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From 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict on St. Matthew:

On the basis of these simple observations that result from the Gospel, we can advance a pair of thoughts.

The first is that Jesus welcomes into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was regarded as a public sinner.

Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the People of God, but he also collaborated with an alien and despicably greedy authority whose tributes moreover, could be arbitrarily determined.

amy-welbornThis is why the Gospels several times link “tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 9: 10; Lk 15: 1), as well as “tax collectors and prostitutes” (Mt 21: 31).

Furthermore, they see publicans as an example of miserliness (cf. Mt 5: 46: they only like those who like them), and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as “a chief tax collector, and rich” (Lk 19: 2), whereas popular opinion associated them with “extortioners, the unjust, adulterers” (Lk 18: 11).

A first fact strikes one based on these references: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Indeed, precisely while he is at table in the home of Matthew-Levi, in response to those who expressed shock at the fact that he associated with people who had so little to recommend them, he made the important statement: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2: 17).

The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: offering God’s grace to the sinner!

Elsewhere, with the famous words of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus actually indicates an anonymous tax collector as an appreciated example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the “tax collector… would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!'”.

And Jesus comments: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18: 13-14).

Thus, in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God’s mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvellous effects in their own lives.

St John Chrysostom makes an important point in this regard: he notes that only in the account of certain calls is the work of those concerned mentioned. Peter, Andrew, James and John are called while they are fishing, while Matthew, while he is collecting tithes.

These are unimportant jobs, Chrysostom comments, “because there is nothing more despicable than the tax collector, and nothing more common than fishing” (In Matth. Hom.: PL 57, 363). Jesus’ call, therefore, also reaches people of a low social class while they go about their ordinary work.

Another reflection prompted by the Gospel narrative is that Matthew responds instantly to Jesus’ call: “he rose and followed him”. The brevity of the sentence clearly highlights Matthew’s readiness in responding to the call. For him it meant leaving everything, especially what guaranteed him a reliable source of income, even if it was often unfair and dishonourable. Evidently, Matthew understood that familiarity with Jesus did not permit him to pursue activities of which God disapproved.

The application to the present day is easy to see: it is not permissible today either to be attached to things that are incompatible with the following of Jesus, as is the case with riches dishonestly achieved.

Remember that all of Benedict’s General Audience talks on the apostles, including this one, are available in book form. 

Here’s the study guide I wrote – it’s out of print, the rights revert to me – so feel free to use if you like. An idea for a free parish study group – use the talks from the Vatican website, and then this study guide – there you go!

And from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols – the symbols of the evangelists:

EPSON MFP image

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amy-welbornPope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from a 2007 General Audience

(After B16 finished with these talks, a few publishers, including OSV, gathered them into volumes. I wrote a study guide for that OSV volume that is available as a pdf here. I maintain that these talks on both the Apostles and the Latin and Greek Fathers would be great parish adult religious education resources – if you agree, feel free to download and reprint the study guide. )

Continuing our journey among the protagonists who were the first to spread Christianity, today let us turn our attention to some of St Paul’s other collaborators. We must recognize that the Apostle is an eloquent example of a man open to collaboration: he did not want to do everything in the Church on his own but availed himself of many and very different colleagues.

We cannot reflect on all these precious assistants because they were numerous. It suffices to recall among the others, Epaphras (cf. Col 1: 7; 4: 12; Phlm 23); Epaphroditus (cf. Phil 2: 25; 4: 18), Tychicus (cf. Acts 20: 4; Eph 6: 21; Col 4: 7; II Tm 4: 12; Ti 3: 12), Urbanus (cf. Rm 16: 9), Gaius and Aristarchus (cf. Acts 19: 29; 20: 4; 27: 2; Col 4: 10). And women such as Phoebe, (Rom 16: 1), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (cf. Rom 16: 12), Persis, the mother of Rufus, whom Paul called “his mother and mine” (cf. Rom 16: 12-13), not to mention married couples such as Prisca and Aquila (cf. Rom 16: 3; I Cor 16: 19; II Tm 4: 19).

Among this great array of St Paul’s male and female collaborators, let us focus today on three of these people who played a particularly significant role in the initial evangelization: Barnabas, Silas, and Apollos.

Barnabas means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4: 36) or “son of consolation”. He was a Levite Jew, a native of Cyprus, and this was his nickname. Having settled in Jerusalem, he was one of the first to embrace Christianity after the Lord’s Resurrection. With immense generosity, he sold a field which belonged to him, and gave the money to the Apostles for the Church’s needs (Acts 4: 37).

It was he who vouched for the sincerity of Saul’s conversion before the Jerusalem community that still feared its former persecutor (cf. Acts 9: 27).

