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A little over a week ago in Madrid, we happened upon an exhibit in honor of the 500th birthday of St. Teresa of Jesus.

It was at the Biblioteca Nacional - the national library of Spain.  The excellent National Archaeological Museum is located on the other side of the building.

Here’s a nice, short video on the exhibitions’ set-up:

It was absolutely lovely.  All the placards were in Spanish, but as far as I could tell, the presentation was straightforward, without revisionary or contemporary diversions. It features lovely statuary and paintings, and lots and lots of editions of her work, including manuscripts written in her own hand.  I was overwhelmed.

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

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Featuring real Carmelites checking out the exhibit.

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Read St. Teresa herself…not necessarily what others say about her…but more on that later.

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Today, March 28, is her birthday.  Let’s begin with some reflections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

It is far from easy to sum up in a few words Teresa’s profound and articulate spirituality. I would like to mention a few essential points. 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. Then we should not forget the human virtues: affability, truthfulness, modesty, courtesy, cheerfulness, culture.

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, "amy welborn"loves us” (Vida 8, 5). St Teresa’s idea coincides with Thomas Aquinas’ definition of theological charity as “amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum”, a type of human friendship with God, who offered humanity his friendship first; it is from God that the initiative comes (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II, 23, 1).

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.

Rather than a pedagogy Teresa’s is a true “mystagogy” of prayer: she teaches those who read her works how to pray by praying with them. Indeed, she often interrupts her account or exposition with a prayerful outburst.

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.

She reformed the Carmelite Order with the intention of serving and defending the “Holy Roman Catholic Church”, and was willing to give her life for the Church (cf. Vida, 33,5).

A final essential aspect of Teresian doctrine which I would like to emphasize is perfection, as the aspiration of the whole of Christian life and as its ultimate goal. The Saint has a very clear idea of the “fullness” of Christ, relived by the Christian. At the end of the route through The Interior Castle, in the last “room”, Teresa describes this fullness, achieved in the indwelling of the Trinity, in union with Christ through the mystery of his humanity.

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.

And on a completely…er..different level, you can access my chapter on St. Teresa from The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints here. 

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I have a lot of copies of the picture books on hand:

Bambinelli Sunday (thinking ahead!)

Adventures in Assisi

Friendship with Jesus

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At this point, I still have copies that will be signed by both illustrator Ann Engelhart and me.  

Let me say a word in support of the last two books. Potential purchasers and gift-givers might be hesitating to purchase these books because they feature, not the current Pope, but Pope Emeritus Benedict, and hence seem dated.

They’re not!

The content is simply the words of Benedict – in the case of Be Saints  – interspersed with quotes from saints – go to the link to see sample pages  – explaining the Eucharist or holiness.  The illustrations center on contemporary children doing things children do – playing, learning, praying.

So take a look!

Also, if you would are interested in buying any of these books in bulk, email me and we can talk about special pricing.

(Also…new Catholic gift? Confirmation? Mother’s Day?)

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— 1 —

Traveling is so odd.  You go, you see places that you will probably never see again, and you walk in strange places.   A completely different experience of the world becomes a part of your experience, your worldview, your frame of mind.

And then you come back, and it’s as if you never left, and what happened a week ago floats somewhere between the distant past and a dream.

But it’s all still there, in your head, in your life.

Bigger now.

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— 2 —

We’re back, but we don’t stay still.  We returned Monday night, the 13-year old went back to school on Tuesday, the 10-year old did a bit of school, had his homeschool boxing session, then they both had server practice for the Triduum in the afternoon. Wednesday, the 10-year old and I took a walk on a trail that’s not too far from my house but, I’m ashamed to say, I’d never even heard of before this week: The Irondale Furnace trail.

There’s a bit of a ruin along the trail, the ruin of an iron..processing? furnace, which was a part of a 2,000 acre mining and processing property that was burned up by the Yankees in 1863, rebuilt after the Civil War and used for about 15 years.  And now it’s a wall, a trail along a creek surrounded by a lot of high-end homes.

Talk about the distant past and dreams….

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— 3 —

Today, we went up 59 towards Gadsden to Tigers for Tomorrow. It’s a refuge for rescued animals, mostly cats, but also a few bears, wolves, and even some cavy.  I’d heard about it, and had been meaning to go for ages, but they are generally only open to the general public on weekends. But when Michael, still on Europe time, popped up awake super early, I decided we needed to go somewhere.  I looked this up and saw that they were doing some special Spring Break tours during weekdays, and for a reduced price, so we jumped in the car and drove up.

It was quite educational for both of us, and offered food for thought on issues related not only to endangered animals, but also animals in captivity and the relationship between animals and human beings.

(The animals come mostly from zoos, other refuges that close, and from people who had attempted to keep wild animals as pets. Always a grand idea.)

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— 4 —

We went to Mass on two Sundays in Spain.  Both had congregations of about thirty in attendance, minimal music,  fairly perfunctory ritual and (I just happened to notice) in both the Apostles’ Creed, not the Nicene was prayed.

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We just peaked into this church on the way to the museum on Sunday…don’t remember what it was.

