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The day began and (sort of) ended with people lined up, crowded in, to catch a glimpse, touch and be close.

We set out down the Gran Via with one end in mind, but were distracted by a crowd at an H & M across the road, obviously gathered to see Someone. A web search led me to believe that it might be David Beckham. We asked someone, “Quien es?” and she answered, “Beck-hahm,” an assertion affirmed by various other Spaniards around us, and finally by an Englishman who nodded and said he’d seen it on the news.

So…why not wait?  We did, probably for too long, but you get to a point at which you say, “Well, we’ve waited this long….” He finally arrived in a jet black minivan, but since we were, you know, across the road and the black minivan didn’t move right away, and there were crowds…we didn’t see him, although my daughter thinks she caught the top of his head.

So.

(Here’s a story about the appearance.)

We then changed directions and headed over to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, the last of the triad (after the Prado and the Reina Sofia). It is a good, representative collection, arranged chronologically, so following it from the top floor down, you get a succinct history of European and American art from 14th-century Italy to a little past Lichtenstein. A few favorites – I am not one to take photos in art museums, even when it is allowed. I know that there are better images online or in books that I can manage, so I usually don’t bother except as a form of note-taking for future reference.

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This is called The Virgin of the Dry Tree.  The reference is to a Confraternity of the Dry Tree, which in turn is probably a reference to Ezekiel, and then, the tree of the Garden that brought death, which Jesus will restore to life.

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The Risen Christ by Bramantino, 15th century, but strikingly contemporary.

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Annunciation to St. Anne. Go read about it – quite interesting.

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Now, this is attributed to Gilbert Stuart, and is called Portrait of George Washington’s Cook, although apparently there is some speculation involved in this identification. But George Washington did have a cook in Philadelphia, his name was Hercules, and he was enslaved – more here, including the story of his escape from slavery in Mount Vernon. 

After the museum and lunch, we walked back over to a church we’d seen beforehand, a church with an impressive line of people snaking into it. What was that about?

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The line leading into the church.

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…and to the other side of the block.

Well, it was this – Jesus of Medinaceli – a statue stolen by Moors, then retrieved. It is venerated, apparently, on Fridays.

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The statue is on that top level. People walk up the stairs to venerate it.

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A full church, organ playing in the background.
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Let’s see. Church open all day – so all are welcome to enter into this place and be a part of what is going on. Loads of people, from everywhere and anywhere, bringing the totality of their lives, joys and pain. Looking at the schedule of this basilica, we see Mass several times a day, every day, and Confessions off and on all day, every day.

Open doors. Open to anyone.

Anyone can walk in and see, listen, touch and be moved by grace.

No one judges and no one excludes because here, all eyes are fixed on Christ, and when we are all looking in His direction, the supposed flaws of our neighbor recede from our sight.

Why do they come?

Seeking mercy, perhaps?

And finding it in ancient sacraments and traditions grown out of centuries of spiritual experience and reflection?

Because mercy wasn’t invented this week, perhaps?

****

By this time, it was around five, perhaps later, so we just wound our way back home, through the neighorhood of Santa Ana, which I hope to revisit tomorrow or the next day, back up through the Puerta de Sol, to the other mass of El Corte Ingles stores…this time we found the branches selling clothes and toys, so time to split up and see what the Spanish have to offer. (We must always do Lego comparisons). I also looked through the grocery store in the basement and decided that will probably be the place where I do my take-home food shopping this weekend – it really is too bad that cured meats aren’t allowed back in the US…no jamon or chorizo….sigh.

I also discovered a great store called Tiger - it’s sort of a cross between a dollar-type store and Ikea.  Low prices (from 1-4 E on most things) and sharp, clean, colorful design sensibility.

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Also, while I knew, in theory, that Holy Week was a big deal in Spain…I see now that I didn’t know anything at all, really. It’s a big deal. There was a display table in the book section of El Corte Ingles with books, videos and CD’s about Semana Santa. I’ve seen children’s coloring and sticker books about it. On the first afternoon we were here, we saw a huge, rectangular block being borne out of a chapel door by a group of men…we had no idea what it was at the time, but know I now it was one of those platforms to carry statuary – it was completely covered in protective tarps and so on, but I’m assuming they were carting it somewhere to get it ready for Holy Week….

