Posts Tagged ‘Amy Welborn’

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we have a piano that is new to us. It is, strangely enough, about the same age as the one we used to have, but it’s much better, and after some drama, it lives upstairs, rather than in the basement.

Having it upstairs means it gets played more often, including by me, which is one of the reasons I wanted it up instead of down and mostly out of sight. I thought that I might play it more, and that seemed to me to be a good thing, even though I didn’t know why. I have enough to do, I have interests and work. On paper, I don’t need to play the piano more, and it wasn’t a conscious burning desire, but nonetheless, it nudged and became a reason.

It’s been about three weeks, and in that time, I have realized something: I had forgotten how much I enjoy playing the piano.


— 2 —


I think what happened was that as decades passed and I got rusty, I checked “piano” off the list. That’s over. I was never very good anyway. My personality is not that of the perfectionist. When it seems good enough, I move on to something else, and combined with the fact that I lead life mostly on intuition and response, that means everything I do only goes so far until I decide something else is more worth my time.

For most of my adult life – well, since my 30’s, I guess – I’ve had a piano in the house, but it was that old Storey and Clark, it wasn’t fun to play, I was busy, and every time I did sit down, I fumbled on those unresponsive keys, it was a strain to see the music and reading glasses didn’t help, so yes, that’s what I figured. That’s over.

— 3 —

Here’s my piano history.

When I was in second grade, we lived in an apartment in Arlington, Virginia. My father was doing some sort of year-long commitment with the Department of the Interior. They rented a piano, and started me on group lessons at the public school. In 1967, long before electronic keyboards, group piano lessons in a public school meant a classroom full of children, each with a wood board painted like a keyboard in front of us. I don’t recall anything about it, except the recital, in which I played this, from this book.


I don’t keep a lot of things, but music, I keep. But I didn’t know until I just now found it and opened it up that – gulp – almost fifty years later, I could read the kind words of congratulations from that first piano teacher right there.

The next year, we moved to Lawrence, Kansas. During third and fourth grade, we lived in an apartment, but moved into a house, where we were through seventh grade. At some point during that time, my parents convinced my paternal grandmother to buy a piano for me, and so that Storey and Clark entered our lives (used you can get one for a couple hundred bucks now – that’s why I didn’t even bother to put ours on Craigslist, and let the piano delivery guy take it away instead) and private lessons began.

There was a catch, though. The catch was that my parents were frugal and my mother didn’t drive, so when they looked for at teacher, they looked only as far as the KU music department, and a student who could drive to our house. I don’t remember much of anything about my teachers – I think I had a young woman one year and a man the next. I don’t think there were recitals (which was fine with me), just these music students showing up at our house to give me lessons.

 — 4 —


When eighth grade came around, we had moved again – to Knoxville. That first year, of course, we lived in an apartment, but then for high school, we settled into a house in an area called Holston Hills, in east Knoxville. It’s that kind of hilly neighborhood with no sidewalks, full of 1950’s ranches and some Tudors built on half-acres, set well back from the road. A few months after we moved, we figured out that the woman who lived across the road and two houses down taught piano out of her home. So I started. Again.

At the time, I intuited that it was an odd situation, but didn’t know how odd until later. She wasn’t the most rigorous teacher in the world, but she wasn’t terrible. She had me play Bach and such, but she also let me play things I wanted – like Summertime. I was never really comfortable in her home, and I reached a tipping point when, for a winter “recital,” she insisted I play a duet of Rudolph with her daughter at their Baptist church’s Christmas program. I didn’t like recitals anyway, I was a senior in high school playing Rudolph in the basement of the Macedonia Baptist Church, so I was done.

Oh, and why was it odd? As we learned a few years later, both the woman and her husband were serious alcoholics. They both ended being hospitalized, the kids did nothing with the house, the parents died from their alcoholism, and last time I was there – probably four years ago to see to the sale of my parents’ home – the house was in complete collapse and disrepair, overgrown, a notice of condemnation on the door.

— 5 

And that was it. Maybe five years of instruction all together, spread out over ten years?

Over the years, when passing the keyboard, I might sit down and pound out a few measures of Maple Leaf Rag or Alla Turca. I remember those. Probably about twenty years ago, I went through a stage when I thought I would try to get serious again, took out the Gershwin, and worked at it. Not too bad, but then we probably moved again and life took over again.

Now we have this new-old piano, it’s in the dining room, and since it cost a lot of money and it’s sitting there, I might as well play it, I think. So I do. And I’m not bad. And I’m getting better.

And as I said at the beginning, what has come back to me in a startling rush is how much I like it, and how much I actually don’t mind practicing. I don’t think I ever did, either. I don’t remember practicing being an agony. I say I’m not a perfectionist, and I’m not, but I do want to get it basically right, and for some reason, even though in most things I have the attention span of a gnat, when I play piano, I can play the same few measures over and over again and not tire of it.

Perhaps it’s just a new way to procrastinate and put off work. I think it’s going to be helpful in keeping mentally sharp as I age: my version of my father and his crossword puzzles, taken up with intense commitment in his 60’s. Who knows.



I have goals, and they are the same goals I’ve had during every other return to the instrument. Right now, it’s The Maple Leaf Rag – the first page has been in my memory for forty years, but I never really went beyond that, and now I am, and I want to learn the whole thing. And then there’s the Gershwin.

Gershwin’s piano music – his variations on his songs, and his stand-alone pieces like the Preludes – have always been favorites of mine. As a teen, I played the William Bolcom recordings over and over, and tried my hand at several, but could never get beyond a certain point: too many accidentals, I felt my hands weren’t big enough. Again: not a perfectionist.

