Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Today is his feast! Begin, as we like to do, with the grounded and pastoral catechesis of #B16:

In these past months we have meditated on the figures of the individual Apostles and on the first witnesses of the Christian faith who are mentioned in the New Testament writings.

Let us now devote our attention to the Apostolic Fathers, that is, to the first and second generations in the Church subsequent to the Apostles. And thus, we can see where the Church’s journey begins in history.

St Clement, Bishop of Rome in the last years of the first century, was the third Successor of Peter, after Linus and Anacletus. The most important testimony concerning his life comes from St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons until 202. He attests that Clement “had seen the blessed Apostles”, “had been conversant with them”, and “might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes” (Adversus Haer. 3, 3, 3).

Later testimonies which date back to between the fourth and sixth centuries attribute to Clement the title of martyr.

The authority and prestige of this Bishop of Rome were such that various writings were attributed to him, but the only one that is certainly his is the Letter to the Corinthians. Eusebius of Caesarea, the great “archivist” of Christian beginnings, presents it in these terms: “There is extant an Epistle of this Clement which is acknowledged to be genuine and is of considerable length and of remarkable merit. He wrote it in the name of the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth, when a sedition had arisen in the latter Church. We know that this Epistle also has been publicly used in a great many Churches both in former times and in our own” (Hist. Eccl. 3, 16).

An almost canonical character was attributed to this Letter. At the beginning of this text – written in Greek – Clement expressed his regret that “the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves” (1, 1) had prevented him from intervening sooner. These “calamitous events” can be identified with Domitian’s persecution: therefore, the Letter must have been written just after the Emperor’s death and at the end of the persecution, that is, immediately after the year 96.

Clement’s intervention – we are still in the first century – was prompted by the serious problems besetting the Church in Corinth: the elders of the community, in fact, had been deposed by some young contestants. The sorrowful event was recalled once again by St Irenaeus who wrote: “In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren in Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful Letter to the Corinthians exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the Apostles” (Adv. Haer. 3, 3, 3).

Thus, we could say that this Letter was a first exercise of the Roman primacy after St Peter’s death. Clement’s Letter touches on topics that were dear to St Paul, who had written two important Letters to the Corinthians, in particular the theological dialectic, perennially current, between the indicative of salvation and the imperative of moral commitment.


NOW….back in 2012, nearing the end of our epic fall in Europe, we were in Rome on 11/23, and purely by chance ,the wonderful Basilica of S. Clemente was on our agenda that day. We wandered over there, toured the Basilica (a second time for us, but the boys were little the first time and of course didn’t remember it), and then, in the neighborhood…encountered a festival. A festival for S. Clemente of course!

Over on Instagram, I have been doing a 3-year anniversary day-by-day (sort of) retrospective of our trip. I skipped a few days because those were the days we were in Assisi, I’ve posted a lot of Assisi photos over there before, and then life got in the way, but I’m back today.


You can’t take photos inside the Basilica, so this was a close as I got.



The feast, complete with procession, was so great, I took some lousy videos.

Loved it. Messy, imperfect, enthusiastic, rooted in history, public, welcoming all. Catholic.

Finish up with more from B16:

The action of God who comes to meet us in the liturgy precedes our decisions and our ideas. The Church is above all a gift of God and not something we ourselves created; consequently, this sacramental structure does not only guarantee the common order but also this precedence of God’s gift which we all need.

Finally, the “great prayer” confers a cosmic breath to the previous reasoning. Clement praises and thanks God for his marvellous providence of love that created the world and continues to save and sanctify it.

The prayer for rulers and governors acquires special importance. Subsequent to the New Testament texts, it is the oldest prayer extant for political institutions. Thus, in the period following their persecution, Christians, well aware that the persecutions would continue, never ceased to pray for the very authorities who had unjustly condemned them.

The reason is primarily Christological: it is necessary to pray for one’s persecutors as Jesus did on the Cross.

But this prayer also contains a teaching that guides the attitude of Christians towards politics and the State down the centuries. In praying for the Authorities, Clement recognized the legitimacy of political institutions in the order established by God; at the same time, he expressed his concern that the Authorities would be docile to God, “devoutly in peace and meekness exercising the power given them by [God]” (61, 2).

Caesar is not everything. Another sovereignty emerges whose origins and essence are not of this world but of “the heavens above”: it is that of Truth, which also claims a right to be heard by the State.