(Related…Valencia celebrates St. Joseph’s feastday in a huge way, and I was halfway tempted to head over there this week to take a peek…well, actually less than halfway, because it’s far from here and the crowds are huge..but still…tempted.)

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— 1 —

No, I didn’t give up the internet or blogging for Lent.  I might as well have, though, right? Eh.  It’s not like there’s no one else out there opining or sharing or venting online.

Plus the narrative out there is so very strong, I’m having to think long and hard how to navigate it and carefully say things that really need to be said.  But we’ll see.

— 2 —

We had a snow day last week and another this week.

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There you go.

I get it.  Last year’s snowcapolypse (sp?) was a nightmare, happened in a matter of hours, and was absolutely unexpected.  It was nothing to laugh at.  But it made everyone exceedingly skittish around here, so this year, at the slightest hint of a system over Texas, we get all proactive and everything shuts down.  We went out late yesterday afternoon to shop for some clothes. The roads were wet but clear..and almost every store in both major shopping centers near here were closed.

Hopefully, next year, the pendulum will swing back.

— 3 —

One of my favorite Loyola Classics titles is Things as They Are by Paul Horgan.  If you don’t know about Horgan – go read this.  He’s probably one of the least-known double Pulitzer Prize winners out there.  He wrote both non-fiction and fiction, much of it centered on the Southwest, although Things as They Are is reflective of Horgan’s childhood in Rochester, New York.  His non-fiction is primarily historical – it’s what he won the Pulitzers for – and get this – the fellow never graduated from college.

(Catholic, too – awarded the Notre Dame Laetare Medal.)

That title was suggested to me by George Weigel, who wrote the introduction.  It’s an episodic, quiet, but ultimately hard-hitting (I think) coming-of-age tale.

— 4 —

A few weeks ago, I picked up a volume that collects three shorter novels of Horgans – it’s called Mountain Standard Time .  I read the first, Main Line West, and it’s very good.  Unusual and evocative, it’s about a Kansas woman, living with relatives, who is courted by a traveling salesman, marries him and is abandoned when she becomes pregnant.  What intrigued me about the plot was the turn in which the woman becomes a traveling evangelist. The story of where that takes her and her son, and the eventual tragedy – based, as Horgan says in his afterword, on an incident he had witnessed as a child during World War I – is startling.  I recommend!

— 5 —

Last weekend, we had 7 basketball games in the course of 72 hours.  I didn’t mind it too much  – basketball games are short – especially when the quarters are 6 minutes long, as they are for the younger son, whose tournament represented the bulk of those games.  One more game tonight – maybe two – and that’s done.

— 6 —

Better Call Saul is enjoyable.  No, it’s no Breaking Bad.  It doesn’t have the intensity or layers of that show (yet), plus, considering we know how Saul turns out, if the show stays in the past (and doesn’t eventually jump back up to post-BB Saul), there are no stakes at the core of it, since we know that Saul doesn’t follow the (faint) nudges of his conscience and find any sort of redemption.  Yes, there’s lots of interest along the way, but that hope that everything will turn out that is the driving interest behind drama is missing.

House of Cards? Eh.  I watched the first season, and then a few episodes of the second last year – but then it just got too ridiculous, I couldn’t follow (aka wasn’t interested in) the policy machinations, and – most importantly – lost interest because when every single character is immoral or amoral, there’s nothing at stake, and no real drama.

I watched the first episode of this season, and was sort of interested in Doug’s rehab and recovery, but am totally bored by the prospect of Claire fightin’ for her right to be UN Ambassador.  There was a bit of an uptick of interest in the show from religious quarters this week because a couple of writers addressed a scene in which Frank Underwood spits at a crucifix.  Can’t watch it anymore, these writers declared – it’s a deal-breaker. (And the threesome with his wife and the Secret Service guy wasn’t? I didn’t see that – just heard it was coming, and at that point, stopped watching. Ew.)  I haven’t watched that episode yet (maybe I’ll dig it up, maybe not), but it seems, from what I have read, that that scene is perfectly consistent with the Underwood’s character.  It’s not a sympathetic person doing it – it’s a murderous (literally), horrible, evil guy. Evil people spit on Christ,  and then walk away – figuratively and even literally.

— 7 —

Speaking of the Cross…

John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross, published by Ave Maria Press.  This, again, is available as an actual book and in a digital version, in this case as an app.  Go here for more information. (The illustrations are by Michael O’Brien)

"amy welborn"A few years ago, I wrote a Stations of the Cross for young people called No Greater Love,  published by Creative Communications for the Parish. They put it out of print for a while…but now it’s back!

