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Benedict4

Today, we celebrate a great, fascinating saint. First, what I’ve written about him for children.

 

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray.” Here are some excerpts – click on images to get a fuller view.

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Over the past few years, there is much talk about St. Benedict and monasticism, as people wrestle with the question of  how to live in a culture increasingly hostile to the Gospel. You might come away from these conversations thinking that Benedict and is way is essentially about “withdrawal.”  I don’t think that is correct.  Looking at the origins of Benedictine monasticism might help understand why. Again – history is going to help. I keep telling you!

Christian monasticism did, indeed, begin with withdrawal from the world. In the 3rd century men and, to a lesser extent, women, began heading to the desert to live in solitude. But even these anchorites did not shut themselves off from interaction with others, as they accepted visitors seeking to benefit from their wisdom and assist them.

Benedictine monasticism was different, of course. Cenobitic, as opposed to anchorite, monasticism, it was a call to live in community, together, with brothers.

But is this “withdrawal?”

In fifth century Europe, most people lived their lives in small communities of extended family and small settlements. Most people did not travel far from where they had been born, unless driven to do so by war or natural catastrophe. As towns developed, they built walls, and in general, one could not just pop into any walled settlement you happened to be passing by. The walls were there for a reason, and access to all communities  was guarded and controlled.  These kinds of restrictions on travel and entrance into unfamiliar towns is not just a feature of medieval life, either. I recently read a history of hotels and tourism in the United States, and was quite interested to see how serious travel restrictions were even in the US, up to the mid-19th century and the development of the railroad. The traveler, in short, was usually viewed with suspicion before welcome.

My point is this, moving back to 4th and 5th century Europe: Benedictine monasticism developed on a  continent in serious, violent transition, parts under constant siege, and it was radical and transforming, but the basic instinct – to form a community with a strong sense of self-identification vis-a-vis the outside world was a fundamental paradigm of social organization of the period. 

One could even say that during this period, all communities that valued their survival and identity were, in a sense, semi-cloistered, guarded against the influence of the outside world. 

The difference is that Benedictine monastic communities were intentional, with ties rooted, not in family or geography, but in brotherhood in Christ. A new family, a new community in a continent of other communities formed out of different paradigms.

I also think the argument could be made that Benedictine communities, while they were certainly withdrawing from worldly influence in terms of turning from marriage, familial ties and the political arrangements of the world, they were probably more open to the world than your average family-based walled settlement down the valley from the monastery. They were more open to learning, more open to visitors from other areas, more cosmopolitan and just as economically engaged – at least before the growth of commerce.  

So to position Benedictine monasticism as an option that, at heart, is a means of protection from the world, period, is a simplistic misunderstanding of the origins of this movement that misses the opportunity to explore what St. Benedict and his monks really have to say to us today.

It is about community, yes. It is about cutting ties with some aspects of the world and intentionality, yes. It is about expressing the instinct that human beings are made, fundamentally, for communion with God and that aspects of the world actively work against spiritual growth and fully human life as God desires. That is fundamental to Christian spirituality, as we can see from St. Paul on.

But withdrawal from everything, pushing away and closing-off? No. 

From Pope Benedict XVI, in 2008:

Throughout the second book of his Dialogues, Gregory shows us how St Benedict’s life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict’s spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God’s gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs. Seeing God, he understood the reality of man and his mission. In hisRule he describes monastic life as “a school for the service of the Lord” (Prol. 45) and advises his monks, “let nothing be preferred to the Work of God” [that is, the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours] (43, 3). However, Benedict states that in the first place prayer is an act of listening (Prol. 9-11), which must then be expressed in action. “The Lord is waiting every day for us to respond to his holy admonitions by our deeds” (Prol. 35). Thus, the monk’s life becomes a fruitful symbiosis between action and contemplation, “so that God may be glorified in all things” (57, 9). In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God (58, 7) on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ (5, 13), whose love he must put before all else (4, 21; 72, 11), and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace. In the exercise of obedience practised by faith inspired by love (5, 2), the monk achieves humility (5, 1), to which the Rule dedicates an entire chapter (7). In this way, man conforms ever more to Christ and attains true self-fulfilment as a creature in the image and likeness of God.

The obedience of the disciple must correspond with the wisdom of the Abbot who, in the monastery, “is believed to hold the place of Christ” (2, 2; 63, 13). The figure of the Abbot, which is described above all in Chapter II of the Rule with a profile of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, can be considered a self-portrait of Benedict, since, as St Gregory the Great wrote, “the holy man could not teach otherwise than as he himself lived” (cf. Dialogues II, 36). The Abbot must be at the same time a tender father and a strict teacher (cf. 2, 24), a true educator. Inflexible against vices, he is nevertheless called above all to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27, 8), to “serve rather than to rule” (64, 8) in order “to show them all what is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words” and “illustrate the divine precepts by his example” (2, 12). To be able to decide responsibly, the Abbot must also be a person who listens to “the brethren’s views” (3, 2), because “the Lord often reveals to the youngest what is best” (3, 3). This provision makes a Rule written almost 15 centuries ago surprisingly modern! A man with public responsibility even in small circles must always be a man who can listen and learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule he wrote as “minimal, just an initial outline” (cf. 73, 8); in fact, however, he offers useful guidelines not only for monks but for all who seek guidance on their journey toward God. For its moderation, humanity and sober discernment between the essential and the secondary in spiritual life, his Rule has retained its illuminating power even to today. By proclaiming St Benedict Patron of Europe on 24 October 1964, Paul VI intended to recognize the marvellous work the Saint achieved with hisRule for the formation of the civilization and culture of Europe. Having recently emerged from a century that was deeply wounded by two World Wars and the collapse of the great ideologies, now revealed as tragic utopias, Europe today is in search of its own identity. Of course, in order to create new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are important, but it is also necessary to awaken an ethical and spiritual renewal which draws on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise a new Europe cannot be built. Without this vital sap, man is exposed to the danger of succumbing to the ancient temptation of seeking to redeem himself by himself – a utopia which in different ways, in 20th-century Europe, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, has caused “a regression without precedent in the tormented history of humanity” (Address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, 12 January 1990). Today, in seeking true progress, let us also listen to the Rule of St Benedict as a guiding light on our journey. The great monk is still a true master at whose school we can learn to become proficient in true humanism.

