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Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?

…might just be one of my favorite Scripture verses. An arresting, pointed reminder.

Why are you standing around? What are you looking at?

In leaving, Jesus is profoundly present. Just before he left this earthly realm, he gave quite specific instructions…be my witnesses…make disciples of all nations. 

A reminder:

In this age of easy global media reach, in this age that celebrates individual achievement and impact, we are tempted to think that of course the ideal way to be obedient to Jesus’ instructions is to make a difference and set the world on fire.

Well, yes. Sort of.

But don’t forget where that starts.

It starts in our lives, in our particular state in life. It begins with, first, our own relationship with God, our own stance, our own openness, our own humility. And then the circles widens: family, neighbors, fellow workers.

To fulfill our duties in ordinary life, letting the love of Christ live and grow in us, bringing Christ to each and every interaction whether it be washing dishes, conducting a meeting, hammering a nail?

To do that? Even those quiet, ordinary tasks are ways to be his witnesses to all nations. 

That’s where it begins. But don’t be tempted to believe that because the witnessing begins in such an ordinary, small, quiet place, it ends there. It doesn’t. It never does. 

We all live hidden, “unhistoric” lives, lives hidden from the world, yet lives that change the world around us for good or ill in untold unknown ways. We have a choice—to live a hidden life of deceit or of integral holiness. Nothing is hidden from God, nor even man entirely.

The retelling from my Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. 

Click on each page for a fuller look. You can get the book here (not an Amazon link, btw).

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So my oldest landed in his former town of Atlanta this morning and tried to go to Mass.

Good luck with that.

No entrance without a ticket, and even then you had to be there forty-five minutes early.

Garbage. Complete and utter garbage.

The Church’s response to the pandemic has been about 80% terrible – the 20% being the ministers, ordained and lay, who have heroically visited the sick in hospital, care facilities, and homes, and the parishes that have remained open – in some way – continuing to communicate the truth that yes, we all need Jesus and Jesus is Here, in this place, in this world.

But that 80%?

Are you even ready?

Do you even remember that it’s Christmas, and even in normal years, your numbers multiply to the point at which you’ve got to double up Masses and hold them all over the property? That this is the time of year in which the lost, the disaffected, the questioning, the broken, turn up?

Because they’ve heard this rumor that there is actually an answer to their questions, a reason for their being, a meaning to their suffering and One Who Loves? And maybe that One who lay in a manger in Bethlehem dwells among us still and the place to meet him again is in this place with a cross on top, light streaming from windows, doors….open?

And that this year, a year of confusion, displacement, suffering, fear and death…that pull might be even…stronger?

Are folks involved with these matters aware that even in a normal year, practicing Protestants regularly show up to Christmas Mass, especially Midnight Mass, because their own churches don’t do much for Christmas, especially if it’s not on a Sunday? And this year, far more Protestant churches have gone completely virtual and remain so, and so those hungering for flesh and blood religion, for fellowship, to be fed…might hear that the Catholic church down the road still seems to be in business and might be a place to try to experience that?

And so what are you going to do about it?

What are the ticket-taking, pew-roping, reservation-demanding Catholics powers-that-be that be going to do about it?

Are you going to find a way to actually be welcoming and get these folks through the doors at which they’ve gathered so they can be touched and moved by the Lord they are sincerely seeking?

Or are you going to position your sour-faced ushers Ministers of Hospitality at the door, arms crossed, offering not much more than “Sorry. Tickets required. Had to get here early. Merry Christmas. Stay safe.” Clubby, insular, satisfied and yes, using the word of the year…safe.

If the rules are strict and the will to work around them is weak, are you at least going to have true ministers of hospitality at the door, recognizing the lost and the seeker, ready with prayer and more information and an invitation to please, please come back to this place – even tomorrow, when the people are mostly gone, we’ll be open, Jesus will be here and we will be here to pray with you at the end of this horrible, frightening year, to be in the quiet where, almost unbelievably, peace and more unexpectedly, joy can be found?

What will we do?

Where will we be?

Who will we be?

Thank you for the comments so far. Hopefully, this will turn up information of creative ways parishes and dioceses are dealing with this challenge. And to be clear, the question I pose here is not…”Why don’t you open up?” But rather…”What are you going to do when people show up?” Or, call or inquire. “Sorry. No ticket? No, you can’t come in. Merry Christmas and stay safe out there!”

