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Posts Tagged ‘Be Saints’

— 1 —

Not much reading this week. In fact, I didn’t crack a book open at all.  Yikes.  Traveling, plus a work deadline which occupied me until this morning.  Well, I did start reading Jane Eyre, as promised.  Just got one chapter in before other concerns took over, though. I’ll get back to that, as well as a couple of books I checked out earlier this week, including Copyright Wars: Three Centuries of Trans-Atlantic Battle. It’s a subject that interests me not only as a writer, not only as a Catholic writer who was told she had to get ICEL’s permission to have the text of the Hail Mary and the Our Father in a book (to be fair, the fellow at ICEL’s response was the polite written equivalent of, “Er….sure. Wait, what?”, but also as the former editor of the Loyola Classics series.  One of my responsibilities in that was researching and obtaining permissions, a task I really enjoyed for some odd reason.  Librarian and researcher genes, I guess.

— 2 —

We saw a really excellent production of The Music Man this evening at one of our local theaters."amy welborn" Mostly great cast, including a Harold Hill who echoed Robert Preston rather brilliantly without slavish imitation.  Not that referencing Preston is necessary, but it’s probably a challenge to skirt his influence completely, since the identification between actor and part is so close in this case.  That imbalance between first and second act, though, in which the first act is stuffed full of non-stop great music, while the second act must pause and Do Plot so all can be resolved – it’s in The Music Man and almost every other musical I can think of.  Are there exceptions?

— 3—

It brought back a couple of memories – first, my daughter’s 8th grade class doing a “junior” version of the play (she was one of the Pick-a-Little ladies), and then at some point in middle school, I think, one of my older sons had to learn “Rock Island” for music class – I think all the boys had to do it or something, maybe? I was actually impressed with the assignment. And it’s certainly an improvement over the sight (and sound) of struggling through those high notes in “Both Sides Now,” which is one of my more vivid memories of grade school music class. That and the controversy aroused by having us sing “One Tin Soldier.”  Oh, the 60’s and 70’s. Much controversy.  And honestly, even reconstructing it in my hazy memory makes me laugh.  Imagine a bunch of ten year olds pounding out “Go ahead and hate your neighbor! Go ahead and cheat a friend! Do it the name of Heaven! You can justify it in the end!” Imagine some teacher who thought it was awesome and he was such an brave iconoclast.

People. So crazy.

— 4 —

Speaking of school memories, twice this week I’ve had the chance to share the Fun Fact that in my high school in the 70’s – a Catholic high school in the South – we had a smoking pit.  It was a corner of sidewalk where those of age – mostly seniors  – could smoke.  Of course, for most of us today, it’s difficult to imagine a time in which anyone could smoke indoors in any public space, but the concept of having a sanctioned area for high school students to smoke during school seems especially bizarre, doesn’t it?

Anyone else experience that?

(And no, I never smoked.  My father was a lifelong, heavy smoker, it killed him, and I always hated it.)

— 5 —

I had a strange spike in blog hits today.  I discovered that it was because  Fr. Blake linked to my years-old report of a visit to his parish, a visit I was fortunate enough to make during a longish layover at Gatwick. He offered the link as a response of sorts to a ridiculous, agenda-laden Ship of Fools report on the parish.

— 6 —

Today is one of my days in Living Faith. Look for another on July 5.

— 7 —

Speaking of today – it’s July 3 and the feasts of St. Thomas the Twin.  Speaking of St. Thomas, here’s Pope Emeritus Benedict’s General Audience talk on him from 2006. 

Then, the proverbial scene of the doubting Thomas that occurred eight days after Easter is very well known. At first he did not believe that Jesus had appeared in his absence and said:  “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20: 25).

Basically, from these words emerges the conviction that Jesus can now be recognized by his wounds rather than by his face. Thomas holds that the signs that confirm Jesus’ identity are now above all his wounds, in which he reveals to us how much he loved us. In this the Apostle is not mistaken.

