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Posts Tagged ‘Ignatius Press’

From my favorite old-school 7th grade catechism, With Mother Church. 

EPSON MFP image

From B16 in 2007

It is a moving experience each year on Palm Sunday as we go up the mountain with Jesus, towards the Temple, accompanying him on his ascent. On this day, throughout the world and across the centuries, young people and people of every age acclaim him, crying out: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But what are we really doing when we join this procession as part of the throng which went up with Jesus to Jerusalem and hailed him as King of Israel? Is this anything more than a ritual, a quaint custom? Does it have anything to do with the reality of our life and our world? To answer this, we must first be clear about what Jesus himself wished to do and actually did. After Peter’s confession of faith in Caesarea Philippi, in the northernmost part of the Holy Land, Jesus set out as a pilgrim towards Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. He was journeying towards the Temple in the Holy City, towards that place which for Israel ensured in a particular way God’s closeness to his people. He was making his way towards the common feast of Passover, the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt and the sign of its hope of definitive liberation. He knew that what awaited him was a new Passover and that he himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross. He knew that in the mysterious gifts of bread and wine he would give himself for ever to his own, and that he would open to them the door to a new path of liberation, to fellowship with the living God. He was making his way to the heights of the Cross, to the moment of self-giving love. The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being.

Our procession today is meant, then, to be an image of something deeper, to reflect the fact that, together with Jesus, we are setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God. This is the ascent that matters. This is the journey which Jesus invites us to make. But how can we keep pace with this ascent? Isn’t it beyond our ability? Certainly, it is beyond our own possibilities. From the beginning men and women have been filled – and this is as true today as ever – with a desire to “be like God”, to attain the heights of God by their own powers. All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free. Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months.

The Fathers of the Church maintained that human beings stand at the point of intersection between two gravitational fields. First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God’s love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards. Man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us and grants us true freedom.

Following the Liturgy of the Word, at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer where the Lord comes into our midst, the Church invites us to lift up our hearts: “Sursum corda!” In the language of the Bible and the thinking of the Fathers, the heart is the centre of man, where understanding, will and feeling, body and soul, all come together. The centre where spirit becomes body and body becomes spirit, where will, feeling and understanding become one in the knowledge and love of God. This is the “heart” which must be lifted up. But to repeat: of ourselves, we are too weak to lift up our hearts to the heights of God. We cannot do it. The very pride of thinking that we are able to do it on our own drags us down and estranges us from God. God himself must draw us up, and this is what Christ began to do on the cross. He descended to the depths of our human existence in order to draw us up to himself, to the living God. He humbled himself, as today’s second reading says. Only in this way could our pride be vanquished: God’s humility is the extreme form of his love, and this humble love draws us upwards.

Seems appropriate that this will be my reading for the week:

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Today is her memorial. If you don’t know her story, take a look at B16’s encyclical Spe Salvi – in which the pope uses St. Josephine as his very first example of “hope.” You really can’t find a better brief introduction:

Yet at this point a question arises: in what does this hope consist which, as hope, is “redemption”? The essence of the answer is given in the phrase from the Letter to the Ephesians quoted above: the Ephesians, before their encounter with Christ, were without hope because they were “without God in the world”. To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God.

The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life.

Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ.

bakhita5Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited.

What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”.

On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.

There is quite a bit of biographical material on St. Josephine Bakhita, including an Italian film that doesn’t look lame, based on the trailer.

Ignatius Press published a translation of an Italian biography called Bakhita: From Slave to Saint. You can read big chunks of it online via a Google Book search. There is quite a bit of interest, including the account of how she came to stay in Italy.

Bakhita, as recounted above, had been kidnapped by Muslim slave traders. After being bought and sold a few times, she was finally purchased – for the purpose of redemption – by an Italian consul. After a time, he took her and another African, a boy, to Genoa. She was taken into the home of one Augusto Michieli, where she eventually became the nanny to Michieli’s daughter. Turina Michieli, wife of Augusto, was a lapsed, probably agnostic Russian Orthodox, so religion was not a part of the family’s life.

It was via a fascinating fellow named Illuminato Chechinni, who managed some Michieli’s land, that Bakhita was exposed to Christianity. There came a point at which the Michielis were going to return to Africa, and so Bakhita and her young charge were housed in an Institute for catechumens in Venice for a time, until final arrangements were made. When those arrangements were, indeed made, and the time came for the whole family to return to Africa…Bakhita refused.

