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That’s what it is, no matter what…40 days after Easter, right?

(Although in Italy, also, it’s celebrated on Sunday, so these homilies reflect that.)

Some reflections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

2006, from a homily in Krakow:

Brothers and Sisters, today in Błonie Park in Kraków we hear once again this question from the Acts of the Apostles. This time it is directed to all of us: “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” The answer to this question involves the fundamental truth about the life and destiny of every man and woman.

The question has to do with our attitude to two basic realities which shape every human life: earth and heaven. First, the earth: “Why do you stand?” – Why are you here on earth? Our answer is that we are here on earth because our Maker has put us here as the crowning work of his creation. Almighty God, in his ineffable plan of love, created the universe, bringing it forth from nothing. Then, at the completion of this work, he bestowed life on men and women, creating them in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-27). He gave them the dignity of being children of God and the gift of immortality. We know that man went astray, misused the gift of freedom and said “No” to God, thus condemning himself to a life marked by evil, sin, suffering and death. But we also know that God was not resigned to this situation, but entered directly into humanity’s history, which then became a history of salvation. “We stand” on the earth, we are rooted in the earth and we grow from it. Here we do good in the many areas of everyday life, in the material and spiritual realms, in our relationships with other people, in our efforts to build up the human community and in culture. Here too we experience the weariness of those who make their way towards a goal by long and winding paths, amid hesitations, tensions, uncertainties, in the conviction that the journey will one day come to an end. That is when the question arises: Is this all there is? Is this earth on which “we stand” our final destiny?

And so we need to turn to the second part of the biblical question: “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” We Salvador Dali, Ascensionhave read that, just as the Apostles were asking the Risen Lord about the restoration of Israel’s earthly kingdom, “He was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.” And “they looked up to heaven as he went” (cf. Acts 1:9-10). They looked up to heaven because they looked to Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, raised up on high. We do not know whether at that precise moment they realized that a magnificent, infinite horizon was opening up before their eyes: the ultimate goal of our earthly pilgrimage. Perhaps they only realized this at Pentecost, in the light of the Holy Spirit. But for us, at a distance of two thousand years, the meaning of that event is quite clear. Here on earth, we are called to look up to heaven, to turn our minds and hearts to the inexpressible mystery of God. We are called to look towards this divine reality, to which we have been directed from our creation. For there we find life’s ultimate meaning.

….I too, Benedict XVI, the Successor of Pope John Paul II, am asking you to look up from earth to heaven, to lift your eyes to the One to whom succeeding generations have looked for two thousand years, and in whom they have discovered life’s ultimate meaning. Strengthened by faith in God, devote yourselves fervently to consolidating his Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom of goodness, justice, solidarity and mercy. I ask you to bear courageous witness to the Gospel before today’s world, bringing hope to the poor, the suffering, the lost and abandoned, the desperate and those yearning for freedom, truth and peace. By doing good to your neighbour and showing your concern for the common good, you bear witness that God is love.

2009, at Monte Cassino:

In this perspective we understand why the Evangelist Luke says that after the Ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem “with great joy” (24: 52). Their joy stems from the fact that what had happened was not really a separation, the Lord’s permanent absence: on the contrary, they were then certain that the Crucified-Risen One was alive and that in him God’s gates, the gates of eternal life, had been opened to humanity for ever. In other words, his Ascension did not imply a temporary absence from the world but rather inaugurated the new, definitive and insuppressible form of his presence by virtue of his participation in the royal power of God. It was to be up to them, the disciples emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit, to make his presence visible by their witness, preaching and missionary zeal. The Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension must also fill us with serenity and enthusiasm, just as it did the Apostles who set out again from the Mount of Olives “with great joy”. Like them, we too, accepting the invitation of the “two men in dazzling apparel”, must not stay gazing up at the sky, but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit must go everywhere and proclaim the saving message of Christ’s death and Resurrection.

2005:

The human being finds room in God; through Christ, the human being was introduced into the very life of God. And since God embraces and sustains the entire cosmos, the Ascension of the Lord means that Christ has not departed from us, but that he is now, thanks to his being with the Father, close to each one of us for ever. Each one of us can be on intimate terms with him; each can call upon him. The Lord is always within hearing. We can inwardly draw away from him. We can live turning our backs on him. But he always waits for us and is always close to us.