St. Thomas July 3

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Tomorrow (June 27) is the memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria.  Here’s what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said about St. Cyril in his General Audience in 2007:

Cyril’s writings – truly numerous and already widely disseminated in various Latin and Eastern translations in his own lifetime, attested to by their instant success – are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the New and Old Testament Books are important, including those on the entire Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke. Also important are his many doctrinal works, in which the defence of the Trinitarian faith against the Arian and Nestorian theses recurs. The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great Predecessor in the See of Alexandria. Among Cyril’s other writings, the books Against Julian deserve mention. They were the last great response to the anti-Christian controversies, probably dictated by the Bishop of Alexandria in the last years of his life to respond to the work Against the Galileans, composed many years earlier in 363 by the Emperor known as the “Apostate” for having abandoned the Christianity in which he was raised.

The Christian faith is first and foremost the encounter with Jesus, “a Person, which gives life a new horizon” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 1). St Cyril of Alexandria was an unflagging, staunch witness of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, emphasizing above all his unity, as he repeats in 433 in his first letter (PG 77, 228-237) to Bishop Succensus: “Only one is the Son, only one the Lord Jesus Christ, both before the Incarnation and after the Incarnation. Indeed, the Logos born of God the Father was not one Son and the one born of the Blessed Virgin another; but we believe that the very One who was born before the ages was also born according to the flesh and of a woman”. Over and above its doctrinal meaning, this assertion shows that faith in Jesus the Logos born of the Father is firmly rooted in history because, as St Cyril affirms, this same Jesus came in time with his birth from Mary, the Theotò-kos, and in accordance with his promise will always be with us. And this is important: God is eternal, he is born of a woman, and he stays with us every day. In this trust we live, in this trust we find the way for our life.

— 2 —

Cyril was, of course, a theologian, engaged in discourse concerned with theological precision.

We are often told these days that such concerns are nothing but casuistry.  Theology, it is sometimes said or at least implied, is an obstacle to faith.

And it can be.

This is of course, not a new discussion, and is indeed reflective of an authentic dynamic and tension within Christian discourse since….the beginning.

But as anyone with an understanding of what it means to be Catholic in its breadth and depth understands the danger of sweeping generalizations that sweep out one side of the either/or.

Catholicism is the expression of the loving Presence of Jesus Christ in the world. But the human beings Jesus encounters are intelligent, reasonable, and seek to understand.

Precision matters.  As time goes on, the precision might harden, become brittle and lifeless, and finally crack, but that doesn’t mean that the search for the closest words and ideas – even in negation – should be scoffed at or cast aside.  The process is important, and more than that, inevitable.  You can dismiss theological discourse, you can go on and on, talking in a “pastoral” way but do you know what?

Stubbornly, the questions will be raised.

How do you know this?

Where do your words come from?

Who is God?

Why is this a sin, but this not?

Who are you to tell me all about this, anyway?

Son of God? Mother of God? What? 

Questions that deserve answers with language as precise as possible, humble and so aware of the limitations of that language.

But yes, that deserve answers.  Which is what Catholic theology is all about, and what it’s for.

We keep talking, thinking, searching, in faith, aware of our limitations but also aware of who we are as rational beings created in the image of God.

Logos and agape.

Not either, not or.

Both.

— 3 —

Some interesting reading and listening this week.  The listening first.

As I said this past week on Twitter – spend  less time on Facebook this week and listen to some good podcasts instead.  As long time readers know, my favorites are those from BBC Radio 4, particularly In Our Time.  There is simply nothing like it on American radio.  A brisk jaunt through some topic led by Melvyn Bragg and three academics.  It’s very tightly structured, and not a free-for all, but it’s always interesting and disagreements are certainly aired.

It’s also very non-American in that it’s absolutely free from PC cant or snideness when addressing issues of religion.  Historical figures’ religious faith is taken seriously and respectfully.  So refreshing.

— 4 —

This week I listened to an episode on Jane Eyre, which I confess….I’VE NEVER READ.  I have no idea how that happened, since as a teen, I read most of Austen, Hardy and even Middlemarch. 

That said, I think I’ll read it now….probably over this weekend.

The program examined Bronte’s life, particularly as it might have inspired various aspects of the book, her process of writing it, the plot and major themes, its reception and, at the end, its religious themes….as was pointed out, the last word in the novel is “Jesus.”