It was quite a tussle, that even came to involve the Patriarch of Venice, and the authorities eventually decided that since slavery was illegal in Italy, Bakhita was not a slave, had always been free since she landed on Italian shores, and was free to do what she liked.

Bakhita had dictated an autobiography to a fellow sister, and this is an excerpt about that time:

Nine months later Mrs. Turina returned to Venice to claim her rights over me. But I refused to follow her back to Africa, since my instruction for baptism had not yet been completed. I also knew that, if I had followed her after receiving baptism, I would not have had the opportunity to practise my new religion. That is why, I thought it better to remain with the Sisters.
She burst out into a fit of anger, calling me ungrateful in forcing her to return to Africa alone, after all she had done for me.
But I was firm in my decision. She had a hundred and one pleas to make, but I would not bend to any one of them. I felt greatly pained at seeing her so upset and angry, because I really loved her.
I am sure the Lord gave me strength at that moment, because He wanted me for Himself alone. Oh. the goodness of God!
The next day Mrs. Turina returned to the Institute, with another lady, and tried again, with even harsher threats to convince me to follow her. But to no avail. The two ladies left the Catechumenate very irritated.
The Superior of the House contacted His Eminence, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice informing him of the delicate situation. The Patriarch referred the matter to the King’s Procurator who replied that, in Italy. slavery was illegal. I was therefore a free person. Mrs. Turina too called on the King’s Procurator, hoping to obtain from him permission to force me to follow her, but she received the same answer.
On the third day, there she was again, at the Institute, accompanied by the same lady and by a brother-in-law who was an officer in the Army. Also present were the His Eminence Domenico Agostini, the Chairman of the Charity Association, the Superior of the Institute and some of the Sisters belonging to the Catechumenate. The Patriarch was the first to speak: a long  discussion ensued, which, fortunately, ended in my favour.
Mrs. Turina was in tears, tears of anger and disappointment. She snatched the child, who was clinging to me, unwilling to part, and forced her to follow her. I was so upset that I could scarcely  utter a word. Finally, I saw them leaving. I was in tears myself.
And yet, I felt happy that had not yielded. It was 29 November 1889.

And so she stayed, was baptized, and eventually became a professed religious, serving her community and the surrounding people in various ways, giving mission talks, serving the wounded during World War II, and eventually dying in 1947 – canonized in 2000.

Today is, appropriately, a day of prayer and awareness against human trafficking. USCCB page here. 

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Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I have published four books with water color artist Ann Engelhart, including the latest, Adventures in Assisi.

The story of our collaboration goes back years – probably to about 2006 or 7, I’m thinking, when we were still living in Fort Wayne.  I received an email from this artist from Long Island who said she’d been reading my blog for a long time and that she, like I, had been profoundly affected by the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.   She had read a dialogue Benedict had held with First Communicants in Rome and thought that the conversation would make a wonderful children’s book.  Would I be interested in working with her on it?

I have to be honest with you and admit that I did procrastinate in answering her first and subsequent emails. I had a lot on my plate, Michael was a baby, we were talking about moving.  But Ann, thank goodness, is persistent!

So, again, while we were still in Indiana, Ann and I began working on the book.  We actually finished a version and I started sending out queries.  I queried every Catholic publisher in the United States, and they all said, “No thanks.”  The reasons varied – the expense of publishing a picture book was the most frequently offered.  I was sort of amazed and – to be honest – couldn’t help but wonder if there was some anti-Benedict sentiment lurking there as well, or at least the sentiment that , “We’re not crazy about "amy welborn"Benedict, we can’t imagine people will buy a book for CHILDREN with Pope BENEDICT at the center.” And maybe even a little bit of “He’ll be dead soon, anyway.”

But..who knows.

Then one day, I had a brainstorm, and wrote to the good folks at the Catholic Truth Society in England. I think the Pope’s visit there had just been announced.  They loved the idea, and I kid you not, they had the book out and in print and available within probably five months.  And they did a beautiful job with the layout and reproduction of the art, with no trouble at all. It was amazing, and I’m still impressed when I look at the book’s interior.

Well, in the meantime, we moved to Alabama, Mike died, and in the midst of that, around Easter of 2009, Ann had the opportunity to present a mock-up of the book to..yup…

"amy welborn"

What she is giving him, in addition the mock up of the entire book, is one of the paintings she did in which she superimposed an old image of Joseph Ratzinger at his First Communion over a contemporary scene of Bavaria.

