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Posts Tagged ‘adult education’

The Greater one…

Patron of Spain and pilgrims.

Let Benedict XVI give you the basics:

We are continuing the series of portraits of the Apostles chosen directly by Jesus during his earthly life. We have spoken of St Peter and of his brother, Andrew. Today we meet the figure of James. The biblical lists of the Twelve mention two people with this name: James, son of Zebedee, and James, son of Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3: 17,18; Mt 10: 2-3), who are commonly distinguished with the nicknames “James the Greater” and “James the Lesser”.

These titles are certainly not intended to measure their holiness, but simply to state the different importance they receive in the writings of the New Testament and, in particular, in the setting of Jesus’ earthly life. Today we will focus our attention on the first of these two figures with the same name.

The name “James” is the translation of Iakobos, the Graecised form of the name of the famous Patriarch, Jacob. The Apostle of this name was the brother of John and in the above-mentioned lists, comes second, immediately after Peter, as occurs in Mark (3: 17); or in the third place, after Peter and Andrew as in the Gospels of Matthew (10: 2) and Luke (6: 14), while in the Acts he comes after Peter and John (1: 13). This James belongs, together with Peter and John, to the group of the three privileged disciples whom Jesus admitted to important moments in his life.

Since it is very hot today, I want to be brief and to mention here only two of these occasions. James was able to take part, together with Peter and John, in Jesus’ Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the event of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Thus, it is a question of situations very different from each other: in one case, James, together with the other two Apostles, experiences the Lord’s glory and sees him talking to Moses and Elijah, he sees the divine splendour shining out in Jesus.

On the other occasion, he finds himself face to face with suffering and humiliation, he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, making himself obedient unto death. The latter experience was certainly an opportunity for him to grow in faith, to adjust the unilateral, triumphalist interpretation of the former experience: he had to discern that the Messiah, whom the Jewish people were awaiting as a victor, was in fact not only surrounded by honour and glory, but also by suffering and weakness. Christ’s glory was fulfilled precisely on the Cross, in his sharing in our sufferings.

This growth in faith was brought to completion by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so that James, when the moment of supreme witness came, would not draw back. Early in the first century, in the 40s, King Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, as Luke tells us, “laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword” (Acts 12: 1-2).

The brevity of the news, devoid of any narrative detail, reveals on the one hand how normal it was for Christians to witness to the Lord with their own lives, and on the other, that James had a position of relevance in the Church of Jerusalem, partly because of the role he played during Jesus’ earthly existence.

A later tradition, dating back at least to Isidore of Seville, speaks of a visit he made to Spain to evangelize that important region of the Roman Empire. According to another tradition, it was his body instead that had been taken to Spain, to the city of Santiago de Compostela.

As we all know, that place became the object of great veneration and is still the destination of numerous pilgrimages, not only from Europe but from the whole world. This explains the iconographical representation of St James with the pilgrim’s staff and the scroll of the Gospel in hand, typical features of the travelling Apostle dedicated to the proclamation of the “Good News” and characteristics of the pilgrimage of Christian life.

Consequently, we can learn much from St James: promptness in accepting the Lord’s call even when he asks us to leave the “boat” of our human securities, enthusiasm in following him on the paths that he indicates to us over and above any deceptive presumption of our own, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of life.

Thus James the Greater stands before us as an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ. He, who initially had requested, through his mother, to be seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion and to share martyrdom with the Apostles.

And, in the end, summarizing everything, we can say that the journey, not only exterior but above all interior, from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mount of the Agony, symbolizes the entire pilgrimage of Christian life, among the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, as the Second Vatican Council says. In following Jesus, like St James, we know that even in difficulties we are on the right path.

Hmmm…that might be a good start for a discussion, yes? It’s got some good content, then veers over into some personal reflection. What a good idea!

Back when he was giving these addresses, various publishers collected them into book form and sold them. You can still find those, but of course, since all these talks are online, you don’t have to pay a dime for them. You also don’t have to pay for a study guide on these talks on the Apostles – the one I wrote for OSV is available here in a pdf form.

