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Posts Tagged ‘Catholic books’

I had to go through this year’s posts in order to remember what I read for CWR’s The Best Books I Read in 2021. The books I pulled for that post are, yes, very good – not sure if they are the best, but I was pressed for time. Since I was doing the work, I decided to multitask.

We’ll start with books of 2021 today, then move to films and television shows tomorrow, and then just a highlights reel of sorts on each of the last days of the year.

Reminder: some posts on various topics are collected on pages linked at the top of this page.

So, the books of 2021. Not included are the many works of American literature I read and re-read as part of our homeschooling curriculum, unless I wrote at length about them. I’m sure there are a few I read that I didn’t bother to blog about, as well. The books are listed in the order I read them because I’m too lazy to organize them thematically or by genre.

Click on the header to get a look at the covers.

Vespers in Vienna. Two posts:

Here and here

Travels with a Donkey

Sachiko

Gringos

Two Friends

Looking Back on the Spanish War” (Orwell)

The Cold Millions

Pagan Spain – four (!) posts.

Here, here, here and here.

The House of Mirth

The Old Maid

Bunner Sisters

A High Wind in Jamaica

Estate sale stash and Philosopher’s Holiday

Philosopher’s Holiday

“Babylon Revisited

The Mountain Lion

Flesh and Blood – (1) and (2)

What Makes Sammy Run?

Klara and the Sun

The Mission House

The Boy in the Field

Another Country

That Summer in Paris (1) , (2) and (3)

Ruin and Renewal

Plunder

A Wreath for the Enem7 (1) and (2)

Trans

Irreversible Damage

The Gran Tour

Morningside Heights

Unsettled Ground

Bitter Orange

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Serenade

Double Indemnity

Mildred Pierce

Dread Journey

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self ( I have a lot to say about this one, so naturally, I haven’t written a word)

Amsterdam

The Nickel Boys

Harlem Shuffle

Raft of Stars

Beowulf

Gawain and the Green Knight

Motley Stones

Original Prin and Dante’s Indiana

Canterbury Tales

To the Lighthouse

Crossroads (1) and (2)

Brighton Rock

Nightmare Alley

Mystic and Pilgrim: The Book and the World of Margery Kempe

Going to Church in Medieval England (1) —- (2) —–(3) —–-(4)

Saints and Sanctity

The Sharp Kid (by my son!)

Everyman

The Death of the Heart

Seasons of Celebration (1) and (2)

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A bit of blogging this week. Perhaps of the most interest will be this post on the movie The Sound of Metal.

— 2 —

Pentecost is coming, of course.

Pages above are (left) from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols  and (right) from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.  Click on images for larger versions. Remember that for the Signs and Symbols entry, there’s another page –  a full page of more detailed text.

— 3 —

Pentecost is one of the events in The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

(The book is structured around the virtues. Each section begins with an event from Scripture that illustrates one of those virtues, followed by stories of people and events from church history that do so as well)

amy-welborn-books

This hasn’t been published in a book – yet – but it’s a painting byAnn Engelhart, illustrator of several books, including four with my writing attached – all listed here. It’s a painting of the tradition of dropping rose petals through the oculus in the Pantheon in Rome.

pentecost

(Our Cathedral here in Birmingham has also done this regularly over the past few years – it’s happening this coming Saturday for the Vigil of Pentecost, which will be livestreamed here.

For more on the Cathedral’s livestreaming, go here.

— 4 —

By the way, please follow Ann on Instagram. She features her beautiful art and regularly posts live painting sessions on Instagram Stories. 

— 5 –

Hopefully this weekend,  you’ll be hearing/singing/praying Veni Creator Spiritus.  I have a chapter on it in The Words We Pray. A sample:

amywelbornbooks
amy-welborn2

— 6 —

Speaking of art, from Daniel Mitsui:

— 7 —

Daniel has designs available as wallpaper and fabric here. Gorgeous.

No photo description available.

And finally, here’s an excerpt from a lecture he delivered earlier this year. Food for thought for artists of all kinds – and any of us, really.

So how does an artist who wants to make religious art, who wants to make it both beautiful and traditional, to glorify God and edify men through it, answer the challenge of doing that in a changing world?

He should choose his influences – both visual and intellectual – out of love. He should love them for what they are, rather than for what they are not.

No matter how devoted he is to a certain kind of art or school of thought, he should remember that it is incomplete and imperfect. He can and should try to make it better. This is an altogether traditional thing to do.

He should be open to whatever medium, whatever materials, whatever methods work best to express his artistry. A willingness to be bold, technically, is another altogether traditional thing to do.

He should not consider religious art to be a political tool, or encourage its use as such.

He should look to every kind of art – whether it comes from within the Church or without it – asking the questions: what works? and what can this teach me to make my art better? God is the author of all beauty; as Augustine says, the mines of his providence are everywhere scattered abroad.

He should ask the same question even of art that he considers generally bad: What works? What can this teach me? The answer may be: very little. But if it is anything at all, he should accept the lesson.

More.

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

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Well, that’s strange. In my rush to publish this on Thursday night/Friday morning, I guess I published it for last Friday (the 8th). Huh. Those of you who subscribe to direct links saw it, but those who just show up to look at the front page…probably didn’t. So here it is again….