(This 2005 homily is very interesting, for it was delivered very soon after his election, and contains good thoughts on the role of the papacy, particularly its limits.)

2010 Angelus:

The Lord draws the gaze of the Apostles our gaze toward Heaven to show how to travel the road of good during earthly life. Nevertheless, he remains within the framework of human history, he is near to each of us and guides our Christian journey: he is the companion of the those persecuted for the faith, he is in the heart of those who are marginalized, he is present in those whom the right to life is denied. We can hear, see and touch our Lord Jesus in the Church, especially through the word and the sacraments……

….Dear Brothers and Sisters, the Lord opening the way to Heaven, gives us a foretaste of divine life already on this earth. A 19th-century Russian author wrote in his spiritual testament: “Observe the stars more often. When you have a burden in your soul, look at the stars or the azure of the sky. When you feel sad, when they offend you… converse… with Heaven. Then your soul will find rest” 

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Quick! Have you gotten anything yet?!

Well, you can still grab this – perhaps your local Catholic bookstore has it (if they don’t…demand it!), but you can for sure order it online.

I have a few copies here, and if you contact me at amywelborn60 – at – gmail.com  we can talk about non-media mail shipping.

It’s a 365 day daily devotional for Catholic women. Because it was written to be used beyond a single year, the daily devotionals couldn’t be tied to a specific season, except for most feasts (except Easter).  But I did my best to be as reasonably seasonal as possible – so the entries from February-March tend towards themes of penitence, April-May, Eastery-themes and December, Adventish.

It’s also written for women of any state in life. It doesn’t presume that the woman reading and praying along has children, is of a certain age, is married, works outside the home, is a stay-at-home mom, and for sure does not presume that all women are into shopping or shoes. That sort of thing.

So check it out!

 

And don’t forget…First Communion and Graduation! 

 

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We’ll start with the more confusing one – James. As is the case with (in English) “Mary” – there are a lot of “James” in the New Testament narratives, so sorting them out is a challenge. And perhaps not even really possible.

Today’s feast celebrates James “the Lesser” – as opposed to James the Greater, brother of John, one of the first four apostles called by Jesus, present at the Transfiguration, feast June 25, etc.

This James, son of Alphaeus, is often identified with the James who was head of the Church in Jerusalem and the author of the New Testament letter.  That’s what Pope Benedict went with in his 2007 General Audience talk: 

Thus, St James’ Letter shows us a very concrete and practical Christianity. Faith must be fulfilled in life, above all, in love of neighbour and especially in dedication to the poor. It is against this background that the famous sentence must be read: “As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead” (Jas 2: 26).

At times, this declaration by St James has been considered as opposed to the affirmations of Paul, who claims that we are justified by God not by virtue of our actions but through our faith "amy welborn"(cf. Gal 2: 16; Rom 3: 28). However, if the two apparently contradictory sentences with their different perspectives are correctly interpreted, they actually complete each other.

St Paul is opposed to the pride of man who thinks he does not need the love of God that precedes us; he is opposed to the pride of self-justification without grace, simply given and undeserved.

St James, instead, talks about works as the normal fruit of faith: “Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit”, the Lord says (Mt 7: 17). And St James repeats it and says it to us.

Lastly, the Letter of James urges us to abandon ourselves in the hands of God in all that we do: “If the Lord wills” (Jas 4: 15). Thus, he teaches us not to presume to plan our lives autonomously and with self interest, but to make room for the inscrutable will of God, who knows what is truly good for us.

Now, Philip. I think this GA talk really highlight’s B16’s catechetical skills. We don’t know that much about Philip, but Benedict takes what we do know, and hones it down in the most practical…pastoral way:

The Fourth Gospel recounts that after being called by Jesus, Philip meets Nathanael and tells him: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (Jn 1: 45). Philip does not give way to Nathanael’s somewhat sceptical answer (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”) and firmly retorts: “Come and see!” (Jn 1: 46).

In his dry but clear response, Philip displays the characteristics of a true witness: he is not satisfied with presenting the proclamation theoretically, but directly challenges the person addressing him by suggesting he have a personal experience of what he has been told.