Sent to Antioch in Syria, he went to meet Paul in Tarsus, where he had withdrawn, and spent a whole year with him there, dedicated to the evangelization of that important city in whose Church Barnabas was known as a II-Barnabasprophet and teacher (cf. Acts 13: 1).

At the time of the first conversions of the Gentiles, therefore, Barnabas realized that Saul’s hour had come. As Paul had retired to his native town of Tarsus, he went there to look for him. Thus, at that important moment, Barnabas, as it were, restored Paul to the Church; in this sense he gave back to her the Apostle to the Gentiles.

The Church of Antioch sent Barnabas on a mission with Paul, which became known as the Apostle’s first missionary journey. In fact, it was Barnabas’ missionary voyage since it was he who was really in charge of it and Paul had joined him as a collaborator, visiting the regions of Cyprus and Central and Southern Anatolia in present-day Turkey, with the cities of Attalia, Perga, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (cf. Acts 13-14).

Together with Paul, he then went to the so-called Council of Jerusalem where after a profound examination of the question, the Apostles with the Elders decided to discontinue the practice of circumcision so that it was no longer a feature of the Christian identity (cf. Acts 15: 1-35). It was only in this way that, in the end, they officially made possible the Church of the Gentiles, a Church without circumcision; we are children of Abraham simply through faith in Christ.

The two, Paul and Barnabas, disagreed at the beginning of the second missionary journey because Barnabas was determined to take with them as a companion John called Mark, whereas Paul was against it, since the young man had deserted them during their previous journey (cf. Acts 13: 13; 15: 36-40).

Hence there are also disputes, disagreements and controversies among saints. And I find this very comforting, because we see that the saints have not “fallen from Heaven”. They are people like us, who also have complicated problems.

Holiness does not consist in never having erred or sinned. Holiness increases the capacity for conversion, for repentance, for willingness to start again and, especially, for reconciliation and forgiveness.

So it was that Paul, who had been somewhat harsh and bitter with regard to Mark, in the end found himself with him once again. In St Paul’s last Letters, to Philemon and in his Second Letter to Timothy, Mark actually appears as one of his “fellow workers”.

Consequently, it is not the fact that we have never erred but our capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness which makes us saints. And we can all learn this way of holiness. In any case, Barnabas, together with John Mark, returned to Cyprus (Acts 15: 39) in about the year 49. From that moment we lose track of him. Tertullian attributes to him the Letter to the Hebrews. This is not improbable. Since he belonged to the tribe of Levi, Barnabas may have been interested in the topic of the priesthood; and the Letter to the Hebrews interprets Jesus’ priesthood for us in an extraordinary way.

And, Fr. Steve Grunow:

One of the greatest desires we have is to be remembered, to be able to rest in a sense of accomplishments and receive recognition. True holiness delivers us from this inclination. For we are not called by the Lord to receive honors or even to see the great work of our lives to fruition. We give generously of what the Lord has given us, not because we will necessarily get something in return, but becasue in doing so we give praise to God and imitate the love by which he saved us.

Any memorial we seek for ourselves in this world passes away. What endures are faith, hope and love.

This spiritual truth should not only challenge us, but encourage us, for it means that everything is not simply dependent upon us. We are part of a greater purpose than our own ego, and a greater power than our own will moves us, shapes us and directs us toward our ultimate destiny.

On this feast of Barnabas, let us give praise to God for the life and destiny he has given us in Jesus Christ.

Looking ahead on the calendar a couple of days, you can read my entry for St. Anthony of Padua (June 13) from The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints here. 

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Moving through the Acts of the Apostles as we are doing in the Mass readings right now, yesterday and today, we reach the narrative of Stephen and his martyrdom.

Here are pages about Stephen from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories – from the “Easter Season” section and including the first and the last pages. From the last page, you can get a sense of the structure – telling the story,  tying it into bigger Catholic themes, and then with reflection questions.

 

Stephen is also in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes – a book that’s been out of stock at both Amazon and the Loyola site itself for over a week now.  They must have miscalculated and not had enough in the current print run for this season. Well, that’s….annoying.

Here’s the table of contents, so you can see where he falls.

 

amy-welborn

 

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For some strange, inexplicable reason, Dan Brown has given the world a “Young Adult Adaptation” of The Da Vinci Code, published today.

???

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t sensed any groundswell of yearning for such a thing, thirteen years after the original publication. (And as of this moment, it’s ranked at about half a millionth on Amazon) After all, it’s not like the original was Proust-level writing. It  was (unfortunately) on quite a few high school reading lists back in the day, and a couple of

Da Vinci Code Young Adult

Australian edition

weeks ago, my 6th grader said one of his classmates was reading it.

