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Posts Tagged ‘history’

— 1 —

Well, that week sped by. I’d intended to write a post about last weekend, but…I didn’t. Or did I?

Goes through archives. 

Nope.

Well, you can check out an Instagram post here.

(And guys, you know we’re going to JAPAN soon, right? I’ll be posting a ton from there, I’m sure – so if you’re interested, follow!)

(UPDATE, 6/7 11:00 PM – We are leaving for Japan in less than two weeks and I just received notice that because of a new Japanese law related to homesharing, my AirBnB reservation is…sketchy. More later, but let’s just say that AirBnB is handling this well, and….it will all be okay. It will all be okay….) 

Blog version:

My 13-year old and I spent Thursday night and Friday morning at Auburn University. We didn’t need to be there Thursday night, but if we hadn’t gone down then – we would have had to rise at 5 or so in order to arrive on time for his event. So I used some points and we just stayed in the area.

The reason? The Alabama State Music Teacher’s annual convention and workshops. In the world of student musicians, as with everything else these days, competition is a part of life, and my son did well enough in the state level of competition to be invited to play in a master class with pianist and music educator Fred Karpoff. 

(Now, the big win would have been coming out on top of the scores and qualifying to play in a recital at the convention. He was a little disappointed that he didn’t qualify for that, but it might have been for the best, considering the rest of the weekend’s obligations. Or not. Because knowing the mess the rest of the weekend was – we’d have been better off just playing and listening to music all weekend. Or would we have? You just never know, because you learn something valuable everywhere. That’s not just a platitude. Okay, it might be a platitude, but it’s not just a platitude. Because it’s true.)

It was a good experience, and we’re grateful to M’s teacher for helping him hone his playing to this point.

— 2 —

That other activity for the weekend was….

….well…

Now that I think about it, I understand why I didn’t just sit myself down and churn out a post about this on Sunday night or Monday morning. I am still not quite sure what to say about it. Well, I know what I want to say about it, but I am not sure if I should or not.

What was it? The National History Bee. M had competed last year with his school and qualified for nationals, and we went. This year, he competed as a homeschooler, qualified for nationals at the regional competition, and so..we went. I held off registering until about two weeks before the competition because I didn’t know how the piano thing was going to work out – that is, if he “won” there and had a chance to perform at the recital, yeah, buddy – you’re doing that.

And honestly, having been through the national competition last year, I was indifferent to whether he went this year. Competing in the regionals was fine – it was here in Birmingham in February, I think, and preparing for it gave shape to his homeschool history work. As in I could say, “Go study for the history bee” and call it a day.

But he wanted to do it, and when the way cleared, he asked if we could go ahead and register. Sure.

I really don’t want to rehash the whole weekend, and it was no more than 24 hours out of my life, and we did get to see my daughter who’d doing an internship in Atlanta this summer, so that’s all fine and good.

But – wow.

What a mess this was.

I mean – a total, absolute train wreck. Even my daughter, who has done her share of debate tournaments, athletic events, theater events, sorority events and everything else a very active young person might do said, “I’ve been to some disorganized events – but nothing like this.”

Whatever the outfit is that puts this on is nowhere near as established as those that sponsor the National Spelling Bee or the National Geographic (duh) Bee. I am not even sure who they are or what they’re about, really.

But it was a terrible mess. You can check out their Facebook page to see some of the complaints. 

The structure was: Qualifying rounds plus a scantron exam on Friday, the total score of which would determine the top 256 who would then start off Saturday morning, and then to the Quarterfinals and so on.

My son did the written exam first and by the time he got to his first buzzer round, they were already running 45 minutes behind. The rounds were scattered in rooms around the hotel, with no notice on doors as to which round was happening. The qualifying results were supposed to be posted between 7-8 on Friday night. They didn’t go up (online) until 10:30. Then a new, adjusted version went up at 6:30 am Saturday, with some significant changes. My son had qualified to move on, but by the Saturday morning count – which no one knew was coming – he’d dropped about twenty places. Still qualified, but not everyone had that same experience. Some kids went to bed Friday night thinking they’d qualified, then woke up Saturday finding that they’d been dropped beyond the cutoff. Other kids had the opposite experience – they went to bed thinking they’d not qualified, revised rankings bumped them up – but they had no idea.

