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Here are some images from beginning-of-Lent related material from a couple of my books.

The entry on “Ashes” from The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 

The beginning of the account of the Temptation in the Desert – always the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent – from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

Remember, those stories are arranged in sections according to the liturgical season in which one would normally hear that particular Scripture narrative. So, this is in the “Lent” section.

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As promised and expected, rescinded today by executive order.

Here is a factsheet on the policy from the Population Research Institute.

Basically, every president, very early on, stakes out a position on this. It was instituted during Reagan’s administration, in 1984.

In response, the Senate voted (in the typically complicated Senatorial way) on an amendment to an amendment to a bill to table an expression of support for the policy, and Senator Joe Biden voted in support of Reagan’s Mexico City Policy.

Clinton, after running as, if not quite pro-life, but in a way that made pro-lifers think he might not be their enemy, was on record, in a 1986 letter to Arkansas Right to Life, as opposing government funding for abortion….reversed the Mexico City Policy on his first day in office, as the crowds were gathering for the March for Life. I vividly remember that because the Catholic circles I ran in at the time were all very up on Clinton and how he was really big-tent-pro-life-and-not-just-anti-abortion-because-justice. And then, his first day,  not only this, but more:

With a stroke of a pen, President Clinton marked the 20th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade Friday by dismantling a series of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Administration abortion restrictions, only hours after tens of thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators rallied across the street from the White House.

* Ended a five-year ban on fetal tissue research, which scientists believe holds the possibility of benefiting patients with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, Huntington’s disease, spinal cord injuries and other conditions.

* Overturned the so-called gag rule that restricted abortion counseling at 4,000 federally funded family planning clinics nationwide.

* Revoked prohibitions on the importation of RU486–known as the French “abortion pill”–for personal use, if the Food and Drug Administration determines that there is no justification for the prohibitions.

* Allowed abortions at U.S. military hospitals overseas, if they are paid for privately.

* Reversed a 1984 order which prevented the United States from providing foreign aid to overseas organizations that perform or promote abortion.

Abortion rights advocates said Clinton’s actions were nothing short of historic.

It was eye-opening, to say the least.

And then, of course, Bush reinstated the Mexico City Policy on his first day, and then Obama reversed it on his.

And then Trump:

The executive order was signed January 23, one day after the anniversary of the far-reaching Roe v. Wade decision that mandated legal abortion throughout the U.S.

Originally instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Mexico City Policy states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

From USCCB testimony back in 2001:

The argument has been made by abortion proponents that the Mexico City Policy is nothing more than “powerful” U.S. politicians forcing their policies on poor nations. But, frankly, the opposite is true. First, the policy forces nothing: Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may choose to apply for U.S. tax funds, and to be eligible, they must refrain from abortion activity. On the other hand, NGOs may choose to do abortions or to lobby foreign nations to change their laws which restrict abortion, and if they choose that path they render themselves ineligible for U.S. money. As we saw last time the policy was in place, only two out of hundreds of organizations elected to forfeit the U.S. money for which they were otherwise eligible. (1) But it was and will be entirely their choice.

Far from forcing a policy on poor nations, the Mexico City Policy ensures that NGOs will not themselves force their abortion ideology on countries without permissive abortion laws in the name of the United States as U.S. grantees.

And as we have learned from our experience in international conferences on population, it is not the Mexico City Policy but the United States’ promotion of permissive abortion attitudes through funding of such programs that is likely to cause resentment.(2) This is especially true when it is perceived as a means by which the West is attempting to impose population control policies on developing nations as conditions for development assistance.

The Mexico City Policy is needed because the agenda of many organizations receiving U.S. population aid has been to promote abortion as an integral part of family planning – even in developing nations where abortion is against the law.(3) So, far from being perceived as an imposition on developing nations, the Mexico City Policy against funding abortion programs has been greeted by those nations as a welcome reform. The vast majority of these countries have legal policies against abortion, and virtually all forbid the use of abortion as merely another method of birth control.(4)

Two other pieces on the policy from the PRI. Here, on the Trump administration’s extension of it, and then here, on the impact of the policy.

