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Benedict4

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray.” Here are some excerpts – click on images to get a fuller view.

BenedictI

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This is a repost from last year, but I thought since the Benedict Option talk reached a peak of sorts this year, it was worth repeating. 

Today is the feast day of St. Benedict of Norcia.

Buy some beer!

Listen to some music!

Pray!

Blog-Ma-2

There is much talk about St. Benedict these days, as people consider how to live in a culture increasingly hostile to the Gospel. You might come away from these conversations thinking that Benedict and the Benedictine Way is essentially about “withdrawal.”  I don’t think that is correct.  Looking at the origins of Benedictine monasticism might help understand why.

Christian monasticism did, indeed, begin with withdrawal from the world. In the 3rd century men and, to a lesser extent, women, began heading to the desert to live in solitude. But even these anchorites did not shut themselves off from interaction with others, as they accepted visitors seeking to benefit from their wisdom and assist them.

But Benedictine monasticism was different, of course. Cenobitic, as opposed to anchorite, monasticism, was a call to live in community, together, with brothers. But is this “withdrawal?”

In fifth century Europe, most people lived their lives in small communities of extended family and small settlements. Most people did not travel far from where they had been born, unless driven to do so by war or natural catastrophe. As towns developed, they built walls, and in general, one could not just pop into any walled settlement you happened to be passing by. The walls were there for a reason, and access to all communities  was guarded and controlled.  These kinds of restrictions on travel and entrance into unfamiliar towns is not just a feature of medieval life, either. Last year, I read a history of hotels and tourism in the United States, and was quite interested to see how serious travel restrictions were even in the US, up to the mid-19th century and the development of the railroad. The traveler, in short, was usually viewed with suspicion before welcome.

My point is this, moving back to 4th and 5th century Europe. Benedictine monasticism developed on a  continent in serious, violent transition, parts under constant siege, and it was radical and transforming, but the basic instinct – to form a community with a strong sense of self-identification vis-a-vis the outside world was a fundamental paradigm of social organization of the period. 

One could even say that during this period, all communities that valued their survival and identity were, in a sense, semi-cloistered, guarded against the influence of the outside world. 

The difference is that Benedictine monastic communities were intentional, with ties rooted, not in family or geography, but in brotherhood in Christ. A new family, a new community in a continent of other communities formed out of different paradigms.

I also think the argument could be made that Benedictine communities, while they were certainly withdrawing from worldly influence in terms of turning from marriage, familial ties and the political arrangements of the world, they were probably more open to the world than your average family-based walled settlement down the valley from the monastery. They were more open to learning, more open to visitors from other areas, more cosmopolitan and just as economically engaged – at least before the growth of commerce.  

So to position Benedictine monasticism as an option that, at heart, is a means of protection from the world, period, is a simplistic misunderstanding of the origins of this movement that misses the opportunity to explore what St. Benedict and his monks really have to say to us today. It is about community, yes. It is about cutting ties with some aspects of the world and intentionality, yes. It is about expressing the instinct that human beings are made, fundamentally, for communion with God and that aspects of the world actively work against spiritual growth and fully human life as God desires. That is fundamental to Christian spirituality, as we can see from St. Paul on. But withdrawal from everything, pushing away and closing-off? No. 

From Pope Benedict XVI, in 2008:

Throughout the second book of his Dialogues, Gregory shows us how St Benedict’s life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict’s spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God’s gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs. Seeing God, he understood the reality of man and his mission. In hisRule he describes monastic life as “a school for the service of the Lord” (Prol. 45) and advises his monks, “let nothing be preferred to the Work of God” [that is, the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours] (43, 3). However, Benedict states that in the first place prayer is an act of listening (Prol. 9-11), which must then be expressed in action. “The Lord is waiting every day for us to respond to his holy admonitions by our deeds” (Prol. 35). Thus, the monk’s life becomes a fruitful symbiosis between action and contemplation, “so that God may be glorified in all things” (57, 9). In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God (58, 7) on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ (5, 13), whose love he must put before all else (4, 21; 72, 11), and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace. In the exercise of obedience practised by faith inspired by love (5, 2), the monk achieves humility (5, 1), to which the Rule dedicates an entire chapter (7). In this way, man conforms ever more to Christ and attains true self-fulfilment as a creature in the image and likeness of God.