The Saturday morning qualifying round that my son was a part of was….one hour late in starting. Because they couldn’t locate the correct list of what kids were supposed to be in that room. Finally, a frazzled judge came in and said, “Screw it! We’ll just do it anyway – tell me your names.”

So yeah. It was pretty bad. I feel terrible for people who came from a distance and spent money to get there for this fairly miserable experience. My main inconvenience was that I hadn’t made hotel reservations for Friday not – reasoning that if my son didn’t qualify for the Saturday rounds, we could just go home.

There was no running tally during the competition, but having sat in on all the buzzer rounds, I felt pretty confident he’d qualified – especially considering that in most of the rounds, about a third of the kids got zero points, consistently, and M always got at least one – 256 was about the top 2/3 of competitors, I figured we were safe.

But I wasn’t sure, so I thought – well, if we find out between 7-8, that’s fine. With the time zone change, even if we leave Atlanta at 8, that’s like leaving at 7 our time, and we’re home by 9. No problem.

So we sat in the hotel lobby and waited for those rankings. And waited. And waited. Until finally, about 9pm, I gave up, said – we’re staying no matter what happens – and got a room.

But really – if I’d been one of those other families, coming from New York or Minnesota or California – and endured this? I would have no mind left, having given event staff so many pieces of it at that point.

This stuff is not my cup of tea anyway, of course. Competition can be helpful in pushing us forward in anything. I’m not saying it’s not. But there’s a definite academic competition subculture, immersion in which does little to encourage authentic learning or wisdom. My son does enjoy the competition, though – not enough to give much of his day over to studying, that’s true, and certainly not to Master Lord of History Trivia Level  – but if it spurs him on to do a bit of extra reading, that’s fine.

But take this as a warning. If you ever hear about this competition and contemplate having your school participate – think twice. Really. Maybe even think three times. This was jaw-droppingly inept. I can’t and won’t ascribe any motivations to anyone. All I know was what we and hundreds of others experienced – and it was unprofessional and honestly, an injustice to participants.

— 3 —

We arrived back home early Saturday afternoon, having processed The Defeat (he missed getting to the quarterfinals by one question, but honestly – we were glad to be out of there), rested a bit, and then with brother (who’d stayed home by himself because he’s a Working Man) headed downtown to watch the filming of scenes from a movie called LiveIt stars Aaron Eckhart, whom my sons know as Harvey Dent from some Batman movie but I know from Neil Labute movies. I enjoy watching movies being filmed – for short periods of time, since there is a lot of waiting…- it’s just interesting to see all the moving parts.

Then Sunday: the boys served at Corpus Christi Mass at the convent, and Sunday evening, we walked over the hill right across the road from our house for some relaxing summer jazz. A pretty busy first weekend of our summer….

Photos from the weekend:

— 4 —

Thanks, Magical Birth Canal!

This was my favorite thing this week, from Canadian pro-life group Choice 4 2:

— 5 —

Here’s a 130-year old truth bomb for you:

 

— 6 —

Oh, oh, oh – this.

Remember last week when I told you about our lovely Nature Moments with Baby Birds? So sweet! So picturesque! So…nature-y!

Oh, well:

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It happened at some point Sunday night or very early Monday morning. We saw them Sunday night, and then when I went out the next morning – all I saw was the nest on the ground and a scattering of feathers – and a couple legs (which were gone by the time I took this photo the next day). I’m assuming it was hawks. So yes – very nature-y. Serious, blunt force nature.

Here’s the odd thing, though.

The parents stuck around. It was pretty sad when I discovered the carnage on Monday morning – both parents were flying around, landing on the branches and cables nearby, squawking and chirping loudly – warning me, calling the babies, wondering where the heck did they go? 