And now, like clockwork, the pendulum swings back. Almost 40 years ago, Joe Biden expressed support of the Mexico City Policy (consistent with his views for many years opposing government funding of abortion – he didn’t flip on Hyde until 2019), and today, as promised and expected, he signed an executive order rescinding the Mexico City Policy.

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— 1 —

Happy New Year to you. Just a note on how life changes, and how time goes on in case you are wondering if you will ever be out of this or that stage of life…

Our New Year’s Eve? Well, besides the far-flung in NYC, Charleston and Louisville, all celebrating in their own ways, the three of us here spent the evening, first at Mass – two of us downtown at the Cathedral, and then the youngest playing at his parish job, driving himself now. After our Mass, College Guy drove off to meet up with friends, youngest drove from church to a friend’s house, then drove back here and walked down to a neighborhood friend’s house for the rest of the night.

And I sat and read Gogol and Don Quixote and listened to Mary Lou Williams.

How about that.

Just as no time is tricky to navigate, so, when it surprises you is so much…time.

— 2 —

Not much writing in this space this week. Te Deum is here. I was in Living Faith on Tuesday – and will return there in a couple of weeks. A new set of those is due Monday (for the July-August issue), so I’ll be working on those over the weekend, as well as planning out at least the first part of American Literature for the high schooler.

Although we might start with The Overcoat for some general work in symbolism and such. I spent so much time thinking about it…why let it just rest in my head? Might was well share the bounty…

I will say that I’ve been gratified and humbled over the past few days as I’ve received several notes regarding my 2020: A Book of Grace-Filled Days that wrapped up yesterday. Folks said they were actually sorry it had come to an end, and they appreciated what I had to share. So kind! It was not a super-fun book to write (just imagine writing almost 400 individual devotional entries…..) and I don’t plan on doing it again any time soon. Maybe in another ten years when more life has happened.

But it is so nice when people take time to write and let you know that your work was helpful to them in some way. Thank you!

(And I’ll just mention that it’s not out of print – still for sale, as are all past editions by other writers – including 2021, of course. No, the dates won’t match, but you can still buy it and match the feast days yourself. And no, I don’t profit from your purchase in any way – it’s the kind of work for which you’re paid a flat fee – no royalties. Just making the suggestion!)

— 3 —

Are you making resolutions? Well, here’s a Twitter thread featuring some of Dorothy Day’s New Year’s resolutions over the years.

Here’s 1960:

Image

More.

— 4 —

I recently discovered the Public Domain Review, which is such a treasure chest of fascinating, beautiful, interesting images and information.

Here’s a link to their top ten posts of the year. Including this post on 19th century Japanese firemen’s coats. Gorgeous.

— 5 —

What a lovely video this is, on Etsuro Sotoo, the Japanese stonemason who is now the Chief Sculptor at Sagrada Familia.

“Sotoo was motivated mainly by the opportunity to be exposed to stone,” says director David Cerqueiro, “and later by the admiration of the genius of Antoni Gaudí—back then a still-to-be-recognized figure of outstanding universal value.”

Known as quite a guarded and private character, Sotoo only granted Cerqueiro the opportunity to profile his life’s work after the director made several attempts to meet with him in person and over email. “Some of those attempts included having to attend mass at the basilica several times,” says the director. “The film briefly explores, tactfully but sincerely, the emotional inner workings behind a forty-year career devoted to one project.” 

Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece continues to exercise its charms over Sotoo who converted to Catholicism so he could gain a deeper understanding of Gaudí’s genius and his relationship with God through architecture. “I discovered an artist profoundly driven by faith. Although encased by organized religion, his faith is more closely related to the transcendental aspirations of genuine art,” says the director. “That’s how I ended up with a subtle portrayal of an ontological inquiry, personified by a surprisingly little-known major artist who seems to be more preoccupied with the intrinsic moral legacy of his work than by its formal expression or its public recognition.”

Gaudi talked with God about something very big and profound. To this day, no one really knows what it was about.

-Etsuro Sotoo, Chief Sculptor, Sagrada Familia

— 6 —

Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know about the Sister Servants of Casa Maria here in Birmingham. A small order dedicated to prayer (of course) and retreat ministry – the also do catechesis of various kinds in parishes in the area.

They provided music for one of our Cathedral’s Sunday Vespers during Advent. You can listen here.