— 5 —

Next was an episode on the Curies.  I read a children’s biography of Marie Curie as a child and was quite inspired by it (obviously not to be a scientist, but there was a time around 5th grade when I thought I would be a doctor…so, sort of inspired, I guess).

Religion entered the discussion as the differences between Curie’s mother (observant Catholic) and father (atheist scientist) were touched on and brought back into play in the later French context.  Good discussion of the family dynamics, especially after Pierre’s death, and a clarifying section on Marie’s scientific achievements and the distinction between her chemistry and physics Nobel prizes. 

— 6 —

Speaking of 19th century women, over the past couple of days, I read a very good book called Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice Nimura.   It’s a very well-told history of five young Japanese women (really girls – ranging in age from 7 to young teens) who were sent from Japan to the United States to live and study in 1871.  Two returned fairly soon, but the three who remained ended up studying at Vassar and Bryn Mawr, Daughters of the Samuraiand each, in her own way, eventually made tremendous contributions to the cause of the education of Japanese women.

The author was blessed with fantastic resources – the women were faithful correspondents, some of which has been published, the American and eventually Japanese press covered various aspects of their lives, and they made speeches and wrote articles. 

Through the prism of these women’s lives, we learn quite a bit about late 19th century Japanese history and the sense that women in both countries had of themselves.

— 7 —

And once again….religion. And again, religion treated respectfully and honestly, since Christian faith motivated many of the women’s American benefactors, and one of the Japanese women converted to Christianity herself.  What is clear is something that anyone who has studied the history of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity both in the context of Europe and in its encounters with other non-European cultures:

Christianity elevates the status of women. And it was understood to do so.

This is one of the rarely-discussed reasons that Christianity was resisted in some traditional patriarchal cultures.  It was a profound motivator, especially for female Protestant missionaries. Everything happens within a particular context, of course.   The Japanese women of Nimura’s tale had, in our view, a “limited” understanding of what education should accomplish, and expressed

dissatisfaction with later more “radical” (in the 1910’s!) visions being expressed by younger women.  But in their own time, their work on behalf of women’s education was certainly radical in and of itself.

A really enjoyable, rich read.

 As I was pouring over this book last night, I was thinking about why historical fiction doesn’t interest me. I mean…the minute I pick up a novel and see that it has a real historical figure at its center, I lose interest. (Not necessarily events, of course, just a novel built around a particular real person.) I think part of that is because historians today have access to such rich sources, they can put their hand to it and pull out a narrative that’s as intriguing as any novel – more so.

(That said, I also resisted history that embroiders in any way – that sets up scenes not derived directly from sources or enters an historical figure’s mind. Hate that.  I thought there might be a bit of that at  the beginning of this book, but turning to the notes, I saw that she pulled the scenes I was questioning directly from correspondence. )

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

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From Be Saints!

I also have a chapter of St. Thomas More in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.

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Today is his feastday!

First, a General Audience from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from 2011:

It is only the prayerful soul that can progress in spiritual life: this is the privileged object of St Anthony’s preaching. He is thoroughly familiar with the shortcomings of human nature, with our tendency to lapse into sin, which is why he continuously urges us to fight the inclination to avidity, pride and impurity; instead of practising the virtues of poverty and generosity, of humility and obedience, of chastity and of purity. At the beginning of the 13th century, in the context of the rebirth of the city and the flourishing of trade, the number of people who were insensitive to the needs of the poor increased. This is why on various occasions Anthony invites the faithful to think of the true riches, those of the heart, which make people good and merciful and permit them to lay up treasure in Heaven. “O rich people”, he urged them, “befriend… the poor, welcome them into your homes: it will subsequently be they who receive you in the eternal tabernacles in which is the beauty of peace, the confidence of security and the opulent tranquillity of eternal satiety” (ibid., p. 29).

Is not this, dear friends, perhaps a very important teaching today too, when the financial crisis and serious economic inequalities impoverish many people and create conditions of poverty? In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate I recall: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred” (n. 45).