Here’s the story, as she wrote it to me:

So we arrived at 8am the next morning and showed the paper to the Swiss guard who kept sending us closer and closer to the platform. When we got to the special section a tuxedoed man checked a list and looked us over and then said “Two of you can sit up in the prima fila and kissa da pope”. We were stunned!

The security was very tight and they kept checking their lists to see that everyone was seated in the proper seats. Archbishop Harvey paced back and forth consulting with various people in anticipation of the pope’s arrival. Finally, a helicopter (on route from Castelgandolfo) flew over the crowd and everyone cheered.

The audience was filled with the joy of Easter and was special because it was the day before Benedict’s birthday and near to his anniversary. There was lot’s of flag waving and singing in several languages and German oompah bands. The English speaking pilgrims who had been the most reserved began to sing Happy Birthday and everyone else joined in in English. The pope stood and did his customary open arm wave and bow.
 
Then it was time for greeting the cardinals, then bishops and the prima fila. Governor Bill Richardson was there and was among the first to be greeted.
I was really nervous and had tried to come up with a sentence that would get the point across in as few words as possible. I opened the book to the first page with Benedict hugging the child ( I later regretted that I hadn’t opened it to the page with Jesus walking with the children) and I had the print of his First Communion in my hand.
 
He was talking to a German family with four boys who were next to us. He definitely spent the most time with the children. My husband and I were very surprised at how he took his time with everyone…never giving the sense of being rushed.

So Benedict walked over to me, smiling and I kissed his ring. I didn’t introduce myself or my husband…didn’t say where we were from… or anything. I just kept to my script. ” Your Holiness, these are some prints of some paintings I did based on your catechesis with First Communicants” He took my hand and placed his other hand on the print of his First Communion. He smiled with recognition and paused and then looked at the other page. He didn’t actually say any words, he just made what sounded like an approving “hmm”. It is impossible to know what he was thinking, but I almost got the sense that he was touched and perhaps a bit embarrassed in a very humble way. That… or he was thinking, wow, this girl is really a loser (there I go again).
Then he said to me “Is this your work?” (“verk”, actually), to which I responded “Yes”. Then I said “we wanted to have many people hear your beautiful words.” He again responded with a “hmmm”. He paused to look again then someone took the book from him. Benedict then put his hand towards my husband and said to me “and this is?” I responded with “this is my husband and this is my son pointing back to Mark who was dutifully taking photos all the while. I must say that he waved and really beamed at my son who looked so adorable in his jacket and tie, waving and smiling back at the pope. After that was the best moment… he grasped both of my hands and looked me right in the eyes and said so sincerely “May God bless you”. I was almost taken back with the intensity of the moment. I said “and God bless you too” in return. Then he took my husband’s hand and said the same and he responded with “Happy Birthday Holy Father”. (We had a good laugh over that later).
Then Msgr. Ganswein (who really is quite charming) grabbed my hands and said “these are rosaries from the Holy Father for you and for your son” while smiling very broadly. He then gave my husband a set as well. I thanked him and said “Happy Easter”.
Ann adds a bit in 2014:
It is so funny to read the description of my little meeting with Benedict XVI of several years ago! Perhaps over time I have embellished the events in my mind…or maybe I was being somewhat modest in my description of how things happened…But I think I can honestly say (and my husband and son concur) that Benedict’s reaction was more than a “hmmm”. In fact, I would even say that it was a little gasp. Like, “oh my!” He seemed surprised and definitely laughed when he recognized himself as a little boy. Before saying “God bless you” in a very intense and personal way, he said something else to me, but sadly I couldn’t understand it! I have looked at the video many times and I can’t seem to make it out. But the words were affirming – probably something like “I appreciate what you are doing”, or “carry on with what you are doing” or “you are the finest artist the world has ever known” or “this will become the most important book of our time”. Yeah, probably something like that.

So somewhere between a “hmmm” and an “oh!” I experienced an extraordinary blessing that never would have happened if I hadn’t read about that beautiful conversation that Benedict had with the little children, and Amy hadn’t answered my email. I am enormously grateful for having the opportunity to collaborate on these projects with the great hope that they will help young families on their path to “friendship with Jesus”.

Some more images from the book:
"amy welborn"
"amy welborn"
"amy welborn"
And that’s it – that’s the beginning, not only of a collaboration, but of a great friendship.

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