One of my favorite things to post when thinking about St. Benedict and monasticism – the wonderful video from our Benedictine monastery up the road here in Alabama, St. Bernard’s.

 

 

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Alabama has, of course, been in the news. For a break from the tension, take a look at this Twitter thread – a challenge tossed out there by someone saying, Hey people who call yourself pro-life, tell me what you do about pregnant women and kids? 

The thousands – not kidding  – thousands of  answers will hearten you – and hopefully open some minds and hearts along the way. 

 — 2 —

Eve Tushnet has a great post on “A pilgrimage to hostage relics”

This past Saturday a small band of weirdos met in a park to practice our chant, then headed to the Cloisters to do some guerrilla venerating. Our pilgrimage made me think about relics; and about public witness, and the relationship between these two aspects of Christian practice.

The Cloisters, like many other museums, holds certain real relics, including a relic of the True Cross. First of all, relics should be venerated not merely appreciated; second of all, relics should not be paywalled. It costs $25 for a non-New Yorker to go and venerate these relics, which should be open to all. Did Christ give His life only for those with twenty-five bucks to spare? He did not.

So we went, and those of us from out of town paid our museum-simony, and we found the True Cross relic and began to quietly pray an Office. We were swiftly interrupted by a security guard, who told us that people had complained and were “offended.” (I don’t know if this word was theirs, or his translation of their concerns, or what.) Like a complete idiot I attempted some negotiation, which first of all wasn’t my place as I had no actual authority in this pilgrimage, and second of all was dumb because the safe employee-answer to any question of the form, “But can we…?” is, “You sure can’t.”

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Also from Eve, an excellent article on complicated Catholic writer Antonia White, focusing on Frost in May (which I wrote about here) but going much further. Go read. Good stuff. And then find the books!

The heroines of White’s fiction, those rippling reflections of her own life, make their way in a world where Catholicism is beautiful and cruel, exotic and sentimental, willfully stupid and hauntingly otherworldly. These are women who have to earn their keep; for whom the nature of the world and of their own soul is never obvious.

–4–

From Reason (libertarians, btw) – 10 colleges where you won’t have to walk on eggshells. 

–5 —

This might be interesting: Lumen Christi Institute Podcasts:

On our podcast we will make available our many lectures, symposia, panel discussions, and addresses by the scholars, clerics, and public intellectuals who participate in our programs.

We also will make available interviews with our speakers and affiliated scholars. These interviews allow friends of Lumen Christi to speak to their personal lives and intellectual journeys, assess current events within and involving the Church, and discuss the work of Lumen Christi and their relationship with the Institute.

Here’s the link to that Soundcloud channel

— 6 —

Circling back to life issues, the response of the families that Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims harassed and doxxed in front of a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood has been wonderful, hasn’t it? USA Today column that, we can hope, did a tremendous amount in educating readers as to what “pro-life” means – and raising over a hundred thousand dollars for women and children in need:

And really – if you have people you know who are super upset about any new abortion restrictions out there, let them know about the local crisis pregnancy center where there are folks helping women and their families every day in countless ways, you know?

 

— 7 —

Randomness:

We have another award!

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Books! Got to sell the books! They make great end of the year gifts for you local Catholic teacher and classroom. Help them stock up! 

I spoke to a local 2nd grade class who’ve just received First Communion and were each gifted a copy of the saints book. Here’s the cover of their thank-you card. Isn’t it sweet?

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Writer son comments on GOT (which I don’t watch) and The Seventh Seal.

The movie ends with Jof waking up after the terrible night to find a beautiful day. He begins to pack up Mia and Mikael when he has another vision, the other famous image of the Dance of Death. Death leads the party over a hill, each hand in hand, and they dance behind Death who leads them on. Is Jof a crazy person who just sees things? Or was he divinely touched in a way that saved him and his family from the end the rest of the party shared?

Once again, it’s Bergman begging for signs from God he can interpret. It’s not a rejection of God, but a plea to hear something from the Supreme Being who treats him with nothing but silence.

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

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This morning, we attended the local celebration of the Ordinariate Mass, just begun on a regular , weekly basis.

The location is the tiny, historic Holy Rosary Church. We spent many Monday afternoons there during J’s freshman and sophomore years, volunteering at the parish-sponsored “reading room.” More here about that. 

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(We had to stop because Mondays was the only day J could do it – early school dismissal – and another school activity popped that took over the Monday afternoon slot.)

Here’s a history of the parish:

The president of Gate City Land Company, Maclin Ross, bought the original property of Holy Rosary for one dollar in 1889 for “Church purposes”. He then deeded the land to Bishop Jeremiah O’Sullivan. This simple church with its hand carved altar was built 125 years ago to accommodate the 80 or so parishioners of that time. The first parishioners were Belgian and Irish, and as the Mark’s Village community continued to evolve Holy Rosary became one of the first truly integrated parishes in the area.

The pastor is now Fr. Jon Chalmers, a priest of the Ordinariate who also serves as the president of Holy Family Cristo Rey High School. 

We had been to Mass there once before – on the infamous Immaculate Conception Snow Day of 2017 when we couldn’t get out of the house until the evening – and Holy Rosary had, I believe, the last Mass of the day, anywhere. But that was Roman Rite/Ordinary Form.