I wondered what might be different about an “abridged” or “young adult” version. Would there be vampires? Would Robert Langdon fight the albino monk in the dystopian ruins of Paris? Would Sophie shop the Champs Elysees with her squad? Well, I found one answer in a review:

So, what have they edited out to make the book suitable for the young adult market? Basically, the expletives, some of the bloodier violence, the detailed description of the flashback scene where Sophie Neveu witnesses her grandfather in flagrante during a ritual, and some of Robert’s lengthier explanations regarding ancient sex rites and similar. From this one might therefore deduce that swearing, violence and sex are taboo subjects for teen literature in the 21st Century, which makes me wonder if the editors of this abridged version have actually read any modern YA books themselves?!

And then another in the Amazon description:

Includes over twenty color photos showing important locations and artwork,

Ah, okay..but wasn’t there some of that in the original? I don’t remember. Oh, and…

and publication timing connects to the film release of Inferno!

Inferno…in which Brown/Hanks/Langdon do Dante. Oh, I get it. Fine. 

Yes…Dante! Dante’s death mask! We’ve got to get to Florence!

(So why not do some good and release a version of The Divine Comedy ?)

Okay…back in the day, I wrote a little book about the DVC.  I don’t want to rehash everything, but for readers who weren’t around back then, the short version:

I didn’t care about DVC. One iota. But then I started getting emails from people who were either convinced that the historical claims were true or were being annoyed by others who were arguing about Mary Magadalene and Jesus.  To add to this, one day we were in Cincinnati at one of those “Treasures of the Vatican” type exhibits that occasionally tours and there were two middle-aged women standing in front of a reproduction of Leonardo’s Last Supper (not in the Vatican, I know…in Milan, yes. But I think it was there as a backdrop to some liturgical paraphanalia). One woman pointed to the figure of the apostle John and said to the other, very authoritatively, “You know, that’s really Mary Magdalene there.”  It wasn’t “this book says” or “this novel says” or “I’ve heard.” It was that’s Mary Magdalene up there next to Jesus. 

At that point I decided that someone should do a pamphlet, at least.  I suggested it. OSV said, nah. Then a few weeks later, OSV came back to me and said, well, yes,  they wanted a response to the DVC after all. A book.  Could I pull a manuscript  together in two weeks?

I hesitated a bit , but then thought about it and agreed. It wasn’t hard. It’s short, and I was  basically just sharing a lot of church history, which I had taught at the high school level and had an MA in,  and was packaging it  for…a bit lower than a high school level.  I saw it as an opportunity to do some teaching about the early Church, but just in a weird, backwards kind of way.

So that’s that. The book is out of print now, and when I heard about this YA version, I thought it would be a good opportunity to put the text back out there. So here it is on this page – downloadable as a pdf file. Sorry I can’t get any fancier than that, but here we are.

 

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Today is the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, a Holy Day of Obligation according to Canon Law – did you know that? I didn’t. But suppressed in the United States. 

It’s also the 65th anniversary of Joseph Ratzinger’s priestly ordination. Here is a 2011 homily of his reflecting on sixty years:

“I no longer call you servants, but friends” (cf. Jn 15:15).Sixty years on from the day of my priestly ordination, I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony by the Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, in his slightly frail yet firm voice. According to the liturgical practice of that time, these words conferred on the newly-ordained priests the authority to forgive sins. “No longer servants, but friends”: at that moment I knew deep down that these words were no mere formality, nor were they simply a quotation from Scripture. I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way. In baptism and confirmation he had already drawn us close to him, he had already received us into God’s family. But what was taking place now was something greater still. He calls me his friend. He welcomes me into the circle of those he had spoken to in the Upper Room, into the circle of those whom he knows in a very special way, and who thereby come to know him in a very special way. He grants me the almost frightening faculty to do what only he, the Son of God, can legitimately say and do: I forgive you your sins. He wants me – with his authority – to be able to speak, in his name (“I” forgive), words that are not merely words, but an action, changing something at the deepest level of being. I know that behind these words lies his suffering for us and on account of us. I know that forgiveness comes at a price: in his Passion he went deep down into the sordid darkness of our sins. He went down into the night of our guilt, for only thus can it be transformed. And by giving me authority to forgive sins, he lets me look down into the abyss of man, into the immensity of his suffering for us men, and this enables me to sense the immensity of his love. He confides in me: “No longer servants, but friends”. He entrusts to me the words of consecration in the Eucharist. He trusts me to proclaim his word, to explain it aright and to bring it to the people of today. He entrusts himself to me. “You are no longer servants, but friends”: these words bring great inner joy, but at the same time, they are so awe-inspiring that one can feel daunted as the decades go by amid so many experiences of one’s own frailty and his inexhaustible goodness.