Thus, Clement’s Letter addresses numerous themes of perennial timeliness. It is all the more meaningful since it represents, from the first century, the concern of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the other Churches.

In this same Spirit, let us make our own the invocations of the “great prayer” in which the Bishop of Rome makes himself the voice of the entire world: “Yes, O Lord, make your face to shine upon us for good in peace, that we may be shielded by your mighty hand… through the High Priest and Guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and majesty to you both now and from generation to generation, for evermore” (60-61).


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— 1 —

I’m going to be sort of boring this week. I have been immersed in the writings and life of Catherine of Siena, so I thought I would share some interesting quotes. 

Catherine is one of those saints about whom we hear a snippet and think we’ve got.  “Single woman – 14th century Italy – encouraged the Pope to return to Rome – hardly ate anything – died young.”

Well, of course there is more, and it is not difficult to find. Hundreds of her letters have come down to us, and we have her Dialogue – her mystical treatise that she dictated/wrote – as well as the witness of those who knew her.

Studying Catherine the past week has been a bit of a revelation to me. The papal politics in which she involved herself went deeper than just “Pope should go back to Rome” into issues related to the relations between city-states and the Papal States. It was all very practical and messy, and Catherine herself sometimes wondered if she had always done the right thing in her activism – not about getting the Pope back to Rome, but about other particular political issues related to Florence and Siena.

Also, she was..intense.

These are truly random quotes.


— 2 —

This is the sign that people’s trust is in Me rather than in themselves: that they have no slavish fear. Those who trust in themselves are afraid of their own shadow; they expect both heaven and earth to let them down. This fear makes them so concerned about acquiring and holding on to temporal things that they seem to toss the spiritual behind their backs.

They forget that I am the One who provides for everything that may be needed for soul or body. In the measure that you put your trust in Me, in that measure will My Providence be meted out to you. So consider it useless to wear yourself out guarding you city unless it is guarded by Me. Every effort is useless for those who think they can guard their city by their own toil or concern, for I alone am the Guardian.

The only ones who are afraid are those who think they are alone, who trust in themselves and have no loving charity. They are afraid of every little thing because they are alone, deprived of Me. For it is I who give complete security to the soul who possesses me in love. My glorious loved ones experienced well that nothing could harm their souls because I responded to the love and faith and trust they had put in Me.  (119)


 – 3—

I ask you to love me with same love with which I love you. But for me you cannot do this, for I love you without being loved. Whatever love you have for me you owe me, so you love me not gratuitously but out of duty, while I love you not out of duty but gratuitously. So you cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you. This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me–that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me. So your love should be sincere. You should love your neighbors with the same love with which you love me. Do you know how you can tell when your spiritual love is not perfect? If you are distressed when it seems that those you love are not returning your love or not loving you as much as you think you love them. Or if you are distressed when it seems to you that you are being deprived of their company or comfort, or that they love someone else more than you.

From these and from many other things you should be able to tell if your love for me and for your neighbors is still imperfect and that you have been drinking from your vessel outside of the fountain, even though your love was drawn from me. But it is because your love for me is imperfect that you show it so imperfectly to those you love with a spiritual love.  (64)

— 4 —

These are the virtues, with innumerable others, that are brought to birth in love of neighbor. But why have I established such differences? Why do I give this person one virtue and that person another, rather than giving them all to one person? It is true that all the virtues are bound together, and it is impossible to have one without having them all. But I give them in different ways so that one virtue might be, as it were, the source of all the others. So to one person I give charity as the primary virtue, to another justice, to another humility, to another a lively faith or prudence or temperance or patience, and to still another courage.

The same is true of many of my gifts and graces, virtues and other spiritual gifts, and those things necessary for the body and human life. I have distributed them all in such a way that no one has all of them. Thus have I given you reason – necessity, in fact – to practice mutual charity. For I could well have supplied each of you with all your needs, both spiritual and material. But I wanted to make you dependent on one another so that each of you would be my minister, dispensing the graces and gifts you have received from me. So whether you will it or not, you cannot escape the exercise of charity! Yet, unless you do it for love of me, it is worth nothing to you in the realm of grace.  (7)

— 5 —

When love grows, so does sorrow. (5)

— 6 —

All mystics express themselves in metaphor. In trying to relate profound spiritual intimacy, what else can one do?