When I saw that Holy Rosary was going to start offering the Ordinariate Form liturgy on a regular basis, I made a mental note to try to work it in – between people’s work schedules and the serving schedule at Casa Maria.

As it happens, the 10:30 time is really perfect – late enough for the sleepers to get their rest, and not so late that the day feels spent by the time you’re finished. And we don’t live far from the parish – on a Sunday, it takes us 10 minutes to get there.

And so we went – there weren’t a lot of us, but there were enough! An organist accompanied on hymns and it was a lovely liturgy – elevated language, raising the heart and mind to worship, but not stiff or wooden.

What is interesting to me – and would be striking to anyone, I think, on first exposure to this liturgy – is a greater penitential emphasis and tone than one finds in the contemporary Ordinary Form. It’s not at the level of Eastern Catholic liturgies, where you’re saying Lord Have Mercy more or less constantly throughout, but it’s definitely noticeable. Which means – if you’re noticing it, you’re noticing your need to repent and open yourself to God’s mercy – always a good thing.

And, of course, we have our ad orientem celebration, inexplicably terrifies and enrages some, but you know –  which actually makes so much sense. As the celebrant prays to God, he faces in the same direction as the rest of us, and then in dialogue, he turns to the congregation.

Not a big deal. 

 

Note: you might have expected the vestments to be purple, since it’s Sexagesima Sunday. But the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter was on 2/22 – and that’s the Ordinariate’s patronal feast – so it’s celebrated on the closest Sunday. So, white.

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Well! Happy Birthday, Jesus!

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I’m in Living Faith today. 

Remember: if you would like more of the same – every day of 2019! –  check out:

—3–

Thanks to Steve McEvoy for including my short story “The Absence of War” and two of my son’s short story collections in his best reads of the last quarter of 2018. 

–4–

Everyone has their favorite Christmas music, and in These Times, even their curated Christmas lists on Spotify and such – hey, I do! – and here are three of my favorites.

It’s still Christmas, people!

Celebremos el Nino – Christmas Delights from the Mexican BaroqueI love the music of the Latin American Baroque, and this is a wonderful introduction.

A Renaissance Christmas from the Boston Camereta. This gets the heaviest rotation, hands down.

Carols from the Old and New Worlds. 

And of course, the best Christmas song of all time: Merry Christmas from the Family by the master, Robert Earl Keen. 

Little sister brought her new boyfriend/He was a Mexican/We didn’t know what to think about him til he sang Feliz Navidad..Feliz Navidad

Of course he brought his new wife Kay/who talks all about AA/chain smoking while the stereo plays Noel, Noel….the First Noel.

–5 —

The only John Waters I knew of was the filmmaker, so I was confused to run across this article about the current state of Irish society and culture by one John Waters – who, I discovered is quite a different person. Judging from this article, I’ll be searching out more by him: Ireland, keep your opinions to yourself. 

What he says here is not just about Ireland, though:

Most people out there nowadays tend to speak in code, to avoid pursuit by the guardians of the new orthodoxies. Others just play along, reserving their energy for battles about immediate things.

There is this odd situation whereby a majority, or at least a sizeable minority, of the population is appalled and scundered at the way things seem to be going, but dare not give any indication that they are dismayed. This generalised sense of confusion and disgust is a great secret, even between people who hold to the same view. At the level of the central conversation, the facts are denied or distorted to uphold the official line that only a tiny minority of recalcitrant throwbacks have any difficulty with anything that is happening.

Most people daren’t even enumerate these current absurdities, but are dimly aware of the patterns: in the obsession with personal freedom expressed sexually, and the unrelenting emphasis on the ‘rights’ of nominated categories of person in the matter of doing whatever they please.

They observe these agendas being driven in the media by what are termed ‘human stories’ – carefully selected sociological narratives, chosen and tweaked to indict the past and the way things used to be seen and done. There are the women who have been denied abortions and the women who have had abortions and seem to be proud of this. Both are deemed heroines, or is that heroes?

There are the men who are really women and the women who are really men, and the men or women who are men one day and women the next. What was a short time ago unheard of is now, it seems, ubiquitous.

At the core of all this is what appears to be an attempt to insinuate sex and sexuality as the centre of human existence, human happiness, human being. It is not possible to dissent from it, even to ask that you be spared the details. In the alleged new era of truth-letting, no one is entitled to claim an amnesty or immunity.

Because the lie has been sold that everyone was involved in suppressing and oppressing those who have now ‘bravely risen up’, everyone must show up to salute their bravery and applaud their freedom. ‘No thanks’ is not an acceptable response, being likely to qualify as hostility, which invariably qualifies for a designation with an ‘ism’ or an ‘obia’ at the end of it.

This new culture has crept up on us, so that for a long time many people thought it was just a few isolated groups of soreheads demanding this and that entitlement they say had been denied them. Now, people are beginning to twig that there is a pattern here and that it is growing more insistent and pronounced.

The escalation of this new culture has taken on an exponential character, to the extent that it often seems to be dictating the nature and significance of everything the media suggests as important. Chat shows are dominated with the stories of people who would once have been considered to have a bit of a want on them.

These individual stories seem, moreover, to be connected, and plugged into the central grid of agenda-setting, which in turn appears to emanate from a lobby sector that commands the ear of government and instant access to the media. One story is crazier than the last, and tame compared to the next. But the weird thing is that nobody ever says – or at least not publicly – that the stories are crazy; instead, the subjects of them are congratulated for their ‘courage’ in speaking so personally about things that most people think should remain private.

Anyone who dissents from this analysis is likely to be eviscerated – first on social media, and then in the mainstream, which is essentially the same people acting in, respectively, their anonymous and bylined manifestations.

Most people are simply perplexed by all this and confounded as to where it is coming from and going to. The idea that it is simply a series of isolated stories is starting to wear thin, and people are becoming more open to the idea that something fundamental has shifted in our culture, though they cannot even begin to say what.