“No longer servants, but friends”: this saying contains within itself the entire programme of a priestly life. What is friendship? Idem velle, idem nolle – wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how it was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing. The Lord says the same thing to us most insistently: “I know my own and my own know me” (Jn 10:14). The Shepherd calls his own by name (cf. Jn 10:3). He knows me by name. I am not just some nameless being in the infinity of the universe. He knows me personally. Do I know him? The friendship that he bestows upon me can only mean that I too try to know him better; that in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the communion of saints, in the people who come to me, sent by him, I try to come to know the Lord himself more and more. Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will. For his will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself. Over and above communion of thinking and willing, the Lord mentions a third, new element: he gives his life for us (cf. Jn 15:13; 10:15). Lord, help me to come to know you more and more. Help me to be ever more at one with your will. Help me to live my life not for myself, but in union with you to live it for others. Help me to become ever more your friend.Jesus’ words on friendship should be seen in the context of the discourse on the vine. The Lord associates the image of the vine with a commission to the disciples: “I appointed you that you should go out and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16). The first commission to the disciples – to his friends – is that of setting out, stepping outside oneself and towards others. Here we hear an echo of the words of the risen Lord to his disciples at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …” (cf. Mt 28:19f.) The Lord challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of our own world and to bring the Gospel to the world of others, so that it pervades everything and hence the world is opened up for God’s kingdom. We are reminded that even God stepped outside himself, he set his glory aside in order to seek us, in order to bring us his light and his love. We want to follow the God who sets out in this way, we want to move beyond the inertia of self-centredness, so that he himself can enter our world.

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2005, on the feast:

We have said that the catholicity of the Church and the unity of the Church go together. The fact that both dimensions become visible to us in the figures of the holy Apostles already shows us the consequent characteristic of the Church: she is apostolic.What does this mean?

The Lord established Twelve Apostles just as the sons of Jacob were 12. By so doing he was presenting them as leaders of the People of God which, henceforth universal, from that time has included all the peoples. St Mark tells us that Jesus called the Apostles so “to be with him, and to be sent out” (Mk 3: 14). This seems almost a contradiction in terms. We would say: “Either they stayed with him or they were sent forth and set out on their travels”. Pope St Gregory the Great says a word about angels that helps us resolve this contradiction. He says that angels are always sent out and at the same time are always in God’s presence, and continues, “Wherever they are sent, wherever they go, they always journey on in God’s heart” (Homily, 34, 13). The Book of Revelation described Bishops as “angels” in their Church, so we can state: the Apostles and their successors must always be with the Lord and precisely in this way – wherever they may go – they must always be in communion with him and live by this communion.

The Church is apostolic, because she professes the faith of the Apostles and attempts to live it. There is a unity that marks the Twelve called by the Lord, but there is also continuity in the apostolic mission.

 

2006

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” (Mt 16: 18).

What exactly was the Lord saying to Peter with these words? With them, what promise did he make to Peter and what task did he entrust to him? And what is he saying to us – to the Bishop of Rome, who is seated on the chair of Peter, and to the Church today?

If we want to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words, it is useful to remember that the Gospels recount for us three different situations in which the Lord, each time in a special way, transmits to Peter his future task. The task is always the same, but what the Lord was and is concerned with becomes clearer to us from the diversity of the situations and images used.

In the Gospel according to St Matthew that we have just heard, Peter makes his own confession to Jesus, recognizing him as the Messiah and Son of God. On the basis of this, his special task is conferred upon him though three images: the rock that becomes the foundation or cornerstone, the keys, and the image of binding and loosing.

I do not intend here to interpret once again these three images that the Church down the ages has explained over and over again; rather, I would like to call attention to the geographical place and chronological context of these words.

The promise is made at the sources of the Jordan, on the boundary of the Judaic Land, on the frontiers of the pagan world. The moment of the promise marks a crucial turning-point in Jesus’ journey: the Lord now sets out for Jerusalem and for the first time, he tells the disciples that this journey to the Holy City is the journey to the Cross: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16: 21).

Both these things go together and determine the inner place of the Primacy, indeed, of the Church in general: the Lord is continuously on his way towards the Cross, towards the lowliness of the servant of God, suffering and killed, but at the same time he is also on the way to the immensity of the world in which he precedes us as the Risen One, so that the light of his words and the presence of his love may shine forth in the world; he is on the way so that through him, the Crucified and Risen Christ, God himself, may arrive in the world.

 

Would you like a free book on the thought of Benedict XVI? Click here for more information.