The unapologetic reflex of Catholic parishes to charge fees for religious education is unfortunate and a hindrance to evangelization. One answer is to encourage a culture of parish stewardship that says, “We don’t want to charge anyone a fee for catechesis or formation. Let’s all give enough so that we don’t have to.”  Another is to find quality free source materials…and here you go.

 

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What’s your history of classroom tech?

The racket of IBM Selectrics in typing class? The square holes of data cards? (I can’t even type phrase that without hearing it in my Indian college professor’s voice.) Did you – or if you’re old enough, your parents – collect grocery receipts for Apple IIe computers? Mario Typing? Channel One?

It’s a history of promises and utopia, isn’t it? Promises of:

  • Individualized, self-paced learning
  • Global connections and awareness
  • Classroom and system efficiency
  • Parent-school cooperation
  • Financial savings
  • Preparedness for the workplace and the modern world in general.

How much has been written on these issues? Millions of words. I don’t want to add too much to that. What I have to say is particularly directed at Catholic education, which, in this country, has – not surprisingly – jumped right on the Tech Train, seeking, as it does it so much else, to do nothing more than ape public education.

The lack of critical, counter-cultural thinking in Catholic education is not surprising, but still continually disappointing nonetheless.

What I have to say today is pretty simple, and I’m going to say it mostly by quoting from others. I’d encourage you to follow the links and read more.

Bottom line:

The push for screens and internet-based learning to replace books and paper is sold to us as an inevitability that is, of course, best for students.

I invite you to never, ever, accept that premise, and to question it, from top to bottom every time it’s presented to you. 

Because the push for screens and internet-based learning is not about students. It’s about profit and data. 

Let’s go back to the dark ages – the 1990’s, when Channel One entered classrooms. It’s an instructive example because it was so controversial at the time, and what’s happening now with computer-based learning, particularly Google Classroom, raises similar issues, but does not seem to be raising the same kinds of questions.

The deal was this: Whittle Communications provided classroom televisions and satellite receivers to schools in exchange for schools having their students watch a daily news show provided by the company – called Channel One.  I taught in a school that took this deal, and yes, every day after opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, we had to watch this – what, maybe 10-15 minute news show with advertisements (that was the controversial part).

As I said – it was controversial – accusations of schools selling out students, forcing them to watch advertisements and whatever editorial slant Channel One offered in its programming.

And those are questions that should have been raised. It was certainly problematic – not to speak of being a pain and an intrusion. But hey! We got free televisions!

What’s happening now is no different – well, it is different – because it’s worse. What’s happening now in so many systems is an unquestioning, eager acceptance of faulty premises about what’s best for students, allowing tech companies to simply take over education, set the standards, and dominate every aspect of the process from pre-assessment, to instruction, to testing to information infrastructure.

And all the while scraping your kids’ lives for data.

Tomorrow I’m going to take the issue on from a more personal perspective, ranting about sharing various experiences my own kids have had with this in their classrooms – amy-welbornsince I haven’t taught myself since the advent of intensive, intrusive classroom tech – in my day  – it was a big deal to get one classroom computer, period.

Today, I’m just going to leave you with some citations from other writers. I don’t agree with everything every one of these writers have to say about every issue – some of them tend to tilt definitely more leftward than I do, and many are hard-core opposed to charter and private schools – but on these matters, I’m indebted to their passion.

Here’s where I stand – before I get to the links:

  • Education – even up through high school – should be as screen-free as possible. I really don’t see any reason at all for elementary students to use computers or screens. Their brains need the holistic connection between mental and physical activity that comes with reading real books and writing on paper and using concrete manipulatives.
  • Everything I have read indicates that reading retention is stronger from reading from printed paper pages than it is reading from a screen. There is an aspect to spatial awareness that assists in retention. I know this is true for me because I can often, when trying to remember something I read, can retrieve it by thinking about where I read it on the page – top, bottom, middle. I don’t have that with a screen, which is why the only books I read on an e-reader are out-of-print books I can’t find anywhere else, for the most part. For sure, if I am reading non-fiction – serious history or theology – I must read a book – I must be able to have that experience of holding something physical in my hands, flipping back and forth, physically highlighting.
  • Anecdotal evidence suggests that students tend to prefer printed material, as well: “real books.” There are serious questions, as well, about the physical impact of all-day screen immersion, not only on brain chemistry and attention, but on other aspects of our physical health.
  • As the links below will emphasize, this is mostly about perceived financial savings (by schools and systems) and financial gain (by corporations). It is disappointing, as I said, to see Catholic schools buy into this.
  • Classroom tech does not improve efficiency. At all. It takes time to learn, there are bugs and disruptions, the Internet goes out, the power goes out, it presents distractions.
  • While there are great teachers out there, teachers as a group are not noble saints immune from human weakness. As I said, great teachers still work out there – my children are sitting in the classrooms of some excellent teachers as I write this. But – again – teachers are not saints or superhuman or uniformly excellent. There are lazy, inefficient, ignorant teachers whose worst habits are encouraged by classroom tech. I mean – who among us hasn’t encountered the teacher who does nothing more than hand out worksheets? Now he/she has a classroom full of kids who can be told to work in their Chromebooks and call it a day.