Somewhere along the way, my book went missing – I suspect it’s either in a sorority house in Williamsburg, Virginia or a resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. So I bought a new one, and am working hard. I started with Rialto Ripples, have almost got ‘S Wonderful down and really really want to conquer Prelude 1. I think I can do it.

So I play. I play during the day when the boys are gone, and I play in the evening, after Michael has his time. I enjoy it, but it’s also part of my determination for them to see me doing and reading real books and making real things instead of scrolling through one more damn screen. And it works. An adult doing this in a household is an invitation for interaction and community in a way that an adult staring at a screen is not. It might be a joke, right? The minute I get interested in doing something…there they are, all around me.  But I don’t mind. I sit down to play, and before I know it, one’s on the futon behind me, flipping through a magazine or drawing, and the other is standing at my side, leafing through music, wanting his turn again.

I also think it’s good for them to watch me take on something I’m not so great at, then work and improve. We lecture them all the time on how that’s what you have to do, but how often do they actual see us at this task, making mistakes, learning and growing and having to resist the temptation to give up?

— 7 —

My experience with piano explains why I am torn about children’s activities. On the one hand, I’m mostly against them. I am famous among my friends for asserting “I won’t be held hostage by my children’s activities,” by which I mean that there’s more to life than weekends at soccer fields allows many of us with children to experience. My kids do activities when they have an interest. My daughter was intensely involved with forensics and drama – but in high school. My youngest son has exhibited some musical talent and likes it, so I am investing in some pretty high level instruction for him. They know that if they are interested and serious, I’ll support them. But I do draw a line, and in the end, a weekend just hanging out, relaxing around home or taking a day trip is, I think, more valuable than most activities.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine posted an impassioned Facebook post after her family had spent a Saturday morning doing some really good volunteer work. She wondered why they didn’t do this kind of thing more? And then she answered her own question: because of sports, dance and homework projects that absorbed every second of their family’s free time and energy. Then she asked another question: what would the world be like if everyone made more time to help others instead of spending so much time watching 4 year olds play soccer?

But yet.

I only had five years of haphazard instruction, and..I’m not bad and I like it. I think I can get a lot better.

I wonder sometimes what would have happened if my parents had seen my moderate level of talent and interest and made the effort to get me more consistent instruction – even as we moved about – at a higher level. Why didn’t they? They had their own problems which dominated the home, that’s true, and I would imagine that’s a big part of why as long as I didn’t present problems – and I didn’t – I was left to myself. Perhaps back in the 70’s people didn’t pursue Excellence in Extra-Curriculars as they do now. That’s certainly true. And it also never occurred to me to ask for something different, or even that there might be the possibility. Who knows. And who knows what would have happened if they had done anything different. I might have had intense music instruction, excelled, and then grown to hate it and never take it up again, even here in middle age, when I am hankering for it and appreciating it again.

We parents do what we can do with the information we have. I won’t say “we do our best,” because we don’t. We just do what we do. It’s what I have done, it’s what my parents did. So I’m not resentful. I just wonder.

And then I sit down to play.

"amy welborn"


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

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Earlier this week, I read the book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons, a former Newsweek tech writer and editor and now a writer on HBO’s and Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley. I picked it up from the “new books” section mostly because I have a like-hate relationship with Silicon Valley – I think it’s brilliant satire at times, but at other times it’s just stupid and too filthy for its own good.

I enjoyed Disrupted. It’s an entertaining and even enlightening evening read – a longish Atlantic article could have probably covered most of the same ground, and Lyons’ Disrupted by Dan Lyonsidealization of journalism is annoying but that’s fine, and the time I spent with the book was more entertaining and fruitful than a couple of hours furiously scanning furious political commentary online. Although almost as frustrating, considering the insanity Lyons is writing about.

Short version: Lyons was fired from Newsweek in his early 50’s – the story of so many journalists – and eventually landed at HubSpot, a company that sells marketing software to other companies – as a “marketing fellow,” a title which sounds kind of cool but actually, as he discovers is expressive of the shadows of this tech-based economy in which no one is really committed to anything or anyone and everyone is landing somewhere for just a bit, until the next thing.

The book is very funny, not only because Lyons is funny, but because the culture he describes is so deeply insane and he’s a 50-something thinking he might be able to fit in, just a little bit.  HubSpot’s workplace is culture is just what you expect: 20-somethings brought in to have meetings and stare at screens for not a lot of money, but hey – there’s a music room! And a candy wall! And Tequila Tuesday!

Moving past the employees – er, team members – Lyons takes a look at those behind all of this craziness, from the founders of start-ups who sometimes have an idea for a product or service, but just as often don’t – to the venture capitalists.  Lyons’ description of DreamForce – a huge networking/pep rally/afterhours orgy sponsored by Salesforce.com  in which literally tens of thousands of online marketers get together in San Francisco – is jaw-dropping.

The whole thing makes me depressed, in part because Benioff is a buffoon, a bullshit artist, and such an out-of-control egomaniac that it is painful to listen to him talk. He lives in Hawaii and signs his emails “Aloha.” He’s a Buddhist and hangs out with Zen monks from Japan, and he gave his golden retriever the title “chief love officer” at his company. He is the Ron Burgundy of tech…”have you transformed the way you innovate?’ was Benioff’s big line at the 2012 Dreamforce show. Note that you can switch the two buzzwords in the sentence and it still sounds good and still means nothing.

And Dreamforce continues with Huey Lewis and the News, Green Day, Alec Baldwin, Tony Bennett, Jerry Seinfels, CEO’s of Dropbox, Facebook and Yahoo, and the President of Haiti. It’s crazy.