— 5 —

Speaking of churches and such….check out this post from the New Liturgical Movement on veiling statues during Passiontide…two Birmingham churches are in the mix.

— 6 —

I did something new on this trip: I rented our apartment through AirBNB, and I was very pleased with the experience.

In previous trips both to Europe and in the US, I’ve rented via VRBO and just independently through owners and managers. I’ve never had a bad experience with any stay  – except that one time in Sicily, but that wasn’t an apartment, it was a B & B, sort of, and I violated by policy of not renting when there were no reviews, so it was pretty much my own fault, and in retrospect…the whole thing was pretty wacky.

With the apartments, everything has been fine, but I’ll say that the Airbnb process strikes me as a level above what I’ve previously experienced.  The owner/ manager has a full profile and reviews – and the profile is more substantive than the minimal VRBO profile.  If he or she has used Airbnb as a traveler, the reviews of those places are posted as well. You, as a renter have to provide enough information to prove that you do, indeed, exist as well, and the owner is given an opportunity to review you as well, sort of like Uber.

I understand there are issues with the growing business of vacation rentals. I’ve read of people essentially buying out entire apartment buildings and transforming them into Airbnb properties, which isn’t right, because you’re then running a hotel without having to abide by appropriate regulations and taxation requirements.  If I lived somewhere and my neighborhood was slowly but surely turning into party central because of vacation rentals, I’d be upset.

But. All I’m saying is that the process of renting through Airbnb gave me an added sense of security above what I’d experienced with VRBO or independently, and I will definitely use them again!

(One of my older sons had used Airbnb the week before our trip, and had similar observations about the process. He was pleased.)

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Some teachers give homework over spring break….

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…but the nice ones don’t.

— 7 —

Do you want books for Easter gifts? For First Communion? For a new Catholic?

Got it!

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

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Happy Feast!

"amy welborn"A couple of related books..

How about a free e-book? Try out the digital version of my book Mary and the Christian Life. It’s available here.

(Other free e-book versions of our out of print books are The Power of the Cross here and my book on the Christocentric thought of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Come Meet Jesus) 

Also, since the Annunciation is a Joyful Mystery of the Rosary….why not check out this book on the rosary? 

If you have someone you know coming into the Church at Easter, you might check out the How to Book of the Mass, here. 

Holy Week is next week….if you’d like to do some intense Scripture study, you still have time to get the Kindle version of one of my contributions to the Loyola 6 Weeks with the Bible series: Matthew 26-28: Jesus’ Life-Giving Death. 

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From The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

How do you teach a classroom that’s as big as a whole country? How do you teach a whole country about God?

St. Patrick’s classroom was the whole country of Ireland and his lesson was the good news of Jesus Christ. How in the world did he do it? Well, it was only possible because he depended totally on God.

….

God gave Patrick the courage to speak, even when Patrick was in danger of being hurt by pagan priests who didn’t want to lose their power over the people.

Patrick’s most famous prayer shows us how close he was to God. It’s called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” A breastplate is the piece of armor that protects a soldier’s heart from harm.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.

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  • We finally moved past that last chapter – on logic – in Beast Academy 4B4C arrived and we are now comfortably sorting through divisibility rules, with factorization on the horizon today.
  • We’re tracking well with the release of new volumes in the Beast Academy series. If they keep up the present pace,  M should finish up 5D right on time to begin the Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra in 6th grade.  That sounds early, but it’s the way the program is being planned, and having worked through the AOPS pre-Algebra with my older son, I can see how the foundations are being laid in Beast Academy, and very well.
  • Speaking of Beast Academy – it’s alluded to in this excellent article from Wired about techies homeschooling their kids. 

And yet the boys were focused on what I soon learned were math workbooks—prealgebra for Parker, a collection of monster-themed word problems for Simon.

The Cook boys are homeschooled, have been ever since their parents opted not to put them in kindergarten. Samantha’s husband Chris never liked school himself; as a boy, he preferred fiddling on his dad’s IBM PC to sitting in a classroom. After three attempts at college, he found himself unable to care about required classes like organic chemistry and dropped out to pursue a career in computers. It paid off; today he is the lead systems administrator at Pandora. Samantha is similarly independent-minded—she blogs about feminism, parenting, art technology, and education reform and has started a network of hackerspaces for kids. So when it came time to educate their own children, they weren’t in any hurry to slot them into a traditional school.