So yeah – basically, for me, it comes down to : The tech needed in a classroom is going to vary: kids studying AP Physics might need to use it more than they do in English class (or maybe not – I sort of have my doubts on that score, too). But the presumption should be: less tech is better. 

Now for the links:

Dear teachers: Don’t be good soldiers for the tech industry

There is an entire parasitic industry making billions of dollars selling us things we don’t need – standardized testsCommon Core workbook drivel, software test prep THIS, and computer test crap THAT.

We didn’t decide to use it. We didn’t buy it. But who is it who actually introduces most of this garbage in the classroom?

That’s right. US.

We do it. Often willingly.

We need to stop.

And before someone calls me a luddite, let me explain. I’m not saying technology is bad. It’s a tool like anything else. There are plenty of ways to use it to advance student learning. But the things we’re being asked to do… You know in your heart that they aren’t in the best interests of children.

I know. Some of you have no choice. You live in a state or district where teacher autonomy is a pathetic joke. There are ways to fight that, but they’re probably not in the classroom.

It’s not you who I’m talking to. I’m addressing everyone else. I’m talking to all the teachers out there who DO have some modicum of control over their own classrooms and who are told by their administrators to do things that they honestly disagree with – but they do it anyway.

We’ve got to stop doing it.

Corporations want to replace us with software packages. They want to create a world where kids sit in front of computers or iPads or some other devices for hours at a time doing endless test prep. You know it’s true because your administrator probably is telling you to proctor such rubbish in your own classroom so many hours a week. I know MINE is.

….

The EdTech shell game is not about improving student learning. It’s a commercial coup, not a progressive renaissance.

Think about it.

They call this trash “personalized learning.” How can it really be personalized if kids do the same exercises just at different rates? How is it personalized if it’s standardized? How is it personalized if it omits the presence of actual people in the education process?

It’s teach-by-numbers, correspondence school guano with graphics and a high speed Internet connection.

Personalized Learning Without People – An Education Scam from the 1980s Returns

This is seen as a way to save money by teaching without teachers. Sure, you still need a certified educator in the class room (for now) but you can stuff even more children into the seats when the teacher is only a proctor and not responsible for actually presenting the material.

The teacher becomes more of a policeman. It’s his job to make sure students are dutifully pressing buttons, paying attention and not falling asleep.

Moreover, this is sold as a way to boost test scores and meet the requirements of the Common Core. You can easily point to exactly which standards are being assessed on a given day and then extrapolate to how much that will increase struggling students’ scores on the federally mandated standardized test when they take it later in the year.

In fact, students’ answers on these programs are kept and recorded. They are, in effect, stealth assessments that can be used to judge and sort students into remediation classes or academic tracks.

Co-opting the Language of Authentic Education: The Competency Based Education Cuckoo

That’s what the whole program consists of – forcing children to sit in front of computers all day at school to take unending high stakes mini-tests. And somehow this is being sold as a reduction in testing when it’s exactly the opposite.

This new initiative is seen by many corporate school reformers as the brave new world of education policy. The public has soundly rejected standardized tests and Common Core. So this is the corporate response, a scheme they privately call stealth assessments. Students will take high stakes tests without even knowing they are doing it. They’ll be asked the same kinds of multiple-choice nonsense you’d find on state mandated standardized assessments but programmers will make it look like a game. The results will still be used to label schools “failing” regardless of how under-resourced they are or how students are suffering the effects of poverty. Mountains of data will still be collected on your children and sold to commercial interests to better market their products.