If you’ve watched Silicon Valley, you’ll recognize some of the types and quirks, but I have to say – I think the world Lyons describes is even wackier than its fictional version.

Lyons’ critique is of an economy built on non-profitable entities selling intangibles – again, at a loss, most of the time – so that a few people can profit from this weird transfer of wealth going on. It’s of workplace cultures that are not only lame and distracting, but attract and sustain immaturity and are among the least diverse workplaces in the country. It’s about deception all around, about claiming, “no, we don’t send spam,” when actually, you facilitate sending millions of pieces of spam every day, it’s about calling aggressive selling “lead nurturing” and selling “lovable marking content.” That you’re not selling product, you’re leading a revolution…a movement.

It’s about this new thing, but it’s also about the old thing that has always characterize most workplaces, everywhere: Egomaniacs with tunnel vision exercising power over other human beings just because, whether those egomaniacs be CEO’s, department managers or the two blog editors twenty years your junior who have declared war against you – the turf being a blog run by a company that’s read by no one except a few hundred customers. Because that’s worth a war, definitely.

The stupid workplace trends that Lyons eviscerates are amusing to read about, but raise some serious points. First, what Lyons himself constantly points out – it’s almost like a shell game. Employees being given treats instead of more pay and greater job security. He tries to point this out to the employees three decades his junior: that instead of the treats they could actually be paid more..but they will have none of it. They prefer the candy.

The whole scene also made me think (of course) of (surprise!) church and faith and such.

The appeal of new management and marketing trends, bursting with buzzwords and exclamation points is strong for churches. Evangelical churches, with their emphasis on, well, evangelization, have always been particularly strongly tempted by American business culture, narrowing that line between evangelism and marketing to the point of invisibility. And because American Catholicism doesn’t trust or understand its own tradition of evangelization, and might even despise it, a few years after the evangelicals have pounced and wrung a trend dry, you can trust that the Catholics will be along to mop up the puddles and squeeze out what’s left in lameness that is no less lame for being two generations removed from the original and having schematized rosaries on the Awesome!
Engagement! Materials! with which they can hack  and blow UP this ministry. 

Not to speak of the management stuff, which too many Catholic school systems, in my experience, embrace. I mean…this was…familiar, even if the characters we encounter in the church world have a bit more years on them.

Try to imagine the calamity of that: Zack, age twenty-eight, with no management experience, gets training from Dave, a weekend rock guitarist, on how to apply a set of fundamentally unsound psychological principles as a way to manipulate the people who report to him.

And then, there is the question of the soul and what seeks to bind it and what it mean to be truly counter-cultural.

It is not a new story: in seeking security in this world, we find ourselves bound to entities that want to claim more than our labors, that set themselves up as idols demanding our highest loyalties. That might be the lord of the manor, the factory owner, the farmer, the office manager. That might be elements of a culture that don’t demand our labor but rather the fruits of that labor as they work hard to convince us that our wholeness and happiness depends on how well we fit.

It just seems to me that it’s the role of this Church of Jesus Christ to stand astride all of these idols, knock them over and quietly, constantly, faithfully point to the truth. Yes, this the world in which we live and work requires running and doing, and sometimes all of that is creative and interesting, but most of the time it’s not, and most of the time it just is. Work hard, give your best, make good things, no matter how small they are, and build each other up. But don’t be fooled. If this entity – this job, this organization, this culture – asks the world of you so it can save the world – remember that it can’t do that, you don’t have to and only God is God, and yeah, well, he’s…awesome.

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Everyone should note that today is the feast of the North American Martyrs. Jogues, Brebeuf, etc. Read Black Robe in celebration! Well, “celebration” doesn’t quite capture it. Remembrance, maybe?

Or, perhaps you might read Parkman’s The Jesuits in North America

Mosaic from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Or, you could really go to town and take a look at the Jesuit Relations which are, amazingly, all online right here

This site contains entire English translation of the The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, originally compiled and edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites and published by The Burrows Brothers Company, Cleveland, throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century. Each file represents the total English contents of a single published volume. The original work has facing pages in the original French, Latin or Italian, depending on the author.

Of particular interest might be Brebeuf’s Instructions to the MIssionaries. I am going to reproduce it in full here. We are hearing a lot these days about “meeting people where they are.”

Again, not a concept of recent origin:

(From Vol. XII of the Relations, 1637)

Let us say a few words more before concluding this chapter. Father Brebeuf sent me some instructions, which I have all our Fathers read whom I send to the Hurons. I thought it would be wise to place them here, so that those who should be appointed to this mission [232 i.e., 228] might see from France the trials with which they will have to contend. I know very well that the greater these trials are made, the more ardor we see in our Fathers, who [page 115] even go so far as to wish for them too eagerly. It is better, in my opinion, while one is still in France, not to think either of the Hurons, or of the Algonquins, or of the Montagnez, or of Kebec, or of Miskou, or even of converting the Savages, but to take up the Cross wherever Jesus Christ shall offer it to us. Let us come to the point.


HE Fathers and Brethren whom God shall call to the Holy Mission of the Hurons ought to exercise careful foresight in regard to all the hardships, annoyances, and perils that must be encountered in making this journey, in order to be prepared betimes for all emergencies that may arise.

You must have sincere affection for the Savages, looking upon them as ransomed by the blood of the son of God, and as our brethren, with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives.

To conciliate the Savages, you must be careful never to make them wait for you in embarking.

You must provide yourself with a tinder box or with a [233 i.e., 229] burning mirror, or with both, to furnish them fire in the daytime to light their pipes, and in the evening when they have to encamp; these little services win their hearts.