“The world is changing. It’s looking for people who are creative and entrepreneurial, and that’s not going to happen in a system that tells kids what to do all day,” Samantha says. “So how do you do that? Well if the system won’t allow it, as the saying goes: If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

  • A bit on prayer, and I’ll go a little off-topic here.  As I’ve said, the basics of our daily prayer are a mash-up of daily Mass readings and Morning Prayer and maybe the Office of Readings if it’s understandable in any way to a 10-year old.  We use Universalis most of the time, and Magnificat when I can find our copy.  I have written many times, even in book form, in defense and promotion of centering one’s prayer life around the prayer of the Church in whatever way one can. As Flannery O’Connor said as she was recommending A Short Breviary to a correspondent,  “So many prayer books are so awful, but if you stick with the liturgy, you are safe”
  • So while our solipsism and self-centeredness tempts us to put ourselves first when we pray and to fashion our prayer around our own perceived needs, centering ourselves on the prayer of the Church, we are forced, first of all, into the proper stance for prayer which – as Jesus teaches us when he’s asked how to pray – puts worship of God first in our hearts and on our tongue.  Secondly, our prayer for ourselves and others are directed in ways that we might not consider, but probably need, and in ways that plant seeds for the day:
Help us to keep your commandments;
  so that through your Holy Spirit we may dwell in you, and you in us.
– You are our Saviour and our God.
Everlasting Wisdom, come to us:
  dwell with us and work in us today.
– You are our Saviour and our God.
Help us to be considerate and kind;
  grant that we may bring joy, not pain, to those we meet.
– You are our Saviour and our God.
  • If I were running a Catholic school, I would immediately ditch every prayer source that’s “written for kids” and especially those that are written by kids…and immerse them in this, every day.
  • (I am not sure how my list dots are getting messed up, but I’m in too much of a hurry to fix it. Sorry.)
  • Since Genesis 1 was started yesterday for the Mass readings, that became the focus of religion instruction. Today, more of that, plus St. Scholastica and her brother.
  • Science: I wanted to write a whole post about science instruction and explorations, but that’s probably not going to happen.  So for now, I’ll just say that we’re using a regular 4th grade science textbook and workbook as a “spine” – (as they say in homeschooling) and just enriching and experimenting all over the place, as one does.  Last week was sound, which we had studied earlier in the month just because music is such an important part of life around here, but we threw in some demonstrations we hadn’t done before.  This week is light.   This website will come in handy: Optics4Kids.
  • There are many great YouTube science channels, and I’ve mentioned some of them before, but I discovered this one last week, and it’s good: Physics Girl. She has a degree from MIT and has very clever, understandable way of explaining things. 
  • What I wanted to mention were some of the best printed resources I’ve found. There are plenty of books on individual topics, but I wanted to highlight two books of experiments and demonstrations that I come back to again and again.
  • First are any of the Janet van Cleave books.  I resisted these for a while just because of the cover art and titles – I didn’t think they were serious. But I was wrong! They are great , and in fact I just ordered most of those we don’t already have.  Each book is a course on the topic at hand, arranged in lesser to greater levels of complexity and the demonstrations are doable with materials you probably already have on hand.
  • "Amy Welborn"Also well-worn by this point is this Hands-on Physical Science Activities for Grades k-6. Written for classroom educators, most of the activities are, again, doable at home, and the explanations and process are excellent. 
  • On tap today? Prayer, copywork (probably a line or two from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, which is currently being memorized.  Yesterday was Genesis 1:1 (see how it all fits together?), tomorrow copywork will probably be a short, amusing poem (last week was a John Ciardi poem).  Then a couple of lines of cursive.  Then prime factorization, then Latin, then science, then probably time for him to just read some of the science/nature/history magazines or library books that interest him. Then the weekly…homeschool boxing class…watch out! 
  • More good reading: This heartbreaking article from the AtlanticCatholic schools take note:  the more you thoughtlessly follow secular trends and the “needs” of students as defined by this culture, albeit with Catholic Schools Week slogans cleverly affixed, the further you walk away from filling  the yawning, tragic void described in this article – a void that you are uniquely poised to fill:

I get it: My job is to teach communication, not values, and maybe that’s reasonable. After all, I’m not sure I would want my daughter gaining her wisdom from a randomly selected high-school teacher just because he passed a few writing and literature courses at a state university (which is what I did). My job description has evolved, and I’m fine with that. But where are the students getting their wisdom?

One might argue that the simple solution is religion—namely, biblical texts. The problem, though, is that I doubt religion is on most kids’ minds. When I recently shared a poem that included the phrase, “Let there be light,” hardly any of my students, who are high-school juniors, could identify the allusion. As a staunch believer in the separation of church and state, I don’t feel comfortable delving into the Bible’s wisdom. Even if I did, the environment is far from conducive to these discussions—students are generally embarrassed to reveal their spiritual beliefs. A fellow teacher recently cited a biblical reference in a standardized test as “evidence of institutional bias,” and the community was generally shocked; some people, meanwhile, were outraged a few years ago when a valedictorian’s speech personally advised his peers to “love God above self.”

With all this in mind, I recently read the line “Fools will be destroyed by their own complacency” in The Book of Proverbs, and I thought of my students at the cusp of young adulthood. I considered how deeply profitable this kind of advice could be for those about to be on their own—and I don’t mean profitable in the way that the advocates of “career readiness” generally conceive it. I’m not saying teachers should include the Bible in their classes in any way, but it feels strange to bite my tongue and instead teach simple skills like “interpreting words and determining technical meanings.” Meanwhile, research suggests that asignificant majority of teens do not attend church, and youth church attendance has been decreasing over the past few decades. This is fine with me. But then again, where are they getting their wisdom?

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