On “Competency-Based Education” ….and B.F. Skinner:

Parents, here’s the moral of the story: if you want your child “constantly interacting” with whatever corporate testing company your state has contracted with, and if you trust that company to be your child’s teacher, then by all means, CBE is for you.

And then a general rant from a couple of years ago – with good links. 

Dr. Kentaro Toyama, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, once believed that technology in the classroom could solve the problems of modern urban education. No Luddite, he had received his Ph.D. in computer science from Yale and had moved to India in 2004 to help found a new research lab for Microsoft; while there, he became interested in how computers, mobile phones and other technologies could help educate India’s billion-plus population.

Rather than finding a digital educational cure, he came to understand what he calls technology’s “Law of Amplification”: technology could help education where it’s already doing well, but it does little for mediocre educational systems. Worse, in dysfunctional schools, it “can cause outright harm.” He added: “Unfortunately, there is no technological fix…more technology only magnifies socioeconomic disparities, and the only way to avoid that is non-technological.”

From Ed Week:

What this discussion boils down to is a concern about student learning and a skepticism regarding the idea that technology is always necessary or appropriate. New tech tools might promote engagement, but students might also enjoy colorful pens and giant pieces of chart paper as a change of pace in environments that are proudly, and rigidly, paperless. Virtual discussion boards might be crucial for drawing out introverted students; they might also give students permission to sit back and type canned responses.

In his 2003 book The Flickering Mind, author Todd Oppenheimer argued that education technology had failed in its promise to transform education and that it may paradoxically impede learning. Oppenheimer, a journalist who visited a range of schools and institutions in the United States to examine how technology was shaping education, found that educators often conflated sleek but content-thin presentations with evidence of deep learning.

Educators also erroneously assumed that the use of tools like PowerPoint counted as relevant skill-building for the workplace. Oppenheimer suggests in the book that students are more likely to prosper if they develop “strong values and work habits,” and master “the art of discussion.”

 

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All right – first things first. As in…my things. 

I was in Living Faith on Monday – here’s the link. Look for an entry next Wednesday, as well.

Also check out Instagram this weekend – there’s a road trip happening.

The cover for my next book is up for viewing at the Loyola Press site!

Coming July: The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols.

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Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

It’s a series of books with which I’m very pleased – due in no small part to stellar design and artwork, for which I can take no credit. Please check out the whole series here and consider gifting it to your local Catholic school, parish – or even public library!

— 2 —

The most comforting thing I read this week was from Graham Greene’s preface to a collection of his stories. He wrote:

I would like too to explain the digging up from a magazine of the twenties of a detective story, “Murder for the Wrong Reason” Reading it more than sixty years later, I found that I couldn’t detect the murderer before he was disclosed. 

— 3 —

I found it comforting because this week I noticed that book to which I was allegedly a contributor was being published this summer. I had no recollection of this essay, but a quick search through my files revealed that yes, I had written said essay in March of 2017, sent it in and even invoiced for it. Once I reread the piece, I did, indeed recall it in detail, but there were those few moments before that in which you’d asked me out of the blue, Hey , what about that essay you wrote for the Living Faith collection? I would have stared at you…blankly. Granted, there’s a big difference between a sixty-year memory glitch and..well…one year. But still. I’ll take that small comfort, if allowed.

To be published in mid-June: 

PDF sample available here, and here’s the Table of Contents. With my name in it, indeed.

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More book news (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page. 

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Moving on….

Very interesting: “How I got the BBC to apologise for misrepresenting my Jesuit ancestor.”

It was in these dangerous circumstances that Fr Gerard, a tall and dashing young Jesuit, landed by night on the Norfolk coast, shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, when anti-Catholic feelings were at a high. Disguising himself first as a falconer and then as a country gentlemen, he met contacts in Norwich who introduced him to a network of Catholic sympathisers across Norfolk and nearby counties.

Moving from one country house to another, Fr Gerard managed to persuade their owners, at substantial risk to themselves, to use their houses as centres for building local Catholic communities. In the process he made numerous converts to the faith, at least 30 of whom subsequently became priests themselves….