This book is centered on Christ as the center of Pope Benedict’s thought and work as theologian and vocation as Pope.   It seems to me that he is “proposing pope benedict XVIJesus Christ” both to the world and to the Church.  He is about reweaving a tapestry that has been sorely frayed and tattered:

  • Offering the Good News to a broken humanity and a suffering world that in Jesus Christ, all of our yearnings and hopes are fulfilled and all of our sins forgiven.  We don’t know who we are or why we are here. In Christ, we discover why.  But it is more than an intellectual discovery. In Christ – in Christ – we are joined to him, and his love dwells within us, his presence lives and binds us.
  • Re-presenting Jesus Christ even to those of us who are members of the Body already.  This wise, experienced man has seen how Christians fall. How we forget what the point is. How we unconsciously adopt the call of the world to see our faith has nothing more than a worthy choice of an appealing story that gives us a vague hope because it is meaningful.   He is calling us to re-examine our own faith and see how we have been seduced by a view of faith that puts it in the category of “lifestyle choice.”
  • Challenging the modern ethos that separates “faith”  and “spirituality” from “religion” – an appeal that is made not only to non-believers, but to believers as well, believers who stay away from Church, who neglect or scorn religious devotions and practices, who reject the wisdom of the Church –  one cannot have Christ without Church.

 

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An interesting coincidence (or is it???) that the Gospel reading for the Sunday after the Vatican announced that  Mary Magdalenes’ July 22 observance would be raised from a memorial to a feast is that in which we meet her, by name, for the first time.

It is from Luke. The bulk of the Gospel is the end of Luke 7, which tells the story of a nameless woman who enters the Pharisee’s home in which Jesus is dining and, repentant, kisses his feet, cleanses his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair and anoints them with oil.

Jesus points out to the aghast Pharisee that this woman has done what he failed to do – welcome him properly into his home by cleaning the dust of the road off his feet and his head. Of course, the meaning is deeper than that. The Pharisee has failed to welcome Jesus into his life out of pride. The woman, aware of her sinfulness, recognizes Jesus’ power to free her. Her gestures acknowledge who Jesus is, the grace he offers to forgive her and free her from the prison of her sins and how he will do this – through his own suffering. She recognizes, she welcomes, she is changed.

The option is given to tag the first part of chapter 8 onto this reading, and that is the section that specifically mentions Mary Magdalene, as one of a group of women who attach themselves to Jesus and the apostles, women who provide for the group’s needs. She is described as a woman from whom Jesus drove out seven demons. “Seven” is understood as an all-encompassing, consuming number, and so what we learn from this very brief description is that whatever had Mary in its grip, had her completely, and Jesus drove it all away and freed her. Just as completely as she was consumed by demons, she was freed. So of course she would leave her life behind and follow.

The juxtaposition of these narratives has led to an association – that Mary of Luke 8 is the same woman described in the chapter before. Mary Magdalene is also associated with other women in the Gospels – she is thought of as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, or even as the woman caught in adultery in John 7. When you add in the post-Gospel legendary material of both the eastern and western Christian traditions, the confusion builds even more.

So confusing..someone should write a book!
Well, I did – several years ago in the midst of Da Vinci Code fever. OSV published it and gave it the unfortunate title of De-Coding Mary Magdalene. It was unfortunate because it tied the book to DVC, and I felt that its potential value reached far beyond that particular moment, since it was (and I think still is) the only popular Catholic book-length treatment of the saint – who was, incidentally, the most popular saint of the Middle Ages after the Blessed Virgin herself.

It is out of print, but I am working on getting a digital text that I would like to make available at no cost, just as I have with Come Meet Jesus, The Power of the Cross and Mary and the Christian Life. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

In the meantime, take a look at this excerpt

Mary Magdalene was an enormously important figure in early Christianity. She was, after the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most popular saint of the Middle Ages. Her cultus reveals much about medieval views of women, sexuality, sin, and repentance. Today, Mary Magdalene is experiencing a renaissance, not so much from within institutional Christianity, but among people, mostly women, some Christian, many not, who have adopted her as an inspiration and patron of their own spiritual fads, paths, and fantasies.

Mary Magdalene is the patron saint of contemplatives, converts, pharmacists, glove makers, hairdressers, penitent sinners, perfumers, sexual temptation, and women."amy welborn"

This book is a very basic introduction to the facts and the fiction surrounding Mary Magdalene. We’ll unpack what Scripture has to say about her identity and role in apostolic Christianity. We’ll see how, very soon after that apostolic era, she was adopted by a movement that remade her image in support of its own theological agenda, a dynamic we see uncannily and, without irony, repeated today.