The same two verbs are used by Jesus when two disciples of John the Baptist approach him to ask him where he is staying. Jesus answers: “Come and see” (cf. Jn 1: 38-39).

We can imagine that Philip is also addressing us with those two verbs that imply personal involvement. He is also saying to us what he said to Nathanael: “Come and see”. The Apostle engages us to become closely acquainted with Jesus.

In fact, friendship, true knowledge of the other person, needs closeness and indeed, to a certain extent, lives on it. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that according to what Mark writes, Jesus chose the Twelve primarily “to be with him” (Mk 3: 14); that is, to share in his life and learn directly from him not only the style of his behaviour, but above all who he really was.

Indeed, only in this way, taking part in his life, could they get to know him and subsequently, proclaim him."amy welborn"

Later, in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, one would read that what is important is to “learn Christ” (4: 20): therefore, not only and not so much to listen to his teachings and words as rather to know him in person, that is, his humanity and his divinity, his mystery and his beauty. In fact, he is not only a Teacher but a Friend, indeed, a Brother.

How will we be able to get to know him properly by being distant? Closeness, familiarity and habit make us discover the true identity of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Philip reminds us precisely of this. And thus he invites us to “come” and “see”, that is, to enter into contact by listening, responding and communion of life with Jesus, day by day.

Then, on the occasion of the multiplication of the loaves, he received a request from Jesus as precise as it was surprising: that is, where could they buy bread to satisfy the hunger of all the people who were following him (cf. Jn 6: 5). Then Philip very realistically answered: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (Jn 6: 7).

Here one can see the practicality and realism of the Apostle who can judge the effective implications of a situation.

We then know how things went. We know that Jesus took the loaves and after giving thanks, distributed them. Thus, he brought about the multiplication of the loaves.

It is interesting, however, that it was to Philip himself that Jesus turned for some preliminary help with solving the problem: this is an obvious sign that he belonged to the close group that surrounded Jesus.

On another occasion very important for future history, before the Passion some Greeks who had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover “came to Philip… and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus’. Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus” (cf. Jn 12: 20-22).

Once again, we have an indication of his special prestige within the Apostolic College. In this case, Philip acts above all as an intermediary between the request of some Greeks – he probably spoke Greek and could serve as an interpreter – and Jesus; even if he joined Andrew, the other Apostle with a Greek name, he was in any case the one whom the foreigners addressed.

This teaches us always to be ready to accept questions and requests, wherever they come from, and to direct them to the Lord, the only one who can fully satisfy them. Indeed, it is important to know that the prayers of those who approach us are not ultimately addressed to us, but to the Lord: it is to him that we must direct anyone in need. So it is that each one of us must be an open road towards him!

There is then another very particular occasion when Philip makes his entrance. During the Last Supper, after Jesus affirmed that to know him was also to know the Father (cf. Jn 14: 7), Philip quite ingenuously asks him: “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14: 8). Jesus answered with a gentle rebuke: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father: how can you say, “Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?… Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me” (Jn 14: 9-11).

These words are among the most exalted in John’s Gospel. They contain a true and proper revelation. At the end of the Prologue to his Gospel, John says: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (Jn 1: 18).

Well, that declaration which is made by the Evangelist is taken up and confirmed by Jesus himself, but with a fresh nuance. In fact, whereas John’s Prologue speaks of an explanatory intervention by Jesus through the words of his teaching, in his answer to Philip Jesus refers to his own Person as such, letting it be understood that it is possible to understand him not only through his words but rather, simply through what he is.

To express ourselves in accordance with the paradox of the Incarnation we can certainly say that God gave himself a human face, the Face of Jesus, and consequently, from now on, if we truly want to know the Face of God, all we have to do is to contemplate the Face of Jesus! In his Face we truly see who God is and what he looks like!

The Evangelist does not tell us whether Philip grasped the full meaning of Jesus’ sentence. There is no doubt that he dedicated his whole life entirely to him. According to certain later accounts (Acts of Philip and others), our Apostle is said to have evangelized first Greece and then Frisia, where he is supposed to have died, in Hierapolis, by a torture described variously as crucifixion or stoning.