The next day – they were still there.

Also the next day, our yard guys came and for some reason, they set the nest (which I’d left on the patio, intending to take in later) back up on the drain pipe.

Wednesday when I went out to catch some rays – the parents were still there. And what were they doing? Flying back and forth with grass and twigs to the nest.

Are they going to try it again? Do birds do that?

I’ll let you know….

 

— 7 —

 Coming in July:amy_welborn9

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Signs and symbols…Bible stories…saints, heroes and history. 

More book reminders (for those who only come here on Fridays) – I’ve made How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist available as a free pdf here. 

(One of several free ebooks I have available)

And don’t forget Son #2’s Amazon author page and personal author page.  

He’s released his second set of stories, which are science fiction-y in nature. 

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

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My mother grew up in Maine. Born in New Hampshire, but grew up in Maine.  The aunt and uncle who raised her lived there (in Sanford, in case there are any small-world moments waiting to happen out there) and for all of my childhood, a month every summer was spent in that lovely little spot of southern Maine.

My best friend there was named Lesa. (spelling is correct, btw). She lived across the field lying between my great-uncle’s house and her family’s, and was the only girl in a family of about 6 or 7 boys – that is until her little sister was born when she was around 13, I think. Very French-Canadian family, her grandparents barely spoke English. Being an only child, I was always mildly stunned after being with them for a while, alternately taken aback and entranced by the energy, the earthiness, and things that were so odd to me – like making a whole meal out of nothing but ears and ears of fresh corn.

Her oldest brother was probably about ten years older than she was (and she was a year older than I). He was a pretty dashing guy, although if you’d asked me at the time, I would have confessed that I thought he had a rather strange name.

“Nobbit,” they called him.

Nobbit graduated from college. Nobbit was a ski instructor in the winters. Nobbit was coming home.

Nobbit?

What kind of name was that, I wondered..for years.

Until one day, as an adult, I happened upon…

St. Norbert.

Well, theyah ya go.

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How to raise children like the saints:

Pray for their deaths, leave them in the care of others and join a monastery, leave THEM in a monastery..

and so on. 

Today is the memorial of St. Rita, known for many things, among them, her clear-eyed view of her children’s lives, earthly and eternal:

Rita Lotti was born near Cascia in Italy in the fourteenth century, the only child of her parents, Antonio and Amata. Her parents were official peacemakers in a turbulent environment of feuding families.


At an early age Rita felt called to religious life; however, her parents arranged for her to be married to Paolo Mancini. Rita accepted this as God’s will for her, and the newlyweds were soon blessed with two sons.


One day while on his way home, Paolo was killed. Rita’s grief was compounded with the fear that her two sons would seek to avenge their father’s death, as was the custom of the time. She began praying and fasting that God would not allow this to happen. Both sons soon fell ill and died, which Rita saw as an answer to her prayers.

From The Church’s Most Powerful Novenas. 

Whether or not your faith can take you that far at the moment, it’s worth pondering, worth allowing your self-understanding as a parent  – or simply a person who is connected to others – to be jolted, challenged and questioned.

It’s worth pondering on what we really believe and what we really want and hope for others and what we really think would be the worst and best things that could ever happen to them.

Raising children to be fulfilled in this world, happy with who they are in this world, and helpful to others in this world is good of us, but it’s also very 21st century First World of us. Parental bonds naturally bring deep desires to protect our children from any kind of harm or suffering, and of course it makes sense to have our parental goal be that vision of thriving, successful adults. Who still call, of course.

But if we’re parenting like the saints, we’re nudged to consider different definitions and frameworks and paradigms. We’re sometimes even confronted with examples of what we’d today call bad – terrible – parenting.

That is not to say that we look to saints because all of their decisions were good ones. They weren’t and we don’t. It is also true that there is nothing much easier than using religion as a tool to manipulate others and escape responsibility. I’m really involved in church and God clearly has a mission for me that requires all my time there  can often be more simply translated as I’d rather not be around my family, thanks. 