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

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The Gospel on the Second Sunday of Lent is traditionally the account of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

From a 2011 homily of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, preached outside the Vatican, at a new parish in Rome:

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The Transfiguration. The Evangelist Matthew has told us what happened when Jesus, taking with him three of his disciples — Peter, James and John — climbed a high mountain. While they were up there, on their own, Jesus’ face, and likewise his garments, became radiant. This is what we call “Transfiguration”: a luminous, comforting mystery. What is its meaning? The Transfiguration is a revelation of the Person of Jesus, of his profound reality.

In fact, the eye witnesses of the event, that is, the three Apostles, were enfolded in a cloud, also bright — which in the Bible always heralds God’s presence — and they heard a voice saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt 17:5). This event prepared the disciples for the Paschal Mystery of Jesus: to endure the terrible trial of the Passion and also to understand properly the luminous event of the Resurrection.

The narrative also speaks of Moses and Elijah who appear and talk with Jesus. Actually, this episode is related to another two divine revelations. Moses climbed Mount Sinai and there received God’s revelation. He asked God to show him his glory but God answered Moses that he would not see his face but only his back (cf. Ex 33:18-23)

God made a similar revelation to Elijah on the mountain: a more intimate manifestation, not accompanied by a storm, an earthquake or by fire, but by a gentle breeze (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-13).

Unlike these two episodes, in the Transfiguration it is not Jesus who receives the revelation of God; rather, it is precisely in Jesus that God reveals himself and reveals his face to the Apostles. Thus, those who wish to know God must contemplate the face of Jesus, his face transfigured: Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father’s holiness and mercy.

Since this homily was delivered at a new parish under the patronage of St. Corbinian, the Pope had special words about that as well:

Before reflecting, however, on the Dedication of your church, I would like to tell you that my joy at being with you today is enhanced for a special reason. Indeed, St Corbinian founded the Diocese of Freising, Bavaria, of which I was Bishop for four years. In my episcopal coat of arms I chose to insert an element closely associated with this Saint’s history: a bear.

It is said that a bear had torn St Corbinian’s horse to pieces while the Saint was on his way to Rome. He harshly reprimanded it, succeeded in taming it and on its back loaded his baggage which had so far been carried by the horse. The bear bore this burden as far as Rome and only then did the Saint set it free.

Perhaps this is the point at which to say a few words about the life of St Corbinian. St Corbinian was French. He was a priest from the region of Paris, not far from which he had founded a monastery for himself. He was held in high esteem as a spiritual counselor but was more inclined to contemplation and therefore came to Rome to build a "amy welborn"monastery here, close to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul.

However Pope Gregory II — it was in about the year 720 — had founded a monastery nearby — thought highly of his qualities, had understood his qualities and ordained him a Bishop, charging him to go to Bavaria and to proclaim the Gospel in that land. Bavaria: the Pope was thinking of the country between the Danube and the Alps which had been the Roman Province of Raetia for 500 years. Only at the end of the fifth century did the majority of the Latin population return to Italy.

A few simple people had stayed there. The  land was sparsely populated and a new people settled in it, the Bavarian people which, because the Country had been Christianized in the Roman period, discovered there a Christian heritage. The Bavarian people had understood straight away that this was the true religion and wanted to become Christian. However, there was a lack of educated people and priests to preach the Gospel.

And so Christianity had remained very fragmented, in its early stages. The Pope knew of this situation, he knew of the thirst for faith that existed in that country. He thus charged St Corbinian to go there and proclaim the Gospel there. And in Freising, in the ducal city on the hilltop, the Saint built the Cathedral — there was already a Shrine to Our Lady — and the Bishops See remained there for more than 1,000 years.

Only after the Napoleonic period was it transferred to Munich, 30 kilometres further south. It is still called the “Diocese of Munich and Freising”, and Freising’s majestic Romanesque cathedral has remained the heart of the diocese. So we see that saints uphold the Church’s unity and universality.

Universality: St Corbinian connects France, Germany and Rome. Unity: St Corbinian tells us that the Church is founded on Peter and guarantees to us that the Church founded on the rock will endure for ever. One thousand years ago she was the same Church that she is today, because the Lord is always the same. He is always Truth, ever old and ever new, very up to date, present, and the key opening the future.