–6–

Two more links, related – really. Can you catch the connection?

A thread in Waters’ piece is trans-authoritarianism, which Twitter watchers saw on display this past week as tennis great Martina Navratliova committed wrongthink and heresy by opining that maybe it’s not right for men to compete in women’s sports. Geez.

Many of us have been waiting a very long time for ‘peak trans’ to be reached, and for liberals, faint-hearted feminists, journalists and politicians to break out of their cowardly complacency and face the reality – that extreme trans activism is misogyny. Perhaps peak trans may well have arrived, thanks to the latest valiant efforts of the transbullies.

The latest target in the vicious and often violent war being raged by extreme trans activists is one of my all-time heroes – the world tennis champion and LGBT rights campaigner, Martina Navratilova.

Navratilova has been accused of being ‘transphobic’ as a result of a tweet responding to a question from a follower about transgender women in sport.

From another angle, Julian Vigo in Forbes on an issue centered in a particular British context with British organizations, but her point is applicable in a wider context:

The reality is that there is a burgeoning medical industry and social apparatus which seek to label gender non-conforming children as “transgender” and which then undertakes to medicalize these children. And this trend is hardly limited to the United Kingdom. In the US,  Diane Ehrensaft, Director of Mental Health at San Francisco’s Child and Adolescent Gender Center, gives the some rather unscientific examples of transgender identification in small children—from a toddler ripping out her barrettes, a one-year-old girl enunciating “I boy,” and a one-year-old unsnapping his onesies. One need not read beyond these examples to see some very dangerous reductions made between what is a child’s natural behavior in experimenting with the world around and adults ready to fixate on every action to lend a reading of gender. Rather than focus on “gender” as the “problem,” it is far more likely that toddlers find barrettes and onesies uncomfortable, just for starters.

With organizations like Mermaids attempting to “educate” those within the public health services, teachers, and parents, we must be wary of the hokum being pawned off as “science.” It’s no more scientific than talking clownfish. And the downside of this story is that such balderdash is affecting our culture and ability to speak frankly with each other about the reality of sex and social expectations placed upon each sex. The true revolution around gender will come when we stop attempting to match or alter sexed bodies to a presumed “correct gender.”

–7–

All right, let’s get back to good news:

Our parish has been all in for Christmas, celebrating and praising through liturgy and sacred music and seeking to bring grace into ordinary life through the means that the Church has developed over time – no need for a committee to dream up a paraliturgy and make slides.

The music for Christmastide at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

The blessing of wine on the feast of St. John. (I missed it because I was on the road, doing the Birmingham-Gainesville-Birmingham journey.)

The blessing and distribution of Epiphany chalk.

(Add that to the Rorate Mass earlier in Advent.)

And nearby, the Fraternity Poor of Jesus Christ, invited to take up residence in the city by the Cathedral and diocese, were present:

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

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I’ll start with the easy stuff and work my way up (or down)

Watching: I ended up watching most of Mission Impossible: Fallout with Son #2 on MondaySunday evening. Yes, he has school on Monday, but he did some good work (more below on that) this afternoon, so he merited a treat. He and brother had seen it this past summer, but he spied it at Redbox and decided he’d like to watch it again.

I hadn’t seen it with them, but I walked into the room when the Paris part started, and since it was, well, Paris, I was interested, and ended up watching the rest of the whole gripping, silly thing. Very well done with entertaining supporting characters and (it should go without saying) fantastic action.

And now someone who’s exempt from most of his exams and only has to go into school on Wednesday for Calculus is in there watching The Princess Bride. 

(Exam exemption? Best incentive ever.)

Listening: My youngest, playing the postlude at Vespers at the Cathedral Sunday evening. His teacher asked him to turn pages for him at the pre-Vespers organ concert and then do the postlude. If you to my Instagram page, you can hear an excerpt – it’s the last image in this post. 

I’ll stick this in here, because it also involved listening: it was a busy weekend at the Cathedral of St. Paul here in Birmingham. It began very early Saturday morning with a Rorate Mass

The Rorate Caeli Mass is a traditional Advent devotion wherein the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Advent is offered just before dawn. In many instances families and individuals travel an hour or more, rising and arriving very early for this stunningly beautiful Mass. The interplay of light and darkness speak to the meaning of Advent and the coming of the Light of the world.

The Mass takes its title, Rorate Caeli, from the first words of the Introit, which are from Isaiah 45:8:

“Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.”

“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour.”

The Rorate Mass is lit only by candlelight. Because it is a votive Mass in Mary’s honor, white vestments are worn instead of Advent violet. In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illumined by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ.

As was indicated on the Cathedral’s Facebook page, they planned for 100 attendees. There were at least 200 present. I took some photos, but far better are those taken by Mary Dillard of the diocesan One Voice and Ryan Penny from the choir loft (more on the Cathedral’s Facebook page.)

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What a lovely, deeply meaningful tradition. One more profound way to enter into the spirit of waiting and expectation, of journeying from darkness to light: by joining the God-created natural rhythm of a day in the life to the spirituality reality at hand and making space for one to inform the other.

You begin in the dark..

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…and walk out into the light.

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More on our rector’s blog here. 

Then, Sunday morning, some Bambinelli Sunday coming your way:

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The Pope’s not the only one with a balcony!

And then, Vespers:

 

 

Wonderful listening in that pre-Vespers concert there. We’re very grateful for the music here at the Cathedral. Read more about it here. 

Reading: I had written quite a bit on this earlier today, but it somehow did not get saved during a computer restart. That’ll show me. I am going to try to recreate this in fifteen minutes, no more, and then move on with life.