….

After three years Fr Gerard was moved to the Tower of London where he was further interrogated and badly tortured. But despite being weakened by imprisonment and ill treatment, he engineered a daring and ingenious escape across the moat, listed by Time magazine as one of the 10 greatest prison escapes in history. Somehow he managed to resume his activities and continue his mission for another eight years, until he was forced to leave the country in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot.

As a priest, he knew several of the plotters and was quite close to at least one of them, whom he had converted to Catholicism. Robert Cecil, James I’s spymaster and principal adviser, wanted to pin the blame for the Gunpowder Plot on the Jesuits and on John Gerard in particular, whose earlier escape from the Tower had not been forgotten.

But despite extreme methods, Cecil was unable to extract any credible evidence against Fr Gerard. Under interrogation and in one case torture, the two surviving plotters “admitted” that he had said Mass for them after their first meeting, but both firmly insisted that he had no knowledge of the plot itself. Another of the plotters wrote that they had deliberately kept him in the dark, because they knew he was opposed to violence and would have talked them out of it….

…He has been an inspiration to members of my family for hundreds of years and it came as a shock to see him featured in the BBC historical drama Gunpowder, clearly represented as being “in on the plot”. The characterisation of Fr Gerard was so far removed from all historical accounts that I believed it could only have been a deliberate misrepresentation.  More

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And this:

Obianuju Ekeocha, the founder of Culture of Life Africa, has written an open letter to MPs ahead of a Westminster Hall debate tomorrow on “Access to reproductive rights around the world”.

In the letter, sent by SPUC, Ms Ekeocha, author of Target Africa, takes issue with the premise of the debate being sponsored by Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, saying it confirms the reality that the UK has become a “lead neocolonial master.”

Reproductive rights?

In the letter, Ms Ekeocha explains that although her country, Nigeria, is now independent of British colonial rule, “in recent years, we are noticing the footprints of the United Kingdom all over Africa as they have become one of the most enthusiastic western proponents of so-called ‘reproductive rights’, a concept that is seen and understood all across Africa as abortion, contraception, sterilisation and graphic (age-inappropriate) sexuality education.”

Funding illegal abortion

She points out that about 80 per cent of the African countries have continued to resist and reject the notion that abortion should be legal, and that it is “an idea that is incompatible with our culture which teaches us that every human being carries bloodlines of clans and families that are never to be forgotten and that our lives begin right from our mothers’ womb.”

We find “organizations like Marie Stopes International, International Planned Parenthood Federation and IPAS…running expensive lobbying campaigns at our parliaments to legalize abortion even against the will of the people,” she continues. “And when we investigate, we find out that some of these organizations are performing illegal abortions in African countries where abortion is not legal.”

 

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Great news for Catholic education in Birmingham – one of our already excellent Catholic schools is taking it up a notch and going classical – in other words, thinking with the mind of the Church on education. 