The next year, 2012, when the Gospel was from Matthew, which it cycles back to this year:

If God gives himself in the Son, he gives us everything. And Paul insists on the power of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice against every other force that can threaten our life.

He wonders: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?” (vv. 33-34).

We are in God’s heart, this is our great trust. This creates love and in love we go towards God. If God has given his own Son for all of us, no one can accuse us, no one can condemn us, no one can separate us from his immense love. Precisely the supreme sacrifice of love on the Cross, which the Son of God accepted and chose willingly, becomes the source of our justification, of our salvation. Just think that this act of the Lord’s endures in the Blessed Eucharist, and in his heart, for eternity, and this act of love attracts us, unites us with him.

Lastly, the Gospel speaks to us of the episode of the Transfiguration (cf. Mk 9:2-10): Jesus manifests himself in his glory before the sacrifice of the Cross and God the Father proclaims his beloved Son, the one he loves, and commands the disciples to listen to him. Jesus goes up a high mountain and takes three Apostles with him — Peter, James and John — who will be particularly close to him in his extreme agony, on another mountain, the Mount of Olives.

A little earlier the Lord had announced his Passion and Peter had been unable to understand why the Lord, the Son of God, should speak of suffering, rejection, death, a Cross, indeed he had opposed the prospect of all this with determination.

Jesus now takes the three disciples with him to help them to understand that the path to attaining glory, the path of luminous love that overcomes darkness, passes through the total gift of self, passes through the folly of the Cross. And the Lord must take us with him too ever anew, at least if we are to begin to understand that this is the route to take.

The Transfiguration is a moment of light in advance, which also helps us see Christ’s Passion with a gaze of faith. Indeed, it is a mystery of suffering but it is also the “blessed Passion” because — in essence — it is a mystery of God’s extraordinary love; it is the definitive exodus that opens for us the door to the freedom and newness of the Resurrection, of salvation from evil. We need it on our daily journey, so often also marked by the darkness of evil.

Now, moving to the Angelus addresses.

2006:

When one has the grace to live a strong experience of God, it is as if one is living an experience similar to that of the disciples during the Transfiguration:  a momentary foretaste of what will constitute the happiness of Paradise. These are usually brief experiences that are sometimes granted by God, especially prior to difficult trials.

No one, however, is permitted to live “on Tabor” while on earth. Indeed, human existence is a journey of faith and as such, moves ahead more in shadows than in full light, and is no stranger to moments of obscurity and also of complete darkness. While we are on this earth, our relationship with God takes place more by listening than by seeing; and the same contemplation comes about, so to speak, with closed eyes, thanks to the interior light that is kindled in us by the Word of God.

2007:

There is another detail proper to St Luke’s narrative which deserves emphasis: the mention of the topic of Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah, who appeared beside him when he was transfigured. As the Evangelist tells us, they “talked with him… and spoke of his departure” (in Greek, éxodos), “which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9: 31).

"amy welborn"Therefore, Jesus listens to the Law and the Prophets who spoke to him about his death and Resurrection. In his intimate dialogue with the Father, he did not depart from history, he did not flee the mission for which he came into the world, although he knew that to attain glory he would have to pass through the Cross.

On the contrary, Christ enters more deeply into this mission, adhering with all his being to the Father’s will; he shows us that true prayer consists precisely in uniting our will with that of God. For a Christian, therefore, to pray is not to evade reality and the responsibilities it brings but rather, to fully assume them, trusting in the faithful and inexhaustible love of the Lord.

2008:

This is the crucial point: the Transfiguration is an anticipation of the Resurrection, but this presupposes death. Jesus expresses his glory to the Apostles so that they may have the strength to face the scandal of the Cross and understand that it is necessary to pass through many tribulations in order to reach the Kingdom of God. The Father’s voice, which resounds from on high, proclaims Jesus his beloved Son as he did at the Baptism in the Jordan, adding: “Listen to him” (Mt 17: 5). To enter eternal life requires listening to Jesus, following him on the way of the Cross, carrying in our heart like him the hope of the Resurrection. “Spe salvi”, saved in hope. Today we can say: “Transfigured in hope”.

2009:

I wish to emphasize that the Transfiguration of Jesus was essentially an experience of prayer (cf. Lk 9: 28-29). Indeed, prayer reaches its culmination and thus becomes a source of inner light when the spirit of the human being adheres to that of God and their respective wills merge, as it were, to become a whole.

