as the natural features of the park itself.

The mill was a textile mill built in the 1840’s, and a community of about 300 developed around it. When the war started, it was taken over for the making of fabric for Confederate uniforms, and since the men mostly went to fight, was operated by women.

In 1864, when Sherman’s March pushed through the area, the mill was burned and all the women and children in the area were captured as prisoners of war, taken to Louisville, and told they would be released if they promised not to go south of the Ohio River for the duration of the war.  If not, they were just kept as prisoners.

The mill was never rebuilt and the area never resettled, so today we have a state park with a rapid-filled creek and rather haunting ruins.

We walked the Red Trail, which runs along the creek – it gets very, very rocky at times, so if you are unsteady on your feet at all, don’t take it past the mill.  We took it to the falls, then caught the White Trail and looped back around.

I am not a huge fan of kids playing in rapids with sharp rocks, but it was evidently the thing to do, and my son is very careful, so I let him have at it.  I was more than ready to move on, but he wasn’t, and I was wondering how I was ever going to get him out of there when he returned to me from his island conquest in the middle of the creek with as much hustle in his step as he could muster.

Out there, in a crevice in one of the rocks above a relatively calm spot, he’d seen – he claims, almost stepped on – a cottonmouth (also known as a Water Moccasin.) He was excited about the sighting, but, you know, also really ready to come out of the water.

I guess that’ll do it.

All in all, a great find – so glad we finally stopped, and I hope it won’t be the last time. It was the usual mix (not kidding) of Atlanta-area residents on the trails and in the water – white,  African-American, Hispanic, families with women in saris, families with women in hijab….yes, indeed, this New South is a great-looking bunch.

It looks like they have a very full slate of interesting activities, so we’ll try to hit on of those special hikes, for sure!

(Update:  Thanks to a commenter who mentioned that this is one of the Hunger Games filming sights.)

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Not great internet, so here are a few photos.

Short version of the posts I’ll be writing up on our return:  This is a great trip, and everyone should do it!

(Saw a family yesterday in their car on the windows of which they had written, TEN PARKS OR BUST – with a checklist of all the parks they’d be visiting on the trip.)

"amy welborn"

If you look at this one closely you can see Bighorn sheep – one on the very top, and the other on the side.

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"amy welborn"

(Pictures are a little dark..no time to adjust)

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On Snowmaggedon

All right, quit your sniggering.

Read this, and you’ll get it, mostly.

The question is – why did this snow event – which only dumped a couple of inches during the day yesterday – cause such problems?

And people – it was a problem.  Over 11,000 children spent the night and part of today in public schools.  Most of the families I know who have kids in school ended up the night not together.  One parent might have been home, the other got to a friend or family member’s home or shelter with the kids – or all three sets were in different places.  Scores and scores of people ended up either sleeping in their cars or abandoning the vehicles and walking it.


Here’s what happened:   What was predicted for our area was a dusting.  Further south was supposed to get the brunt of it, but we were supposed to be fine.  Mid-morning, it became clear that the snow was heading our way as well, and was heavier than expected. So midmorning, they cancelled school, and just like that:

Everyone hit the roads at the same time in worsening weather. 

This has happened before, and it sees to me there has got to be a better way than dismissing tens of thousands of kids at the same time, resulting in tens of thousands of parents on the road at the same time in bad conditions.

All it takes, then, is a couple of skidding cars, a couple of accidents, to bring the whole road system to a hault.  I mean, just think about it.   You’ve got a major four-lane artery.  It’s snowing and sleeting and the roads are icing.  A couple of cars collide, or a couple slide and get stuck enough to be in the way.  Traffic stops.  The roads are packed. The weather worsens….do you get it? Is this going to be cleared up quickly?  Do you see how this could happen?

I do think that inexperienced drivers have to take some responsibility, though.  Today, I drove on a hill that was partly iced and partly snowed. It wasn’t a steep hill, but a steady grade. The guy ahead of me, for whatever reason, basically stopped – not understanding that in order to conquer a slope in snow or ice you just have to keep going.  So he started spinning in place. Since he stopped, I stopped, even though I didn’t want to, and started spinning.  Gagh.  But in that situation, all I had to do was back up a few feet, turn the wheel, and head for a snowy part of the road, pass the spinning guy and keep going.  While he spun in place. 

(And I drive a little Mazda 3. Not a heavy vehicle. He was in a pickup.)

But of course – if you never have to drive in those conditions, are you going to learn?  Easy to say “Stay off the road!” But you know, when your Kindergartner might sort of want to come home.

Now, what the writer of the Gizmodo article forgets to mention is the hills.  Which around here range from hilly to what we call “Red Mountain.”  There are parts of neighborhoods on those mountains that I’m sure will be impassable until Friday, since as he does mention, the municipalities around here just don’t have the equipment to deal with this situation.  And it’s actually a sound economic judgment.  We get this kind of event maybe every three years and honestly, if the weather forecast had been more accurate, school would have been called off Monday night, and this wouldn’t have been half as bad as it was.

You can scoff at being unprepared, but look. It’s sort of like folks up north, many of whom don’t have air conditioning.  And every so often, they experience heat waves that result in a lot of discomfort, suffering, and even death.  Those are the decisions you make – if you live in a place where it gets hot for at most a month every year, why would you invest in air conditioning?  Same thing, and not anything laughable or ignorant, really.

Now my adventure was a little different and could have been much worse.  Considering what I did yesterday, it’s amazing that I had no trouble, really, and people who stayed around and were just trying to drive a mile ended up sleeping in Krispy Kreme.

I had an appointment up in Knoxville for this morning, an appointment related to my father’s estate.  Very pro  forma.  So the plan was for us to drive up yesterday, stop at the museum in Oak Ridge, spend the night, do the meeting Wednesday morning, and then make it back in time for Wednesday afternoon music lesson and basketball practice.

As we drove away mid-morning, it was, indeed, a “light dusting” happening, and I was all, “Oh, this will be fine, no problem.”  But as I continued up 59 the snow got heavier and the wind stronger. I had Joseph look at the weather map on the Ipad and saw that the precipitation looked substantial all the way up to Knoxville.  Then I had the bright idea to check and see whether the Knox County government offices were even open.   This was a little after noon.  Website said: Closed.  I tried to call to see if I could get a sense as to whether they’d be open on Wednesday or not.  To do this, I got off at a Fort Payne exit – and it was hairy.  The interstate was a breeze compared to what was going on in the roadway down there.  No answer to my phone call.  I studied the weather map again. This is stupid, I thought.  I also thought Screw it. But then I had to decide – would it be worse to continue or to go back??  My instincts kicked in, and they told me that Knox County would be closed down on Wednesday, and to just return to Birmingham. So we did, and got back home around 2:30. It wasn’t too bad for us at that point, although I had to park the car at the base of the hill on which my house sits.  Couldn’t get up it.

(I moved the car later, when the precipitation on the road was at the “crunchy” stage and before it got to “slick.” And Knox County offices were indeed closed today. They’ll just send me a new postcard with a new date.)

And the boys, mostly the younger one, spent the rest of the day and most of the evening Out In It.

It was all pretty crazy.  Some of the suffering could have been prevented by closing down schools and more skillful driving, but the conditions were bad.  It wasn’t just “a couple of inches of snow” just like in Chicago in July it’s not just “a few degrees above normal.”

But as they always do, people came through.

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