Both of my younger sons spent a few years serving Mass and Benediction at the convent, and we have another connection, as well – my college roommate from UT (the real one, in Knoxville) is a sister there.

They haven’t been able to have public Mass or retreats since March, of course, but I thought you’d enjoy reading their latest newsletter and taking a look at a couple of their videos – you might remember I posted a link to their offering of “I’ll Fly Away” a few months ago. This is simply of their Christmas preparation, with more at the linked Vimeo page.

— 7 —

Therefore, we can ask ourselves: what is the reason why some men see and find, while others do not? What opens the eyes and the heart? What is lacking in those who remain indifferent, in those who point out the road but do not move? We can answer: too much self-assurance, the claim to knowing reality, the presumption of having formulated a definitive judgment on everything closes them and makes their hearts insensitive to the newness of God. They are certain of the idea that they have formed of the world and no longer let themselves be involved in the intimacy of an adventure with a God who wants to meet them. They place their confidence in themselves rather than in him, and they do not think it possible that God could be so great as to make himself small so as to come really close to us.

Lastly, what they lack is authentic humility, which is able to submit to what is greater, but also authentic courage, which leads to belief in what is truly great even if it is manifested in a helpless Baby. They lack the evangelical capacity to be children at heart, to feel wonder, and to emerge from themselves in order to follow the path indicated by the star, the path of God. God has the power to open our eyes and to save us. Let us therefore ask him to give us a heart that is wise and innocent, that allows us to see the Star of his mercy, to proceed along his way, in order to find him and be flooded with the great light and true joy that he brought to this world. Amen.  Source

"amy welborn"

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

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I toss the same general post up every year. I don’t care. (Even less so this year since I’m on the road today….) No need to search my brain for heartfelt spiritual metaphors from Daily Life™. When we have the Monkees!

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu chiu…

Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hemos redemido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.

Translation:

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.

Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…

He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

River, roaring river…

Here’s a helpful video that someone put up with subtitles. 

And the Kingston Trio:

More from Fr. Steve Grunow on the song and the feast.

Here’s my book on Mary, available in a Kindle version for  free today:

 And for even more substance from a homily hB16 gave in 2005 on the feast – it was also the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.  It’s lengthy but SO worth it, an excellent reflection of what he has written elsewhere on it (for example, in this book):

But now we must ask ourselves:  What does “Mary, the Immaculate” mean? Does this title have something to tell us? Today, the liturgy illuminates the content of these words for us in two great images.

First of all comes the marvellous narrative of the annunciation of the Messiah’s coming to Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. The Angel’s greeting is interwoven with threads from the Old Testament, especially from the Prophet Zephaniah. He shows that Mary, the humble provincial woman who comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, is “the holy remnant” of Israel to which the prophets referred in all the periods of trial and darkness.

In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling-place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her he finds the place of his repose. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man. She is the shoot which sprouts from the stump of David in the dark winter night of history. In her, the words of the Psalm are fulfilled:  “The earth has yielded its fruits” (Ps 67: 7).

She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary’s time when Israel had become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few recognizable signs of its holiness.

God did not fail. In the humility of the house in Nazareth lived holy Israel, the pure remnant. God saved and saves his people. From the felled tree trunk Israel’s history shone out anew, becoming a living force that guides and pervades the world.

Mary is holy Israel:  she says “yes” to the Lord, she puts herself totally at his disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God.

……..

This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception:  the person who abandons himself totally in God’s hands does not become God’s puppet, a boring “yes man”; he does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.

The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes truly himself. The person who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.

The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings.

For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness.

In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home.

As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son. Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God’s goodness came very close to us.

MORE

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The temptation to be performatively meditative and thoughtful about Advent will run strong this year, I’m guessing.

It’s natural. 2020 has been a strange year for everyone and a hard year for many. Tragic, even.

Not surprising then, that as the calendar year draws to a close and Advent begins, it seems a proper moment for stock-taking and pondering. What do all of these disruptions, changes and challenges mean? What is this new world and how do we live in it?

Well, when I read through this Sunday’s readings, I was struck, most of all by the old news, once again, that all this disruption, change and challenge is not new at all.