2010:

The disciples no longer have before them a transfigured face or dazzling garments or a cloud that reveals the divine presence. They have before them “Jesus… alone” (v. 36). Jesus is alone with his Father while he prays but at the same time, “Jesus… alone” is all that the disciples and the Church of every epoch have been granted; and this must suffice on the journey. The only voice to listen to, the only voice to follow is his, the voice of the One going up to Jerusalem who was one day to give his life to “change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3: 21).

“Master, it is well that we are here” (Lk 9: 33) are Peter’s ecstatic words, that often resemble our own desire before the Lord’s consolations. However the Transfiguration reminds us that the joys sown by God in life are not finishing lines; rather they are lights he gives us during our earthly pilgrimage in order that “Jesus alone” may be our Law and his word the criterion that directs our existence.

2011:

Peter, James and John, contemplating the divinity of the Lord, are ready to face the scandal of the Cross, as it is sung in an ancient hymn: “You were transfigured on the mountain and your disciples, insofar as they were able, contemplated your glory, in order that, on seeing you crucified, they would understand that your Passion was voluntary and proclaim to the world that you are truly the splendour of the Father” (Κοντάκιον είς τήν Μεταμόρφωσιν, in: Μηναια, t. 6, Rome 1901, 341).

2012:

It is for this reason that Jesus takes three of them with him up the mountain and reveals his divine glory, the splendour of Truth and of Love. Jesus wants this light to illuminate their hearts when they pass through the thick darkness of his Passion and death, when the folly of the Cross becomes unbearable to them. God is light, and Jesus wishes to give his closest friends the experience of this light which dwells within him.

After this event, therefore, he will be an inner light within them that can protect them from any assault of darkness. Even on the darkest of nights, Jesus is the lamp that never goes out. St Augustine sums up this mystery in beautiful words, he says: “what this sun is to the eyes of the flesh, that is [Christ] to the eyes of the heart” (Sermones 78, 2: PL 38, 490).

And then…2013.  His last Angelus address before retiring:

In meditating on this passage of the Gospel, we can learn a very important lesson from it: first of all, the primacy of prayer, without which the entire commitment to the apostolate and to charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give the right time to prayer, both personal and of the community, which gives rest to our spiritual life. Moreover, prayer does not mean isolating oneself from the world and from its contradictions, as Peter wanted to do on Mount Tabor; rather, prayer leads back to the journey and to action. “The Christian life”, I wrote in my Message for this Lent, “consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love” (n. 3).

Dear brothers and sisters, I hear this word of God as addressed to me in particular at this moment of my life. Thank you! The Lord is calling me “to scale the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church; indeed, if God asks me this it is precisely so that I may continue to serve her with the same dedication and the same love with which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suited to my age and strength.

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Here are links to a couple of old columns I wrote – probably for OSV – on life issues.   Old, as in probably 14-15 years ago. They, along with many others,  were stuck in the caverns of my website, so I just cleaned them enough to make them presentable. In other words: forgive the very basic formatting.

We can send a man to the moon….

Mysteries…

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(I got this graphic years ago from a pro-life website/group that no longer exists and the name of which I don’t remember.  So…thanks whoever you are…)

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There’s a little fare war going on right now from JFK and EWR to Milan.  The fares seem to apply mostly to buying two tickets (sparked by an Emirates sale), but as of this writing, you can still get over there (if you buy 2 tix, as I said) for around 450 apiece for spring travel.

Well worth it.  In fact, I’m tempted.

We were there four years ago, inspired by a similar, even more awesome sale – our tickets from New York to Milan were (wait for it) 250 apiece.  Two hundred and fifty dollars.

So yes, if you are in the NY area and can swing it – try Milan.  It’s not as heavily touristed as other Italian cities, and is a bit more of a challenge to navigate since it is not as compact.  Nor does it have a medieval or renaissance center – in fact there’s hardly any pre-19th century architecture readily seen, mostly because Milan, as the capital of Lombardy, has been the object of invasion and conquest and various other battles since Roman times.

(The Last Supper barely survived Allied bombing in World War II)

So, some photos and blog posts from that great trip.

(This is the apartment where we stayed)

The Duomo, of course.

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From the roof of the Milan Duomo

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On the Duomo roof

First blog post:

We were there for the 150th anniversary of Italian unification

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Under the duomo – where Ambrose baptized Augustine.