Let us conclude our reflection by recalling the aim to which our whole life must aspire: to encounter Jesus as Philip encountered him, seeking to perceive in him God himself, the heavenly Father. If this commitment were lacking, we would be reflected back to ourselves as in a mirror and become more and more lonely! Philip teaches us instead to let ourselves be won over by Jesus, to be with him and also to invite others to share in this indispensable company; and in seeing, finding God, to find true life.

 

Many years ago, I wrote a study guide for B16’s collected General Audience talks on the Apostles and other early Church figures. The study guide is available online in pdf form – so if you have a church discussion group and would like to use it, or even just for yourself  – there it is. 

Both images from St. John Lateran in Rome. 

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Today, May 2, we remember St. Athanasius. Fr. Steve Grunow says it best:

The witness of St. Athanasius clarifies just how much theology matters. How we conceive of the truths of the Faith is of pressing importance. The great truths we profess in our creed and celebrate in our liturgy are not to be taken lightly or dismissed as abstractions that are best left to experts. We have a responsibility as disciples to know the Church’s teachings at a measure of depth, or the mission Christ gives us will be imperiled. A disciple cannot be content with a spiritual life that is built on the sandy foundations of platitudes or slogans. Christ comes into this world as a man so that we might know him as God. The Christian spiritual life is a continual intensification of our experience and understanding of this revelation. 

The tendency to dilute or deny the truth of the Incarnation has been a temptation in every age of the Church’s life. Some prefer that Christ’s divinity be emptied of all significance and meaning. Others would make his humanity incidental to his revelation. Neither option is congruent with the Apostolic Faith or expresses who the Lord Jesus truly is “for us and for our salvation.” 

The world may prefer another kind of Christ, but if that is the world’s preference, Athanasius invites us to stand with him “contra mundi.”

 

MORE

From a 2007 General Audience, Benedict XVI:

As you read, note how Benedict pulls out the core of what is at stake in Arianism. As Fr. Grunow says above, theology matters. It doesn’t matter to us because we are attached to words or formulas. It doesn’t matter to us because we are focused on human intellectual constructs rather than human life. It doesn’t matter because we are afraid to get down into the messiness of human life in favor of the cool, dry safety of walled-in libraries.

Theology matters because it is an attempt to understand and express truth. Doctrine reflects what is real. Have you ever taught religion, catechism or theology? If so, then you might understand that a great part of what you were doing in that classroom was helping students dig deeply and understand how the teachings of the Church do not stand opposed to the realities of life, but in fact accurately express How Life Is.  You find this in so many conversion stories: the realization, sudden or gradual, that what has been fought or rejected for so long in fact expresses what is real and true, not just about some transcendent sphere, but about your life. 

…it was not by chance that Gian Lorenzo Bernini placed his statue among those of the four holy Doctors of the Eastern and Western Churches – together with the images of Ambrose, "amy welborn"John Chrysostom and Augustine – which surround the Chair of St Peter in the marvellous apse of the Vatican Basilica.

Athanasius was undoubtedly one of the most important and revered early Church Fathers. But this great Saint was above all the impassioned theologian of the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God who – as the Prologue of the fourth Gospel says – “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).

For this very reason Athanasius was also the most important and tenacious adversary of the Arian heresy, which at that time threatened faith in Christ, reduced to a creature “halfway” between God and man, according to a recurring tendency in history which we also see manifested today in various forms.

In all likelihood Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in about the year 300 A.D. He received a good education before becoming a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, the great Egyptian metropolis. As a close collaborator of his Bishop, the young cleric took part with him in the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council, convoked by the Emperor Constantine in May 325 A.D. to ensure Church unity. The Nicene Fathers were thus able to address various issues and primarily the serious problem that had arisen a few years earlier from the preaching of the Alexandrian priest, Arius.

With his theory, Arius threatened authentic faith in Christ, declaring that the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained for ever inaccessible to us. The Bishops gathered in Nicaea responded by developing and establishing the “Symbol of faith” [“Creed”] which, completed later at the First Council of Constantinople, has endured in the traditions of various Christian denominations and in the liturgy as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

In this fundamental text – which expresses the faith of the undivided Church and which we also recite today, every Sunday, in the Eucharistic celebration – the Greek term homooúsios is featured, in Latin consubstantialis: it means that the Son, the Logos, is “of the same substance” as the Father, he is God of God, he is his substance. Thus, the full divinity of the Son, which was denied by the Arians, was brought into the limelight.