You should try to cat their sagamité or salmagundi in the way they prepare it, although it may be dirty, half-cooked, and very tasteless. As to the other numerous things which may be unpleasant, they must be endured for the love of God, without saying anything or appearing to notice them. [page 117]

It is well at first to take everything they offer, although you may not be able to eat it all; for, when one becomes somewhat accustomed to it, there is not too much.

You must try and eat at daybreak unless you can take your meal with you in the canoe; for the day is very long, if you have to pass it without eating. The Barbarians eat only at Sunrise and Sunset, when they are on their journeys.

You must be prompt in embarking and disembarking; and tuck up your gowns so that they will not get wet, and so that you will not carry either water or sand into the canoe. To be properly dressed, you must have your feet and legs bare; while crossing the rapids, you can [234 i.e., 230] wear your shoes, and, in the long portages, even your leggings.

You must so conduct yourself as not to be at all troublesome to even one of these Barbarians.

It is not well to ask many questions, nor should you yield to your desire to learn the language and to make observations on the way; this may be carried too far. You must relieve those in your canoe of this annoyance, especially as you cannot profit much by it during the work. Silence is a good equipment at such a time.

You must bear with their imperfections without saying a word, yes, even without seeming to notice them. Even if it be necessary to criticise anything, it must be done modestly, and with words and signs which evince love and not aversion. In short, you must try to be, and to appear, always cheerful.

Each one should be provided with half a gross of awls, two or three dozen little knives called jambettes [pocket-knives], a hundred fishhooks, with some beads [page 119] of plain and colored glass, with which to buy fish or other articles when the tribes meet each other, so as to feast the Savages; and it would be [235 i.e., 231] well to say to them in the beginning, ” Here is something with which to buy fish.” Each one will try, at the portages, to carry some little thing, according to his strength; however little one carries, it greatly pleases the Savages, if it be only a kettle.

You must not be ceremonious with the Savages, but accept the comforts they offer you, such as a good place in the cabin. The greatest conveniences are attended with very great inconvenience, and these ceremonies offend them.

Be careful not to annoy any one in the canoe with your hat; it would be better to take your nightcap. There is no impropriety among the Savages.

Do not undertake anything unless you desire to continue it; for example, do not begin to paddle unless you are inclined to continue paddling. Take from the start the place in the canoe that you wish to keep; do not lend them your garments, unless you are willing to surrender them during the whole journey. It is easier to refuse at first than to ask them back, to change, or to desist afterwards.

Finally, understand that the Savages [236 i.e., 232] will retain the same opinion of you in their own country that they will have formed on the way; and one who has passed for an irritable and troublesome person will have considerable difficulty afterwards in removing this opinion. You have to do not only with those of your own canoe, but also (if it must be so stated) with all those of the country; you meet some to-day and others to-morrow, who do not fail to inquire, from those who brought you, what sort of [page 121] man you are. It is almost incredible, how they observe and remember even to the slightest fault. When you meet Savages on the way, as you cannot yet greet them with kind words, at least show them a cheerful face, and thus prove that you endure gayly the fatigues of the voyage. You will thus have put to good use the hardships of the way, and have already advanced considerably in gaining the affection of the Savages.

This is a lesson which is easy enough to learn, but very difficult to put into practice; for, leaving a highly civilized community, you fall into the hands of barbarous people who care but little for your Philosophy or your Theology. All the fine qualities which might make you loved and respected in France [237 i.e., 233] are like pearls trampled under the feet of swine, or rather of mules, which utterly despise you when they see that you are not as good pack animals as they are. If you could go naked, and carry the load of a horse upon your back, as they do, then you would be wise according to their doctrine, and would be recognized as a great man, otherwise not. Jesus Christ is our true greatness; it is he alone and his cross that should be sought in running after these people, for, if you strive for anything else, you will find naught but bodily and spiritual affliction. But having found Jesus Christ in his cross, you have found the roses in the thorns, sweetness in bitterness, all in nothing. [page 12

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints – under “Saints are People Who are Brave.”  I’ve got the last page here for you. 


Stephanie Mann has an excerpt from a Willa Cather novel in which a character speaks of one of the lesser-known martyrs.

“But through all these physical sufferings, which remained as sharp as on the first day, the greatest of his sufferings was an almost continual sense of the withdrawal of God. All missionaries have that anguish at times, but with Chabanel it was continual. For long months, for a whole winter, he would exist in the forest, every human sense outraged, and with no assurance of the nearness of God. In those seasons of despair he was constantly beset by temptation in the form of homesickness. He longed to leave the mission to priests who were better suited to its hardships, to return to France and teach the young, and to find again that peace of soul, that cleanliness and order, which made him the master of his mind and its powers. Everything that he had lost was awaiting him in France, and the Director of Missions in Quebec had suggested his return.

“On Corpus Christi Day, in the fifth year of his labours in Canada and the thirty-fifth of his age, he cut short this struggle and overcame his temptation. At the mission of Saint Matthias, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed, he made a vow of perpetual stability (perpetuam stabilitatem) in the Huron missions. This vow he recorded in writing, and he sent copies of it to his brethren in Kebec.

“Having made up his mind to die in the wilderness, he had not long to wait. Two years later he perished when the mission of Saint Jean was destroyed by the Iroquois,–though whether he died of cold in his flight through the forest, or was murdered by a faithless convert for the sake of the poor belongings he carried on his back, was not surely known. No man ever gave up more for Christ than Noël Chabanel; many gave all, but few had so much to give.


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…it’s my turn. 