For most of human history, most people, even the wealthy, have lived on the edge of earthly existence, with very little sense of control. Life was precarious. High maternal mortality, high childhood mortality, high mortality, period. Populations subject to the vagaries of climate and natural disaster, without benefit of satellite or radar to know what’s coming. Famine, floods and pestilence always on the horizon of possibility, which meant, not that you’d have to put off a trip to the store and consider a week or month-long disruption of the supply chain, but that you, your children and maybe your whole village would  starve.  Brutal rulers, punishments and restrictions, pogroms and genocide.

And you don’t even have to reach back to the Middle Ages to find it.

In such a context, it is not difficult to remember that you yourself are not God, or even a god, that you don’t create your own destiny. With that understanding, it’s not so much of a challenge to live in the knowledge that any joy or contentment you can grab from life on earth will not – and cannot – be tied to material prosperity and peak physical health, for neither of those things will probably ever come to you at all.

For most of human history, it hasn’t been the full, satisfied college degree holder looking to scratch a vague itch of existential despair who’s been hearing the Good News. It’s been the peasant nursing constantly aching teeth, squinting to see through weakened eyes, middle-aged at thirty, working hard from dawn to dusk, remember dead children, hearing rumors of war, studying the skies, waiting and praying for rain, subject to the whims of human authorities.

If they could see us, reeling from our present-day troubles, they might well ask us, “Well…what did you expect?”

Listen to today’s first reading, from Isaiah. Better yet, read the entire context – Isaiah 63-64. It’s an astonishing outcry of a people in exile, a wild mix of all that every person feels in time of loss and crisis: What did we do to do deserve this? Why are we suffering so? Have we done wrong? Are we suffering consequences of that wrong? God is so harsh with us! God seems to be silent, hidden and absent? But….you know what? He’s our Father. We trust him. He’s like a potter, we’re clay. Go ahead, Shape us.

The voices come to us from 2700 years ago – 2700 years – questioning, railing and ultimately trusting – and it’s as if they could be speaking today

Well, they are.

Same human race, same struggle, same veil we yearn to lift, same ache in our hearts for peace, wholeness, life and love.

Same cry for a savior.


I’ve attached this poem to another Advent post in the past, but it seemed fitting here. Written at the end of World War II, the poet says of it:

This poem, ‘Expectans Expectavi’, which is the title of a psalm, “I waited patiently for the Lord”, is about waiting, written at the end of the last war when the whole world, really, seemed to be holding its breath for the return of ordinary life, and all the soldiers from overseas, and I thought of it in the wintertime, at Christmas, with the carols and the children’s faces, recalling the refugees of the time. The poem happened to be chosen to be posted up on the underground, so although I never saw it myself, several of my friends have been surprised by it in the middle of a crowd of people standing up in the tube train.

Expectans Expectavi

The candid freezing season again:
Candle and cracker, needles of fir and frost;
Carols that through the night air pass, piercing
The glassy husk of heart and heaven;
Children’s faces white in the pane, bright in the tree-light.

And the waiting season again,
That begs a crust and suffers joy vicariously:
In bodily starvation now, in the spirit’s exile always.
O might the hilarious reign of love begin, let in
Like carols from the cold
The lost who crowd the pane, numb outcasts into welcome.

Advent is a reset, yes, but if we listen carefully to God’s Word and the lives of others beyond our own bubble of time and space, it can be a reset that anchors us more deeply in communion with the reality of the ebb, flow and crashing and burning of human experience, an experience that our privileged houses of sand manage to hide from us – those houses of sand Jesus warned us about for just that reason: they trick us, the rich man of the Gospel, into thinking we don’t need God.

That we don’t need a savior.

And so we listen to the Scriptures proclaimed at Mass and in the Church’s prayer, we listen to the saints whose words are given to us during this season, and we’re reminded that none of this is about hoping and dreaming that someday life will get “back to normal” or that this particular type of suffering and difficulty will end and then peace on earth will reign right now, in its fullness.

It’s about acknowledging the mess – the mess that’s now and the mess that came before the present mess – and lifting up that mess to God, trusting that he will take it and somehow make good come out of it, a type of rescue, if you will. It doesn’t diminish a bit of our current suffering. It simply situates it and puts us into communion with others who have suffered – which is everyone.