The natural history museum

Day trip to Stresa, on Lago Maggiore

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A Sunday afternoon in Pavia 

…and all for probably less than some people spent for a week at Disney World….

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At Castle Sforzesco – see what happens when you buy a cheap umbrella from a street vendor?

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Gelato at Castle Sforzesco at night

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Fantastic Archimboldo exhibit. A complete surprise, and the boys loved it.

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From past Angelus addresses by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

2005:

Yesterday, after solemnly celebrating Christ’s Birth, today we are commemorating the birth in Heaven of St Stephen, the first martyr. A special bond links these two feasts and it is summed up well in the Ambrosian liturgy by this affirmation: “Yesterday, the Lord was born on earth, that Stephen might be born in Heaven” (At the breaking of the bread).

Just as Jesus on the Cross entrusted himself to the Father without reserve and pardoned those who killed him, at the moment of his death St Stephen prayed: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”; and further: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (cf. Acts 7: 59-60). Stephen was a genuine disciple of Jesus and imitated him perfectly. With Stephen began that long series of martyrs who sealed their faith by offering their lives, proclaiming with their heroic witness that God became man to open the Kingdom of Heaven to humankind.

In the atmosphere of Christmas joy, the reference to the Martyr St Stephen does not seem out of place. Indeed, the shadow of the Cross was already extending over the manger in Bethlehem.
It was foretold by the poverty of the stable in which the infant wailed, the prophecy of Simeon concerning the sign that would be opposed and the sword destined to pierce the heart of the Virgin, and Herod’s persecution that would make necessary the flight to Egypt.

It should not come as a surprise that this Child, having grown to adulthood, would one day ask his disciples to follow him with total trust and faithfulness on the Way of the Cross.

2006

It is not by chance that Christmas iconography sometimes depicts the Divine Newborn carefully lain in a little sarcophagus in order to indicate that the Redeemer is born to die, is born to give his life in ransom for all.

St Stephen was the first to follow in the footsteps of Christ with his martyrdom. He died, like the divine Master, pardoning and praying for his killers (cf. Acts 7: 60).

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Carlo Crivelli, 1476

In the first four centuries of Christianity, all the saints venerated by the Church were martyrs. They were a countless body that the liturgy calls “the white-robed army of martyrs”,martyrum candidatus exercitus. Their death did not rouse fear and sadness, but spiritual enthusiasm that gave rise to ever new Christians.

For believers the day of death, and even more the day of martyrdom, is not the end of all; rather, it is the “transit” towards immortal life. It is the day of definitive birth, in Latin, dies natalis. The link that exists then between the “dies natalis” of Christ and the dies natalis of St Stephen is understood.

2008

Dear brothers and sisters, in St Stephen we see materializing the first fruits of salvation that the Nativity of Christ brought to humanity: the victory of life over death, of love over hate, of the light of truth over the darkness of falsehood. Let us praise God, for this victory still enables many Christians today to respond to evil not with evil but with the power of truth and love.

2009

Stephen is also the Church’s first deacon. In becoming a servant of the poor for love of Christ, he gradually enters into full harmony with him and follows Christ to the point of making the supreme gift of himself. The witness borne by Stephen, like that of the Christian martyrs, shows our contemporaries, who are often distracted and uncertain, in whom they should place their trust in order to give meaning to their lives. The martyr, in fact, is one who dies knowing with certainty that he is loved by God, who puts nothing before love of Christ, knowing that he has chosen the better part. The martyr is configured fully to the death of Christ, aware of being a fertile seed of life and of opening up paths of peace and hope in the world. Today, in presenting the Deacon St Stephen to us as our model the Church likewise points out to us that welcoming and loving the poor is one of the privileged ways to live the Gospel and to witness credibly to human beings to the Kingdom of God that comes.

2011

This is why the Eastern Church sings in her hymns: “The stones became steps for you and ladders for the ascent to heaven… and you joyfully drew close to the festive gathering of the angels” (MHNAIA t. II, Rome 1889, 694, 695).

After the generation of the Apostles, martyrs acquired an important place in the esteem of the Christian community. At the height of their persecution, their hymns of praise fortified the faithful on their difficult journey and encouraged those in search of the truth to convert to the Lord. Therefore, by divine disposition, the Church venerates the relics of martyrs and honours them with epithets such as: “teachers of life”, “living witnesses”, “breathing trophies” and “silent exhortations” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 43, 5: PG 36, 500 C).