Late last week I read Andre Dubus III’s Gone So LongDubus is a widely admired writer in his own right, but is also known as the son of Andre Dubus, fiction writer (mostly short stories) and essayist and Catholic. Dubus died in 1999, and I wrote a piece on him for, I believe, OSV. You can read it here. I often refer to Dubus’ story “A Father’s Story” and his essays in Broken Vessels and Meditations from a Moveable Chair are fine pieces of spiritual reflection.

Not that Dubus was a saint. Nor would he ever claim to be. He left Dubus III’s mother when his son was ten, and the son examined the subsequent struggles in his memoir Townie. Father and son came to a reconciliation of sorts before the father’s death. This past fall, America ran an interview with Dubus which offers insight.

FF: Your father was a devout Catholic. How did he live his faith day to day? Did he read the Bible, religious books, say the rosary?

AD: Because I did not live with my father after the age of 10, I can only answer this question from that kind of distance. I do believe, however, that for years my father kept a copy of the New Testament beside his bed that he read from, though I’m pretty certain he read far more of the fiction stacked there. As I said above, until my father was run over and then spent the last 12 and a half years of his life in a wheelchair, he tried to attend Mass seven mornings a week. After he was crippled, he would have various lay people come by his house to administer Communion. I know, too, that my father said the rosary daily, something I don’t know how to do and know little about…

 …I’m no authority on forgiveness, but I do believe that my father, who was very young when he became a husband and a father, in his early 20s, did the best that he knew how to do at the time, which, of course, is not the same as doing the best he could do. This is true for all of us, though, isn’t it? And that’s where the potential for growth comes in. None of us are exempt from screwing up. I believe strongly, and I have a hunch my father would agree with me on this, that in his 62 years on the planet, my father put the very best part of himself into his writing. Everything else, including his wife and children, came after that. A close second I would add. But after that.

This way of being led to a masterful body of work, led to the kind of art that can change lives, art that will continue to live on for years and years. But there were costs to this. To him. To us, his six children (and ex-wives). On some level, I think my father knew he wouldn’t have a very long life, and he needed to get to that desk. Well, I’m grateful that he did just that.

Gone So Long is a novel about a shattered family: what happened, why, the life-long consequences and the possibility and question of reconciliation and forgiveness.

It’s told from three perspectives: Daniel, the father, 60-ish in the present day, Susan, the now adult daughter, and Lois, Susan’s grandmother who raised her after the loss of her daughter, Susan’s mother and Daniel’s wife Linda when Susan was three years old.

It is not really a secret what happened to Linda and that Daniel was responsible, but because the details are doled out only gradually over the course of the novel, to just lay it all out here would be spoilerish – and part of the building tension in the novel lies in the shadows around that foundational incident in the past, as well as the contemporary question of how this damage is playing out in the present and whether or not healing is possible.

It’s a serious, painful read so is it proper to say that I “enjoyed” reading it? Doesn’t seem right. But it was an interesting, engaging world to be involved in for a few hours over a few days: the shabby beach amusement park setting of the character’s early lives, the Florida of the present and more recent past, including – and this was surprising – those days in 1990 when the University of Florida campus was terrorized by serial killer Danny Rolling – interesting because I was living in Gainesville at the time.

Dubus is known for his deeply empathetic excavation of character, and that’s in evidence here. You get to know almost every character well, which means seeing their choices from their perspective and, if not agreeing with them, understanding them. This happens, though, because Dubus takes a great deal of time and space to explore these characters – and perhaps it’s just a bit too much. I felt the book was a little longer than it needed to be, with points being made several times in several different ways.

I have a couple of other critiques.

First, there’s an exception to the nuanced characterization: it’s Bobby, Susan’s jazz musicologist husband. If we had a photograph, he just might have a halo hovering over his head. In reflection, it seems to me that Bobby functions as an authorial substitute: he clearly seems to be that compassionate, all-understanding creator and manager of this little universe we’re living in. Even the quote he has painted on his wall from his favorite jazz musician about his fellow musicians expresses this:

I don’t want them to follow me. I want them to follow themself, but to be with me. 

While I found some of the other characters irritating in their bad choices, Bobby was irritating in his magnanimous perfection.

And then, this. Two points as introduction:

  1. Look, a character is a character created by a writer. That writer has the right to do whatever they want and create whatever they would like – what these people do in their fictional universe is up to the author, and that’s that.
  2. It’s absolutely true that the way we live out our sexuality and relationships are linked, in mysterious ways, to family dynamics and history. That’s not news. It’s absolutely true, and as we grow and come to understand ourselves, we see this. It can be a key to unpacking and unlearning destructive behaviors.

But I think it’s also true that explaining the impact of damaging family histories by drawing a line from that to sexual behavior is…kind of the easiest choice a creator can make to explain that history. I thought about this a lot (to pivot rather wildly) during Mad Men, which was a show I really liked a lot, but which also got tiresome in the way that the only way characters expressed tension in interpersonal dynamics was through falling into bed (or more often..on to a desk or office couch..). Okay, I would think – it’s quick and easy, and shorthand in a way, but honestly, there’s a lot more that happens in human life when people are uneasy or torn or broken – beyond sex.

What I’m getting at here is that Susan, deeply traumatized and torn from her parents for terrible reasons and raised in a less than optimal home, always yearning and wondering, acts out that pain through sexual promiscuity. Which would not be unheard of, of course – as one searches, vainly, for warmth and connection and love, to do so in a string of short-term relationships – it’s the story of modern life, isn’t it?

But something about this storyline irritated me, and I think it’s because of St. Bobby. If Susan had been dealing with all of this without a Perfect Older Man managing things, if she’d found inner strength and a way to deal with the unimaginable strangeness of her situation more on her own terms, I probably wouldn’t have reacted as negatively as I did.

In the end, I experienced Susan’s story as an expression – to use a popular critical term – of the male gaze at work – not, as it’s usually understood, in an objectifying sense, but in a paternalistic one.