We’ll look at the ways in which both Western and Eastern Christianity have described, honored, and been inspired by her, and how their stories about her have diverged. During the Middle Ages in the West, Mary Magdalene’s story functioned most of all as a way to teach Christians about sin and forgiveness: how to be penitent, and with the hope of redemption open to all. She made frequent appearances in religious art, writing, and drama. She inspired many to help women and girls who had turned to prostitution or were simply destitute. She inspired Franciscans and Dominicans in their efforts to preach reform and repentance.

It all sounds very positive, and most of it, indeed, is. That’s not, however, the idea we get from some contemporary commentators on Mary Magdalene’s historical image.

Many of you might have had your interest in the Magdalene piqued by the novel The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. In that novel, Brown, picking up on strains bubbling through pop culture and pseudo-historical writings of the past fifteen years or so, presents a completely different Mary Magdalene than the woman we meet in the Gospels and traditional Christian piety. She was, according to Brown, Jesus’ real choice to lead his movement; a herald of Jesus’ message of the unity of the masculine and feminine aspects of reality; a valiant and revered leader opposed by another faction of Jesus’ apostles led by Peter; the mother of Jesus’ child; and in the end, some sort of divine figure herself. Mary Magdalene is no less than the Holy Grail herself, bearing the “blood” of Jesus in the form of his child.

 

 

….The Magdalene-Spouse-Queen-Goddess-Holy-Grail theories are not serious history, so, frankly, we are not going to bother with them until the final chapter, and then only briefly. What we will be looking at — the history of the person and the imagery of Mary Magdalene — is daunting, rich, and fascinating enough.

The contemporary scholarship on Mary (and, indeed, on much of the history of Christian spirituality and religious practices) is growing so fast and is so rich that all I can do here is simply provide an introduction. A thorough, objective introduction, I hope, but the fact is that the burgeoning scholarship on Mary Magdalene is quite vast, and much of it, particularly that dealing with the medieval period, is not yet available in English. I have provided an annotated bibliography at the end of this book for those readers interested in pursuing this subject in more depth.
Our brief survey will undoubtedly be revealing, as we rediscover how deeply Mary Magdalene has been revered, used, and yes, misused and misunderstood by Christians over the centuries. The story, I hope, will be provocative in the best sense. For the fact is, the greatest interest in Mary Magdalene in the West today comes from those outside of or only nominally attached to the great course of traditional apostolic Christianity. Roman Catholics, in particular, seem to have lost interest in her, as, it must be admitted, they have in most saints.

Lots of people are listening to a Magdalene of their own making, a figure with only the most tentative connection to the St. Mary Magdalene of centuries of traditional Christian witness.

May the story recounted in the book play a part in reclaiming Mary Magdalene, so that we may hear her speak clearly again, as she does in the Gospels: for Jesus Christ, her Risen Lord.

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Busted Halo site on MM.

(This nutty angle on MM will be getting more play in the fall, once again, as for some strange reason, Dan Brown releases a new edition of his book..”for teens.”)

And now let’s get back to the elevation of this memorial.

The designation of special days in the Catholic calendar is complicated. You might be tempted to shrug, “legalism” and wonder why such trouble must be taken to put various celebrations in specific categories, but don’t. When the Church celebrates something, it does so in terms of the Mass readings and prayers and also the readings and prayers of the Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, the cycle of prayers that all religious are bound to pray and that all laity are invited to pray as well. There are thousands of saints and blesseds formally recognized by the Church. There has to be a system for organizing these celebrations and keeping the calendar focused, particularly as these celebrations are observed from people all over the world and also since the calendar moves, as we saw, for example, a couple of months ago when the Feast of the Annunciation fell on Good Friday.

So don’t sneer. That specificity, that attention to that kind of detail is in service to all of us and the Gospel.

Anyway, to get the background on this elevation, read the declaration itself and this commentary from the New Liturgical Movement.commentary from the New Liturgical Movement, which alerts us to the fact that this “new” action circles back around to

Not only is this not a novelty, it is partially a return to the historical practice of the Tridentine Rite. In the Breviary of St Pius V, which predates his Missal by two years (1568), there were only three grades of feasts: Double, Semidouble and Simple. St Mary Magdalene’s feast was a Double, meaning that it had both Vespers, doubled antiphons at the major hours, nine readings at Matins, precedence over common Sundays, and had to be transferred if it were impeded. It is true that later on, as Double feasts were subdivided into four categories, she remained at the lowest of them (along with all the Doctors, inter alios). Nevertheless, the privileges of her liturgical rank did not even begin to be curtailed until late in the reign of Pope Leo XIII, at the end of the 19th century.