My parents and grandparents left behind boxes and boxes of letters and photographs. They left record albums and books. I wonder sometimes about my generation and, even more so, those that follow. Most of our communication is digital and exists only as a series of 0s and 1s. So it is with our music, our photographs and even our books.

I might not be leaving behind as much physical material, but is that even important?

Previous entries in this cycle:

October 2

There’s nothing unusual there–it’s part of the early vocabulary of most toddlers, isn’t it? But what strikes me is that he doesn’t just say it when something “bad” happens. Any time there is any transition, it’s what comes out: “Uh-oh!” It’s cute, but I wonder, do I react the same way to potential or real change? Do I reflexively react with hesitation or even outright fear, or do I react with confidence that, with the help of God’s power and love, I can move forward?

September 18:

Once a week, I volunteer in an after-school reading program. The children arrive at the parish following a day in a struggling school in a struggling neighborhood. The early readers may have a few words they are sure about, but when they hit an unfamiliar word, their reaction is always the same–their eyes move from the letters and start darting about the page. There must be a hint. They’re looking for a sign.

September 4:

But there is someone, and the psalmist guides me to him. The God who created me out of love knows me. I listen as he teaches, I understand as my heart opens to his wisdom. In the stillness, he sketches the flaws, he captures the truth, and I see.

If you would like more of the same on a more regular basis, check out The Catholic Woman’s Book of DaysThere are a number of Catholic women’s devotionals out there now, but most of them, if not all, are directed at women as mothers. Well, not all women are mothers, and further, even for those who are, motherhood is not at the front and center of every prayer. So here you go:


Also, if you are aware of a parish or school preparing for Advent – which is not that far away, preparation-wise – check out the Liguori Press Daybreaks devotional that I wrote for this year and is now available. There is a Spanish edition as well.

Link to English version.


Link to Spanish version.

2016 Advent Devotional

Link to excerpts from Spanish version.

And an endorsement from Deacon Greg Kandra!

“This ravishing collection brings Advent and Christmas, literally, home. In brief essays that are by turns inspiring, surprising, and unexpectedly moving, Amy Welborn helps us see the coming of the Christ child in things we take for granted. This captivating little book is one to read, treasure, share, give—and read again.


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An introduction, from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

St Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch, which today is located in Turkey. Here in Antioch, as we know from the Acts of the Apostles, a flourishing Christian community developed. Its first Bishop was the Apostle Peter – or so tradition claims – and it was there that the disciples were “for the first time called Christians” (Acts 11: 26). Eusebius of Caesarea, a fourth-century historian, dedicated an entire chapter of his Church History to the life and literary works of Ignatius (cf. 3: 36).

Eusebius writes: “The Report says that he [Ignatius] was sent from Syria to Rome, and became food for wild beasts on account of his testimony to Christ. And as he made the journey through Asia under the strictest military surveillance” (he called the guards “ten leopards” in his Letter to the Romans, 5: 1), “he fortified the parishes in the various cities where he stopped by homilies and exhortations, and warned them above all to be especially on their guard against the heresies that were then beginning to prevail, and exhorted them to hold fast to the tradition of the Apostles”.

The first place Ignatius stopped on the way to his martyrdom was the city of Smyrna, where St Polycarp, a disciple of St John, was Bishop. Here, Ignatius wrote four letters, respectively to the Churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralli and Rome. “Having ignatius-of-antiochleft Smyrna”, Eusebius continues, Ignatius reached Troas and “wrote again”: two letters to the Churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna, and one to Bishop Polycarp.

Thus, Eusebius completes the list of his letters, which have come down to us from the Church of the first century as a precious treasure. In reading these texts one feels the freshness of the faith of the generation which had still known the Apostles. In these letters, the ardent love of a saint can also be felt.

Lastly, the martyr travelled from Troas to Rome, where he was thrown to fierce wild animals in the Flavian Amphitheatre.

No Church Father has expressed the longing for union with Christ and for life in him with the intensity of Ignatius. We therefore read the Gospel passage on the vine, which according to John’s Gospel is Jesus. In fact, two spiritual “currents” converge in Ignatius, that of Paul, straining with all his might for union with Christ, and that of John, concentrated on life in him. In turn, these two currents translate into the imitation of Christ, whom Ignatius several times proclaimed as “my” or “our God”.

Thus, Ignatius implores the Christians of Rome not to prevent his martyrdom since he is impatient “to attain to Jesus Christ”. And he explains, “It is better for me to die on behalf of Jesus Christ than to reign over all the ends of the earth…. Him I seek, who died for us: him I desire, who rose again for our sake…. Permit me to be an imitator of the Passion of my God!” (Romans, 5-6).

One can perceive in these words on fire with love, the pronounced Christological “realism” typical of the Church of Antioch, more focused than ever on the Incarnation of the Son of God and on his true and concrete humanity: “Jesus Christ”, St Ignatius_of_AntiochIgnatius wrote to the Smyrnaeans, “was truly of the seed of David”, “he was truly born of a virgin”, “and was truly nailed [to the Cross] for us” (1: 1).
Ignatius’ irresistible longing for union with Christ was the foundation of a real “mysticism of unity”. He describes himself: “I therefore did what befitted me as a man devoted to unity” (Philadelphians, 8: 1).

For Ignatius unity was first and foremost a prerogative of God, who, since he exists as Three Persons, is One in absolute unity. Ignatius often used to repeat that God is unity and that in God alone is unity found in its pure and original state. Unity to be brought about on this earth by Christians is no more than an imitation as close as possible to the divine archetype.

Thus, Ignatius reached the point of being able to work out a vision of the Church strongly reminiscent of certain expressions in Clement of Rome’s Letter to the Corinthians.