Which perhaps makes sense in this world, since a father’s massive failure and sin is at the core  of her pain. But in the end, I suppose I was dissatisfied and irritated because I wanted Susan to find what she needed without being rescued, in part, by a saintly middle-aged man.

Writing: Still working on the manuscript due in January.

I’m in the Catholic World Report “Best Books I Read in 2018.” 

 

 

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— 1 —

Happy feast of St. Andrew – more on him here. 

Advent is almost here – I draw your attention to a pre-preparation preparation post from yesterday, and a post on my own Advent resources here. 

In particular, there are several resources available for instant download – one family devotional and one individual devotional. Please check them out!

(And don’t forget the short story, she said very much like a broken record)

— 2 —

There is so much – justifiably – written about Church corruption, but one piece that does more than till the same familiar ground is this one in Dappled Things, reflecting on the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in this context. 

But the image of the triumphant outcasts wrapped in the consoling mantle of the church is not to last. The church is still Claude Frollo’s domain. He is the first to assault Esmeralda’s sanctuary, and Quasimodo cannot bring himself to kill his father in her defense; Esmeralda must wave a blade at Frollo herself. Her gypsy friends come next in an attempt to save her, which Quasimodo mistakenly foils because he cannot hear them speak their intentions. Then the King orders the sanctuary violated for the sake of ridding his kingdom of the supposed “sorceress.” The church’s ability to protect the powerless proves to be fleeting. As the king’s army closes in, Frollo alone has the power to save the girl, and he offers her a choice: life as his lover, or the gallows. Esmeralda replies, “I feel less horror of that than of you.” She goes to her death rather than submit to his lust.

I can only imagine how many real victims might see themselves reflected in Esmeralda. How many came to the Church looking for refuge, only to have their pastors, bishops, or archbishops issue fresh attacks by ignoring or disbelieving their accusations? How many faithful Catholics have felt like Quasimodo, carrying our wounded brothers and sisters into the bosom of the church for protection, only to be scolded and threatened by the very men we looked upon as fathers? How many predatory priests have used their power to issue ultimatums as appalling as the one given by Frollo to Esmeralda?

—3–

From the Catholic Herald: The Jesuit who photographed the First World War:

Alongside courage were modesty and devotion. 2,300 Irish Guards died in the war and the chaplain had to write many letters of condolence. Never merely a ritual expression of sympathy Browne always gave them a personal touch, writing to one mother that her son was “a dear good lad” with whom, a few days before his death, he had “had a chat about Galway…He still preserved the little bit of shamrock that came to him with your letter of 14th…” while to another, written shortly after the first, he wrote regretting that he could not give her any definite details of her son’s death: “From the nature of the fighting you will understand that that no matter how hard I tried, I could not reach all those who fell in time to administer the Last Sacraments.”

A close friend of the revered WWI chaplain, Fr Willie Doyle SJ, Browne wrote after his death on 16 August 1917 that in recent months “he was my greatest help and to his saintly advice and still more to his saintly example, I owe everything that I felt and did…May he rest in peace – it seems superfluous to pray for him.”

All this puts the photographs themselves into context. Already famous for taking the last photos of the Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1912 (Browne was ordered off the ship at Cork by the Jesuit Provincial, an order that saved his life), he showed a rare gift for composition, atmosphere and for seizing on the most resonant aspect of a scene, demonstrated in his “Interior of fortified hut, Flanders 1917”, the hut he and Fr Doyle used for Mass. Generally his photos were uncaptioned; they speak for themselves, such as one of the Front Line near Bethune (1916) showing a solitary soldier marching through a ruined landscape; soldiers attending to a dying comrade in the trenches; or the devastation of the beautiful medieval Cloth Hall in Ypres (1917).

It was also Fr Browne who took the photograph of Rudyard Kipling at the Irish Guards’ barracks in 1919, gazing straight at the camera, immobile in grief. His only son John was killed while fighting with the Irish Guards and his father was painfully aware that if he had not used his influence on John’s behalf, his son’s poor eyesight would have barred him from fighting. In Kipling’s History of the Irish Guards, written in memory of John, there are more than 20 references to Father Browne.

One image can convey more than innumerable words; with his eye, hand and heart in careful and sympathetic alignment, Browne’s memorable photos remain a permanent part of a sorrowful record.

–4–

Now for some local church-y news. There’s a lot going on down here.

First of all, this afternoon, Fr. Lambert Greenan, O.P. passed away at his home at the Casa Maria Convent and Retreat House.

Long-time readers know of our connection to Casa Maria. My high school friend and college roommate (from Knoxville) is a sister there, and ever since we moved here, we’ve attended Mass there at least once a month. For the past few years, the boys have served there.

If you’ve been to Mass there over the past few years, you couldn’t help but notice the concelebrant. Oh, when we first moved here, he was still able to preside. But time, as it does, moved on, and his physical capacities weakened, even as his mind was clearly still very sharp. He had most of the liturgy memorized – including Eucharist Prayer II – but by the time we arrived on the scene, the sisters were having to print out large-print versions of the Gospels and Ordinary for him – and even with that he eventually required a magnifying glass.

A few years ago, he was not able to preside any longer both because of his sight, I’m assuming, and also because he could not stand unassisted.

But when his health permitted – which was most of the time – he concelebrated either with that weekend’s retreat master or one of the friars. Over the past year, they brought in a health worker to work with the sisters. This young woman would help Father come into the chapel – with the Sisters helping him with his walker when that was possible, but over the past months, pushing him in a wheelchair. I was also so touched by the fact that this health worker coordinated the color of her scrubs with the liturgical season – at first I thought it was just a coincidence, but as the year wore on, I could see that it clearly was intentional – even, sometimes, extending to the color of her hairband.

img_20170312_111553So, Father Lambert would come in, assisted by the Sisters and by the healthcare worker, and be helped into place next to the celebrant’s chair, with  – when we were there – my sons on either side of him. Once in a while, the son on his left would have to help him reach his glass of water or box of tissues. No matter what, if Father Lambert was concelebrating, Eucharistic Prayer II had to be used because, as I said, it was the one he had memorized – at least once when we were there, the celebrant forgot or didn’t know this and started in on one of the others – to be stopped by Father Lambert from the side and reminded.