Anthony, in the school of Francis, always put Christ at the centre of his life and thinking, of his action and of his preaching. This is another characteristic feature of Franciscan theology: Christocentrism. Franciscan theology willingly contemplates and invites others to contemplate the mysteries of the Lord’s humanity, the man Jesus, and in a special way the mystery of the Nativity: God who made himself a Child and gave himself into our hands, a mystery that gives rise to sentiments of love and gratitude for divine goodness.

Not only the Nativity, a central point of Christ’s love for humanity, but also the vision of the Crucified One inspired in Anthony thoughts of gratitude to God and esteem for the dignity of the human person, so that all believers and non-believers might find in the Crucified One and in his image a life-enriching meaning. St Anthony writes: “Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are…. Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).

In meditating on these words we are better able to understand the importance of the image of the Crucified One for our culture, for our humanity that is born from the Christian faith. Precisely by looking at the Crucified One we see, as St Anthony says, how great are the dignity and worth of the human being. At no other point can we understand how much the human person is worth, precisely because God makes us so important, considers us so important that, in his opinion, we are worthy of his suffering; thus all human dignity appears in the mirror of the Crucified One and our gazing upon him is ever a source of acknowledgement of human dignity.

Dear friends, may Anthony of Padua, so widely venerated by the faithful, intercede for the whole Church and especially for those who are dedicated to preaching; let us pray the Lord that he will help us learn a little of this art from St Anthony. May preachers, drawing inspiration from his example, be effective in their communication by taking pains to combine solid and sound doctrine with sincere and fervent devotion. In this Year for Priests, let us pray that priests and deacons will carry out with concern this ministry of the proclamation of the word of God, making it timely for the faithful, especially through liturgical homilies. May they effectively present the eternal beauty of Christ, just as Anthony recommended: “If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if you read of him he will satifsfy your intellect” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, p. 59).

Secondly, for children, an excerpt from my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

Then one day something happened that was almost as strange as the ship wandering off course. There was a large meeting of Franciscans and Dominicans, but oddly enough, the plans for who would give the sermon at the meeting fell through. There were plenty of fine preachers present, but none of them were prepared.

"amy welborn"Those in charge of the meeting went down the line of friars. “Would you care to give the sermon, Brother? No? What about you, Father? No? Well, what about you, Fr. Anthony—is that your name?”

Slowly, Anthony rose, and just as slowly, he began to speak. The other friars sat up to listen. There was something very special about Anthony. He didn’t use complicated language, but his holiness and love for God shone through his words. He was one of the best preachers they had ever heard!

From that point on, Anthony’s quiet life in the hospital kitchen was over. For the rest of his life, he traveled around Italy and France, preaching sermons in churches and town squares to people who came from miles around.

His listeners heard Anthony speak about how important it is for us to live every day in God’s presence. As a result of his words, hundreds of people changed their lives and bad habits, bringing Jesus back into their hearts.

Next, some photos of the huge Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua from our trip in 2012.

(I’m guessing there were no photos allowed inside…since I don’t have any of the interior)

(Sigh. I loved Padua -it is one of those mid-sized Italian cities that I find tremendously appealing – a vibrant, sophisticated interesting buzz around the carefully, but not fussily maintained medieval core. I could live there. Maybe, someday, I will!)

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From Pope Emeritus Benedict’s words on the feast over the years:

2009

The heart of God burns with compassion!  On today’s solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus the Church presents us this mystery for our contemplation: the mystery of the heart of a God who feels compassion and who bestows all his love upon humanity.  A mysterious love, which in the texts of the New Testament is revealed to us as God’s boundless and passionate love for mankind.  God does not lose heart in the face of ingratitude or rejection by the people he has chosen; rather, with infinite mercy he sends his only-begotten Son into the world to take upon himself the fate of a shattered love, so that by defeating the power of evil and death he could restore to human beings enslaved by sin their dignity as sons and daughters. 

2005:

Last Friday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion that is deeply rooted in the Christian people. In biblical language, “heart” indicates the centre of the person where his sentiments and intentions dwell. In the Heart of the Redeemer we adore God’s love for humanity, his will for universal salvation, his infinite mercy.

Practising devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ therefore means adoring that Heart which, after having loved us to the end, was pierced by a spear and from high on the Cross poured out blood and water, an inexhaustible source of new life.