Catherine’s writings – in the Dialogue, her expression of her mystical encounters with God –  explode with metaphors, often wildly mixed.  Her most well-known metaphor – Christ as the Bridge – can’t be depicted visually as, say, can Theresa’s castle. It’s just so all over the place – the Bridge stretches between heaven and earth, it stretches across the wild river of worldly sin, it is composed of three steps, the steps are the feet, side and mouth of Christ…etc…etc.

I love this excerpt in which she communicates what God is revealing to her about the human soul and evangelization via images of both fishing and music, intricately, improbably, yet oddly comfortably mixed:

So one’s catch will be as perfect as one’s cast. But those who are perfect catch plenty and with great perfection…..The soul’s movements, then, make a jubilant sound, its chords tempered and harmonized with prudence and light, all of them melting into one sound, the glorification and praise of my name.

Into this same sound where the great chords of the soul’s powers are harmonized, the small chords of the body’s senses and organs are blended.  Just as I told you, when I was speaking to you about the wiccked, that they all give a dead sound when they let in their enemies, so those who welcome as friends true and solid virtues give a sound of life, every instrument playing in good holy actions. Every member does the work given it to do, each one perfect in its own way the eye in seeing, the ear n hearing, the nose in smelling, the taste in tasting, the tongue in speaking, the hands in touching and working, the feet in walking . All are harmonized in one sound to serve their neighbors for the glory and praise of my name to serve the soul with good, holy, virtuous actions, obediently responding to the soul as its organs. They are pleasing to me, pleasing to the angels, pleasing to those who are truly joyful who wait with great joy and gladness for the day they will share each others’ happiness, and pleasing to the world.  Whether the world is willing or not, the wicked cannot but feel the pleasantness of this sound. And many, many continue to be caught on this instrumental hook /they leave death behind and come to life.


All the saints have gone fishing with this organ. The first to sound forth the sound of life was the gentle loving Word when he took on your humanity. On the cross he made a sweet sound with this humanity united with the Godhead, and he caught the children of the human race. He also caught the devil, for he took away from him the lordship he had had for so long because of his sin


All the rest of you sound forth when you learn from this maestro. The apostles learned from him and sowed his word throughout the world. The martyrs and confessors, the doctors and virgins, all caught souls with their sound. Consider the glorious virgin Ursula She played her instrument so sweetly that she caught eleven thousand from the virgins alone and from all sorts of folk she caught more with this same sound. And so with all the others, one in this way, another in that. What is the reason? My infinite providence, which gave them these instruments and taught them how and what to play. And everything I give and permit them in this life is a way for them to improve their instruments if they choose to discern it and do not choose to cast off the light and see by the cloud of their own self-centeredness, self-complacency, and self-opinionatedness.  (147)

— 7 —

Commercial time!

Advent’s coming! 

Catholic Advent Materials

Bambinelli Sunday!

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

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Today is the feast day of St. Leo the Great.  In a General Audience in 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict spoke of Leo, as part of the series he was doing on great figures in the Church.

The times in which Pope Leo lived were very difficult:  constant barbarian invasions, the gradual weakening of imperial authority in the West and the long, drawn-out social crisis forced the Bishop of Rome – as was to happen even more obviously a century and a half later during the Pontificate of Gregory the Great – to play an important role in civil and political events. This, naturally, could only add to the importance and prestige of the Roman See. The fame of one particular episode in Leo’s life has endured. It dates back to 452 when the Pope, together with a Roman delegation, met Attila, chief of the Huns, in Mantua and dissuaded him from continuing the war of invasion by which he had already devastated the northeastern regions of Italy. Thus, he saved the rest of the Peninsula. This important event soon became memorable and lives on as an emblematic sign of the Pontiff’s action for peace. Unfortunately, the outcome of another Papal initiative three years later was not as successful, yet it was a sign of courage that still amazes us:  in the spring of 455 Leo did not manage to prevent Genseric’s Vandals, who had reached the gates of Rome, from invading the undefended city that they plundered for two weeks. This gesture of the Pope – who, defenceless and surrounded by his clergy, went forth to meet the invader to implore him to desist – nevertheless prevented Rome from being burned and assured that the Basilicas of St Peter, St Paul and St John, in which part of the terrified population sought refuge, were spared.