For example, he wrote to the Christians of Ephesus: “It is fitting that you should concur with the will of your Bishop, which you also do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the Bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore, in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And man by man, you become a choir, that being harmonious in love and taking up the song of God in unison you may with one voice sing to the Father…” (4: 1-2).

And after recommending to the Smyrnaeans: “Let no man do anything connected with Church without the Bishop”, he confides to Polycarp: “I offer my life for those who are submissive to the Bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may I along with them obtain my portion in God! Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together as the stewards and associates and servants of God. Please him under whom you fight, and from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your Baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply” (Polycarp, 6: 1-2).

Overall, it is possible to grasp in the Letters of Ignatius a sort of constant and fruitful dialectic between two characteristic aspects of Christian life: on the one hand, the hierarchical structure of the Ecclesial Community, and on the other, the fundamental unity that binds all the faithful in Christ.
Consequently, their roles cannot be opposed to one another. On the contrary, the insistence on communion among believers and of believers with their Pastors was constantly reformulated in eloquent images and analogies: the harp, strings, intonation, the concert, the symphony. The special responsibility of Bishops, priests and deacons in building the community is clear.

This applies first of all to their invitation to love and unity. “Be one”, Ignatius wrote to the Magnesians, echoing the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper: “one supplication, one mind, one hope in love…. Therefore, all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one” (7: 1-2).

Ignatius was the first person in Christian literature to attribute to the Church the adjective “catholic” or “universal”: “Wherever Jesus Christ is”, he said, “there is the Catholic Church” (Smyrnaeans, 8: 2). And precisely in the service of unity to the Catholic Church, the Christian community of Rome exercised a sort of primacy of love: “The Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness… and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father…” (Romans, Prologue).

As can be seen, Ignatius is truly the “Doctor of Unity”: unity of God and unity of Christ (despite the various heresies gaining ground which separated the human and the divine in Christ), unity of the Church, unity of the faithful in “faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred” (Smyrnaeans, 6: 1).

Ultimately, Ignatius’ realism invites the faithful of yesterday and today, invites us all, to make a gradual synthesis betweenconfiguration to Christ (union with him, life in him) and dedication to his Church (unity with the Bishop, generous service to the community and to the world).

To summarize, it is necessary to achieve a synthesis between communion of the Church within herself and mission, the proclamation of the Gospel to others, until the other speaks through one dimension and believers increasingly “have obtained the inseparable Spirit, who is Jesus Christ” (Magnesians, 15).

Imploring from the Lord this “grace of unity” and in the conviction that the whole Church presides in charity (cf. Romans,Prologue), I address to you yourselves the same hope with which Ignatius ended his Letter to the Trallians: “Love one another with an undivided heart. Let my spirit be sanctified by yours, not only now, but also when I shall attain to God…. In [Jesus Christ] may you be found unblemished” (13).

And let us pray that the Lord will help us to attain this unity and to be found at last unstained, because it is love that purifies souls.


The writings of St .Ignatius – those letters – are here, as well as many other places.

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Today is her feastday, and 2015 was  the 500th anniversary of her birth (3/28).

When we went to Spain last year, we were not able to go to Avila, unfortunately (chose Segovia as our day trip from Madrid instead), but we did encounter Teresa in an exhibit  at the Biblioteca Nacional – the national library of Spain. This lovely video gives a sense of what it was all about:

The exhibit itself was amazing. We stumbled upon it – I had no idea it was happening until we walked by the library – so our time there was limited.  Nonetheless, even that short time gave us a chance to see manuscripts written in Teresa’s own hand. 

A manuscript of “The Way of Perfection” in Teresa’s own hand. Gulp.

Featuring real Carmelites checking out the exhibit.

Back in 2011, as part of his series of General Audience talks on great figures in the Church (beginning with the Apostles), he turned to Teresa.  It’s a wonderful introduction to her life.  After outlining her biography and achievements, he turns to the impact of her life and work:

In the first place St Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life and in particular, detachment from possessions, that is, evangelical poverty, and this concerns all of us; love for one another as an essential element of community and social life; humility as love for the truth; determination as a fruit of Christian daring; theological hope, which she describes as the thirst for living water.


Secondly, St Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical figures and eager listening to the word of God. She feels above all closely in tune with the Bride in the Song of Songs and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with Christ in the Passion and with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Saint then stresses how essential prayer is. Praying, she says, “means being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us” (Vida 8, 5).


Prayer is life and develops gradually, in pace with the growth of Christian life: it begins with vocal prayer, passes through interiorization by means of meditation and recollection, until it attains the union of love with Christ and with the Holy Trinity. Obviously, in the development of prayer climbing to the highest steps does not mean abandoning the previous type of prayer. Rather, it is a gradual deepening of the relationship with God that envelops the whole of life.


Another subject dear to the Saint is the centrality of Christ’s humanity. For Teresa, in fact, Christian life is the personal relationship with Jesus that culminates in union with him through grace, love and imitation. Hence the importance she attaches to meditation on the Passion and on the Eucharist as the presence of Christ in the Church for the life of every believer, and as the heart of the Liturgy. St Teresa lives out unconditional love for the Church: she shows a lively “sensus Ecclesiae”, in the face of the episodes of division and conflict in the Church of her time.


Dear brothers and sisters, St Teresa of Jesus is a true teacher of Christian life for the faithful of every time. In our society, which all too often lacks spiritual values, St Teresa teaches us to be unflagging witnesses of God, of his presence and of his action. She teaches us truly to feel this thirst for God that exists in the depths of our hearts, this desire to see God, to seek God, to be in conversation with him and to be his friends.