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

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  • After an almost 2-week break (including most of Holy Week) we are back for the final push. As much as we push, which is not much.
  • We’ll  be in “session” until the latter part of May, when brother’s school dismisses for the summer and the real learning begins.
  • A late start – not only were we tired from the drive back from Charleston, I had to do final edits on my Living Faith contributions for the Oct-Dec issue.
  • (Next task…finishing up a Lent 2017 devotional….for once I was working on a seasonal project during the actual correct season. That’s rare.)
  • First up: Annunciation. Talked about the source of the word,then read the readings and prayed the prayers. Then he read the chapter on the event from the grade 5 volume of Faith and Life. 
  • Next, relating of a dream that involved The Matrix,The Regular Show and some other pop culture artifact.
  • Then, as we started Latin, he asked how, if the 3 Sisters had prophesied  that Macbeth would not be killed by anyone of woman born, how it was that MacDuff killed him? Um…let me explain….
  • That task done, time for Latin. Reviewed prepositions and adjectives from the last chapter, as well as the 3 tenses of eo, ire (to go). Moved on to the next chapter and introduced that vocabulary and its derivatives.
  • (I should add – no copywork. It was late and we were going to have to be short because of errands and early Brother School dismissal, so I just wanted to get the big stuff going for the week)
  • Poetry – we are reviewing the poetry he has memorized so far.  We started today with “No Man is an Island” and Dickinson’s “Hope.” He did well on both and came out with parts of “Blow, blow thou winter wind” even though he’d never purposefully memorized it, only done it for copywork and discussed it with me, and then did a paraphrase of “All the World’s a Stage.” Yes, we worked on As You Like It earlier in the year.
  • For writing, we started the next chapter of Writing and Rhetoric. Before Easter, the focus was refutation, and now, dealing with the same Bre’r Rabbit story, he will move on to confirmation. So today was just reading and thinking about that.
  • History: before we start the next chapter in the text, we’re filling in some gaps in social and economic history from A History of Us (volume 4) – chapters on transportation – canals, steam & the railroads.
  • Talking about the Erie Canal led to other things – first, the Panama Canal, then the Suez. Maps were pulled up, brief history discussed. Then the Amazon River was brought to mind, and the question of length relative to the Nile wondered about. So that question was pulled up, and the answer is fairly technical and not clear-cut. (Most agree the Nile is longer, but there are those who disagree). He then wanted to show me photographs of Mount Roraima which, he explained was part of the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book The Lost World which he tried to read once, but, he continued, did not finish because of the detail of description, especially since the bulk of it was contained in one character’s dozens-of-pages-long speech.
  • This brought to mind planet 55 Canri e, which he told me all about, mostly focusing the theory that because of the high temperatures of a side of the planet that permanently faces the sun, the surface of the planet might be diamonds (or not). We discussed what the plot of a story about such a planet might be.
  • We had great news (to me) in that Beast Academy 5B finally has a pub date – the end of this month. Since the topics covered involve fractions, we’ll stop what we’re doing with that and fill in the next couple of weeks with quick daily review sheets, logic and problem-solving. Today he just did a few pages from this book.

    We’ll be hitting science intensely over the next few weeks, since we still have a frog somewhere in the house waiting to be dissected, as well as a few other organs. But then…the weather has also turned into spring, and there are plenty of places to spend the homeschool day other than home.

    Afternoon errands included library, where he snagged the next couple of volumes of a series he’s enjoying for light reading. Boxing and the final zoo class tomorrow.

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So Advent started and I was sort of ready.

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I had one Advent candle – this nifty burn-it-down version I got in Germany last year. But I was a slacker on the wreath candles. Didn’t get them until Monday. It’s fine.

 

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Last Saturday was the Day of Rivalry around here, as it probably was where every you live, too. Here it’s the Iron Bowl – Alabama v. Auburn, the first game of which was played in 1893 barely a mile from my house.

Given that the football fan in this house is a Gator, our interest in the game was such that we managed to tear ourselves away from it and go to Mass Saturday evening.

Can we find a seat?

 

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The saints go marching in during Advent. Every day gives us a chance to encounter someone who embodies a different aspect of discipleship – from different eras and different lands, with varied temperaments, talents and interests. I keep saying again and again if I were designing an elementary religious education program, I’d make it liturgy and saint based. Discuss every day’s Scripture readings, continually set them in context, haul out the maps and timelines, explore art, bring out the saint(s) of the day, talk about them and their spirituality, their embodiment of the virtues, haul out those maps and historical timelines again, and there you go. Stories. Everything can hang on stories for children, stories vividly and engagingly told, and told every single day. I’ve always been so disappointed when my kids in Catholic schools have come home and I ask…did you all talk about the saint of the day today? And usually I got a nope.

They talked about the rainforest though!

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Oh yes. John Damascene. Allow me to step aside.

Today I should like to speak about John Damascene, a personage of prime importance in the history of Byzantine Theology, a great Doctor in the history of the Universal Church. Above all he was an eyewitness of the passage from the Greek and Syrian Christian cultures shared by the Eastern part of the Byzantine Empire, to the Islamic culture, which spread through its military conquests in the territory commonly known as the Middle or Near East. John, born into a wealthy Christian family, at an early age assumed the role, perhaps already held by his father, of Treasurer of the Caliphate. Very soon, however, dissatisfied with life at court, he decided on a monastic life, and entered the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem. This was around the year 700. He never again left the monastery, but dedicated all his energy to ascesis and literary work, not disdaining a certain amount of pastoral activity, as is shown by his numerous homilies. His liturgical commemoration is on the 4 December. Pope Leo XIIIproclaimed him Doctor of the Universal Church in 1890.