For more of what I’ve written about creative responses to pandemic, epidemic and plague, start with these two posts:

1918, Sisters and Church Closings

Birmingham priest Fr. Coyle and the 1918 Spanish Flu

“The Orations did not stop…” St. Charles Borromeo, Milan and the Plague:

….the clergy are told to prepare each household for the devotional activities devised for the extraordinary circumstances by teaching them a variety of prayers, litanies, and Psalms ahead of the quarantine. During the quarantine, bells across the parish were to be rung seven times a day, approximately every two hours, to call the households to prayer. Once begun, the bell would be rung again every quarter hour, until the fourth bell signals an end to the hour of prayer. While the bell rings,

litanies or supplications will be chanted or recited at the direction of the Bishop. This will be performed in such a way that one group sings from the windows or the doors of their homes, and then another group sings and responds in turn.

To ensure that these prayers are carried out properly, the decree continues, a member of the clergy or someone trained in these prayers (possibly the head of the household) should also come to a window or door at the appointed times to direct the prayers and stir up enthusiasm for this devotion. To further facilitate these devotional activities, Borromeo instructed the parish clergy to be supplied with books ‘that contain certain prayers, litanies, and oration, which will be made freely available, in order that he may go and distribute them to his own or other parishes’.

… Borromeo’s directive to sing at doors and windows was evidently put into practice and impressed a number of chroniclers. In his Relatione verissima, Paolo Bisciola reports:

[W]hen the plague began to grow, this practice [of singing the litanies in public] was interrupted, so as not to allow the congregations to provide it more fuel. The orations did not stop, however, because each person stood in his house at the window or door and made them from there […] Just think, in walking around Milan, one heard nothing but song, veneration of God, and supplication to the saints, such that one almost wished for these tribulations to last longer.

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Be bloody, bold, and resolute.
Laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.

Well, that’s not appropriate, is it? Okay, not really, but it’s what naturally popped into my head when I learned about today’s saint and what his name means…

Born in Spain in the 13th century, yet “not born” – the meaning of his nickname, nonnatus. How could that be? Because he was taken from mother, who had died in labor, one month prematurely. The meaning of “born” was via the birth canal, hence emerging via Caesarean section would not come under the strict definition of “born.” (Sorry for the Macbeth spoiler, there.)

Raymond, once an adult, joined the Mercederians:

The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy is an international community of priests and brothers who live a life of prayer and communal fraternity. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, their members take a special fourth vow to give up their own selves for others whose faith is in danger.

The Order, also called the Mercedarians, or Order of Mercy, was founded in 1218 in Spain by St. Peter Nolasco Raymond Nonnatusto redeem Christian captives from their Muslim captors. The Order exists today in 17 countries, including Spain, Italy, Brazil, India, and the United States. In the U.S., its student house is in Philadelphia, and it also has houses in New York, Florida, and Ohio.

Today, friars of the Order of Mercy continue to rescue others from modern types of captivity, such as social, political, and psychological forms. They work in jails, marginal neighborhoods, among addicts, and in hospitals. In the United States, the Order of Mercy gives special emphasis to educational and parish work.

****

According to the most reliable Mercedarian tradition, Saint Raymond was born in the town of Portello, situated in the Segarra region of the Province of Lérida at the dawn of the thirteenth century. He was given the surname of Nonnatus or not born because he came into the world through an inspired and urgent incision which the Viscount of Cardona made with a dagger in the abdomen of the dead mother. In his adolescence and early youth, Raymond devoted himself to pasturing a flock of sheep in the vicinity of a Romanesque hermitage dedicated to Saint Nicholas where an image of the Virgin Mary was venerated. His devotion to the Holy Mother of Jesus started there.

He joined the Order of Mercy at a very early age. Father Francisco Zumel relates that young Raymond was a “student of the watchful first brother and Master of the Order, Peter Nolasco.” Therefore, Raymond was a redeemer of captives in Moorish lands. In a redemption which took place in Algiers, they had to stay behind as hostages. It was then that he endured the torment of having his lips sealed with an iron padlock to prevent him from addressing consoling words to Christian captives and from preaching the liberating good news of the Gospel. After he had been rescued by his Mercedarian brothers, Pope Gregory IX appointed him Cardinal of the Church of San Eustaquio. Summoned by the Supreme Pontiff, Raymond was on his way to Rome when he met death in the strong and rocky castle of Cardona in 1240

The image above is from our visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville – a statue of San Ramon Nonato, as it would be in Spanish. 

He is invoked as a patron of childbirth expectant mothers, midwives, the falsely accused and others.

Here’s a pdf  with more detail about his life. 