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Yes, yes, I have more to say about social media and the internet and such, but I got a bit tired of saying it, so we can all wait a bit more. God knows, the landscape will probably undergo another avalanche and earthquake before we’re even close, so there’s no hurry. Ever.

If you want to check out what I’ve been gabbing about, just click backward.

The rest of this will be ridiculously random. Apologies in advance. I’m in a strange mood tonight.

— 2 —

With Ordinary Time, we’re in year B – which means the focus of the Sunday Gospels is Mark.

Consider this book – The Memoirs of St. Peter as an apt accompaniment to this year. I am! I’ve had the book for a while, read chunks of it, but will be keeping it at hand as a reference and spiritual companion to the Mass readings.

— 3 —

I have been reading about St. Margaret of Scotland the past couple of days. If you’d like to read the biography of her written by Turgot, her spiritual advisor and confessor, you can access it through the Internet Archive here.

St. Margaret of Scotland

I do have a work purpose in studying up on her, which means I am reading about her, searching for lessons and finding teachable moments.

What have I found? What I often find: Sanctity begins when we find ourselves in a certain moment and pray, not that God will help us “be happy” or “find our true selves” – but when we pray, instead, for God to work through us to serve the people he’s put in our lives, especially the poor.

— 4 —

To go from saints to sinners, but really, who has the right to proclaim the difference except for God, from the Public Domain Review – quickly becoming a favorite site – pages from the first published collection of mug shots.

Image

Not a bad looking crew for horse thieves, barn burners and pickpockets….

Quite thought-provoking.

— 5 —

Really, really interesting piece on a 1939 attempt to present a jazz, mostly Black version of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

When Swingin’ the Dream opened on Broadway on 29 November 1939, the creators of this jazz version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream had every expectation of a smash hit. The music alone seemed worth the price of admission. Among the hits were Ain’t Misbehavin’, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Jeepers Creepers, and

If you go down to the woods … Butterfly McQueen as Puck, Maxine Sullivan as Titania and Louis Armstrong as Bottom/Pyramus.

Darn That Dream. All this was intermingled with swing renditions of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, from his 1842 Midsummer Night’s Dream. The music was performed by some of the biggest names around: Bud Freeman’s band played on one side of the stage, Benny Goodman’s inter-racial group on the other, and in the centre Donald Voorhees conducted an orchestra of 50.

The Shakespeare musical had a 150-strong cast, featuring many of America’s most popular black artists, including Maxine Sullivan as Titania, Juano Hernandez as Oberon and none other than Louis Armstrong as Bottom. The trumpeter reportedly turned down a part in another Broadway-bound jazz show, Young Man With a Horn, to star in it. Butterfly McQueen (AKA Prissy in Gone With the Wind) played Puck. Agnes de Mille, who a year later would break new ground in her Black Ritual for the newly formed Negro Unit of Ballet Theatre, oversaw the choreography.

The dancers included the great tap star Bill Bailey, the three Dandridge sisters (who played Titania’s pixie attendants), as well as 13 tireless jitterbugging couples. With set designs based on Walt Disney cartoons, it looked great, too. Sullivan’s Titania entered enthroned in a “World of Tomorrow” electric wheelchair, microphones appeared in the shape of snakes and caterpillars, while a pull-down bed hung from a tree.


It seemed destined to a be a hit, and a startlingly original one. But Swingin’ the Dream closed after only 13 performances – and lost its investors a staggering $100,000, the equivalent to about $2m today. Critics continue to debate what went wrong, hampered by the fact that no script for the show, other than a few pages from the Pyramus and Thisbe scene, has ever been found, despite extensive searches.

More

— 6 —

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been reading Hemingway stories. I must say that “An Alpine Idyll” is one of the strangest stories I’ve ever read. Not in a necessarily bad way – just…..strange.

I wonder if it’s based on something he heard about that really happened?

— 7 —

Anyway. Speaking of Gospels, today’s Gospel from the Mass readings is the healing of the paralytic from (of course) Mark. Here’s the first page of my retelling from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

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

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— 1 —

Incoming: Screed.

Ah, well.

What’s up? Well, working on an audio element to support a textbook series, recorded a short video in support of a new family Lenten devotional from Creative Communications for the Parish, worked on some other stuff. I guess. Getting ready for Christmas, but of course that takes on a different tone and energy when it’s a stir-crazy you, a 16-year old, a 19-year old, with a 38-year old coming to visit than it did when everyone was small. I am a very last-minute person when it comes to Christmas, so yes, I guess we’ll get a tree up this weekend.

Once probably 25 years ago, or so, I was aghast when my (late) mother announced that she might not even want to put up a tree at Christmas that year. What? How can you? What are you saying???

Let’s just say…I get it. Time to pass the torch, and I’m pleased to say that the next generation (son/daughter-in-law – mostly the latter of course – and daughter/son-in-law) seem to have taken up that torch with firm hands and run with it. They are welcome to it!

Not much viewing – been watching Mad Men with College Guy for his first time. Almost done with season 1. We also watched My Favorite Wife – a favorite of mine which I’d watched with Kid #5 back in the Olden Days of early March right before College Guy came home for “Spring Break” …..hahahahahaha. So now it was his turn. Love the movie and find it fascinating for reasons I explain here.

Image result for my favorite wife tcm randolph gif

Movie Son continues his path of watching, watching, watching and then writing, writing, writing. He’s currently on a Fellini jag.