In the East, his best remembered works are the three Discourses against those who calumniate the Holy Images, which were condemned after his death by the iconoclastic Council of Hieria (754). These discourses, however, were also the fundamental grounds for his rehabilitation and canonization on the part of the Orthodox Fathers summoned to the Council of Nicaea (787), the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In these texts it is possible to trace the first important theological attempts to legitimise the veneration of sacred images, relating them to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

John Damascene was also among the first to distinguish, in the cult, both public and private, of the Christians, between worship (latreia), and veneration (proskynesis): the first can only be offered to God, spiritual above all else, the second, on the other hand, can make use of an image to address the one whom the image represents. Obviously the Saint can in no way be identified with the material of which the icon is composed. This distinction was immediately seen to be very important in finding an answer in Christian terms to those who considered universal and eternal the strict Old Testament prohibition against the use of cult images. This was also a matter of great debate in the Islamic world, which accepts the Jewish tradition of the total exclusion of cult images. Christians, on the other hand, in this context, have discussed the problem and found a justification for the veneration of images. John Damascene writes, “In other ages God had not been represented in images, being incorporate and faceless. But since God has now been seen in the flesh, and lived among men, I represent that part of God which is visible. I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate that matter through which my salvation was achieved. But I do not venerate it in absolute terms as God! How could that which, from non-existence, has been given existence, be God?… But I also venerate and respect all the rest of matter which has brought me salvation, since it is full of energy and Holy graces. Is not the wood of the Cross, three times blessed, matter?… And the ink, and the most Holy Book of the Gospels, are they not matter? The redeeming altar which dispenses the Bread of life, is it not matter?… And, before all else, are not the flesh and blood of Our Lord matter? Either we must suppress the sacred nature of all these things, or we must concede to the tradition of the Church the veneration of the images of God and that of the friends of God who are sanctified by the name they bear, and for this reason are possessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not, therefore, offend matter: it is not contemptible, because nothing that God has made is contemptible” (cf. Contra imaginum calumniatores, I, 16, ed. Kotter, pp. 89-90). We see that as a result of the Incarnation, matter is seen to have become divine, is seen as the habitation of God. It is a new vision of the world and of material reality. God became flesh and flesh became truly the habitation of God, whose glory shines in the human Face of Christ.

Quite fitting for Advent.

— 5 —

I am always looking for quotes, poems and passages to tie into the natural and liturgical seasons.  I’ve mentioned this site before, and I will mention it again – It’s comprehensive. A great source for copywork. And just browsing.

— 6

I spent an inordinate amount of time last night studying the first chapters of both Patrick Samway’s and Jay Tolson’s biographies of Walker Percy in conjunction with Google Maps and various other resources. For you see, Percy was born in Birmingham, and this is where he lived until his father committed suicide. I was aware of the general Percy landscape – homes around Five Points and in Mountain Brook, etc..but I realized that in the years I have lived here, I had never really gotten into it and studied up on things. So I did, and in the process learned that next year – May 28, 2016 – is the centenary of Percy’s birth right here at St. Vincent’s hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.

Wheels turning…..

 

— 7 —

Have you ever read Michelangelo’s letters? Probably not. Me neither before recently.  I dipped into them last week and was fascinated, I tell you. I do love letters (it has been a theme over the past few months, hasn’t it…Alphonsus Liguori, Francis Xavier, Catherine of Siena….) – they reveal so much and are so helpful in undoing mythmaking, especially that which we have done in our own head.

Michelangelo’s letters are absolutely lacking in revelation about his creative process – nary a word about the actual act of painting or sculpting – but they are full of business and family matters. He is mostly annoyed, most of the time, feeling taken advantage of by patrons and family (and he was), exhausted, frustrated, not to speak of those kidney stones. There is a long thread to his nephew regarding the latter’s potential marriage, which Michelangelo eventually reminding the guy that well, you know you’re not the best-looking guy in Florence, so maybe lower your expectations a little. He tells the same nephew to please get someone else to actually write his letters for him because his handwriting is so poor the strain of trying to decipher it  makes Michelangelo physically ill.