Dear friends, the true imitation of Christ is love, which some Christian writers have called the “secret martyrdom”. Concerning this St Clement of Alexandria wrote: “those who perform the commandments of the Lord, in every action ‘testify’, by doing what he wishes, and consistently naming the Lord’s name; (Stromatum IV, 7,43,4: SC 463, Paris 2001, 130). Today too, as in antiquity, sincere adherence to the Gospel can require the sacrifice of life and many Christians in various parts of the world are exposed to persecution and sometimes martyrdom. However, the Lord reminds us: “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).

2012

On St Stephen’s Day we too are called to fix our eyes on the Son of God whom in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas we contemplate in the mystery of his Incarnation. Through Baptism and Confirmation, through the precious gift of faith nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has bound us to him and with the action of the Holy Spirit, wants to continue in us his work of salvation by which all things are redeemed, given value, uplifted and brought to completion. Letting ourselves be drawn by Christ, as St Stephen did, means opening our own life to the light that calls it, guides it and enables it to take the path of goodness, the path of a humanity according to God’s plan of love. Lastly, St Stephen is a model for all who wish to put themselves at the service of the new evangelization. He shows that the newness of the proclamation does not consist primarily in the use of original methods or techniques — which of course, have their usefulness — but rather in being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting ourselves be guided by him.

The newness of the proclamation lies in the depth of the believer’s immersion in the mystery of Christ and in assimilation of his word and of his presence in the Eucharist so that he himself, the living Jesus, may speak and act in his messengers. Essentially, evangelizers can bring Christ to others effectively when they themselves live in Christ, when the newness of the Gospel is reflected in their own life.

And then, two more, from other occasions.  The first from the General Audience of 1/10/2007, in which Benedict discusses Stephen as a part of the series he did on great figures in Christianity (collected in several books):

Stephen’s story tells us many things: for example, that charitable social commitment must never be separated from the courageous proclamation of the faith. He was one of the seven made responsible above all for charity. But it was impossible to separate charity and faith. Thus, with charity, he proclaimed the crucified Christ, to the point of accepting even martyrdom. This is the first lesson we can learn from the figure of St Stephen: charity and the proclamation of faith always go hand in hand.

Above all, St Stephen speaks to us of Christ, of the Crucified and Risen Christ as the centre of history and our life. We can understand that the Cross remains forever the centre of the Church’s life and also of our life. In the history of the Church, there will always be passion and persecution. And it is persecution itself which, according to Tertullian’s famous words, becomes “the seed of Christians”, the source of mission for Christians to come.

I cite his words: “We multiply wherever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed…” (Apology 50, 13): Plures efficimur quoties metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis christianorum. But in our life too, the Cross that will never be absent, becomes a blessing.

And by accepting our cross, knowing that it becomes and is a blessing, we learn Christian joy even in moments of difficulty. The value of witness is irreplaceable, because the Gospel leads to it and the Church is nourished by it. St Stephen teaches us to treasure these lessons, he teaches us to love the Cross, because it is the path on which Christ comes among us ever anew.

And then from 2012, as he was discussing prayer in the General Audiences, and in particular the relationship between Scripture and prayer:

Dear brothers and sisters, St Stephen’s witness gives us several instructions for our prayers and for our lives. Let us ask ourselves: where did this first Christian martyr find the strength to face his persecutors and to go so far as to give himself? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from his communion with Christ, from meditation on the history of salvation, from perceiving God’s action which reached its crowning point in Jesus Christ. Our prayers, too, must be nourished by listening to the word of God, in communion with Jesus and his Church.

A second element: St Stephen sees the figure and mission of Jesus foretold in the history of the loving relationship between God and man. He — the Son of God — is the temple that is not “made with hands” in which the presence of God the Father became so close as to enter our human flesh to bring us to God, to open the gates of heaven. Our prayer, therefore, must be the contemplation of Jesus at the right hand of God, of Jesus as the Lord of our, or my, daily life. In him, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can address God and be truly in touch with God, with the faith and abandonment of children who turn to a Father who loves them infinitely.

For more from Benedict XVI on saints, but for children, see my book Be Saints! 

Also, a piece I wrote for the National Review years ago on these feasts that fall after Christmas:

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"amy welborn"

Here.

Not here. 

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