Some other interesting facts:

A few years ago, Pope Francis declared a “Year of Mercy.”  It might be helpful to consider that this “beating heart of the Gospel”  – the merciful love of God – has been lived out, shared, expressed and embodied in countless ways over the past two thousand years, not least in the ordinary, amazing thing that happens thousands of times every day in every nation, in which Christ meets us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

It is helpful to study and reflect on the creative and courageous ways in which the saints have reached out to the peripheries and margins with God’s mercy and freedom, risking their own physical lives for the sake of the souls of others.

So here, we have an entire religious order (not the only one) established to share God’s mercy in a particular apostolate, and today’s saint willingly and joyfully devoted his life to this – mercy.

 

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First, from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

(What is below is the end of the story. The structure of every story is the same – a retelling, then an specifically Catholic application, Scriptural references, a reflection prompt and a prayer.)

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Bellini Transfiguration
It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honour could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?
  Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into his divine image, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here – here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: Today salvation has come to this house. With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come.
Sermon of Anastasius of Sinai. Office of Readings

 

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As I’ve mentioned several times, the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Storiespublished in 2017, presents Scripture to children and families in the way most Catholics encounter the Bible: through their placement in the liturgical year.

Generally. 

Because, as you know, there are going to be exceptions. But in general – for example – we hear the messianic prophecies of Isaiah during Advent. We hear account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert on the first Sunday of Lent. And somewhere in the beginning of Ordinary Time, we’ll hear this:

After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.

So this narrative is in the section – surprise – “Ordinary Time.”

I’ve included the first and the last page, so you can also get a sense of how I wrote each story. (Click on the images for larger versions)

 

The bulk of it, of course, is just a retelling of the Scripture.

And then, after the narrative, I tie the Scripture into some aspect of Catholic faith and life – as you can see here, the role of the apostles in the Church, as well as the call to all of us to follow Christ. And each entry ends with a suggestion for thinking and conversation, as well as a prayer.

Presenting the Bible to children is not a simple task. I really think that in this – as is the case with so much catechesis – it’s a good idea to trust the experience and presence of the Spirit in the Church and organize our Scriptural catechesis according in line with that experience: putting the Psalms at the center of our daily prayer life with children – instead of constantly inviting them to make up their own prayers, or offering them our weak, pedantic efforts – as well as letting our Scripture reading be guided by how the Church lives with God’s Word. Yes, the contemporary lectionary has flaws – including selective editing of passages that make modern people uncomfortable – so, yes, it’s good to start with what’s in the lectionary, but then turn right to the Bible itself to get the whole picture. But even with that weakness, it’s far more sensible to use Scripture  – especially in catechesis and formation – according to the experience of the Body of Christ instead of presenting it as a handy personal guidebook to be cherry-picked according to my Feelings of the Day.

Go here for more information on the Loyola series, including this book.

 

 

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Are you interested in the dynamic between the French Third Republic and Catholicism as played out in colonized lands?

No??

Well, too bad.

This week’s meaty read was An Empire Divided by Stanford historian J.P. Daughton. I’ll just borrow a summary:

Between 1880 and 1914, tens of thousands of men and women left France for distant religious missions, driven by the desire to spread the word of Jesus Christ, combat Satan, and convert the world’s pagans to Catholicism. But they were not the only ones with eyes fixed on foreign shores. Just as the Catholic missionary movement reached its apex, the young, staunchly secular Third Republic launched the most aggressive campaign of colonial expansion in French history. Missionaries and republicans abroad knew they had much to gain from working together, but their starkly different motivations regularly led them to view one another with resentment, distrust, and even fear. 

In An Empire Divided, J.P. Daughton tells the story of how troubled relations between Catholic missionaries and a host of republican critics shaped colonial policies, Catholic amy-welborn5perspectives, and domestic French politics in the tumultuous decades before the First World War. With case studies on Indochina, Polynesia, and Madagascar, An Empire Divided–the first book to examine the role of religious missionaries in shaping French colonialism–challenges the long-held view that French colonizing and “civilizing” goals were shaped by a distinctly secular republican ideology built on Enlightenment ideals. By exploring the experiences of Catholic missionaries, one of the largest groups of French men and women working abroad, Daughton argues that colonial policies were regularly wrought in the fires of religious discord–discord that indigenous communities exploited in responding to colonial rule. 

After decades of conflict, Catholics and republicans in the empire ultimately buried many of their disagreements by embracing a notion of French civilization that awkwardly melded both Catholic and republican ideals. But their entente came at a price, with both sides compromising long-held and much-cherished traditions for the benefit of establishing and maintaining authority. Focusing on the much-neglected intersection of politics, religion, and imperialism, Daughton offers a new understanding of both the nature of French culture and politics at the fin de siecle, as well as the power of the colonial experience to reshape European’s most profound beliefs.