Now, these two characters (Gelsomina and Zampano) are at the center of the film, but it’s really Zampano’s story in the end. He’s left alone on a beach (the same beach that Gelsomina was found in the town and a similar beach to where the movie began) with nothing but the bitter feeling in his stomach that his loneliness and isolation at that time is entirely his own fault. He hasn’t changed, but he has come to a realization (I’ve read it as “ripened”, which I think is a good way to describe it). I’m not sure I would go so far as to call it a redemption, but it’s certainly redemptive. He doesn’t do anything to make up for his failings as a man responsible for a simple woman, but he does begin to understand his failings that led to his empty life. Gelsomina provided joy and happiness wherever she went, but she was never accepted, especially by Zampano who could have learned the most from her.

— 2 —

Here’s a diversion that looks intriguing, although I really can’t figure out how to do it. I’m waiting for one of the sons to come back home to figure it out for me.

Blob Opera.

Google's Blob Opera is a weird and wonderful experiment - CNET

— 3 —

Notes on this week’s American lit reading. First, some Walt Whitman. What did we emphasize? His self-understanding of himself as an American poet, what he was trying to express about America and then, more broadly, about the human experience. Also his engagement with Eastern thought.

I many not be on his wavelength on every point, but I found great simpatico in his vision of the communion of human beings and their experiences over space and time, as well as the cumulative impact of an individual’s experiences on her life.

So:

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry:

The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others.

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.

— 4 —

And on the second point, There Was a Child Went Forth Every Day:

THERE was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part
of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass and white and red morning-glories, and white and red
clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and
the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barnyard or by the mire of the pond-
side,

And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there, and
the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads, all became part
of him.

— 5 —

And, to finish up the “semester,” such as it is around here, we decided to leave chronology behind and go seasonal instead, reading Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” which – in case you’ve never read it – you can read here.

A lovely, moving piece, rich with imagery and suggestion as well as rock-solid details that put you right in the presence of these two outcasts, the seven-year old child and his only friend, his elderly cousin.

An interesting note. I have the most recent edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1865 to the present – three fat volumes purchased for College Guy’s class in the spring, but retained and not resold because I knew we’d be using it in the homeschool. Capote’s not in it – at all. I mean, I get it, I suppose. He’s not a “serious” writer, but how does one define that? His writing certainly had an impact. I don’t like In Cold Blood for a lot of reasons, but no matter what I think of the book, it did have an enormous influence on American writing, and I think it’s an impact that should be discussed. I mean, there’s an excerpt from Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust in the anthology, for pete’s sake – a seminal work in some ways, but indifferently, awkwardly written – not even close to the quality of what Capote was capable of in his best work.

Odd.

— 6 —

My own current read, separate from school? The Complete Henry Bech by John Updike. Why? In the library, desperate for an actual book-on-paper to read, with an armful of non-fiction, I came upon the U’s in fiction and decided to give Updike a go again. I read Rabbit, Run and at least one other Rabbit book in high school (not for high school, but in high school, plucked from my parents’ bookshelves), and then his very good In the Beauty of the Lilies , about America’s loss of (Protestant) faith, when it was published. I do remember Bech is Back from those same parental bookshelves, but never had a real interest in the books, believing that thinly disguised autobiography of a privileged, randy male writer was not my cup of tea.

Well, I don’t know what my final verdict will be, but I’m enjoying it far more than I expected. Updike’s prose overcomes much of my prejudices.

His mother. He had taken her death as a bump in his road, an inconvenience in his busy postwar reconstruction of himself. He had seen death in war and had learned to sneer at its perennial melodrama. He had denied his mother’s death the reality it must have had to her, this chasm that numbed as it swallowed; and now it was swallowing him. He had scarcely mourned. No one sat shivah. No Kaddish had been said. Six thousand years of observance had been overturned in Bech.

— 7 —

Here’s the Fourth Sunday of Advent approaching, with the Gospel narrative of the Annunciation.

From the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

EPSON MFP image

From the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

EPSON MFP image

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

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A few interesting points he makes about ministry and influences on him.

You might be interested in what he says about possession and exorcism. Short version: He doesn’t deny that it’s real, but also says that it’s very rare.  

Another kind of infirmity that caused me even greater trouble and took a lot of my time was the cure of those who were possessed or obsessed by the devil. When I began preaching missions, I saw a large number of people who claimed to be possessed. Their relatives would ask me to exorcise them and, since I was duly authorized, I did so. Only one in a thousand could be called a genuine case of possession. There were other causes, physical or moral, that I won’t go into here.

In the course of missions I have met people, converted by the sermons, who have frankly admitted to me that they had never been possessed or even physically ill but had fabricated the whole thing for various reasons, such as to attract attention or to be coddled, pitied, helped, or a thousand other things.
 One woman of this sort told me that everything she had done had been done with full knowledge and willful malice, but that some of the things she did were so striking and bizarre that she began to wonder about them herself. Doubtless the devil was at work with her. Not through diabolical possession, but through the malice in her heart, for she knew that in the natural course of things she couldn’t do some of the things she did.
 Another lady, who lived in a large city, told me that she was so adept at faking possession that she had been having exorcisms performed over a long period of time, during which she had deceived twenty of the wisest, most virtuous, and most zealous priests in that city.

In sections 234- 263, he devotes three chapters to the influence that female saints have had on him. 