As I noted in 2014 in an article about her feast day, the Creed was traditionally said at the Mass of St Mary Magdalene in recognition of that fact that it was she who first announced the Resurrection to the Apostles. (This felicitous custom was removed from the Roman Missal for no discernible reason in 1955.) This is also why she was called “Apostles of the Apostles” in a great many medieval liturgical texts, such as the Benedictus antiphon in her proper Office sung by the Dominicans.

This recognition of Mary Magdalene as an “apostle to the apostles” is not a new invention. As Roche points out, it is ancient, but as he fails to point out, it is a notable characterization of Mary Magdalene in the East.

And now, I’ll carp.

  • The notification is offered to us because this change is something Pope Francis wants. It is by his “express wish” and a means by which he seeks to “underline” some themes.
  • This emphasis on framing the Faith in terms of Pope Francis’ priorities, hopes and dreams is such a huge problem, I can’t tell you. Well, I probably can.
  • The declaration is presented with no acknowledgment of the historical background of Mary Magdalene’s cultus or the shape of her memorial in the liturgy, and therefore comes across as an amazing new thing. This decision, in the current ecclesial context, seeks to reflect more deeply upon the dignity of women, on the new evangelisation and on the greatness of the mystery of God’s Mercy. 
  • The failure to mention the liturgical role of Mary Magdalene in Eastern Christianity is regrettable and narrow.
  • And Roche ends with this: For this reason it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman should have the same rank of Feast as that given to the celebration of the Apostles in the General Roman Calendar and that the special mission of this woman should be underlined, she who is an example and model for all women in the Church. 
  • This is just wretched. Yes, we say, for example, that a certain teen-aged saint is a model for teenagers, or an African is a model and beacon of hope for other Africans, but we say that informally.
  • When we talk about the shape of Catholicism as a whole and how it embodies the saving action of Christ in the world, we do not use gendered or class-bound or ethnically-defined language. Women are invited to contemplate the witness of St. Francis of Assisi. Men are invited to embrace the spirituality of Therese of Lisieux. And so on.

    The amazing, beautiful and absolutely unique thing about Catholicism is how adolescent girl-martyrs, homeless guys, the homebound and in general, people of every ethnicity and age are held up as figures for everyone to look to, honor, pray to and emulate. In what other part of life on this earth do you find Very Rich People financing huge, elaborate edifices to house the bones of kids murdered by worldly powers? Where do you find a spirituality that says – the witness of his homeless fellow, of this woman who spent her life praying in solitude…the freedom they found in Christ? It’s yours, no matter who you are. Be like that homeless guy. Be like that woman. Be like that kid. All of you. Learn from them. Be like them. 

  • So, sure. This is good. But how much more powerful, or at least, less irritating, it would have been if the decision, as expressed, were more firmly and explicitly grounded in the Church’s already rich tradition of devotion to Mary Magdalene, not as an expression of the priorities of Pope Francis, and she was presented as an “example and model” for all people, and not in terms of mildly insulting gesture for the ladies who presumably haven’t figured out from, I don’t know, the entire witness of Catholic tradition..that sharing the Good News is what we, as baptized Christians, are all about.

 

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— 1 —

Halloween!

almost got away without doing pumpkins this year.  I just didn’t mention it, and I also sort of forgot about it, and then Friday evening I started feeling guilty, so I posed the question, “Um…do you all want to carve pumpkins?”

Tragically, they nodded.

So Saturday morning, I set out to see what I could find.  Wal-Mart was all Christmas, with not a pumpkin in sight. Nothing at Aldi. Then I swung by a local super-cut-rate grocery store that I drive by all the time, but have never actually entered – saw a box full of pumpkins outside the door, grabbed three, went inside and found that the store was actually pretty nice. So. There’s that useful discovery.

We don’t have an ample front porch, so someone came up with the genius idea of perching them in this tree-that-should-probably-be-cut-down-before-it-falls-on-my-car.

"amy welborn"

Then trick-or-treating in the rain – one Indiana Jones, one Mayan warrior king.

"amy welborn"

Lots of candy.

Done.

— 2 —

Last Friday, Homeschooled 10-year old and I headed back over to Atlanta. The main objective was a Shakespeare for Kids performance of some iteration of Macbeth.

I had, if not high, then at least not low hopes for this, since I’d been told it was geared to K-5th graders.

Well, when we arrived, they announced from the stage that they were psyched to present this for an intended audience of K-3rd graders. Which was too bad, since most of the audience was definitely older than that.

Oh well. It was amusing, although my 10-year old who saw not one but two productions of Macbeth last year on stage (one at this theater, the other in town at Samford University) was obviously a little insulted at being talked down to in such a manner.