Does it seem obscure? Perhaps – but then consider this. It’s a story of men and women in various lands living their lives of administration, mission, and whatever daily pursuits are theirs. They’re doing what they’re doing in a certain context that they both create and by which they are created.

Which is exactly what you and I are doing, and someday, someone will write a history of, say, the interplay between Christianity and the United States of Trump or Obama or in the context of early 21st century globalism, and while it might seem an academic question, you see now that it’s not – for it’s where you’re living and all of what’s swirling around in the air is shaping how you and I think about everything, including faith.

That’s why history interests me so much. I’m just taken up with curiosity about human motivation and choices and the dynamics that move us in one direction or another – as individuals and en masse. I’m the person standing at the edge of the crowd studying everyone and (probably) eavesdropping. Reading history is just staring and eavesdropping from a distance, therefore much more politely.

And as regular readers know, I’m particularly interested in histories that promise to bust up a narrative and question received wisdom. Those are my favorites.

An Empire Divided does some of that. What Daughton takes on is the tendency of historians of colonialism and imperialism to at best misunderstand and at worst ignore the role of missions. He hones in on three areas in order to make his case: Indochina, French Polynesia and Madagascar.

Some of the interesting and important points:

  • The Third Republic was, of course, anti-Catholic and the conflict between the Church and the Republic tends to define late 19th century French history. This conflict culminated in early 20th century laws that severely limited the Church’s role in French society. The fascinating irony, as Daughton points out, is that even as Republicans were fulminating against the Church at home, abroad, they were finding that their imperial aspirations were deeply dependent on….Catholic missionaries. C’est un problème!
  • For, of course, French Catholic missionaries had been present in these areas before French administrators. Their presence was vital in helping the French colonizers establish their foothold and often in keeping peace. And of course, it was mostly Catholic male and female missionaries who ran the schools, hospitals and orphanages. So the rabidly anti-Catholic French Republicans found themselves in a bit of a quandary out in the field.
  • How they dealt with this was largely dependent on the political winds back in France. At times there was an understanding relationship, but at times, things went south – as they did in Polynesia, when eventually, the government took over all the Catholic establishments and kicked the missionaries – mostly religious women – out of their roles. Another point: the stronger the role Freemasons had in local government, the greater the hostility to the Catholics was – not surprisingly.
  • In Madagascar, the situation was made even more complex by the presence of Protestants. This was fairly convoluted, and related to the earlier presence of the English on the island before the French took it. English Protestants and Quakers had great success in evangelizing Madagascar before the French decided they wanted it. Their continuing presence contributed to tensions which French Protestants thought they might help alleviate – but as it turns out, no one on any side wanted them. Of course the French Catholic missionaries (mostly Jesuits) didn’t want them around. Most of the time, the French administration didn’t want them because they suspected them of being allied with the English (which the French Protestants vigorously attempted to dispute, consciously aligning themselves with French Revolutionary and Republican ideals) and even the English Protestants didn’t want them because their ministry was mostly with indigenous peoples hostile to French rule…so more French speakers, no matter how Protestant, wouldn’t help. Quite interesting.
  • The other major thread running through the narrative focuses on the impact of French Republican ideals and practices on Catholic missions. For the first part of the period, Catholic missionaries saw their role as purely religious, with no connection at all to French aims, not even culturally. The French were constantly irritated with the Catholic missionaries in Indochina and Polynesia, for example, because they balked at teaching the indigenous peoples French. The narratives that the missionaries provide for this period are focused on matters of salvation and moral life and are at the very least, indifferent to colonizers and at most extremely hostile to them and the destruction and harm they brought to the people whom they were serving. (This is a common theme in mission work, and a tension worth remembering.)