And then, as the weeks of Advent pass, we listen to the cries and questions asked and answered over centuries past in the context of Word, prayer, song and art – it becomes clearer and clearer: Yesterday and today, the human family speaks from the same broken, suffering heart – and yes, He hears us. And look right here in the mess, just look: here he is.

Others have found him. Keep looking. So can you.

Korean nativity
Source

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Some random notes from Claret’s autobiography that struck me:

Know your community before you start talking at them – not a new concept:

From the opening to the closing days of my tenure in office, I wrote a number of circular letters; but I had no desire to write a properly pastoral letter until I had finished my first pastoral visitation of the whole archdiocese, so that my words would apply to the real situation and not be just so much idle talk.

The importance of poverty in ministry. Not something you see much of nowadays:

I believed that this dreadful giant, [of greed]  which worldlings call all-powerful, had to be confronted with the holy virtue of poverty. So wherever I encountered greed, I countered it with poverty. I had nothing, wanted nothing, refused everything. I was content with the clothes I had on and the food that was set before me. I carried all I had in a bandanna. The contents of my luggage were a full-year breviary, a sheaf of sermons, a pair of socks, and an extra shirt–nothing more.
I had no money, but then I had no need of it. I didn’t need it for horses, carriage, or train because I always traveled on foot, even though I did have to make some quite long little journeys, as I shall tell later. I didn’t need it for meals because I begged for them wherever I went. Nor did I need it for clothes because the Lord preserved my clothes and shoes almost the way he did the clothes of the Hebrews in the desert. I knew quite clearly that it was God’s will for me not to have any money, nor to
accept anything but the meal that was set before me, never carrying any provisions.

364. I have observed one thing, and the least I can do is set it down here: When one is poor and really wants to be poor, freely and not by force, then he enjoys the sweetness of poverty. Moreover, God will take care of him in one of two ways –either by moving the hearts of those who have something to give so that they will give it to him, or else by helping him live without eating. I have experienced both.

529ff relates the experience of an earthquake in Cuba. Worth a read. 

550ff relates some of the high points of his administration of the Cuban diocese – times change, yes – but it’s interesting to read how he attempted to form the laity and clergy of the diocese and compare it to current efforts….

And I’ll end with some illustrations he offers of what he’s been taught by….animals. 

St. Anthony Mary Claret…definitely a dog person.

The Holy Spirit tells me, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, study her ways and learn wisdom.” (Proverbs 6:6) And learn I shall, not only from the ant, but from the cock, the donkey, and the dog as well…

The cock crows out the hours of day and night. I, too, should praise God every hour of the day and night, and urge others to do so.
3. Day and night the cock watches over his brood; day and night I, too, should watch over the souls that the Lord has entrusted to my care.
4. At the slightest sound or sense of danger the cock crows out an alarm; I, too, should do the same, by warning souls of the slightest danger of sin.

Jesus rode upon a donkey when He entered Jerusalem in triumph. I, too, gladly offer myself to Jesus to make use of me in his triumphant march over his enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, as He makes his way into the souls and towns of those who are converted to Him. I will, of course, know that the honors and praises I hear will not be for me, the donkey, but for Jesus, whose dignity I, though unworthy, bear.

The dog is so faithful an animal and so constant a companion to his master that neither misery, poverty, hardship, nor anything else can separate them. I should be the same: so faithful and constant in serving and loving God that I might say with the Apostle that neither death nor life nor anything else can ever separate me from Him.
The dog is more loyal than a son, more obedient than a servant, and more docile than a child. Not only does he willingly do what his master orders, but he scans his master’s face to tell from his looks what he wants, so that he can do it without being told to, with the greatest alacrity and joy. He even shares his master’s affections, becoming a friend of his friends and an enemy of his enemies. I should practice all these beautiful traits in serving God, my beloved Master. Yes, I shall gladly do what He commands me, and I shall study to know and do his will without waiting for a command. I shall promptly and gladly do all that He disposes through his representatives, my superiors. I shall be a friend of the friends of God, and I shall treat his enemies as He tells me, barking out against their wickedness to make them leave it.
 The dog watches by day and redoubles his vigilance by night. He guards the person and the property of his master. He barks at and bites all those he knows or suspects are planning to harm his master or his master’s interests. I should strive to be always vigilant, and denounce vices, faults, and sins, and cry out against the enemies of the soul.