This is the friendship we all need that we must seek anew, day after day. May the example of this Saint, profoundly contemplative and effectively active, spur us too every day to dedicate the right time to prayer, to this openness to God, to this journey, in order to seek God, to see him, to discover his friendship and so to find true life; indeed many of us should truly say: “I am not alive, I am not truly alive because I do not live the essence of my life”.

Therefore time devoted to prayer is not time wasted, it is time in which the path of life unfolds, the path unfolds to learning from God an ardent love for him, for his Church, and practical charity for our brothers and sisters. Many thanks.

Then, in 2012, Benedict sent a letter to the Bishop of Avila on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the beginning of Teresa’s reform. It’s really a wonderful letter:

By distancing herself from the Mitigated Rule in order to further a radical return to the primitive Rule, St Teresa de Jesús wished to encourage a form of life that would favour the personal encounter with the Lord, for which “we have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon him present within us. Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest” (Camino de perfección [the Way of Perfection] 28, 2). The Monastery of San José came into being precisely in order that all its daughters might have the best possible conditions for speaking to God and establishing a profound and intimate relationship with him.


Teresa of Avila’s example is a great help to us in this exciting task. We can say that in her time the Saint evangelized without mincing her words, with unfailing ardour, with methods foreign to inertia and with expressions haloed with light. Her example keeps all its freshness at the crossroads of our time. It is here that we feel the urgent need for the baptized to renew their hearts through personal prayer which, in accordance with the dictates of the Mystic of Avila, is also centred on contemplation of the Most Holy Humanity of Christ as the only way on which to find God’s glory (cf. Libro de la Vida, 22, 1; Las Moradas [Interior Castle] 6, 7). Thus they will be able to form authentic families which discover in the Gospel the fire of their hearths; lively and united Christian communities, cemented on Christ as their corner-stone and which thirst after a life of generous and brotherly service. It should also be hoped that ceaseless prayer will foster priority attention to the vocations ministry, emphasizing in particular the beauty of the consecrated life which, as a treasure of the Church and an outpouring of graces, must be duly accompanied in both its active and contemplative dimensions.

The power of Christ will likewise lead to the multiplication of projects to enable the People of God to recover its strength in the only possible way: by making room within us for the sentiments of the Lord Jesus (cf. Phil 2:5), seeking in every circumstance a radical experience of his Gospel. This means, first of all, allowing the Holy Spirit to make us friends of the Teacher and to conform us to him.


Today, this most illustrious daughter of the Diocese of Avila invites us to this radicalism and faithfulness. Accepting her beautiful legacy at this moment in history, the Pope asks all the members of this particular Church, and especially youth, to take seriously the common vocation to holiness. Following in the footsteps of Teresa of Jesus, allow me to say to all who have their future before them: may you too, aspire to belong totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus. Do not be afraid to say to Our Lord, as she did, “I am yours; I was born for you, what do you want to do with me?” (Poem 2).

I do think here that you can really see the particular way of expression that Benedict used again and again: the journey of the Christian is to be conformed to Christ. (Very Pauline, yes?)  Not merely to imitate, but to be conformed.  This suggests a deep level of engagement, a degree of surrender and understanding of the dynamic and purpose of human life that is far different that simply “trying to be like” and radically different than simply being inspired by.


She’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints, and Loyola has a very readable excerpt here 

(If you would like to read a pdf version, click here.) 



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It was a three-day weekend in these parts, and amazingly enough, no other activities to interrupt it – no serving scheduled, no scouts, no piano recital, and no huge school project due (although both had homework over the 3-day weekend. Stop.) – so we hit the road.

We had been to New Orleans a couple of times, but not for perhaps four years or so. The first time was probably seven years ago when my daughter visited Tulane, and I honestly can’t remember the reason for the next visit. I suppose it was to just..go…and I definitely recall some of our activities: we took a tour specifically geared to children, we went to the New Orleans Museum of Art and I left my camera there…but other than that…I’m drawing a blank. I cannot for the life of me even remember where we stayed.

Anyway, enough dwelling on the (distant) past!

I had wanted to leave Friday evening, but there was a @%^& high school football game and since both of them really enjoy that ritual (I usually don’t go…just drop them off)…Saturday morning it was. And I mean Saturday morning.  We pulled out of here at 6:20 AM, both of them fell back to sleep immediately, I drove in peace for most of the time, and we arrived in New Orleans a bit after 11. I don’t stop, in case you’re wondering. I mean… I don’t stop. 

I had obtained the hotel room via Hotwire, and although it was well before check-in time, I wanted to ease my mind and get the proper kind of room – the Hotwire reservation just gave me one with one King. So we pulled up to the Hilton Garden Inn ($70/night), I took care of that, we parked in the garage across the street, and we were off.

We walked up to the French Quarter, and their memories of it slowly started returning. I had no real plan for the weekend, but had tossed around some ideas. The afternoon was really just wandering, with an unfortunate beginning – an absolutely wretched experience at the Decatur Street Cafe du Monde.

We had been before, and knew the drill – I was ready with cash, we were prepared to be dusty with powdered sugar. The line was sort of long, but it moved quickly, and we were seated within about five minutes.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited. The short version is: we waited at one table for about fifteen minutes  – not one of the servers stopped. Two guys who had been ahead img_20161008_124836.jpgof us in line were seated at a table next to us. They were served, ate, got up and left. We scooted to their table. Waited ten more minutes. Finally, a woman took our order…and we waited probably twenty more minutes. For two orders of beignets, a cafe au lait and a milk. What it looked like to me was that there were about three tables in a row that were having problems – when we finally were able to order, it was the same woman who worked all three tables.  I can get irritated at restaurants, but this was the worst.