2006:

This Sunday, the 12th in Ordinary Time, is as though “surrounded” by significant liturgical solemnities. Last Friday we celebrated the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an event that felicitously unites this popular devotion with theological depth. It was traditional – and in some countries, still is – to consecrate families to the Sacred Heart, whose image they would keep in their homes.

The devotion is rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation; it is precisely through the Heart of Jesus that the Love of God for humanity is sublimely manifested.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is why authentic devotion to the Sacred Heart has retained all its effectiveness and especially attracts souls thirsting for God’s mercy who find in it the inexhaustible source from which to draw the water of Life that can irrigate the deserts of the soul and make hope flourish anew. The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is also the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests:  I take the opportunity to invite all of you, dear brothers and sisters, to pray for priests always, so that they will be effective witnesses of Christ’s love.

2008:

On this Sunday, which coincides with the beginning of June, I am pleased to recall that this month is traditionally dedicated to the Heart of Christ, symbol of the Christian faith, particularly dear to the people, to mystics and theologians because it expresses in a simple and authentic way the “good news” of love, compendium of the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption. Last Friday, after the Most Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the third and last feast following Eastertide. This sequence calls to mind a movement toward the centre: a movement of the spirit which God himself guides. In fact, from the infinite horizon of his love, God wished to enter into the limits of human history and the human condition. He took on a body and a heart. Thus, we can contemplate and encounter the infinite in the finite, the invisible and ineffable Mystery in the human Heart of Jesus, the Nazarene. In my first Encyclical on the theme of love, the point of departure was exactly “contemplating the pierced side of Christ”, which John speaks of in his Gospel (cf. 19: 37; Deus Caritas Est, n. 12). And this centre of faith is also the font of hope in which we have been saved, the hope that I made the object of my second Encyclical.

Every person needs a “centre” for his own life, a source of truth and goodness to draw from in the daily events, in the different situations and in the toil of daily life. Every one of us, when he/she pauses in silence, needs to feel not only his/her own heartbeat, but deeper still, the beating of a trustworthy presence, perceptible with faith’s senses and yet much more real: the presence of Christ, the heart of the world. Therefore, I invite each one of you to renew in the month of June his/her own devotion to the Heart of Christ, also using the traditional prayer of the daily offering and keeping present the intentions I have proposed for the whole Church.

2010:

Finally, let us take a brief look at the two communion antiphons which the Church offers us in her liturgy today. First there are the words with which Saint John concludes the account of Jesus’ crucifixion: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out” (Jn 19:34). The heart of Jesus is pierced by the spear. Once opened, it becomes a fountain: the water and the blood which stream forth recall the two fundamental sacraments by which the Church lives: Baptism and the Eucharist. From the Lord’s pierced side, from his open heart, there springs the living fountain which continues to well up over the centuries and which makes the Church. The open heart is the source of a new stream of life; here John was certainly also thinking of the prophecy of Ezechiel who saw flowing forth from the new temple a torrent bestowing fruitfulness and life (Ez 47): Jesus himself is the new temple, and his open heart is the source of a stream of new life which is communicated to us in Baptism and the Eucharist.

The liturgy of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus also permits another phrase, similar to this, to be used as the communion antiphon. It is taken from the Gospel of John: Whoever is thirsty, let him come to me. And let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said: “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (cf. Jn 7:37ff.) In faith we drink, so to speak, of the living water of God’s Word. In this way the believer himself becomes a wellspring which gives living water to the parched earth of history. We see this in the saints. We see this in Mary, that great woman of faith and love who has become in every generation a wellspring of faith, love and life. Every Christian and every priest should become, starting from Christ, a wellspring which gives life to others. We ought to be offering life-giving water to a parched and thirst world. Lord, we thank you because for our sake you opened your heart; because in your death and in your resurrection you became the source of life. Give us life, make us live from you as our source, and grant that we too may be sources, wellsprings capable of bestowing the water of life in our time. We thank you for the grace of the priestly ministry. Lord bless us, and bless all those who in our time are thirsty and continue to seek. Amen.

Bonus!

In 1956, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical called Harietis Aquas about the Devotion to the Sacred Heart.  You can find it here. 