In 328 A.D., when Bishop Alexander died, Athanasius succeeded him as Bishop of Alexandria. He showed straightaway that he was determined to reject any compromise with regard to the Arian theories condemned by the Council of Nicaea.

His intransigence – tenacious and, if necessary, at times harsh – against those who opposed his episcopal appointment and especially against adversaries of the Nicene Creed, provoked the implacable hostility of the Arians and philo-Arians.

Despite the unequivocal outcome of the Council, which clearly affirmed that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, these erroneous ideas shortly thereafter once again began to prevail – in this situation even Arius was rehabilitated -, and they were upheld for political reasons by the Emperor Constantine himself and then by his son Constantius II.

Moreover, Constantine was not so much concerned with theological truth but rather with the unity of the Empire and its political problems; he wished to politicize the faith, making it more accessible – in his opinion – to all his subjects throughout the Empire.

Thus, the Arian crisis, believed to have been resolved at Nicaea, persisted for decades with complicated events and painful divisions in the Church. At least five times – during the 30 years between 336 and 366 A.D. – Athanasius was obliged to abandon his city, spending 17 years in exile and suffering for the faith. But during his forced absences from Alexandria, the Bishop was able to sustain and to spread in the West, first at Trier and then in Rome, the Nicene faith as well as the ideals of monasticism, embraced in Egypt by the great hermit, Anthony, with a choice of life to which Athanasius was always close.

St Anthony, with his spiritual strength, was the most important champion of St Athanasius’ faith. Reinstated in his See once and for all, the Bishop of Alexandria was able to devote himself to religious pacification and the reorganization of the Christian communities. He died on 2 May 373, the day when we celebrate his liturgical Memorial.

The most famous doctrinal work of the holy Alexandrian Bishop is his treatise: De Incarnatione, On the Incarnation of the Word,the divine Logos who was made flesh, becoming like one of us for our salvation.

In this work Athanasius says with an affirmation that has rightly become famous that the Word of God “was made man so that we might be made God; and he manifested himself through a body so that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and he endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality” (54, 3). With his Resurrection, in fact, the Lord banished death from us like “straw from the fire” (8, 4).

The fundamental idea of Athanasius’ entire theological battle was precisely that God is accessible. He is not a secondary God, he is the true God and it is through our communion with Christ that we can truly be united to God. He has really become “God-with-us”.

Among the other works of this great Father of the Church – which remain largely associated with the events of the Arian crisis – let us remember the four epistles he addressed to his friend Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, on the divinity of the Holy Spirit which he clearly affirmed, and approximately 30 “Festal” Letters addressed at the beginning of each year to the Churches and monasteries of Egypt to inform them of the date of the Easter celebration, but above all to guarantee the links between the faithful, reinforcing their faith and preparing them for this great Solemnity….

 

…Yes, brothers and sisters! We have many causes for which to be grateful to St Athanasius. His life, like that of Anthony and of countless other saints, shows us that “those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 42).

 

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Speaking of Siena..

(Which we were, on Friday. Right?)

Siena is in an area of Italy called Tuscany. Tuscany is north of Rome and includes, not only Siena, but Florence, Pisa, Lucca and dozens of charming towns, many of them atop hills.

Tuscany looks beautiful and interesting. Tuscany is very popular. A spate of books on the expats’ experience in Tuscany both reflects and exacerbates the popularity, which then leads to a certain packaging of the Tuscany experience.

 

Thanks to reader John for the reminder….

But Tuscany is also a large area (not as big as North Dakota, George. Sorry.) with a lot to see, and the challenge is that while it is about three hours from Rome up to Florence – and that doesn’t seem far – the geography of the area makes finding a central base for exploration challenging, and you for sure need a car.

So, after weeks of reading and thinking, I had to force myself to return to one of my basic philosophies I claim I hold and ask myself if I really indeed believed it and was willing to live by it:

You can’t do everything. Just do what you can, and do it well.