So:

Sisters, however did not see officials or the effects of colonialism in such benign terms. Envisioning their schools as sanctuaries from corrupting colonial influences, teaching sisters were critical of official policies contemptuous of the administration, and disdainful of the colonial expansion that brought white men in close proximity to their girls. More than a love or a hatred of all things French, Catholic sisters instilled in their students of French men

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 of all kinds: merchants marines colonists and officials. In missionary sisters’ eyes, the very administrators who came to inspect their schools were symbols of moral debauchery that quite literally threatened the lives of their students….Though teaching sisters were practical and inexpensive, officials’ particular esteem for them became increasingly fraught with paradox…

…Nonetheless, just as republicans in France were calling for the “separation of Church and schoo,” administrators in Polynesia (and elsewhere across the French empire) were asking missionaries to play an important role in civilizing colonial subjects. (143-44, 150)

  • But over time, in almost all cases, the French Catholic missionaries shifted their tone and began to present themselves as part of the French colonial enterprise to the world. Mostly, one can assume, for reasons of self-preservation.
  • Daughton’s evidence for this is in the voluminous and popular magazines and almanacs published by French missionary societies, which over time began to present missionary efforts as an important and necessary element of the light that France was bringing to a darkened world.
  • But then, of course, irony of ironies – how it all worked out:

Across the former colonial world, the most imposing structures — be it in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, or in the port of Papeete — are often the spires of the century-old French churches. Today, in many regions of the world once under the French flag, Catholicism has often endured and even flourished where liberal, republican ideals have faded and where French has become an archaic tongue. Considering how deeply religion shapes people’s lives and defines their communities, the most profound legacy of French republican imperialism may well be, ironically, Christianity. (266)

Finally, Daughton points to an apostolic letter of Benedict XV, Maximum Illud, published in 1919 to help Catholics refocus on mission aims in the wake of the devastation of the Great War. There’s a section he takes to be a reference to the direction French missions had been taking over the previous two decades:

  1. It would be tragic indeed if any of our missionaries forgot the dignity of their office so completely as to busy themselves with the interests of their terrestrial homeland instead of with those of their homeland in heaven. It would be a tragedy indeed if an apostolic man were to spend himself in attempts to increase and exalt the prestige of the native land he once left behind him. Such behavior would infect his apostolate like a plague. It would destroy in him, the representative of the Gospel, the sinews of his love for souls and it would destroy his reputation with the populace. For no matter how wild and barbarous a people may be, they are well aware of what the missionary is doing in their country and of what he wants for them. They will subject him in their own way to a very searching investigation, and if he has any object in view other than their spiritual good, they will find out about it. Suppose it becomes clear that he is involved in worldly schemes of some kind, and that, instead of devoting himself exclusively to the work of the apostolate, he is serving the interests of his homeland as well. The people immediately suspect everything he does. And in addition, such a situation could easily give rise to the conviction that the Christian religion is the national religion of some foreign people and that anyone converted to it is abandoning his loyalty to his own people and submitting to the pretensions and domination of a foreign power.
  2. We have been deeply saddened by some recent accounts of missionary life, accounts that displayed more zeal for the profit of some particular nation than for the growth of the kingdom of God. We have been astonished at the indifference of their authors to the amount of hostility these works stir up in the minds of unbelievers. This is not the way of the Catholic missionary, not if he is worthy of the name. No, the true missionary is always aware that he is not working as an agent of his country, but as an ambassador of Christ. And his conduct is such that it is perfectly obvious to anyone watching him that he represents a Faith that is alien to no nation on earth, since it embraces all men who worship God in spirit and in truth, a Faith in which “there is no Gentile, no Jew, no circumcised, no uncircumcised, no barbarian, no Scythian, no slave, no free man, but Christ is everything in each of us” (Colossians 3:12).

 

It’s clear, not just from this slice, but from the rest of Catholic history as well, that even those most dedicated to the Gospel face the tension of how to do that, as Pope Benedict XV says, within the context of their terrestrial homeland. The pressure to conform to this world and to allow the priorities and values of the principalities and powers to define us is always – always present and powerful, and we are fools to ignore it and worse than fools to be complacent, let down our guard and assume that we are beyond all that in this present moment.

Now, missionary histories were rewritten to show the triumphs of republican colonialism. The readiness and speed with which missionaries reconfigured their venerated spiritual traditions are evidence of the power of the modern nation-state – especially through the experience of colonialism – to demand patriotic conformity from all quarters of the population, even traditionally nonnational organizations like Catholic missionary orders. Within a few fleeting years Catholic missionaries found it impossible to see their work in purely spiritual terms. The politics of religion in fin-de-siècle France required missionaries to work for their patrie on earth or else risk giving up their service to their God in heaven. (256) 

 

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I finally got off my tail and began the project of re-purposing as many of our out-of-print books as I can. It’s not as if I don’t have other things to do – homeschooling a 7th grader, writing a book that’s due on December 15, writing another shorter book for independent release…but it’s been weighing on me, so I decided it was time to begin. Plus, since I’ll be putting out the Guatemala book as a Kindle book, I thought it would be good practice to go ahead and start publishing books that had already been written and edited.