In 2006, Benedict XVI issued a letter on the 50th anniversary of this encyclical:

When we practise this devotion, not only do we recognize God’s love with gratitude but we continue to open ourselves to this love so that our lives are ever more closely patterned upon it. God, who poured out his love “into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (cf. Rom 5: 5), invites us tirelessly to accept his love. The main aim of the invitation to give ourselves entirely to the saving love of Christ and to consecrate ourselves to it (cf. Haurietis Aquas, n. 4) is, consequently, to bring about our relationship with God.

This explains why the devotion, which is totally oriented to the love of God who sacrificed himself for us, has an irreplaceable importance for our faith and for our life in love.

Whoever inwardly accepts God is moulded by him. The experience of God’s love should be lived by men and women as a “calling” to which they must respond. Fixing our gaze on the Lord, who “took our infirmities and bore our diseases” (Mt 8: 17), helps us to become more attentive to the suffering and need of others.

Adoring contemplation of the side pierced by the spear makes us sensitive to God’s salvific will. It enables us to entrust ourselves to his saving and merciful love, and at the same time strengthens us in the desire to take part in his work of salvation, becoming his instruments.

The gifts received from the open side, from which “blood and water” flowed (cf. Jn 19: 34), ensure that our lives will also become for others a source from which “rivers of living water” flow (Jn 7: 38; cf. Deus Caritas Est, n. 7).

The experience of love, brought by the devotion to the pierced side of the Redeemer, protects us from the risk of withdrawing into ourselves and makes us readier to live for others. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (I Jn 3: 16; cf. Haurietis Aquas, n. 38).

It was only the experience that God first gave us his love that has enabled us to respond to his commandment of love (cf. Deus Caritas Est, n. 17).

So it is that the cult of love, which becomes visible in the mystery of the Cross presented anew in every celebration of the Eucharist, lays the foundations of our capacity to love and to make a gift of ourselves (cf. Haurietis Aquas, n. 69), becoming instruments in Christ’s hands:  only in this way can we be credible proclaimers of his love.

However, this opening of ourselves to God’s will must be renewed in every moment:  “Love is never “finished’ and complete” (cf. Deus Caritas Est, n. 17).

Thus, looking at the “side pierced by the spear” from which shines forth God’s boundless desire for our salvation cannot be considered a transitory form of worship or devotion:  the adoration of God’s love, whose historical and devotional expression is found in the symbol of the “pierced heart”, remains indispensable for a living relationship with God

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— 1 —

Tomorrow’s St. Anthony of Padua’s feast day – check out the entry I wrote on St. Anthony in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints here at the Loyola website.  It’s like a free trial!

"amy welborn"

St. Anthony’s Basilica in Padua.  Fall 2012.

— 2 —

Today, youngest son and I took a brief afternoon journey to a small town about 20 miles south of here.  There was an easy walking trail I’d heard about, and we had business on the south end of Birmingham, so we’d do a loop of sorts.

The trail was short and flat and developed, but it ran next to and around a creek, so that was nice. What was even better was that we saw:

  • a beaver working on his dam. From a distance, but no doubt that’s who it was and what he was doing.
  • a rabbit swimming across the creek.

Wait, what?  That’s what we said.  But it was unmistakably, a rabbit, who hopped out of the woods on one side, dove in and swam steadily across to the other. Who knew?

Well, lots of people probably, since it was, I’d assume, a swamp rabbit – the largest rabbit species in the Southeast and, as I remembered later, responsible for dragging Jimmy Carter down even further back in 1979.

"amy welborn"

— 3 —

So there was that, and various small fish and a very large beetle, mimosas, reminders of the grist mill that once stood in the area, and very many bugs. It was a good walk, giving us a chance to see and learn of a few new things.

Before heading back north, we stopped at a new (to us) gourmet popsicle shop called Frios (similar to Birmingham’s own Steel City Pops) – my son had a salted caramel and I had a fantastic spicy pineapple.  The fellow in the shop said, after hearing where we were from, “That’s a long way to come to take a walk.”  I said, not really. It’s a new place, and we like to go new places and see new things.

Like swamp rabbits.

What we would have missed by just sitting around the house….