In sections 264ff, he discusses prayer – and the reason I highlight this is to remind you that when spiritual teachers of the past spoke of the importance of prayer, they weren’t suggesting a vague, “Stay close to God all day through your stream-of-consciousness thoughts and good intentions.”  It was very specific – it varied according to the particular school of spirituality or context, but the point is that the vision and goal of a strong spiritual life was constructed on a foundation of  – yes – formal prayer.

On catechizing children:

The first thing I saw to was the instruction of children in Christian
doctrine–not only because I have always felt a strong inclination toward this kind of education but also because I have come to realize its prime importance. Knowledge of the catechism is the foundation for the whole edifice of religious and moral instruction. Moreover, children learn readily and are deeply impressed. Catechism preserves them from error, vice, and ignorance and more easily grounds them in virtue because they are more docile than adults. In the case of children, the only work required is that of planting, whereas adults require both weeding and planting. There is yet another advantage: grownups are often won over by the little ones, and parents are won over by their children because children are like so many pieces of their parents’ hearts. When the children receive a little holy card for their attendance and diligence, their parents and other adults read them at home out of curiosity, and this often results in their conversion, as I know from experience.

One of the things that has moved me most to teach children is the example of Jesus Christ and the saints. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14). Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them. There is no doubt that a child whose innocence has been preserved through good instruction is a treasure more precious in God’s eyes than all the kingdoms of this world.

The Apostles, who had been indoctrinated by Christ catechized the small and the great alike, and so their sermon became so many basic statements of the mysteries of faith.
St. Denis, St. Clement of Alexandria–a most erudite man, the teacher of Origen–as well as Origen himself, were catechists, as were St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. St. Jerome, at the very time when he was being consulted from far and near as the oracle of the universe, was not ashamed to teach catechism to children. He spent his last days, which had otherwise been used so well in the service of the Church, in this humble occupation. He once told a widow, “Send me your
children and I’ll babble with them~ I’ll have less glory in men’s eyes, but I’ll be glorious in God’s.”

On adults:

The most productive means I have used has been adult instruction. It has helped me rescue adults from an ignorance that is greater than one might imagine, even in the case of persons who hear sermons frequently. Preachers often take it for granted that their listeners are well instructed, while the fact is that instruction is precisely what most Catholics lack. The use of instruction has the further advantage of informing adults of their respective obligations and teaching them how to go about fulfilling them.

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We’ll make this super quick.

 

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All right! There’s one! Seriously, though – Thursday was a travel day. From Omaha down to College Freshman’s college, where we took him out for lunch, dropped off some treats, got the scoop (everything going fine, it seems), said, “See you at fall break” and then drove on.

 

— 3 —

We’d thought about stopping in St. Louis, but at some point earlier in the week, I realized that we’d get to St. Louis by probably 5 – which meant that all the “attractions” we might want to see would be closed. Sure, the wonderful City Museum would be open, but it’s not that we’re too old for that now (14), but more…who wants to do that without a partner in crime? And we’ve been to the Arch, which is great, sure, but worth a stop on a trip like this – a “stop” meaning an overnight? Nope.

So Memphis it is, with a brief stop in Ste. Genevieve – a place I’ve wanted to visit – the first permanent European settlement in Missouri. It was a somewhat illuminating sidetrip – many original structures crowded on small streets, far enough from the river to hopefully avoid the floods – a small river ferry just outside of town as well – but it would probably be better to do when things like the visitor’s center and the museum were open and the ferry was running.

-4–

We’ll do one major thing here this morning – a site we haven’t done yet (no, not Graceland – I went to Graceland years ago, and with a $40 admission charge now –  er, no.), eat at a favorite barbecue place, then head home. It really does seem impossible that it was only a week ago that we were heading through here with a about-to-be college freshman and me, a very nervous parent. It seems a million years ago, both in time and emotion.

Life, indeed, goes on.

–5 —

A couple of months ago, I was asked to write a Diary feature for the Catholic Herald. I wrote it – then rewrote it from scratch in the very early hours of the morning it was due in a hotel room in Caceres, Spain because, as I keep griping, my laptop for the moment is this STUPID Chromebook (don’t buy one) that I had to buy for former college senior’s former senior year in his former school, and little did I know that if you forget your Google password and think, “Eh, I’ll just reset it” – that resetting wipes everything from the Chromebook – including the Word app you’d downloaded because you hate Google Docs.

(Don’t buy a Chromebook)

Ahem. Okay. Well, so I wrote – and rewrote it, and then sort of forgot about it. They never sent me a link to the published version. Yesterday, I was thinking, “Hey, I wonder about that Corpus Christi piece – did it ever actually get published?”

Well, here it is!

Not a lot to it, but it might make ya think, as they say.

— 6 —

This is great. Absolutely great. We’ll be using this.

Aquinas 101 from the Dominicans (who else?)

— 7 —

41N-o1eQhTL._SX415_BO1,204,203,200_

2020 Devotional available. 

Son’s new novel available.

Son posts film thoughts every day during the week. And, as I mentioned on Twitter earlier this week: He has a full-time job, writes fiction, watches tons of movies and writes about them daily (Tarantino this week) has a wife and a five-year old and still has found time to read War and Peace over the past couple of months. Yeah.

Here’s his blog post on the novel!