(For those of you who wonder about rights. Generally what happens – and this is the case with these books – once a book goes out of print, the rights revert to the author, so that she can do whatever she likes with them. The advent of digital has made that a bit more complicated – some publishers are reverting print rights back to authors but retaining digital rights, for example, so they can continue to benefit from that revenue stream. And some publishers are holding onto all rights, maintaining a large back catalog in theory, even though they’re not actually publishing the older books – frustrating a lot of authors who would really like to have the rights to their own books back….)

So here’s my first attempt – available for pre-order from Amazon. Once I get the hang of it, I might publish in other formats – Smashwords, etc, but this is it for now. For the moment, I have taken the free pdf off my website, mostly because I am not sure how Amazon feels about offering something for sale on their site while giving it away somewhere else. I’ll do this for a while and see what happens.

Why not just leave it up as a free pdf? Because I can reach more people this way, that’s why. There isn’t another book like this out there – a popular, non-wacky look at Mary Magdalene and her cultus with a bit of a devotional twist. I’ve mentioned the book to various publishers in passing, letting it be known that if anyone wanted to republish it, I’d be happy to discuss it, but no one’s interested…so why not do it myself?

(But no, I won’t be doing a print version. That’s a whole other level of hassle…..)

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— 1 —

So, yes, some of us are in Guatemala this week. As a backup for this blog, I scheduled reprints of Mary Magdalene posts from last year. For the life of me, I can’t remember if I actually proofread and updated them, so this all might be quite awkward. My internet has been mostly terrible, and when I’ve had it, I’ve used it mostly to make sure my ATM card hasn’t been skimmed and my bank account drained, so I hope you have enjoyed the Mary Magdalene posts, whatever they say. Read the book! 

— 2 —

The rest of this post will be mostly photos, and not the best ones, even. I have been using a real camera for this trip, but failed to bring the little card reader I need to put them on my computer, since this tiny thing doesn’t have an SD slot. So you’ll have to make do with my phone photos, which are okay, but not as comprehensive as what’s on the…camera. Remember those?

But …I will say this, and I will say it here mostly to hold myself to it. I am not going to post a comprehensive trip report. I’m going to write it in book form and publish it on Amazon – for a very nominal fee, yes, but I really think I have enough to write about here for at least 20-25,000 words, but I don’t want to bother with a traditional publisher – and I don’t think a traditional publisher will be interested.  I mean, who the hell wants to go through a year of writing/editing/thinking about marketing/rewriting/selling some little book about my Guatemala trip? Nobody, not even me. But I’m willing to spend a few weeks on it, and toss it out there for whomever is interested.

There was a day when writers did this sort of thing all the time, and there were magazine publishers who were willing to put out a long-form article or newspaper publishers who would serialize, but no more. I’ve decided that for this kind of experience, a series of blog posts is selling myself and interest readers short. So hopefully, when I get back, I can buckle down and do this thing.

Send thoughts and prayers my way, please!

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Hate  ” thoughts and prayers your way,” by the way. We pray to God, not send prayers to each other. So, just kidding. 

— 3 —

So, yes. This has been a week of ruins:

 

Tikal, Yaxha, Uaxactun, Aguateca and Ceibal have been visited. Not all pictured. 

— 4 —

Nature has been spotted:

Just the tiniest fraction. Most photos were taken with the camera. The oddest thing is – you think before you go to somewhere like this that Seeing a monkey in the wild in a tree will be the most amazing thing ever!” And the first two times, it is. And then you realize that they’re like Guatemalan squirrels, and you get over it.

— 5 —

Food:

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And all of it has been fantastic, and none of it been served in anything but fairly basic restaurants. Comedors – sort of like a diner.

The very humbling thing is that every bit of it has been actual food, not  Cysco can contents warmed up or stuff from Sam’s or Cotsco’s thawed and heated. It’s real food, really cooked right there in the kitchen using ingredients that someone nearby either grew or caught or raised. This is real farm-to-table, and for far less than 30 bucks a plate and without the attitude or pretense.

Left: dining room in Flores. Right: Kitchen in village near Uaxactun ruins. 

— 6 —

And just encounters and experiences:

 

— 7 —

Oh, and Star Wars background scenes. That, too.

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For further reference…go here. 

 

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Internet memes and catchphrases come and go. Some strike us as cute or even surprisingly and succinctly descriptive when they first pop up, but then most of them wear out their welcome within days – hours, now, it seems.

Things. Like. This. Worst. Ever.