But if we’re serious about the Catholic thing, we do look to patterns, and the pattern we see is that when the saints think about other people, they’re concerned, first and foremost, with the state of their souls.

Now, we’d argue that  – we are too! Because we can quickly direct our purported concern with “souls” into that “self-fulfillment” door that rules the present day. That is: your deepest desires, as you understand them at this moment, must come from God – because they’re so deep and you can’t imagine being yourself without them. So this is what God wants. What you want. And that’s: fulfillment, happiness and feeling okay about what you’re doing here and now. What more can we want for ourselves, for our children?

St. Rita offers….another paradigm.

And so does S. Marie de l’Incarnation – the great mystic and missionary to New France, died in 1672, canonized in 2014. 

I’m currently reading From Mother to Son: The Selected Letters of Marie de l’Incarnation to Claude Martin.  It seems appropriate to be reading these letters and learning about this fascinating relationship on the feastday of St. Rita.

Marie was widowed at the age of twenty, left with a young son. She spent years – not only working in a family business and supporting her son – but discerning. It was a discernment that led to her, at the age of 32, when her son was 11 – into joining the Ursulines, and, a few years later, heading to Canada, where she would live, minister, and eventually die, never having seen her son with her physical eyes again.

So yes, she left her son with relatives so she could join a cloistered convent then sail across the sea.

The argument is made that viewed in historical context, this decision is not as strange as it seems to us today. Families tended to be more extended, parents died a lot, one-fourth of all marriages in France during this period were second marriages, children were sent off to school, sent to live in better circumstances with better-off relations and so on.

All of this is true, but we also know from Marie’s story that her son did not cheerfully accept either of her decisions – he ran away and turned up at the convent gate, and so on.

But, as it does, life went on, and in the end, Claude entered religious life himself as a Benedictine, and he and his mother exchanged letters for decades – and he eventually worked hard to collect her writings and present them to the world as the fruit of the mind of a saintly woman.

I’m going to finish this book today and write more about it tomorrow. So come back for that. But until then:

You were abandoned by your mother and your relatives. Hasn’t this abandonment been useful to you? When I left you, you were not yet twelve years old and I did so only with strange agonies known to God alone. I had to obey his divine will, which wanted things to happen thus, making me hope that he would take care of you. I steeled my heart to prevail over what had delayed my entry into holy religion a whole ten years. Still, I had to be convinced of the necessity of delivering this blow by Reverend Father Dom Raymond and by ways I can’t set forth on this paper, though I would tell you in person. I foresaw the abandonment of our relatives, which gave me a thousand crosses, together with the human weakness that made me fear your ruin. 

When I passed through Paris, it would have been easy for me to place you. The Queen, Madame the Duchess d’Aiguillon and Madame the Countesss Brienne, who did me the honor of looking upon me with favor and who have again honored me with their commands this year, by their letters, wouldn’t have refused me anything I desired for you. I thanked Madame the Duchess d’Aiguillon for the good that she wanted to do for you, but the thought that came to me then was that if you were advanced in the world, your soul would be in danger of ruin.  What’s more, the thoughts that had formerly occupied my mind, in wanting only spiritual poverty for your inheritance and for mine, made me resolve to leave you a second time in the hands of the Mother of goodness, trusting that since I was going to give my life for the service of her beloved Son, she would take care of you….I have never loved you but in the poverty of Jesus Christ in which all treasures are found….

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Click on cover for more information.

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

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

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

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

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From a 2007 General Audience, Benedict XVI:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yes, St. Patrick’s Day is a couple of days away, but don’t you want to prepare? Prepare yourself, prepare the kids…

 

St. Patrick's Well, Orvieto

What is this and what does it have to do with St. Patrick? See the end of the blog post…

From The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

How do you teach a classroom that’s as big as a whole country? How do you teach a whole country about God?