The obedience of the disciple must correspond with the wisdom of the Abbot who, in the monastery, “is believed to hold the place of Christ” (2, 2; 63, 13). The figure of the Abbot, which is described above all in Chapter II of the Rule with a profile of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, can be considered a self-portrait of Benedict, since, as St Gregory the Great wrote, “the holy man could not teach otherwise than as he himself lived” (cf. Dialogues II, 36). The Abbot must be at the same time a tender father and a strict teacher (cf. 2, 24), a true educator. Inflexible against vices, he is nevertheless called above all to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27, 8), to “serve rather than to rule” (64, 8) in order “to show them all what is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words” and “illustrate the divine precepts by his example” (2, 12). To be able to decide responsibly, the Abbot must also be a person who listens to “the brethren’s views” (3, 2), because “the Lord often reveals to the youngest what is best” (3, 3). This provision makes a Rule written almost 15 centuries ago surprisingly modern! A man with public responsibility even in small circles must always be a man who can listen and learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule he wrote as “minimal, just an initial outline” (cf. 73, 8); in fact, however, he offers useful guidelines not only for monks but for all who seek guidance on their journey toward God. For its moderation, humanity and sober discernment between the essential and the secondary in spiritual life, his Rule has retained its illuminating power even to today. By proclaiming St Benedict Patron of Europe on 24 October 1964, Paul VI intended to recognize the marvellous work the Saint achieved with hisRule for the formation of the civilization and culture of Europe. Having recently emerged from a century that was deeply wounded by two World Wars and the collapse of the great ideologies, now revealed as tragic utopias, Europe today is in search of its own identity. Of course, in order to create new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are important, but it is also necessary to awaken an ethical and spiritual renewal which draws on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise a new Europe cannot be built. Without this vital sap, man is exposed to the danger of succumbing to the ancient temptation of seeking to redeem himself by himself – a utopia which in different ways, in 20th-century Europe, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, has caused “a regression without precedent in the tormented history of humanity” (Address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, 12 January 1990). Today, in seeking true progress, let us also listen to the Rule of St Benedict as a guiding light on our journey. The great monk is still a true master at whose school we can learn to become proficient in true humanism.

 

 

 

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Yes, not only is it American Independence Day, it’s the memorial of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. To learn more about him go here.  I included him in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes under “Temperance.”

(The Book of Heroes is organized in sections associated with the virtues. It was a challenge to place figures in various categories, since most exhibited all the virtues in vivid ways, of course.)

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Today is his feastday! Well, memorial, since we are all more cognizant of these rankings now…

Here is a link to some of his homilies. It’s pdf. 

Then, a General Audience from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from 2011:

It is only the prayerful soul that can progress in spiritual life: this is the privileged object of St Anthony’s preaching. He is thoroughly familiar with the shortcomings of human nature, with our tendency to lapse into sin, which is why he continuously urges us to fight the inclination to avidity, pride and impurity; instead of practising the virtues of poverty and generosity, of humility and obedience, of chastity and of purity. At the beginning of the 13th century, in the context of the rebirth of the city and the flourishing of trade, the number of people who were insensitive to the needs of the poor increased. This is why on various occasions Anthony invites the faithful to think of the true riches, those of the heart, which make people good and merciful and permit them to lay up treasure in Heaven. “O rich people”, he urged them, “befriend… the poor, welcome them into your homes: it will subsequently be they who receive you in the eternal tabernacles in which is the beauty of peace, the confidence of security and the opulent tranquillity of eternal satiety” (ibid., p. 29).

Is not this, dear friends, perhaps a very important teaching today too, when the financial crisis and serious economic inequalities impoverish many people and create conditions of poverty? In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate I recall: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred” (n. 45).

Anthony, in the school of Francis, always put Christ at the centre of his life and thinking, of his action and of his preaching. This is another characteristic feature of Franciscan theology: Christocentrism. Franciscan theology willingly contemplates and invites others to contemplate the mysteries of the Lord’s humanity, the man Jesus, and in a special way the mystery of the Nativity: God who made himself a Child and gave himself into our hands, a mystery that gives rise to sentiments of love and gratitude for divine goodness.

Not only the Nativity, a central point of Christ’s love for humanity, but also the vision of the Crucified One inspired in Anthony thoughts of gratitude to God and esteem for the dignity of the human person, so that all believers and non-believers might find in the Crucified One and in his image a life-enriching meaning. St Anthony writes: “Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are…. Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).