Well, one that I encounter on Twitter now and then that I’m not tired of yet is this and variations:

#ReadaDifferentBook

 

(Variations: Read Another Book. Watch A Different Movie)

 

The inspiration?

It’s the tic, among those who observe and comment on Life and Events  – which is everyone now – to filter everything through one of a very few pop culture filters. Usually:

The Hunger Games

Game of Thrones

Harry Potter.

Maybe, once in a while Star Wars.

But seriously: every battle, political and otherwise, is made to reflect off The Hunger Games, every power struggle is Game of Thrones and every bad guy is Voldemort.

Read A Different Book.

The point is about cultural narrowness and ignorance, but it’s about more.

The larger point is about just that – scope – as well as maturity. It’s that the world is bigger than the couple of books that captured your fancy and blew your mind when you were an adolescent, and it’s time to grow up. Really. Just grow up.

I think about this all the time. In fact, I think about every morning when I look at the Scriptures for the day and glance through pray some of the daily prayers.  I realize how differently I see the world and even just my life because this is the Book I read.

And not just “the Book” in the narrow sense of the Scriptures. I mean the entire “book” of revelation, of the meaning of all that is as it’s been revealed by God and understood and lived and passed down. It’s the only book, it seems to me, that is able to make sense of absolutely everything – as much sense as can be made by us in the limits of the here and now – whether that be goodness, evil, joy, sadness, politics, suffering, injustice, heroism, creativity, power – and powerlessness.

I have a lot of different kinds of people on my social media feeds. I don’t pay a lot of attention to any of those feeds, and hardly ever engage in particular on Facebook and Twitter (they’re in my life mainly to keep up with and communicate news, and I have never felt overwhelmed by either) – but I do see the opinions flow, and, oh my, over the past few months, there has been so much agony over the political scene. I wrote about this before – here – in which I said to those dismayed at the Trump election…welcome to my world – by which I mean the world of people not thrilled with the direction of Western culture and political life.

And it really hasn’t abated – the agony and rage, that is. The frantic anxiety. It’s still there, and what I see and hear in it is just narrowness of vision and experience. And it just seems that a lot of it is the fruit of the loss of the cosmic. Oh, a lot of these folks would say that au contraire, they are super cosmic  and tuned into the universe, but no, they’re not, because their universe is not a meaningful one and their universe, in the end, holds no mystery, no grace and no depth of a common bond of love.

It’s what I’ve noticed about myself. When I don’t situate myself consciously in that book – of all that God’s revealed and what’s offered to me through the Church in this life of grace, I lose my footing and more importantly, my perspective.

So  yeah,  #readadifferentbook. No, it’s not a program for health and wellness. It’s not a formula. It’s not even a promise.

To me, it’s just common sense. When your worldview is small and cramped, self-selected and self-curated and mostly materialist, you will understand your life and Life differently than you would if your worldview is informed by a truly global, historically-rooted, cross-cultural experience – and that’s not even taking the whole revelation aspect into account, is it?

The season finale of Fargo airs tonight, and I’m quite curious to see how it works itself out. The potential is there for aggravating, superficial pretense, or brilliance casting about for truth.

(This is related to the rest of the post, yes)

The major theme of Fargo  – set in the same world as the Coen brothers’ movie, but a different story, as it is every season – is, well, story. And truth. Characters must confront the lies they’ve told themselves and others in the past, and the consequences. They have to adjust to new realities. The world they find themselves in is not what they’d believed the world to be about. And lurking, descending amid all the chaos are the storytellers who are purveying lies and constructing a story which you are invited to join – if by “invited” you mean coerced by those who’d toss you off a parking lot deck  if you say ‘no.’

A few characters are attempting to stay real – really real – though, and they are, not surprisingly, the characters most filled with hope. They’re confronting this evil, but their relationship to it is different. Why?

In the last episode, one of these characters, a beat cop named Winnie, is consoling Gloria Burgle, the former small-town police chief, recently demoted in the course of a reorganization and frustrated by her superiors’ failure to see the truth and the seemingly unbeatable power of the evil she’s been trying to track and face down.  Here’s the conversation. They’re in a bar.

"fargo season 3"

Winnie (toasting): To showing up and fighting back.

Gloria: It’s over. The good guys lost.

Winnie: For the present – but Jesus wins in the end

Gloria: I’ll drink to that.

Me, too.

 

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This Sunday – the Third Sunday of Easter – gives us an excellent opportunity to consider the richness of ancient Christian tradition as it has flowed and coursed down to us over two thousand years in the East and West.