But, ah well..shake it and the powdered sugar off and move on, right?

As I said, we wandered, poked in shops, nibbled on praline samples, listened to street performers.  I had thought we’d go into the Ursuline Convent museum, but it’s closed at the moment.  We ended up returning to the hotel around 4 for a rest, while I researched dinner. I kept thinking as I did so, “Oh that’s too far to walk..” and “Hmmm…we could take the streetcar there..” and then I kept remembering you have a car, idiot. 

So we ended up at the Parkway Bakery for Po Boys – which were excellent. I had beef because honestly, the idea of battered fried stuff piled on bread is pretty unappealing to me, but I did taste the shrimp and it was a revelation. I guess that’s what really fresh shrimp tastes like?

We then drove down toward Audubon Park and discovered a few homes with pretty crazy Halloween decorations – I guess it is a tradition of sorts in the Garden District, and as the weeks pass, even more homes will go all out. This place was a prime destination:


Evening: Swimming, then I went out and walked around by myself for a while – on very safe routes, never fear.


9:30 Mass at St. Patrick’s, which was just a few blocks from the hotel. We had been to Mass there last time, and I remembered it as a very normal, lovely experience of the Extraordinary Form, and I wanted to see if my recollections were correct – they were.


From an outsider’s perspective, it’s a model. It’s just a regular parish, the celebration of Mass was reverent, but not fussy, the music was lovely, the preaching solid and not boring, and the congregation was diverse, as one finds at any urban parish. A good number of women in veils, but more not, women wearing dresses of all lengths, and many in slacks, many men in suits, others in the southern-shorts-and-polo uniform and one fellow in a football jersey. Didn’t see any of the famed cold-EF-goer judging happening, but did see lots of squealing babies and many welcoming smiles.

(As for the first item in that list – I kid. I hate to have to interrupt the flow by pointing that out, but if I don’t..well.)

Then a walk over to get beignets at the Cafe du Monde at the Riverwalk Mall across the road – a much better experience than we’d had downtown. Bought socks for someone who’d forgotten to pack any. Then we headed to the Audubon Zoo, which we had visited before, but Someone really wanted to see again. So why not? Then out to the Honey Island Swamp for a 4:30 Swamp Tour – it was..okay. It was interesting to poke around in the swamp and to speed down the river, but the wildlife was not bountiful. A few small gators, some racoons, a couple of pileated woodpeckers, which I’d never seen, and a kingfisher, same.

My dream for tours like this is that companies would offer two options: WITH LAME JOKES and WITHOUT LAME JOKES.  Boy, I can barely tolerate the Joking Tour Guide. Cave tours, boat tours, whatever, it is always so awkward. I blame Disney, as I do for many things. My theory is that it all started with the Jungle Cruise, which is actually okay and not stupid because it’s an entertainment experience in which you’re immersed, and the Joking Guide is an actual actor who can, well, act. But when I go on a tour of an actual place that exists and has a character and history I want to hear about that  – and I’ve spent good money to hear all about it and not sit as joke after joke told by a well-meaning employee about how that stalagmite over there looks like Elvis, doesn’t it or look at those fashionable vacation condos (fishing shacks) are met with awkward silence.dscn0846


It did, however, provide a good lesson for the boys in How Your Loud Conversations in the Midst of a Group are Super Irritating and Rude and Really,  No One Cares About Your Life That Much. I mean, we learned all about  the employment woes and wedding plans of the two twenty-somethings also on the tour, and we were, surprisingly, not interested in a bit of it.


The most gorgeous sky on the way back to New Orleans. 

Dinner was at the Redfish Grill. If I had planned better we would have done something different – maybe Mr. B’s Bistro – but at that point, I wanted something sort of/almost/fancy, and there was plenty of room there, it was 8pm, and it was just time to eat. It was fine, and a good experience, but we could have done better elsewhere.

It is at the very edge of Bourbon Street – and before we got there I was explaining to them that Bourbon Street is really famous, but we’re not going to walk down it, and they were sort of asking why, I was hemming and hawing, but really, just walking a few feet in – past two cops on horses – they picked up the vibe immediately, my younger son said, “This reminds me of Las Vegas,” and they got it.

This morning, we packed up. I had presented on option – to go back via I-10 along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and check out Biloxi and environs – I have never been. But after beignets (here), and checking out the cathedral and going to the St. Roch Cemetery (which was locked up) another thought occurred to me: “Why don’t we just go to City Park, rent bikes, ride for a while, and then call it a weekend?”

That was met with approval.

Two more points on the morning – first, J was intent on going to the Cathedral – we were going anyway, but he had another reason. He had remembered that Servant of God Henriette DeLille might – just might be a distant relation  – one of her grandmothers was a Dubreuil (what’s a couple of flipped vowels?) –  and he wanted to revisit the small shrine in her honor that’s in the baptistry. It’s pretty amazing that he remembered that.

Secondly, I had wanted to visit the St. Roch Cemetery because of its ex voto chapel, but alas, despite the sign saying it was open at 8:30, it was locked up tight at 11.

On to the park. A good, 90 minute ride, all around the huge park, with just a few stops, including the Sculpture Garden of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Lunch at Cafe Navarre – red beans and rice to finish off the weekend – and back home by 7.


And now back to work on all fronts. I had one observation at the Cathedral that fits nicely into a ranty post I’ve been tooling with for a couple of months now. Perhaps this will give me the push I need to finish it up. But I do have an article due on Friday that takes precedence, so we will see….

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