So no, we were not going to be able to see everything that we might find interesting. Choices would have to be made.

And I still haven’t made them.

Yup. Some people plan their vacations a year out. Me, I’m a few weeks away from a week in Tuscany, and I haven’t yet booked a single accommodation.

Right now, this is what I’m thinking – feel free to chime in.

We are done in Rome on a Friday. At that point, I’ll rent a car, and we’ll head out. I was thinking that for two or three days, we’d do the southern part of Tuscany, or Maremma. Orvieto (which is really Umbria), Pitigiliano, Sorano, Sovano, Saturnia – focusing on Etruscan stuff as well as the usual Catholic fun.

via-cave-tuscany

Etruscan Stuff and Catholic fun all in one – part of the Etruscan Via Cave with a later Christian addition – appropriate for today (May 1) – St. Joseph protecting those who venture onward. More here. 

Alternative: take the train to Orvieto, center there for a couple of days, rent car and use a car for the rest of the week.

Maybe.

Then there’s Siena.

And Florence.

And little towns around.

I would love to base in Siena, but, a couple of things…Siena accommodations are pretty expensive, it seems. Secondly, it’s a hike from Siena to Florence – over an hour, maybe more, I think. I’m leaning towards basing somewhere between Siena and Florence for the bulk of that week, but I just don’t know.

We end up in Pisa. We fly out of there on a Friday afternoon, so I figure we will take Thursday afternoon and evening to do Pisa and stay there Thursday night – I already have those hotel reservations.

Bottom line: I have no idea. No. That’s not true. I have ideas, but I’m torn and am having to resist, with all my strength, the temptation to dash around and See All The Tuscan Things. I know from experience that is miserable, and I know the way to actually benefit deeply from travel is to calm down, stay still, look and listen.

I think: I’ll be back. I can see more on some other trip.

But will I? I might drop dead, some other drama, tragedy or priority might make future travel of this sort impossible or ill-advised. There are many other places in the world I have my eye on. So no. Maybe I won’t be back.

And what does it matter anyway? There is no urgency or necessity about this, at all. If I don’t see some little Tuscan hill town that caught my eye…so what? If we don’t experience this ruin or Etruscan site that I think the boys will enjoy and appreciate…so what?

Whatever we are doing while not doing what we’re missing…will be worth doing.  

It’s all fascinating, all opportunities to learn, to see, to listen – all – beginning with my own neighborhood, my own town, first of all. Beginning today, here and now.

The only way to “miss” something important is to close myself off to the present – where ever it is I happen to be.

 

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Friday was supposed to be for Atlanta. I have something belonging to my oldest son that he needs, and he has all of my Rome travel books, so we were going to make a trade.

Work, however, had exhausted him (he works in a field in which the ebb and flow of the NBA playoffs are currently the scheduler and has something like five days off since mid-March) and he asked if we could try for next weekend. Sure.

But now we were in that Friday mode. Even the arrival of Beast Academy 5B wasn’t enough to break it, so we headed to Huntsville, to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. 

It’s not a new destination. We’ve visited many times. In fact, three years ago, we went almost every week. J was doing a Lego Robotics team up there, and during his time, M and I would find other things to do – and since the space center admission is free with our local science center membership, we often found ourselves wandering over there.

(If you have a membership in any ASTC institution, you can get in free. I’ve found that it’s quite a good deal – when we went to Chicago a couple of years ago, we didn’t pay to get into either the Field or the Museum of Science and Industry, thanks to that membership, saving a bundle. Be sure to check, though, because institutional affiliations do change – the last time we attempted to go to Fernbank in Atlanta, I discovered that they were no longer members of ASCA, and therefore..we’d have to pay to get in. We had been before, it’s a small museum, so itwouldn’t have been worth it. I think I tried to find the big antique mall in Decatur that day then, instead.)

But it had been a couple of years, so why not? It takes about an hour and half to get to Huntsville from here, so we could go up, visit the museum, and be back by high school dismissal time.

Soundtrack for the ride: The Essential Weird Al.

(Tour coming to Birmingham in June!)

Listening to Weird Al Yankovic always takes me back, not so much because of him, but because of his association with Dr. Demento, who “discovered” him – or whom Weird Al insisted discover him.