First, it should be said that in the most ancient Western rite, this Sunday was “Good Shepherd” Sunday – which was moved to the following week in the modern era.

In the present Ordinary Form lectionary, this Sunday doesn’t get a consistent Gospel every year, but rather varied accounts of post-Resurrection appearances. This year, as you should know, because you’ve been to Mass or are on your way – the Gospel is the narrative of the Road to Emmaus.

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From B16 in 2008:

The locality of Emmaus has not been identified with certainty. There are various hypotheses and this one is not without an evocativeness of its own for it allows us to think that Emmaus actually represents every place: the road that leads there is the road every Christian, every person, takes. The Risen Jesus makes himself our travelling companion as we go on our way, to rekindle the warmth of faith and hope in our hearts and to break the bread of eternal life. In the disciples’ conversation with the unknown wayfarer the words the evangelist Luke puts in the mouth of one of them are striking: “We had hoped…” (Lk 24: 21). This verb in the past tense tells all: we believed, we followed, we hoped…, but now everything is over. Even Jesus of Nazareth, who had shown himself in his words and actions to be a powerful prophet, has failed, and we are left disappointed. This drama of the disciples of Emmaus appears like a reflection of the situation of many Christians of our time: it seems that the hope of faith has failed. Faith itself enters a crisis because of negative experiences that make us feel abandoned and betrayed even by the Lord. But this road to Emmaus on which we walk can become the way of a purification and maturation of our belief in God. Also today we can enter into dialogue with Jesus, listening to his Word. Today too he breaks bread for us and gives himself as our Bread. And so the meeting with the Risen Christ that is possible even today gives us a deeper and more authentic faith tempered, so to speak, by the fire of the Paschal Event; a faith that is robust because it is nourished not by human ideas but by the Word of God and by his Real Presence in the Eucharist.

In the East, this Sunday is, and has from ancient times, celebrated as the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women.

Both East and West, then, emphasize encounter. Encounters with the Risen Lord. Encounters which are surprising and mysterious.  We are still on the road. What keeps us from recognizing him as he draws near? We still draw near to the tomb. What do we bring along? What do we bear?

An excerpt from my book, De-Coding Mary Magdalene. You can download a pdf of the book here. 

 

‘Myrrh-bearer’

To put it most simply, the Eastern view of Mary Magdalene, although marked by some unique legendary material, in general cleaves much more closely to what the Gospels tell us about her. The East never adopted St. Gregory the Great’s conflation of the Marys, and their commemoration of Mary Magdalene on her feast day has always been centered on her role as witness to the empty tomb and her declaration, “He is risen!”

The title with which Mary is honored in Eastern Christianity, while unwieldy to English speakers, makes this association clear. She is called “Myrrh-bearer” (she is also known as “Equal-to-the- Apostles,” or Isapostole, and by the term mentioned earlier, “Apostle to the Apostles”). As a myrrh-bearer, she is also honored in Orthodoxy on the second Sunday after Easter (Pascha), the “Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women,” along with seven other women who are mentioned by the Gospel writers as having an important role at the cross or at the tomb:

“You did command the myrrh-bearers to rejoice, O Christ! By your resurrection, you did stop the lamentation of Eve,

O God!

You did command your apostles to preach:The Savior is risen!”

(Kontakion, Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women)

Two weeks before, on Pascha itself, it is traditional to sing a hymn in honor of Mary Magdalene, one written, intriguingly, by a woman.

Kassia, the composer of this hymn, was born in Constantino- ple in the ninth century. She married and had children, but even tually established and led a monastery in that city. She is believed to have composed more than fifty hymns, thirty of which are still in use in the Orthodox liturgy today. She also wrote secular poetry, and she was the author of a number of pithy epigrams (“Love everyone, but don’t trust all” is one of many).

Her troparion, or short praise-hymn, puts us in the heart of Mary Magdalene as she approaches the tomb:

“Sensing your divinity, Lord, a woman of many sins

takes it upon herself

to become a myrrh-bearer and in deep mourning

brings before you fragrant oil

in anticipation of your burial; crying: “Woe to me! What night falls on me, what dark and moonless madness

of wild desire, this lust for sin.

Take my spring of tears

you who draw water from the clouds, bend to me, to the sighing of my heart, you who bend the heavens

in your secret incarnation,

I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and wipe them dry with the locks of my hair; those very feet whose sound Eve heard

at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in terror.

Who shall count the multitude of my sins or the depth of your judgment,

Savior of my soul?

Do not ignore your handmaiden, you whose mercy is endless.”

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