Then afterwards to the Aquarium, which…damn. Why can’t I ever remember that the Georgia Aquarium is really not a good value for the $$$$$$$$$$$$ you pay?  I don’t think I’ll forget now – but remind me in three years when I start thinking we should go again.

(If you are aquarium-hankering in the Southeast, go to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga instead.  It has a lot more exhibits and is far more educational – in a painless way – than that obviously tourist-baiting Georgia place is. Even the Charleston Aquarium is better, I’d say.)

Well, I do like ginormous sea anenomes, so there’s that.

And then some time in Centennial Park.

 "amy welborn"– 3—

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about some of the interesting concerts happening around here – OF COURSE I didn’t make it to any of those (I almost got to the pop-up-opera-at-the-brewery thing but one of my older sons called just as I was circling the block looking for non-existent parking, and so I kept talking to him as I circled and circled…and then finally gave up and went and bought tissues and toilet paper at the Dollar Store.)

But this week I did make it to a performance of a new local early music group called the Highland Consort. 

The performance was free, and held at the Episcopal Church of the Advent downtown.

Gorgeous.

The program was a November-suitable, requiem-ish, All-Souls-reminiscent program of pieces including “When David Heard” by Thomas Tomkins, Burial Sentences from the Book of Common Prayer composed by William Croft, “O Quam gloriosum” by Tomas Luis de Victoria and the Missa pro Defunctis by Eustache du Caurroy. The last was composed in 1590 for the funeral of Henry IV of France and then performed for the next two centuries as the official Requiem for the kings of France. (from the program notes).

highland consort birmingham

It’s super great that now we can fully, active, and consciously participate now and sing Gather Us In instead.

Yay.

— 4 —

There are lots and lots and LOTS of homeschooling blogs and pages and thoughts out there.  You really shouldn’t read too many of them, or else you will end up feeling very badly about yourself.

One of the few exceptions to that rule that I’ve made is the Libertarian Homeschooler – there’s not blog, but “only” a Facebook page, and it’s great.  The posts are well-written and deeply considered, as, you can tell, has been the family’s entire homeschooling experience.  This is the sentence that made me go “yes!” today, related to a search for a perhaps-transitional-to-college-school:

“I think they would do very well but I don’t think I could do it to them. Giving them a superficial glance after we’ve spent so many years digging deep. We have tailored their experiences to meet their interests, needs, and capacities instead of state standards and grade requirements.”

If you want to understand the homeschooling movement, and why it’s taking off, especially in the context of test and achievement-obsessed schools….read this. 

— 5 —

In honor of today, November 5, Guy Fawkes Day…here’s a related book review I wrote ages ago for First Things:

As Hogge traces the slow, agonizing path by which the Jesuits were unjustly implicated in the Gunpowder Plot—a path strewn with seemingly minor decisions like hearing a confession, writing a letter, or delaying a journey—the question of equivocation came to the fore. This was the point at which the government’s case against the Jesuits gained its popular force: the accusation that the Jesuits advised and approved the art of “equivocation,” answering questions in a way that would satisfy interrogators but at the same time preserve interior honesty. Being asked, “Are you a priest?” one could answer “No,” meaning, in one’s own mind, “No, I am not a priest of Zeus.” Equivocation was debated among moral theologians, and Garnet himself wrote a treatise in cautious support of it.

The question, answered equivocally or not, that caused the most problems was one that came to be known as the “Bloody Question”: If the pope were to invade England, whom would you support, the pope or the queen? Over time, the Bloody Question took slightly different forms, but the essence remained the same: Whose side are you on?

The truth was that most English Catholics wanted to be on both sides. They were loyal to their country and their monarch, and they also wanted to practice their religion in peace. In the sixteenth century, this was not thought to be possible, of course, as religious toleration was the ideal of neither Church nor state. But as the decades progressed, it became the last best hope of English Catholics. James I manipulated this hope in his effort to cement his succession—and then dashed it with even fiercer enforcement of the Penal Laws, a frustration and turnabout which ultimately inspired the Gunpowder Plot.

— 6 —

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, who likes Flannery O’Connor and is great for other reasons as well, delivered a brainy speech on religious liberty this evening at Notre Dame. Y’all should read it:

The Church cannot abide quietly while the eclipse of man is presided over by an impoverished temporal order. Thus, the Church understands that the divine mandate to teach includes a service to a society that has shoved aside its own best moments. Put another way, the divine mandate includes a mission to defend the prerogatives of reason, including speculative and contemplative reason. This is a service to reason and to the human person and thus to society, that the Church must, by divine mandate, render. What is needed then, is a robust philosophical discourse fully informed by the theological sources that prevent the reduction of man to product and producer. 

— 7 —

Commercial time!

Advent’s coming! 

Catholic Advent Materials

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

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