"amy welborn"

— 4 —

We watched Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman last night.  The ten-year old enjoyed it – especially the scenes with the monkey, not surprisingly.  There’s also a lengthy scene in the “Municipal Plunge” – an indoor swimming pool – which was interesting to me partly because I’m always studying this kind of stuff in movies from an historical perspective – to see how men and women dressed and interacted in such venues almost ninety years ago.  Anyway, in that scene, Keaton must cope with the awkwardness of losing his swimming trunks, and my son remarked, “You know, when they have a swimming pool scene in a movie, that always happens.  Always.” 

(Pro-tip, if you have cable.  About once a month, if I think about it, I go through a couple of weeks’ worth of the Turner Classic Movies schedule, and DVR the heck out of it. At any given time, we have about twenty good movies on tap. I do the same with nature shows.)

— 5 —

I don’t believe related the chipmunk story.

About three days before we left for the Wild West Trip, I awoke one morning to the sounds of scratching on a screen.  I am functionally blind without my contacts, so I couldn’t see across the room to the source of the sound, which kept on coming from the direction of an almost wall-length set of transom windows (50’s house) about over five feet from the floor.  The scratches kept coming.  I thought perhaps a bird was outside, or had started to nest out there..or something. I put in my contacts.

There was a chipmunk sitting on the ledge of the window.

Inside. 

My room.

When my mother was a little younger than I am now, she was bitten by a chipmunk.  We were looking at what would become our family’s own 50’s era home in Knoxville at the time. She peered into a trash can outside, and saw a chipmunk stranded at the bottom.  Why she didn’t just tip the can over and let it out, I’ll never know.  But instead, she reached down to rescue it by hand, and of course the terrified thing bit her.

And didn’t let go.

They had to put a lighted match to its nose to make it release her finger, but done in a way that it could immediately be trapped in some sort of container and taken to the hospital and tested for rabies.

(Which it didn’t have.)

And here I was, forty years later, confronting yet another chipmunk in another mid-century home. At eye level this time, though.

What to do?

First I tried to shoo it into a trash can (wait…..), but it just leapt off the ledge, used my desk chair as a spring board, and then took off out of my room.

I’m almost certain I saw it race into the first open door available, which would have been the hall closet – the boys’ bedroom doors were already closed, so no worries there.

When the boys woke up, I told them about it, and they immediately exchanged meaningful glances, the younger triumphant, the older one huffily abashed.

“I TOLD YOU I SAW A CHIPMUNK!” 

It seems the day before, the younger son had sworn that a chipmunk had jumped out from among a jumble of books on his bedroom floor.  He told his brother, but his brother scoffed and said it must have been a bug or he was seeing things.

So the next thing was to try to get it out.  Since I was sure it was in the closet, we set up an elaborate walled pathway that would lead from the closet to the back patio door.

(We discussed just putting the snake in there for a day, but ultimately decided against it.)

The moment came.  I pushed the door open, we braced ourselves…..

Nothing.

I poked around the closet with a broom handle, pushed blankets aside…nothing. I removed everything from the closet…nothing.

As I said, this was a couple of days before our trip, so since I wasn’t going to spend any more time searching, we just had to trust that it had escaped some other way, and that we wouldn’t return to the stench of death upon our return.

(We didn’t.)

— 6 —

As I wrote earlier, my younger son and I went to Atlanta this past week.  I forgot to post this photo, which is of an art installation on the first floor of the museum, viewed from the winding stairwell. It’s called “Utah Sky,” after the name of the paint color of the sky, and it’s Asian-inspired, but it reminds me of my beloved Mexican oilcloth more than anything.

amy welborn

— 7 —

Current reads:

Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians

The Wapshot Chronicle.

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(or Ephraim or Ephream)

One of today’s optional memorials.

From Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s lengthy General Audience series on great figures in Christianity. November 28, 2007.