I used to listen to Dr. Demento on Saturday nights as a pre-teen and teen up in Knoxville. It was all so primitive. I’d have a radio and a tape recorder at the ready, prepared to record my favorites – usually Tom Lehrer or Spike Jones. For some reason I also associate him (Dr. Demento, not Weird Al) with Lent, to those Saturday nights I would stay up past midnight and he was my soundtrack to breaking open those brownies or chips I’d given up, doctor of the law that I was.

The center is a good visit. It’s not burdened with a lot of the extra charges you find with so many museums these days, although SPACE CAMP is thrown in your face at every turn.

(Me thinking…hmmm..maybe Space Camp is a possibility for Someone….Me looking at brochure and seeing cost: Oh.)

(A little under a thousand for most weeks)

We wandered. He rode the G-Force ride – his favorite thing – a couple of times, and did the climbing wall a couple of times as well. At the climbing wall, I pulled the former-teacher-card, as two kids (part of the many school groups there that day) broke line to stand with their friends near the front. No one was saying anything to them, so I did. “The back of the line is there” – I pointed. They shrugged and moved. It’s not that hard.

The special exhibits there are, I’ve found, never that great. They try to be all interactive and glossy, but end up being busy and not very informative. But the Saturn V hall is still so spectacular and interesting. We simply walked around, reviewing the general course of the American space quest, and talked about why all this is in Huntsville. An elderly docent intercepted us a couple of times and gave us some fun facts: About how the moon rocks confirmed the theory that the moon broke off from the earth (the basalt in the moon rocks is only found on the earth as well, not in other cosmic bodies), and about how during the Apollo 7 mission, all three of the astronauts came down with a stomach virus immediately after launch and the capsule was such a hideous mess at the end, when they opened it on the aircraft carrier, crew members passed out. Now you know!

If you go, I’d recommend the “Science in Space” presentation about the International Space Station. It’s a good introduction to the history of the ISS, the current missions and the role of the Marshall Space Center in Huntsville in those missions – followed by a quick walkthrough of a model of part of the station, which I presume is mostly there because of SPACE CAMP.

You probably know this, but I learned about this website, in which you can find out exactly when the ISS will be passing over a particular spot.

It also put me in the mood to watch The Right Stuff.  Hopefully we can get it in tonight, quickly skipping over the “SPERM” scene. Love that movie.

A quick stop at a pet store – Animal Trax – on the way home that we had discovered on those previous regular Huntsville visits. It’s a favorite because they have a lot of reptiles on display. Unfortunately, they only had about half as many as before. They have a downtown Huntsville store now, and perhaps they have moved most of the critters down there.

Well, we did feed a tortoise. So there’s that.

 

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I wish I had taken a photo of the description card on this. It’s a painting of the interior of, I think some sort of Juno rocket. I’m sure someone can correct me. But what was striking is that it was an instructional tool – and it’s this lovely, delicately rendered painting, not a soulless diagram. 

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— 1 —

First off, big grateful thanks (?) to Simcha Fisher for her shoutout to The How-To Book of the Mass in her Register column.  Eleven years after it was first published and seven years after Mike died it’s still going strong, helping a lot of folks understand the Mass and pray it more deeply – and hopefully will for years to come

He wrote another book on the Mass, How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist, in which he used the letters in the word “Sacrifice” as an organizing theme. Read more about it here.

— 2 —

Saw a good production of On the Town tonight, put on at Samford University. I’d never seen a stage production of the show before, and was really interested to see how different it was from the film. I’d always believed, just based on comparing stage and film soundtracks, that surely, despite the presence of my beloved, Gene Kelly, and as much as I adore the movie, the film version surely must have been homogenized and dumbed down from pointed, dry, Comdon-Green-Bernstein sophistication.

Well, no. I think the one element dropped from the stage that shouldn’t have been is the song “I Can Cook, Too” – which is a fantastic jazzy stew of double-entendres…which is probably why it was dropped. But honestly, all of the other changes make sense to me now. The plot of the film, such as it is, seems more like a plot than a series of set pieces, the relationship between Gabe and Ivy has a bit more grounding in the movie (In the play, they meet in the studio at Carnegie Hall, and then not again until Coney Island, and the play doesn’t have the nice twist of them actually being from the same town), and most of the other songs dropped were not memorable, as it turns out after all.