In meditating on these words we are better able to understand the importance of the image of the Crucified One for our culture, for our humanity that is born from the Christian faith. Precisely by looking at the Crucified One we see, as St Anthony says, how great are the dignity and worth of the human being. At no other point can we understand how much the human person is worth, precisely because God makes us so important, considers us so important that, in his opinion, we are worthy of his suffering; thus all human dignity appears in the mirror of the Crucified One and our gazing upon him is ever a source of acknowledgement of human dignity.

Dear friends, may Anthony of Padua, so widely venerated by the faithful, intercede for the whole Church and especially for those who are dedicated to preaching; let us pray the Lord that he will help us learn a little of this art from St Anthony. May preachers, drawing inspiration from his example, be effective in their communication by taking pains to combine solid and sound doctrine with sincere and fervent devotion. In this Year for Priests, let us pray that priests and deacons will carry out with concern this ministry of the proclamation of the word of God, making it timely for the faithful, especially through liturgical homilies. May they effectively present the eternal beauty of Christ, just as Anthony recommended: “If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if you read of him he will satifsfy your intellect” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, p. 59).

Secondly, for children, an excerpt from my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

Then one day something happened that was almost as strange as the ship wandering off course. There was a large meeting of Franciscans and Dominicans, but oddly enough, the plans for who would give the sermon at the meeting fell through. There were plenty of fine preachers present, but none of them were prepared.

"amy welborn"Those in charge of the meeting went down the line of friars. “Would you care to give the sermon, Brother? No? What about you, Father? No? Well, what about you, Fr. Anthony—is that your name?”

Slowly, Anthony rose, and just as slowly, he began to speak. The other friars sat up to listen. There was something very special about Anthony. He didn’t use complicated language, but his holiness and love for God shone through his words. He was one of the best preachers they had ever heard!

From that point on, Anthony’s quiet life in the hospital kitchen was over. For the rest of his life, he traveled around Italy and France, preaching sermons in churches and town squares to people who came from miles around.

His listeners heard Anthony speak about how important it is for us to live every day in God’s presence. As a result of his words, hundreds of people changed their lives and bad habits, bringing Jesus back into their hearts.

Next, some photos of the huge Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua from our trip in 2012.

(No photos were allowed inside)

Also, Padova was the site of one of the most awful moments of my life – that time I left my kids on the train….

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Pope Emeritus Benedict’s birthday is this coming Sunday..if you’d like an simple, free introduction to his thought, take a look at the book I wrote a few years ago, now out of print, but available in a pdf version at no cost. Did I mention, “free?”

Here. 

Pope Benedict 90th birthday

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Today’s her memorial, too. A summary of her life:

Saint Catherine was born in Bologna, and appointed as the maid of honor to the daughter of the Marquis of Ferrara, for whom her father served as an aide. Catherine moved into the palace, and became best friends with her mistress, Margaret. Upon the engagement of Margaret, who wished Catherine to remain with her, Catherine instead entered the religious life. At age 14, she joined the third order of the Franciscans, who lived a semi-monastic life.

Eventually, the community to which Catherine belonged adopted the second rule of the Franciscans, joining the Order of the Poor Clares. There, Catherine lived in poverty and obedience, joyfully serving the Lord. However, Catherine felt that the rule was not strict enough in the community she served, and eventually was moved to a more austere community, where she reluctantly agreed to be Abbess.

Saint Catherine was graced with many spiritual gifts, beginning early in her religious life, and persisting until the end of her days. A mystic, she frequently experienced visions of the Blessed Mother, Christ at the hour of His crucifixion, and was tormented by visions and temptations of the Devil. All of these she passed along to her sisters, for their spiritual direction, and some she recorded in Latin, having been schooled in Latin at the court of the Marquis….

Under the direction of Saint Catherine, the community became known for austerity, service to the poor, and holiness. But Catherine, led by her joyous heart, was also a woman filled with joy, which she passed along to her sisters. They suffered gladly for Christ, eschewing wealth and comfort, but their hearts leapt and danced for joy.

She wrote a short treatise called Seven Spiritual Weapons. You can read the whole thing here, and it’s excellent Lenten (or anytime) reading.