 The dog’s greatest joy is to be in his master’s presence and walk along beside him. I shall strive always to walk joyfully in the presence of God, my dear Master. Thus I will never sin and will become perfect, according to his word: “Walk in my presence and be blameless.”

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This amused me, particularly the highlighted portion in the second paragraph. It’s in the category of plus la meme chose….I mean…nothing has changed in 150 years except the mode of delivery…

(Claret wrote hundreds of pamphlets)

Experience has taught me that one of the most powerful forces for good is the press, although when abused it can also be one of the most potent weapons for evil. By means of the press so many good books and pamphlets are circulated that God should be praised for it. Not everyone wishes to or is able to hear the Word of God, but everyone can read or listen to the reading of a good book. Not everyone can go to church to hear God’s Word, but a book can go to a person’s house. The preacher can’t always be preaching, but a book is always delivering the same message tirelessly and is always willing to repeat what it says. It is not offended if its reader picks it up and puts it down a thousand times. It is always ready to accommodate itself to the wishes of its reader…..

312. In our day, then, there is twice the need for circulating good books. But these books must be small because modern people rush about so much and are pressed on all sides by a thousand different demands–not to mention the concupiscence of the eyes and ears that has reached such a point that people have to see and hear everything and travel everywhere –so that a thick tome is just not going to be read. It will merely sit around gathering dust on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. It is because I am so convinced of this that, with the help of God’s grace, I have published so many booklets and pamphlets.

Image result for 19th century woman reading

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What was St. Anthony Mary Claret’s approach to evangelizing? Let’s take a look:

Despite all I knew about the predominant local vices, I didn’t begin talking about them at the very outset; on the contrary, I saved such topics for later. I waited until I had won my audience over, and then instead of being offended when I told them about their vices and little idols, they took my advice and mended their ways. I had noticed that at the beginning of a mission many came for the novelty of it, to see what I was going to talk about. If they had heard me reprehending them for their cherished vices, they would have been cut to the quick, and in their irritation they would have gone off upset, never to return, wishing a plague on the missionary, the mission, and everyone attending it. 

It seems to me that in these troubled times a missionary has to act like a man cooking snails. He starts by putting the snails on the stove in a pot of cold water. Sensing the coolness of the water, the snails come out of their shells. Then, as the water heats up gradually to the boiling point, the snails are killed and cooked. But if an imprudent person were careless enough to throw them at once into boiling water, they would retreat so deeply into their shells that no one would be able to get them out. This was the line I had to follow when dealing with sinners steeped in all sorts of vices, errors, blasphemies, and impieties.

The first few days I would present virtue and truth in the brightest and most winsome colors, without saying so much as a word against vice and sinners. Seeing that they were being treated with tolerance and kindness, people would come back time and time again, so that afterwards, when I was more outspoken with them, they took it well, were converted, and confessed their sins. I met quite a few who came to the mission only out of curiosity, as well as others who came out of mischief, to see whether they could catch me in some slip; yet they were converted and made good confessions.
291. When I started preaching missions, in 1840, we were in the midst of a civil war between the royalists and the constitutionalists, and so I had to be on my guard not to make any political remarks pro or con regarding either party.There were members of each party in all the towns I preached in. I had to be very careful because some people came to the mission only to catch me in some slip of the tongue, like the spies who were sent to Jesus, our Redeemer: Ut caperent in sermone. But, thank God, they never succeeded. 

292. The times were so troubled that I not only had to avoid talking politics, but also I had to avoid calling the service I was holding a “mission.” I had to call it, instead, a “novena” in honor of All Souls, or Our Lady of the Rosary, or the Blessed Sacrament, or a saint, so as not to upset the constitutionalists, who were in power in the towns I was preaching in. If the town was so large that nine days were not enough, I would lengthen the “novena” by as many days as I thought necessary.

Both St. Anthony Claret and we moderns believe that conversion is needed. We all believe that the human beings to whom we are ministering and speaking lack something, are in need, are incomplete.

St. Anthony Claret believed that human beings lived in need of salvation: that if one lived and believed in a way that was objectively separated from God’s will, revelation and plan, you would be unhappy on earth and for eternity. Conversion was about setting aside the old self and conforming to Christ.