And has a lovelier song than “Some Other Time” been written for Broadway? I don’t think so.

– 3—

Did you know there’s a blog devoted to parliamentary fights – as in fights – around the world?

 

 — 4 —

How about this gondola system of public transportation in La Paz? Amazing.

 

— 5 

Great article from Catholic News Service on religious women who helped map the stars a hundred years ago.

In a letter dated July 13, 1909, to the superior general, Mother Angela Ghezzi, Archbishop Maffi said the Vatican Observatory “needs two sisters with normal vision, patience and a predisposition for methodical and mechanical work.”

Father Maffeo said the sisters’ general council was not enthused “about wasting two nuns on a job that had nothing to do with charity.” However, Mother Ghezzi was “used to seeing God’s will in every request,” he said, and she let two sisters go to the observatory.

Work for the sisters began in 1910, but soon required a third and later a fourth nun to join the team. Two would sit in front of a microscope mounted on an inclined plane with a light shining under the plate-glass photograph of one section of the night sky.

The plates were overlaid with numbered grids and the sisters would measure and read out loud each star’s location on two axes and another would register the coordinates in a ledger. They would also check enlarged versions of the images on paper.

The Vatican was one of about 10 observatories to complete its assigned slice of the sky. From 1910 to 1921, the nuns surveyed the brightness and positions of 481,215 stars off of hundreds of glass plates.

Their painstaking work did not go unnoticed at the time. Pope Benedict XV received them in a private audience in 1920 and gave them a gold chalice, Father Maffeo said. Pope Pius XI also received the “measuring nuns” eight years later, awarding them a silver medal.

The Vatican’s astrographic catalog, which totaled 10 volumes, gave special mention to the sisters, noting their “alacrity and diligence,” uninterrupted labors and “zeal greater than any eulogy” could express at a task “so foreign to their mission.”

 

— 6-

Happy feastday of Catherine of Siena!

Like the Sienese Saint, every believer feels the need to be conformed with the sentiments of the heart of Christ to love God and his neighbour as Christ himself loves. And we can all let our hearts be transformed and learn to love like Christ in a familiarity with him that is nourished by prayer, by meditation on the Word of God and by the sacraments, above all by receiving Holy Communion frequently and with devotion. Catherine also belongs to the throng of Saints devoted to the Eucharist with which I concluded my Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (cf. n. 94). Dear brothers and sisters, the Eucharist is an extraordinary gift of love that God continually renews to nourish our journey of faith, to strengthen our hope and to inflame our charity, to make us more and more like him.

A true and authentic spiritual family was built up around such a strong and genuine personality; people fascinated by the moral authority of this young woman with a most exalted lifestyle were at times also impressed by the mystical phenomena they witnessed, such as her frequent ecstasies. Many put themselves at Catherine’s service and above all considered it a privilege to receive spiritual guidance from her. They called her “mother” because, as her spiritual children, they drew spiritual nourishment from her. Today too the Church receives great benefit from the exercise of spiritual motherhood by so many women, lay and consecrated, who nourish souls with thoughts of God, who strengthen the people’s faith and direct Christian life towards ever loftier peaks.

— 7 —

A bit more on Catherine. We tend to think of her as “the young woman who told the Pope what to do. Awesome!” There is, of course, so much more to her than that, and even that has a specific – and quite political – context.

If you ever dive into her Dialogues you will find yourself immersed in a riot of imagery that just seems to grab anything and everything from life that might help even a little bit to give a hint of what God is all about.

Blood is very big in Catherine’s spirituality. She begins her letters “in the blood” and she writes of it constantly. The imagery here is earthy and fascinating. We, disciples, go into the world satiated and even drunk on the blood of Christ we’ve been served at the inn called Church.

This is how these beloved children and faithful servants of mine follow the teaching and example of my Truth…..Indeed, they go into battle filled and inebriated with the blood of Christ crucified. My charity sets this blood before you in the hostel of the mystic body of holy Church to give courage….(Dialogues, 77)

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

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