She begins, charmingly, comparing herself to a puppy:

With reverence and sweet and gentle love, I pray that Christ Jesus will guard from the sin of unbelief anyone who comes to know of this little work which I made with the divine help and not attribute to the vice of presumption nor take amiss any error in this present little book. I am the least puppy barking under the table of the honorable and refined servants and sisters of the immaculate lamb Christ Jesus, sister of the monastery of the Body of Christ in Ferrara. I, the above mentioned puppy, wrote this by my own hand only for fear of divine condemnation if I were silent about what could delight others.

The seven spiritual weapons which she highlights are (via B16): 

1. always to be careful and diligently strive to do good; 2. to believe that alone we will never be able to do something truly good; 3. to trust in God and, for love of him, never to fear in the battle against evil, either in the world or within ourselves; 4. to meditate often on the events and words of the life of Jesus, and especially on his Passion and his death; 5. to remember that we must die; 6. to focus our minds firmly on memory of the goods of Heaven; 7. to be familiar with Sacred Scripture, always cherishing it in our hearts so that it may give direction to all our thoughts and all our actions. A splendid programme of spiritual life, today too, for each one of us!

 

Last summer, we spent time in both Ferrara and Bologna, and made a visit to the chapel where Catherine’s body is preserved – sitting up in a chair. Here’s a photo, and I wrote about it here. 

 

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— 1 —

Well, if you are a Catholic, it’s a bonanza kind of day. It’s First Friday and it’s the first Friday of Lent. Both of the sons I have at home right now go to Catholic schools – one elementary and one secondary – and both will be having Adoration and Stations of the Cross on Friday at school. So tonight, we had a brief talk about how that’s a lot of praying, and a great opportunity to pray for a lot of people.

 

— 2 —

It’s also the memorial of St. Katharine Drexel. I wrote about her in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints:

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

— 3 —

Currently reading:

Barchester Towers

The Unbanking of America

The Astronomer and the Witch. 

— 4 —

The first because I’m on a Trollope kick, and I have to say that I can see why readers pick Barchester Towers as their favorite. It is tight and lively, and not quite the discursive experience as other recent Trollopes I have read like Miss MacKenzie and Rachel Ray.  The characters are quite a bit more vivid and the humor more pronounced. Really, the Stanhope clan and Obadiah Slope are terrific creations.

I had assumed there was a BBC adaptation, so I went in search of one and found that indeed there was – a combined production of The Warden and Barchester Towers featuring lots of familiar faces including, quite memorably, the late, great Alan Rickman as Slope, in his first major television role. It’s hard to think of a more perfect match of actor and role.

I’ve watched bits and pieces, mostly to see Rickman as well as satisfy my curiosity about how the Stanhopes – the family of an Anglican vicar who’ve been living in northern Italy because  the vicar caught a cold of some sort and needed a bit of a rest cure. Twelve years later, they’ve been called back by the new bishop, and between them, Slope, the new bishop and his wife and a host of other characters, sparks are certainly flying, plans are being hatched – and sabotaged. The television adaptation is mildly entertaining, and it’s always fun to see how a good character translates from page to screen, but in this case, reading the book is a far more satisfying experience. The television adaptation can barely skim the surface, and at times does get things wrong.

In the novel, Slope and his sometime ally and sometimes enemy Mrs. Proudie, the bishop’s wife, are presented as adherents of the plain, more evangelical wing of the Church of England, people who are appalled that the trains run on the Sabbath and are unimpressed by chanting and other forms of music in the liturgy. In television terms, this gets translated into a kind of rationalism – Slope’s initial sermon, which causes scandal because he takes a stand against high church liturgy – becomes a paean of sorts to rationalism.

So, as I said, I’ve skipped around a couple of episodes, but enjoy the book much more.

— 5 —.

The Unbanking of America?  I read an interview with the author at Reason, the libertarian website, and was intrigued, as I always am, by the thought of someone who presents ideas that are opposed to Conventional Wisdom. I won’t rehash her arguments – simply know that the author is an economist who spent a few months working at both a check-cashing business and payday-loan business, and found that they fill a gap in the financial lives of many that banks just don’t anymore.  It’s like a long Atlantic Monthly or New Yorker article that you can knock off in a couple of hours, and I always enjoy that – grow my brain a bit without too much commitment, and thanks.