It never failed to move me, seeing this ancient priest praying the Mass to the best of the ability in whatever time God was giving him. To see him  up there – a century old – yes – with young people more than eighty years younger at his side, praying together in the presence of the Crucified One – is a bracing sight. A sight deep in mystery.

Father Lambert was 101 years old.

From our Cathedral rector’s blog:

Fr. Lambert, né Lawrence, was born on January 11, 1917 in Northern Ireland. He came from a devout family and both he and one of his brothers entered the Dominicans and were ordained priests. (His brother, Fr. Clement, died a few years ago, if memory serves.) He had other siblings but I don’t remember much about them. Fr. Lambert excelled in his studies and was ordained at age 23 — they would have had to obtain a dispensation to ordain him so young at that time, though it was not an uncommon occurrence.

Fr. Lambert was a canon lawyer and taught canon law at the Angelicum University in Rome for many years. He was also the founder of the English language edition of L’Osservatore Romano — the daily newspaper of the Holy See. In fact, he told many impressive stories from that chapter of his personal history, and how he, as editor, had the task of upholding Church teaching during the turbulent 1960s, when some were trying insidiously to air erroneous teachings through media. Fr. Lambert was a stalwart priest, a real legend. He was what the Italians call a “uomo di Chiesa” — a churchman in the fullest sense.

–5 —

Other local doings:

The incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney will be here next week.

Sunday Advent Vespers begin this weekend at the Cathedral, with a visit from the monks of St. Bernard’s Abbey.

The Fraternity Poor of Jesus Christ have settled in and are out on the streets, ministering – including a “Thanksgiving under the Bridge” – serving a meal under one of the interstate overpasses, a place where transients and others gather.

–6–

Huh. Someone caught someone practicing organ in the Cathedral the other night. 

–7–

And I’ll be in Living Faith tomorrow. 

Insanely busy week next week.

 

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

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— 1 —

First, Christopher Altieri ably summarizes another week of wretched/stupid Church news here. 

In response to the news and the situation, our Cathedral is doing this:

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More here.

Also, take a look at this from Fr. Joe Wilson – a priest from Brooklyn. He’s an old friend of Rod Dreher’s, who introduced us long-distance years back and enabled a wonderful dinner evening with him in NYC when the boys were little and Mike was still alive  – whose link led me to this post at, ironically, an Anglican blog (one which I used to read years back when I was intrigued by all the Anglican goings-on and working hard to sort through all their acronyms). It might help you or someone you know:

Now, you asked how I personally move forward?

It really is not very difficult. I bless God for a solid Catholic upbringing thanks to good parents and really, really wonderful priest mentors when I was young. I was fortunate to grow up in a house of three Teachers (parents and grandmother), which was like growing up in a library, and encountering and reading Chesterton and Belloc and Mauriac and Cardinal Gibbons and Monsignor Knox as a youth, even before high school. Most importantly, to be raised to live in a relationship with the Lord Jesus, to glimpse the nature of His Church despite the Puff the Magic Dragon spirituality I encountered, to be devoted to His Mother. If you’ve encountered the spiritual works of Dom Columba Marmion, you’re not likely to be too impressed by a paperback about butterflies coming out of cocoons.

Over this past Summer I began with great profit to read systematically through the wonderful writings of Saint Teresa of Avila, a great Doctor of the Church on the sixteenth century. We have spiritual works and many letters of hers, suffused with her lively personality. She founded a reformed branch of the Carmelite Order; her nuns would live very simply in small convents and focus on prayer behind their cloister walls.

She wrote a book on prayer for them called “The Way of Perfection”, and at the beginning of it she says something so pertinent to our situation today that it startled me. Right at the start of the treatise she says to her sisters, Why do you think I founded the Reform? It is because of the state of the Church, those dreadful Lutherans up there in the North who are rejecting the Mass and the authority of the Church, the people who are confused, the courageous priests who are attacking the heresies… Women like us cannot go to the front of the battle lines, but we can found oases where Jesus can find welcome and rest and home in a world which has forgotten Him. And that is what our convents shall be, where we dwell with Him. This from a cloistered nun!

 — 2 —

 

Now – how about some good news?

A new religious order ministering to the homeless in LA:

Friar Benjamin of the Most Holy Trinity walked down Towne Avenue in Skid Row, one hand wheeling an ice chest filled with oranges and bottled water, the other clutching plastic bags of peanut butter and ham and cheese sandwiches, chips and fruit snacks.

Dressed in a full habit, a straw hat and brown flip-flops, Friar Benjamin, 42, along with a group of three other friars, one nun and three volunteers, shouted, “Cold water! Free food!” as they made their way along the tent-lined streets in the 90-degree summer heat.

Friar Benjamin is a member of the Friars and Sisters of the Poor Jesus, a religious order founded in Brazil whose mission is to minister to the neediest and most marginalized members of society. 

After Archbishop José H. Gomez invited the order to Los Angeles earlier this year, a band of four friars and four sisters have set out for Skid Row every weekend, in hopes that free sandwiches and bottled water will be the first step in lifting the city’s growing homeless population out of poverty and despair.

“We’re trying to address not only the homeless situation, but also the problems we have as a society when we neglect the spiritual side,” said Friar Benjamin, who is from the southern state of Santa Catarina in Brazil. “We have no illusions that we’re going to solve it completely, but this is what we need to rediscover, if you will, Jesus’ message.”