 

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

 

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Mother’s Day is still over a week away, but I thought I’d toss this out there, especially for any priests who might wander by. It’s a repeat of an old post, but still, I think, worth considering:

My mother & a friend in Nogales, 1950’s.

The question of how to “recognize” mothers at a Mother’s Day Mass is a fraught one.

There is, of course, the view (mine) that everything that happens at Mass should relate only to the liturgical year. Stop doing all the other stupid things, thanks. As a community, we’re free to celebrate whatever in whatever way we choose outside of Mass, but when it comes to Very Special Mass in Honor of Very Special Groups of any sort – scouts, moms, dads, youth, ‘Muricans….I’m against it.

But of course, over the years, American sentimental pop culture creeps into the peripheries of liturgical observance, and quite often, here we are at Mass on the second Sunday of May, with the expectation that the Moms present must be honored.

I mean…I went to the trouble to go to Mass for the first time in four months to make her happy…you’d better honor her….

This is problematic, however, and it’s also one of those situations in which the celebrant often feels that he just can’t win. No matter what he does, someone will be angry with him, be hurt, or feel excluded.

Because behind the flowers and sentiment, Mother’s Day is very hard for a lot of people – perhaps it’s the most difficult holiday out there for people in pain.

So when Father invites all the moms present to stand for their blessing at the end of Mass and the congregation applauds….who is hurting?

  • Infertile couples
  • Post-abortive women
  • Post-miscarriage women
  • Women whose children have died
  • People who have been abused by their mothers
  • People with terrible mothers, even short of outright abuse
  • Women have placed children for adoption
  • People who’ve recently lost their mothers. Or not so recently.
  • Women who are not now and might never be biological or adoptive mothers and who wonder about that and are not sure about how they feel about it.

And then there are those of us who value our role as mothers, but who really think Mother’s Day is lame and would just really prefer that you TRY TO GET ALONG FOR ONE STUPID DAY instead of giving me some flowers and politely clapping at Mass.

So awkward.

Nope. Making Mothers stand up, be blessed and applauding them (the worst) at Mass is a bad idea for a lot of reasons.

It’s not that people should expect to be sheltered from the consequences of their choices and all that life has handed them when the enter the church doorway.

The Catholic way is the opposite of that – after all, the fundamental question every one of us carries is that of death, and every time we enter a Catholic church we are hit with that truth, sometimes more than life-sized.

No, the question is more: Catholic life and tradition has a lot to say and do when it comes to parenthood – in ways, if you think about it, that aren’t sentimental and take into account the limitations of human parenthood and root us, no matter how messed-up our families are or how distant we feel from contemporary ideals of motherhood – in the parenthood of God. Live in that hope, share it, and be formed by that, not by commercially-driven American pop culture.

So here’s a good idea. It happened at my parish a couple of years ago, and is the standard way of recognizing the day.

Because we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it.  So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.

So, quite simply, at the end of Mass as we were standing for the final blessing, the celebrant mentioned that it was Mother’s Day (it hadn’t been mentioned before this), and said that as such, it was an appropriate day to pray for our mothers, living and deceased, and to ask our Blessed Mother for her intercession for them and for us. Hail Mary…

Done.

And done in a way that, just in its focus, implicitly acknowledges and respects the diversity of experiences of motherhood that will be present in any congregation, and, without sentiment or awkward overreach, does that Catholic thing, rooted in tradition  – offers the whole mess up, in trust.

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All right, folks, here’s a story for you.

We can call it a “short story,” but it clocks in around seven thousand words, so maybe not.

kindle coverWhen I finished this a few weeks ago, I wondered what to do with it. I thought I might submit it to a journal or competition. I did send it out to a few friends, most of whom have read it, I believe.

But then, I decided, eh. Just publish it. Get it out there. Move on. 

Which I have – now working on something which will be much shorter and hopefully a little sharper.

Of course, I can probably use an editor. It could use fine-tuning and questions and honing.

But guess what? I’m not 25 or 32, just starting this stuff. I’m 58 – fifty-eight –  and when I trumpet my advanced age so emphatically, it’s not because I’m suggesting that I’m beyond help and that I know all. No – I’m saying that I just don’t have time to sit around and wait for a year to see if this might perhaps catch someone’s eye and make it to print. Life proceeds apace and I have a great deal I want to say, and who knows how long I’ll have to say it?

(No – no Walter White scenarios here. Everything’s fine as far as I know. I’m just morbid realistic.)

Now remember – it’s fiction. And fiction is not supposed to be prescriptive, although much of it ends up being just that, especially if someone is writing about anything vaguely related to religion. I don’t know if I succeed, but I’m trying to describe a moment in history as well as a couple of dynamics as I’ve witnessed and experienced them – personal and spiritual dynamics – and how they relate, which I’m firmly convinced they do. You may not agree. It may anger you – but it might strike you as true, even if you disagree with the characters and their choices and opinions. It’s all I can hope for, I think. Something that strikes you as true.

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— 1 —

Very short takes this week. Look back over the course of the week for more posts on various things. Remember – if you’re thinking a lot about saints this week – as you might be – consider looking at my saints books, listed here. 

I don’t have many of those on hand here, but what I do have are loads of copies of the Bible Stories book and the Signs and Symbols book – as well as the Book of Days. If you’re starting to think Christmas gifts….check it out. 