And if that doesn’t happen – you can’t dwell with Christ in eternity. You’ll be eternally separated from Love – you’ll be in Hell. 

If you take a look at the contemporary paradigm, you can see that the definitions have shifted.

Yes, we are still called to conversion by preachers, both clerical and lay, but it’s different, for the argument is that the source of our unhappiness and alienation is different. As I said, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to pin this down. I’m getting closer, I think. I’m not there, but I’m closer.

We’re in need of salvation – we still seem to believe that – but it’s the salvation of knowing that God loves us and accepts us as we are.

Conversion then, in the dominant modern paradigm, means figuring out that God loves you as you are, that he gave you gifts and that you’re meant for great things on earth.

Because – let’s be honest that this is what most of us believe  – there are no eternal stakes to speak of. Right? Since almost everyone is going to Heaven, the only thing that Church is needed for is to share the Jesus story – which is a nice story – and assure us that God loves us, and therefore we can be a little happier on earth. 

It’s not so much about changing your life to conform to Christ, but to accept who you are. The act of faith becomes then not so much I believe in you but I believe that you want me to believe in me.

Now, I am the last person in the world to claim that misery and alienation is not a profound issue in people’s lives, and that a way out of this is the firm faith that God created you on purpose – you’re not an accident– to love and flourish now and for eternity with Him. It has always been at the center of my teaching, when I was in the classroom, and anything I write, particularly with young people in mind. I’ve often shared what was a life-altering passage from Andre Dubus’ story, “A Father’s Story:” Belief is believing in God. Faith is believing that God believes in you.” 

But.

What if who I think I am – is not really who I am at all? 

What if sin darkens more than just our sense of self-acceptance?

What then?

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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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This series is a repeat from last year. It is, I think, even more timely this year than last – so here you go again. 

No, not that kind of Claret. The saint kind.

St. Anthony Mary Claret’s autobiography is available here. Written under obedience, a little sketchy and repetitive, it’s still well worth a read, particularly if you are interested in matters related to evangelization, ministry, catechesis and the like.

There was a lot that caught my eye – sometimes because they support the truth that things are pretty much the same and sometimes because they support the truth that things are really different. 

What’s the same? God, revelation and human nature and even human society. What’s different? Our understanding of the meeting place of divine and human and how to make the former understandable and accessible to the latter.

I think about this a lot, as I keep trying to hone in on The Thing that’s different. Reading this with the Synod in the background clarifies. A bit.

I’m not going to offer you a wall of text. I’m going to pull some interesting passages related to different issues throughout the day. Perhaps you’ll find some wisdom. Perhaps, if you were under the impression that the pre-Vatican II was all about Rules and Exclusion and Thank the Spirit we have Mercy and Inclusion now – you might learn something.

For an introduction to this figure, go here. 

On learning the Catechism by heart as a child:

I didn’t really comprehend the wording of the catechism although, as I have said, I could parrot it extremely well. Nevertheless, I can see now the advantage of knowing it by heart, because in time, without quite knowing how or adverting to it, those great truths that I had rattled off without understanding them would come back to me so forcibly that I would say, “Ah! That’s what that meant! How stupid you were not to understand that!” Rosebuds open in time, but if there were no buds there would be no blossoms. The same holds for religious truths: if there are no catechism lessons, then there is complete ignorance of religious matters, even among those who otherwise pass for intelligent persons.

He came from a textile-manufacturing family, and even though he had a deep interest in religion as a child, he followed his family’s career path and worked quite hard at it – and enjoyed it.

Because I wanted to improve my knowledge of manufacturing techniques, I asked my father to send me to Barcelona. He agreed and took me there. But, like St. Paul, I had to earn what I needed for food, clothing, books, teachers, etc., with my own two hands. My first move was to submit a petition to the Board of Trade for admission to classes in design. My request was granted and I used it to some advantage. Who would have guessed that God would one day use in the interests of religion the studies in design that I undertook for  business reasons? And, in fact, these skills have been most useful to me in designing prints for catechisms and works on mysticism. 

As I said in the previous post, reading the autobiography is interesting, not only for the historical and spiritual insights, but to track his discernment process – from childhood through a life in the world, through a preaching mission, the episcopacy, and finally, as he was writing the autobiography, to service in the Spanish court – which he did not enjoy at all. 

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