Common opinion today supposes Christianity to be a European religion which subsequently exported the culture of this Continent to other countries. But the reality is far more complex since the roots of the Christian religion are found in the Old Testament, hence, in Jerusalem and the Semitic world. Christianity is still nourished by these Old Testament roots. Furthermore, its expansion in the first centuries was both towards the West – towards the Greco-Latin world, where it later inspired European culture – and in the direction of the East, as far as Persia and India. It St_Ephraim_The_Syrianthus contributed to creating a specific culture in Semitic languages with an identity of its own. To demonstrate this cultural pluralism of the one Christian faith in its origins, I spoke in my Catechesis last Wednesday of a representative of this other Christianity who is almost unknown to us: Aphraates, the Persian sage. Today, along the same lines, I would like to talk about St Ephrem the Syrian, who was born into a Christian family in Nisibis in about 306 A.D. He was Christianity’s most important Syriac-speaking representative and uniquely succeeded in reconciling the vocations of theologian and poet. He was educated and grew up beside James, Bishop of Nisibis (303-338), and with him founded the theological school in his city. He was ordained a deacon and was intensely active in local Christian community life until 363, the year when Nisibis fell into Persian hands. Ephrem then emigrated to Edessa, where he continued his activity as a preacher. He died in this city in 373, a victim of the disease he contracted while caring for those infected with the plague. It is not known for certain whether he was a monk, but we can be sure in any case that he remained a deacon throughout his life and embraced virginity and poverty. Thus, the common and fundamental Christian identity appears in the specificity of his own cultural expression: faith, hope – the hope which makes it possible to live poor and chaste in this world, placing every expectation in the Lord – and lastly, charity, to the point of giving his life through nursing those sick with the plague.

St Ephrem has left us an important theological inheritance. His substantial opus can be divided into four categories: works written in ordinary prose (his polemic works or biblical commentaries); works written in poetic prose; homilies in verse; and lastly, hymns, undoubtedly Ephrem’s most abundant production. He is a rich and interesting author in many ways, but especially from the theological point of view. It is the fact that theology and poetry converge in his work which makes it so special. If we desire to approach his doctrine, we must insist on this from the outset: namely, on the fact that he produces theology in poetical form. Poetry enabled him to deepen his theological reflection through paradoxes and images. At the same time, his theology became liturgy, became music; indeed, he was a great composer, a musician. Theology, reflection on the faith, poetry, song and praise of God go together; and it is precisely in this liturgical character that the divine truth emerges clearly in Ephrem’s theology. In his search for God, in his theological activity, he employed the way of paradoxes and symbols. He made ample use of contrasting images because they served to emphasize the mystery of God.

He continues, giving examples of Ephrem’s works, then concludes:

The figure of Ephrem is still absolutely timely for the life of the various Christian Churches. We discover him in the first place as a theologian who reflects poetically, on the basis of Holy Scripture, on the mystery of man’s redemption brought about by Christ, the Word of God incarnate. His is a theological reflection expressed in images and symbols taken from nature, daily life and the Bible. Ephrem gives his poetry and liturgical hymns a didactic and catechetical character: they are theological hymns yet at the same time suitable for recitation or liturgical song. On the occasion of liturgical feasts, Ephrem made use of these hymns to spread Church doctrine. Time has proven them to be an extremely effective catechetical instrument for the Christian community.

Ephrem’s reflection on the theme of God the Creator is important: nothing in creation is isolated and the world, next to Sacred Scripture, is a Bible of God. By using his freedom wrongly, man upsets the cosmic order. The role of women was important to Ephrem. The way he spoke of them was always inspired with sensitivity and respect: the dwelling place of Jesus in Mary’s womb greatly increased women’s dignity. Ephrem held that just as there is no Redemption without Jesus, there is no Incarnation without Mary. The divine and human dimensions of the mystery of our redemption can already be found in Ephrem’s texts; poetically and with fundamentally scriptural images, he anticipated the theological background and in some way the very language of the great Christological definitions of the fifth-century Councils.

Ephrem, honoured by Christian tradition with the title “Harp of the Holy Spirit”, remained a deacon of the Church throughout his life. It was a crucial and emblematic decision: he was a deacon, a servant, in his liturgical ministry, and more radically, in his love for Christ, whose praises he sang in an unparalleled way, and also in his love for his brethren, whom he introduced with rare skill to the knowledge of divine Revelation.

Links to the writings of St. Ephrem.

Image source.

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