— 2 —

So let’s get going with random articles on random subjects. Perhaps something will catch your interest. First, the secret lives of composers who work in trades:

I still have time to write. The same hours I had set aside when I was working my old side gig are as available now as they were before. I also find the creative juices get flowing during moments of solitude at work. I once experienced a wonderful creative rush while driving a truck through a mountain pass and had to immediately pull over and jot some sketches down. Many people say that the hours in the trades are long, and they sometimes are. But one of the benefits is that when I hang up my hard hat, I hang up the stress of my job with it. My work doesn’t follow me home. Instead, I go to choir practice, I open up a copy of The Well Tempered Clavier, I get out a pencil and some manuscript paper and dash some squiggles that will hopefully one day become something memorable.

Initially, I might have been resistant to heading into the trades because I was worried I would be giving up on music and my composition career would end with a resounding thud of failure. I was wrong. The only way you fail at art is if you stop doing it. There’s no reason a composer can’t be a plumber or an electrician instead of a teacher. All you have to do is keep writing.

— 3 —

John Taylor Gatto passed away this week. He was an essential critic of American education and an inspiration for many educational reformers, including those in homeschooling/unschooling. 

— 4 —

All of sudden this week, everyone was an expert on the 14th amendment!

Well, the good thing is that at least a lot of people got interested in learning more about the issue of birthright citizenship. If you want a balanced look at the issue, I can’t think of a better place than this lengthy article. 

The existing rule of unrestricted birthright citizenship has a number of advantages, as noted above. But it also opens the door to some practices (perhaps most notably, the various forms of “birth tourism”) that provocatively violate the consent principle at the heart of democratic government, as well as create perverse incentives for illegal entrants and overstays.

Altering the rule of birthright citizenship can be undertaken by congressional statute, as we have argued. But what kind of change would be reasonable? One of us (Schuck) has proposed a reform that promises to achieve a better combination of advantages and disadvantages. In place of automatic birthright citizenship, we could substitute retroactive-to-birth citizenship for the U.S.-born children of illegal-immigrant parents who demonstrate a substantial attachment to, and familiarity with, this country by satisfying two conditions: a certain period of residence here after the child’s birth, and a certain level of education of the child in our schools. (In almost every case, of course, the two conditions will overlap, and the schooling will assure at least a minimal level of proficiency in English and knowledge of American history and society.)

Reasonable people can differ about what the qualifying periods of residence and education should be, whether those periods must be continuous, and other conditions. (Australia’s 2007 citizenship law, for example, abolished birthright citizenship while creating an exception for a person “ordinarily resident in Australia throughout the period of 10 years” beginning at birth.) In Schuck’s view, completion of eighth grade should suffice for this limited purpose. Certifying compliance should be administratively simple. And during the interim period, the individual should have the legal status of presumptive citizen, with all of the attributes of citizenship for individuals of their age. The parents’ status would remain the same as under current law unless they can gain legal status through an expanded legalization program or otherwise.

One can easily imagine objections to this reform, especially by those who categorically reject birthright citizenship for this group on grounds discussed above. But two answers to such objections are compelling in our view. First, whether Americans like it or not, these children are now legal citizens at birth. The question, then, is whether an over-inclusive status quo should be retained. Second, the normative objections to their citizenship — that their connection to our country is imposed without our consent and is often adventitious, transient, and insubstantial — would be met by the proposed reform, whose enactment would provide the requisite consent to, and conditions for, their citizenship.

To be sure, the current climate presents the danger that political deliberations over any changes to current birthright-citizenship practices might lead to policies of heightened deportations of otherwise-law-abiding long-term residents, and of reduced legal immigration. We oppose both of these policies. But because controversies over immigration and birthright citizenship have only grown in recent decades and are likely to intensify further, we believe that the quest to find reasonable, humane compromises on these vital topics is more urgent than ever.

— 5 —

And what about that stupid “youth” Synod? Yeah, that. A couple of good (if by “good” you mean…”I agree with them” – but isn’t that always the way it is?) pieces that summarize what happened and what might happen and what It Means.

From Australian Archbishop Anthony Fisher:

Did you sense that people who were advocating more tradition and orthodoxy, like the Africans, were shut down, perhaps?

No, I don’t think it was just the more traditionally minded who were shut down: We all were. The fact was that after our initial short speeches, it was almost impossible for bishops to get a hearing again in the general assembly.

 

Even in the free discussions?

The free discussions were very few, usually in the last hour of a very long day. On at least one occasion, that time was taken up almost completely by speeches from ecumenical representatives. On other days, various announcements intruded. And when free discussion did happen, only cardinals and youth auditors were heard; no bishops at all. You got your little speech at the start, and that was about it, when it came to the general assembly.

— 6 —

From Christopher Altieri:

In fairness to Francis, he’s been clear and fairly consistent with regard to himself and his habits and his tastes, right from the start. From his shoes (he has a guy back in B’Aires) to his decision to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae (he likes being around people) to his habit of standing in the lunch line and chatting with people (he likes it that way), he’s been frank: he’s an old dog, unable and uninterested in learning new tricks — and as a leader, his established mode of leadership is a mercurial one that flies from extreme micromanagement to extreme laissez faire and rarely pauses anywhere in between.

His lieutenants and mouthpieces, however, promised an almost Aquarian age of transparency, listening, and participation: in a word, that the governance of the Church would finally be horizontal.