St. Patrick’s classroom was the whole country of Ireland and his lesson was the good news of Jesus Christ. How in the world did he do it? Well, it was only possible because he depended totally on God.

….

God gave Patrick the courage to speak, even when Patrick was in danger of being hurt by pagan priests who didn’t want to lose their power over the people.

Patrick’s most famous prayer shows us how close he was to God. It’s called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” A breastplate is the piece of armor that protects a soldier’s heart from harm.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.

I also  have a chapter on the beautiful Lorica prayer – or St. Patrick’s Breastplate in The Words We Pray. You can dip into it here and buy the book here. It’s one of my favorites of those I’ve written. 

The point of St Patrick to me has always been he went back.  He (like Isaac Jogues and many others) returned to the people who had caused him much suffering. Why did he return? Because he knew, first hand, that they needed to hear the Gospel. The Gospel is about forgiveness and reconciliation. Who better to bring it to them?

St. Patrick's Breastplate

St. Patrick’s Breastplate in a Wordcloud. Wordcloud made via this. Feel free to share. 

The photograph at the top of the blog post is of St. Patrick’s Well in Orvieto, Italy, taken during our 2016 trip. No, St. Patrick never traveled to Italy, and no one thinks he does, either. The assumption is that the name of this very deep, intriguingly constructed well is derived from the awareness of “St. Patrick’s Purgatory” in Ireland, a cave so deep it led to Purgatory. 

This incredible 16th century feat of engineering is 72 meters (174.4 feet) deep and 13 meters (43 feet) wide.  Two staircases circle the central opening in a double-helix design, meaning that one person (or donkey carrying empty buckets) can travel down the staircase in one direction and never run into another person (or donkey carrying full buckets) coming up in the other direction.  Seventy-two arched windows in the interior wall of the staircase filter light through the well and illuminate the brick and mortar used to seal it.

Why does a tiny town on top of a plateau of volcanic rock (or “tufa”) have such a thing? For the same reason it has such a stunning duomo!  After the troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sacked Rome in 1527, Pope Clement VII was held hostage in Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome’s holy fortress, for six months.  He finally escaped dressed as a servant and took refuge in Orvieto. It was the perfect spot with its vantage point over the valley.

It didn’t, however, have a reliable source of water without descending from the plateau, something the Pope feared could be a issue if it were sieged.  To solve the problem before it existed, Pope Clement VII commissioned Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, a visionary young Italian architect, to create a well that was at that time called “Pozzo della Rocca”, “Well of the Fortress”. Research had already been done to find the most suitable spot for a well and so the design and construction of Pozzo della Roca was begun immediately.  It was finished 10 years later in 1537, under the reign of Pope Paul III.

It wasn’t until the 1800′s that the well got its new name, as it reminded some of the “well” or “cave” in Ireland called “St. Patrick’s Purgatory”.

 

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(I always like these vintage books more for the art than the text….)

Finally, you might be interested in this, dug up from the Internet Archive: A Rhymed Life of St. Patrick by Irish writer Katharine Tynan:

Irish nationalist writer Katharine Tynan was born in Clondalkin, a suburb of Dublin, in 1859. She was educated at the Dominican Convent of St. Catherine and started writing at a young age. Though Catholic, she married a Protestant barrister; she and her husband lived in England before moving to Claremorris, in County Mayo. Tynan was friends with W.B. Yeats and Charles Parnell.

 Involved in the Irish Literary Revival, Tynan expressed concern for feminist causes, the poor, and the effects of World War I—two sons fought in the war—in her work. She also meditated on her Catholic faith. A prolific writer, she wrote more than 100 novels, 12 collections of short stories, reminiscences, plays, and more than a dozen books of poetry, among them Louise de la Vallière and Other Poems (1885), Shamrocks (1887), Ballads and Lyrics (1891), Irish Poems (1913), The Flower of Peace: A Collection of the Devotional Poetry of Katharine Tynan (1914), Flower of Youth: Poems in Wartime (1915), and Late Songs (1917). She died in 1931.

 

 

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