Oh, and speaking of Michelangelo, this past week, I discovered this series of art videos via Khan Academy – and they are quite good. Not too long, casual, but not cute, substantive but not too heavy. Keeping to the theme:

Below is a random video from the playlist – on a church that is expressive of “Andean Baroque” and an object of restoration

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….that is, my books.

(And of course, my intention was to publish this on Tuesday.  Now it’s Wednesday.  So it will be a short week.  Perhaps it will be “Book Weeks.”  Probably.)

Since Adventures in Assisi is now available, I’m going to seize the moment and take the week to offer a bunch of posts on the books I’ve written over the past fifteen years or so.  I’m going to begin today by suggesting some resources for those of you with adult education formation to plan…

(And remember, you don’t have to be An Official Staff Member of a Parish in order to get a small group going.  You can, you know, call up some people, invite them to invite friends, pick a book…and go to someone’s house or a coffeeshop or bar and..talk about it!)

"amy welborn"

First, some formal studies:

Loyola Press has a series of Scripture studies, and I wrote two of them:

Parables: Stories of the Kingdom

and

Matthew 26-28: Jesus’ Life-Giving Death.

Both are designed to be used over 6 weeks.  You can tell because the series is called 6 Weeks with the Bible. 

If you’d like something just as substantive but a little less structured, you could try The Words We Pray, also published by Loyola.

It’s a series of essays connecting the content, historical background and spiritual resonance of traditional Catholic prayers.

I have a page about the book here.

Here’s an excerpt at the Loyola site. An excerpt of the excerpt:

The words of our traditional prayers are also gifts from the past, connecting us to something very important: the entirety of the Body of Christ, as it was then, as it is now, and as it will be to come.

How many billions of times have Christians recited the Lord’s Prayer? How many lips, both Jewish and Christian, have murmured the ancient words of the Psalms?

There is a sense in which each of us is alone in the universe. At the end, there is no one but us and God. We are beholden to no one but him, and he is the one we face with an accounting of how we have used this gift called life.

But we are not alone. We have billions of brothers and sisters, all of whom breathe the same air and whose souls look to the same heights for meaning and purpose.

We whisper the words of the Hail Mary at our child’s bedside, in concert, in God’s time, with every other mother who has looked to the Virgin for help and prayers when the burdens of parenthood seemed unbearably heavy.

Every child stumbling through the words of the Lord’s Prayer, offering up simple prayers for simple needs out of the simplest, deepest love—every one of those children has countless companions lisping through the same pleas, and we are among those companions.

Together we beg God for mercy, we rage at God in confusion, we praise God in full throat. And when we do so using the Psalms, we are one with the Jews and Christians who have begged, raged, and praised for three thousand years.

We’re not alone. And when we pray these ancient prayers, in the company of the living and the dead, we know this.

I know of several small groups through the years that have used The Words We Pray as a source book.  It might be nice for RCIA as well.

Do you want something FREE?

If your group members have access to computers or tablets – which most of us do – you could use Come Meet Jesus or Mary and the Christian Lifeboth out of print now, but both available at no cost to you or anyone else.

More about Come Meet Jesusincluding the download.

More about Mary and the Christian Life, including the download.

Of course I can’t claim the real content for this, but I did write the study guide for Fr. Robert Barron’s series on Conversion.  Both it and the 6 Weeks with the Bible study on Matthew would be good for Lent, for those of you planning ahead. (It will be here sooner than you know!)

Finally, you might also find Michael’s How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist and The How to Book of the Mass good – the former for study/discussion groups, and the latter for RCIA.

Oh, one more thing.  Fiction-reading groups are very popular and a great way to bring up interesting issues of faith in a non-threatening and not-overly personal kind of way (although the good group facilitator will have developed the skill of tactfully handling the oversharers anyway, right?).  There are loads of good books out there for that purpose, but you might take a look at the titles in the Loyola Classics series.  I was the General Editor of this series for a long time – that means I cleared rights to books, acquired authors to write the forwards and then wrote the author bios and discussion questions for each book.

The titles are here.

"amy welborn"

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