When Pope Francis promulgated the Apostolic Constitution, Episcopalis communio — the special law controlling the Synod of Bishops — one thing was clear when it came to the issue of any synod assembly conducted under the new legislation: the Pope would be in charge. As far as any final document on Francis’s watch is concerned, that meant the Synod Fathers would end up saying whatever this Pope will have decided to say they said:

If the new document makes anything clear, it is that Francis — whose “synodal” approach to governance has been the subject of much discussion — meant what he said when he told the participants in the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that “synodality” means being with Peter, and that “being with Peter” means being under him. How “synodal” is the Church Francis envisions? One short answer might be: as synodal as Peter says it is.

So, there has been transparency. At any rate, folks have what they were promised. Assured they’d be able to take their place, the bishops have now learned what that place is, and been instructed to assume the position. The vast majority of the laity don’t care much what the Church’s hierarchical leadership have to say about young people anyway, certainly not in the present circumstances of massive and daily burgeoning global crisis that has left the credibility of the worldwide episcopate in tatters, from the Pope down to the last auxiliary.

When it comes to “synodality”, not even the professional Catholic scribbling and chattering class could manage more than perfunctory frustration on behalf of the bishops, who were happy to roll over.

On Friday afternoon, with only a few hours left to read the draft, account for the modi — proposed amendments — and finish the document, the synod fathers repaired to a makeshift theatre to watch a talent show the young people organised for them. As one Vatican official quipped to me on Friday afternoon, “They’re not taking this seriously.”

— 7 —

And then, George Weigel:

None of this contributes to comity or collegiality; and whatever “synodality” means, it isn’t advanced by such boorish behavior. The cardinal’s aggressive stubbornness is also an insult to bishops who are every bit as much successors of the apostles as Baldisseri, but whom he nonetheless treats as if they were refractory kindergarteners, especially when they insist that they know their situations better than Baldisseri does (as on the abuse crisis). If Pope Francis is serious about making the Synod of Bishops work better, he will thank Lorenzo Baldisseri for his services and bring in a new general secretary—right away.  

After the Exhaustion

The Synod process seems designed to wear everyone down, thus making it easier for the Synod’s mandarins to get their way. So it’s not surprising that there’s a sense of deflation at the end of Synod-2018. There are also more than a few worries about how the Church is going to weather the rough seas into which it is being steered. Still, there was some very good work done here this past month. New networks of conversation and collaboration were built. Nothing completely egregious got into the Final Report, thanks to some hard and effective work. New Catholic leaders emerged on the world stage.

And there were, as always, many experiences of fellowship, and the grace that flows from the Holy Spirit through solidarity in a great cause.  In that sense I’ve been glad to have been here. And like others, I suspect, I’m grateful that Synod-2018 has given me a clearer understanding that business-as-usual is not an adequate model for the next months and years of Catholic life.

 

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

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In a fractured, secular culture, in a society that elevates the individual and then leaves her to her own devices and bootstraps, it’s not surprising that those seeking to emphasize stability and a sure grounding for values and culture – not to speak of faith – would emphasize the family as the center of society, life, culture and civilization.

It does. It makes sense. There’s  a lot of truth there.

But.

Consider this.

Family  – especially the modern nuclear family of parents and children – is not actually the highest value in traditional Christian spirituality.

In fact, when you plunge into the Christian narrative, as articulated in Scripture, post-apostolic history, the primary veins of Christian spirituality, the development of Christian institutions and the lives of the saints, it’s not family that is the focus – even on a secondary level – but God’s redemptive work in his creation as apprehended by the individual soul.

In other words – it’s about each of us, as part of the Body, redeemed and journeying to eternal life.

Family is the natural, divinely ordered (which are the same thing) source and structure for our lives. It’s where we come from, its shape is designed for our flourishing in God’s image, participation in family is an aspect of vocation for all of us in some way, and family – as children, parents, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, siblings – is the first and primary arena in which we are called to live out the Gospel, and to serve and love sacrificially.

But when you really do take an honest, clear-eyed look at the Christian spiritual tradition, you find that family is just not at its core. It might be because for most of history, “family” is simply assumed, or perhaps because so much of Christian spiritual writing has been produced by celibates. Perhaps.

But did you catch that Gospel today?

At that time Peter began to tell Jesus, ‘What about us? We have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.

  ‘Many who are first will be last, and the last first.’

As I do for many of these types of ills, I blame Protestants. Ditching vowed religious life, brushing aside a lifestyle expressive of a radical approach to the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience) acted as a wrecking ball, not only to women’s lives and spirituality, but to that balanced vision, evolved over the centuries, of an individual soul, created individually by God, destined for God, and making that journey in the context of creation, civilization and family.

In other words: If your family life is terrible, if your family is abusive or worse, if you don’t have much a family, if your parents are dead, you have no siblings, if you have no spouse or children, if you regret that or if you don’t and if you don’t fit that 21st century Western nuclear family mold – Jesus calls. You. 

Don’t make an idol out of family. 

So now, let’s talk about Marie de L’Incarnation

Marie de l’Incarnation was one of the notable early French settlers in Quebec, the founder of a school that still exists today, and a canonized saint.