The religious order was founded in 2001 by a Brazilian priest named Father Gilson Sobreiro. Troubled by the violence, gang activity, addiction and poverty that he saw around him in the city of Sao Paulo, Father Sobreiro rented a house where drug addicted youths could live and recover. 

From this, the religious order spread to 12 countries, including Paraguay, Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador, France and Canada. In 2012, they expanded to Kansas City, its first ministry in the United States.

— 3 —

The order has come to Birmingham just this past summer. They are based at Blessed Sacrament Church (also home of one of the regular celebrations of the Extraordinary Form in this diocese) and have a Facebook presence here.
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— 4 —

Midway between Alabama and California: Michigan priests pays the homeless for a day’s work:

Since May, Fr. Marko Djonovic of the Oratory-in-Formation at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Detroit has been leading “Better Way Detroit,” a startup ministry offering homeless men a chance to earn a wage by cleaning up parks in the city.

“One of St. Philip Neri’s chief charisms is outreach to the community and helping those in need,” Fr. Djonovic told The Michigan Catholic. “This project offers homeless men and women the opportunity to work for pay.”

Fr. Djonovic and Our Lady of the Rosary parishioner Marcus Cobb drive around the city in the aforementioned Excursion, visiting locations where the homeless can often be found. Fr. Djonovic then engages them in conversation, explaining who he is and offering work in exchange for a day’s wage.

“People prefer to work for pay over handouts,” Fr. Djonovic said. “As we’ve done this, we engage with them and get to know their life situation. Many times, we can help them. Last week, I helped a guy going through the housing process, setting him up with the resources he needed to find a place.”

 

— 5 –

More on the Oratory:

Fr. Jones said Our Lady of the Rosary has increased Mass times from two Masses a week to nine. The parish, which used to be clustered with the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament and St. Moses the Black, has Mass at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Sundays, with a full hour of confessions before the Sunday evening Mass.

“One of the things St. Philip was known for was hearing confessions,” Fr. Jones said. “The oratory has been known for offering sacramental services for the surrounding community, especially the Eucharist and confessions, so that’s something we want to major in.”

On May 26, the Detroit Oratory-in-Formation celebrated the feast of St. Philip Neri with a special Mass in which parishioners had the chance to adore the Blessed Sacrament and venerate a relic of St. Philip Neri.

It was also a chance for visitors to the parish to learn more about the saint and the work of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, a pontifical society of apostolic life of Catholic priests and lay brothers, commonly known as “Oratorians,” who do not take formal vows.

“St. Philip Neri is not well known in the United States, but in other parts of the world he is greatly revered,” Fr. Adams said during the homily on May 26. “He is known as the ‘Apostle of Rome.’ He was canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, along with Spaniards Francis Xavier, Ignatius of Loyola, Isidore the Laborer and Teresa of Avila. The Italians said, ‘the pope just canonized four Spaniards and one saint.’”

At the Detroit Oratory-in-Formation, the laity are encouraged to come and go throughout the week and take up tasks the church needs, Fr. Adams said.

“We want Our Lady of the Rosary to be a mission church to evangelize those who are moving to the area and just have moved away from the faith,” Fr. Adams told The Michigan Catholic. “A lot of people are moving into the city, and the church is at a prime location to encounter people and be an outreach. Fr. Marko was sitting in a coffee shop once, and someone overheard him talking about the faith and sat down and had all these questions. We’re here to be a presence.”

With Our Lady of the Rosary situated across from the College of Creative Studies and down the road from Wayne State University, Fr. Jones is encouraging all artists, builders, painters and just about anyone who can swing a hammer to come volunteer at the parish for much-needed repairs and maintenance.

“The oratory is known as a lay movement; St. Philip had prayer meetings with the laity where they would sit, pray, converse with one another and find out what was needed in the community,” Fr. Jones said. “We could use help of all kinds, so (people can) feel free to contact us. For people who work strange hours at the hospital or were never comfortable in the traditional parish setting, we’re here for you. We want to connect with the area, to be that opening invitation to the Church.”

 

— 6 —

In my mind, this is good news: earlier this summer, several private high schools in DC dropped out of the College Board’s AP program.  

Yes, they are elite schools and yes, they have the resources to provide and create their own courses, but I rejoice at any sign that the College Board is losing its hypnotic hold on education and that anyone is putting into practice the intuition that AP classes are mostly wrong-headed (not to speak of often politically problematic – although I’m sure that’s not an issue with these schools.)

The school leaders say AP training doesn’t foster the kind of thinking they would like their students to do. The courses “often stress speed of assimilation and memorization” at the expense of in-depth inquiry. “Moving away from AP courses will allow us to offer a wider variety of courses that are more rigorous and enriching, provide opportunities for authentic engagement with the world, and demonstrate respect for students’ intellectual curiosity and interests,” the heads of the schools wrote in a statement.

The eight private schools also point out that the promise of AP classes, which were introduced in the early 1950s to allow ambitious students the opportunity to earn college credits and possibly even nab a degree earlier and at a lower cost, has never been fulfilled. The fact is that graduating from college in fewer than four years doesn’t happen often, according to the schools’ statement. What’s more, each college handles the awarding of credits for AP tests differently, with some top schools opting out altogether, according to the schools’ statement.

For more of my…”thoughts” on education, go to this page on which I’m gathering up the more substantive posts I’ve written on education. Over the next week, I’ll do another page on travel posts.

— 7 —

 

Don’t forget – The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols.

 

NOTE: If you really want a copy soon – I have them for sale at my online bookstore (price includes shipping)  Email me at amywelborn60 AT gmail if you have a question or want to work out a deal of some sort. I have many copies of this, the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, the Prove It Bible and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days on hand at the moment.

Also – my son has been releasing collections of short stories over the summer. He’s currently prepping his first (published) novel, The Battle of Lake Erie: One Young American’s Adventure in the War of 1812.  Check it out!

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

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