— 6 —

Did you know Johannas Kepler’s mother was tried as a witch? I didn’t, and this book is the story of that set of events – as well as a fascinating look at, of course, Kepler himself, and the very lively intellectual world of early 17th century Germany.  I’m just about halfway through and will talk more about it when I finish, but really, if you are even talking to someone who’s all about separating science and religion and who wants to tell you about that glorious time when scientists like Kepler finally busted the superstitious Age of Faith apart, invite them to consider what Kepler (and others) was really about – how he was a profoundly religious man who was all about discovering more about God via studying his Creation.

Oh, and about the witch business – it happened when Kepler was an adult, after he had started producing important scientific work, and when the accusations came to his attention, he rearranged his life to travel back home and work in his mother’s defense.

— 7 —

I was clued into this via, of course In Our Time, which had an excellent program on Kepler which featured the author of the Astronomer book as one of the guests.

Other recent listens have been programs on:

Parasitism – good, but not fascinating.

The Gin Craze – fantastic social history. 

And, just yesterday, a great program on Harriet Martineau, the 19th century British writer. If you listen to any of these programs – try this one first.

Just one note about Martineau. She was a prolific writer, primarily of descriptive and analytical essays reflecting her views on political philosophy and economics. I think it’s accurate to describe her as an early sociologist of sorts.Indeed, she spent two years in the United State and wrote about it – books of which I was vaguely aware, but now have put on the (very long) list.

What might interest you is Martineau’s conflict with Charles Dickens.

She had written for Dickens’ journal called Household Words, but over time, differences between the two developed. Martineau, a devotee of Adam Smith and Malthus, felt that Dickens’ view of what we’d now call the impact of the Industrial Revolution was simplistic, sentimental and uninformed by a coherent political philosophy. She didn’t appreciate his views on women and she was offended by his personal life.

But what caused the final split was Dickens’ anti-Catholicism.

Martineau herself was a strong, unwavering Unitarian, but in 1854, she was surprised that story she had written for Dickens, a story about the sacrifices of a Jesuit missionary, was rejected. As she wrote in her autobiography (written when she thought she was dying…but then she lived for twenty more years, and it ended up, indeed being published after her death.)

Some weeks afterwards, my friends told me, with renewed praises of the story, that they mourned the impossibility of publishing it, — Mrs. Wills said, because the public would say that Mr. Dickens was turning Catholic; and Mr. Wills and Mr. Dickens, because they never would publish any thing, fact or fiction, which gave a favourable view of any one under the influence of the Catholic faith. This appeared to me so incredible that Mr. Dickens gave me his “ground” three times over, with all possible distinctness, lest there should be any mistake: — he would print nothing which could possibly dispose any mind whatever in favour of Romanism, even by the example of real good men. In vain I asked him whether he really meant to ignore all the good men who had lived from the Christian era to three centuries ago: and in vain I pointed out that Père d’Estélan was a hero as a man, and not as a Jesuit, at a date and in a region where Romanism was the only Christianity. Mr. Dickens would ignore, in any publication of his, all good catholics; and insisted that Père d’Estélan was what he was as a Jesuit and not as a man; — which was, as I told him, the greatest eulogium I had ever heard passed upon Jesuitism. I told him that his way of going to work, — suppressing facts advantageous to the Catholics, — was the very way to rouse all fair minds in their defence; and that I had never before felt so disposed to make popularly known all historical facts in their favour. — I hope I need not add that the editors never for a moment supposed that my remonstrance had any connexion with the story in question being written by me. They knew me too well to suppose that such a trifle as my personal interest in the acceptance or rejection of the story had any thing to do with my final declaration that my confidence and comfort in regard to “Household Words” were gone, and that I could never again write fiction for them, nor any thing in which principle or feeling were concerned. Mr. Dickens hoped I should [94] “think better of it;” and this proof of utter insensibility to the nature of the difficulty, and his and his partner’s hint that the real illiberality lay in not admitting that they were doing their duty in keeping Catholic good deeds out of the sight of the public, showed me that the case was hopeless. To a descendant of Huguenots, such total darkness of conscience on the morality of opinion is difficult to believe in when it is before one’s very eyes.

Even worse, at some point later, was the publication in Household Words, of a rabidly anti-Catholic, scandal-mongering piece of fiction called The Yellow Mask. 

The last thing I am likely to do is to write for an anti-catholic publication; and least of all when it is anti-catholic on the sly.

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

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