She also left a child behind when she entered religious life:

You do, in fact have some reason to complain because I left you. I, too, would willingly complain if I could about he who came to bring a sword to earth, making such strange divisions. It is true that even though you were the only thing left in the world to which my heart was attached, he nevertheless wanted to separate us when you were still at the breast. I struggled to keep you for nearly twelve years, but I still had to share almost half of those years. Finally I had to yield to the force of divine love and suffer this blow of division which was more painful than I can tell you, but which didn’t prevent me from considering myself an infinity of times the cruelest of all mothers. I ask you to forgive me, my very dear son, for I am the cause of your having suffered much affliction. But let us console ourselves that life is short and that, by the mercy of he who thus separated us in this world, we will have an entire eternity to see each other and to celebrate each other in him. (Summer 1647)

Marie wrote thousands – thousands – of letters, which provide invaluable insight into life in New France. She ends one of her letters to her son by saying that she had to wrap it up because she had forty more letters to write before the ship back to Europe sailed.

The letters in this collection are just a sampling of those she wrote to her son, Claude Martin. Claude ended up joining religious life himself, and so the letters reflect Marie’s understanding of their shared vocation and God’s will at work through her counter-cultural choices.

You have therefore won much in losing me, and my abandonment has been useful to you. And similarly with me, having left in you what was dearest and most precious to me in all the world and in a word, having voluntarily lost you I found myself together with you in the bosom of this totally lovable God, by means of the holy vocation you and I have followed, and for which, according to the promises our Lord, we are rewarded on hundred-fold in this life – not to mention the eternal reward for which we hope in heaven. (1654)

Ah! My very dear son, who would ever have imagined — or even believed — that, you and I remaining alone after the death of your father, the Divine Majesty would have favored you from that point on, granting you the great and inestimable happiness of the religious profession? And even that he brought you into being for such honorable charges and such dazzling occupations? It is assuredly because I abandoned you out of love for him, and because I asked of him neither gold nor riches for you or for me but only the poverty of his son for us both…(1665)

Self-justification? Who knows. It’s a theme Marie returns to again and again over the decades. The fact that even late in life, she takes a great deal of time and space to work through the whole history again shows, I think, if not a conflict or regret (although that might be there), at the very least the centrality of this element of her life, expressive of the mystery of God’s ways. Although the course of her and her son’s life was the consequence of a choice, it is still an expression of the mysterious ways in which we respond to the lives we’ve been given, lives in which chance, accidents and tragedy all shape our perceptions of God’s call to us.  Things happen to us and we make choices. We accept them and we may even positively embrace and celebrate them, but that doesn’t stop us from returning to them in our minds and souls, pondering them, turning things over and contemplating how strange it all is.

So Marie left her son. As I noted elsewhere, even though in this era, children were often placed in the care of people other than parents (think wet-nurses, even), extended families were the norm, and children of certain classes were certainly far less intensely and directly parented than our contemporary ideals would have it, her decision to enter the Ursulines when Claude was eleven did not go uncriticized in her circle, and she knew and admitted it. But over and over, she justified the decision, and told Claude that she was confident he was grateful, because without the abandonment, he wouldn’t have entered religious life himself.

And of course, Christian history is full of similar stories – of husbands and wives separating, of other parents entering religious life, of parents leaving their children in monasteries and convents. Christian history is also full of examples of people using spirituality and religion  to  rationalize abandonment of family responsibilities or manipulation of other family members. It’s full of examples of abuse and exploitation justified by God’s will for you and for our family.

All the more reason to emphasize to our children that they’re here to serve the Lord who created and calls them, not us.

Did Marie make this clear in a particularly vivid way to her son? In a way that brought him pain? She’d probably say yes, but it was also the way she was absolutely certain was God’s will.

Not probably a path most of us would follow, and it might even horrify us, even if we know that mother and son lived out this way with a sense of peace. But even if we can’t see it as a path to emulate, it still might be worth thinking over in discerning that tension-filled tapestry woven out of our relationships to God and each other.

For here’s the thing: a tight-knit family can nourish and promote flourishing. A tight-knit, even mostly healthy family can be experienced as restrictive and confining. A ridiculous family can generate broken and tragic stories, but ridiculous family situations can also produce adults who have emerged mental and spiritual health intact and perhaps even carrying an expanded sense of empathy for the broken and messy.

Family is a component of the spiritual life. It plays a part in who we are, and we are called – and obliged – to serve family members out of love and duty. Simple Christian charity and agape love calls for us to love whoever is in front of us at that moment, in the best way we can, empowered by grace. That is all true. But as important as that is, natural family ties are always subordinate to the individual’s relationship with God.

That’s the Gospel. 

The trick is – and I think this is true, not just with this, but with so many other areas of life – to be deeply, always aware of and honest about that rationalization temptation. We rationalize oppressive, controlling, domineering behavior in families because we claim it’s God’s will for everyone to come along the ride we’ve discerned is right and true. Translation: Narcissism.  On the other hand, we turn around and rationalize withdrawal and neglect as a spiritual necessity. Translation: Narcissism. 

The fact is, most of the time what I’m being called to do is not so complicated. Most of the time it’s about sacrificing something I think I want to do because someone needs me, and that’s far more important than my desires. Marie’s case is complicated because of how she perceives and defines and understands all of these: need, desire, call….

It’s fascinating, really. Agree or disagree, Marie de l’Incarnation’s journey is thought-provoking, isn’t it? And talk about counter-cultural. Maybe next time you need some privacy, stick this quote on your bedroom door:

….the proximity of one’s relatives often causes difficulties and sometimes turns one away from God…

(1664)

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