"amy welborn"We are familiar with Pope Leo’s action thanks to his most beautiful sermons – almost 100 in a splendid and clear Latin have been preserved – and thanks to his approximately 150 letters. In these texts the Pontiff appears in all his greatness, devoted to the service of truth in charity through an assiduous exercise of the Word which shows him to us as both Theologian and Pastor. Leo the Great, constantly thoughtful of his faithful and of the people of Rome but also of communion between the different Churches and of their needs, was a tireless champion and upholder of the Roman Primacy, presenting himself as the Apostle Peter’s authentic heir:  the many Bishops who gathered at the Council of Chalcedon, the majority of whom came from the East, were well aware of this.


Aware of the historical period in which he lived and of the change that was taking place – from pagan Rome to Christian Rome – in a period of profound crisis, Leo the Great knew how to make himself close to the people and the faithful with his pastoral action and his preaching. He enlivened charity in a Rome tried by famines, an influx of refugees, injustice and poverty. He opposed pagan superstitions and the actions of Manichaean groups. He associated the liturgy with the daily life of Christians:  for example, by combining the practice of fasting with charity and almsgiving above all on the occasion of the Quattro tempora, which in the course of the year marked the change of seasons. In particular, Leo the Great taught his faithful – and his words still apply for us today – that the Christian liturgy is not the memory of past events, but the actualization of invisible realities which act in the lives of each one of us. This is what he stressed in a sermon (cf. 64, 1-2) on Easter, to be celebrated in every season of the year “not so much as something of the past as rather an event of the present”. All this fits into a precise project, the Holy Pontiff insisted:  just as, in fact, the Creator enlivened with the breath of rational life man formed from the dust of the ground, after the original sin he sent his Son into the world to restore to man his lost dignity and to destroy the dominion of the devil through the new life of grace.

This is the Christological mystery to which St Leo the Great, with his Letter to the Council of Ephesus, made an effective and essential contribution, confirming for all time – through this Council – what St Peter said at Caesarea Philippi. With Peter and as Peter, he professed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. And so it is that God and man together “are not foreign to the human race but alien to sin” (cf. Serm. 64). Through the force of this Christological faith he was a great messenger of peace and love. He thus shows us the way:  in faith we learn charity. Let us therefore learn with St Leo the Great to believe in Christ, true God and true Man, and to implement this faith every day in action for peace and love of neighbour.

You can access the writings of Leo the Great here….

He’s in The Loyola Catholic Book of Saintsunder “Saints are People who are Strong Leaders.”


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I have a few memories of this Basilica:

  • Our first visit, back in 2006, the stop at St. John Lateran was part of a day led for us by then-seminarian and anonymous blogger Zadok. Remember at the time, my now-10-year old was a bit over a year and was being transported everywhere one someone’s back. We traded him off.  It was a great day, but exhausting as we walked and walked – and if you have been to Rome, you know that the walk between St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major is uphill…way…uphill.
  • I have often referred to the enormous statuary inside St. John Lateran, in which each of the apostles are represented, as is traditional, with the instruments of their martyrdom, St. Bartholomew depicted holding his own skin, as he is traditionaly remembered as having been flayed.
  • As interesting as the church itself is the baptistry, which is enormous.
  • We were in Rome right around Ash Wednesday, and the day we were at St. John Lateran was a Sunday, so the plaza around the church – the area around the obelisk (the oldest  Egyptian obelisk in Rome) – was filled with children dressed in costumes playing games at booths and so on – the Bishop of Rome’s church just like any other parish church during this carnevale
  • We ended up at St. Mary Major during Vespers, and there in a side chapel was Cardinal Law.
  • Back in 2012, the boys and I returned to Rome – in late November as a matter of fact.  My main memory from that trip’s visit to St. John Lateran was a rather aggressive beggar inside the church who was approaching visitors and berating them when they didn’t give – he ended up being driven out rather forcefully by security.
  • Jumping back to the 2006 visit, we had a bit of trouble finding Zadok when we first arrived, so we killed a bit of time near the ancient city walls, doing what we do best on trips.
"amy welborn"

In a few months he’ll be behind the wheel of the real thing.

First, the history of the Basilica

The Scripture readings for Mass

Fr. Steve Grunow’s homily notes

It is not Christ’s will that the Church be reduced to a private club, and a Church that acts contrary to Christ’s will is not the Church, but the anti-church and an anti-church is not the servant of Christ, but of the anti-christ.

The scriptures assigned for today are all in their own unique way about the temple. Remember, our religion is not a religion that worships in assembly halls or entertainment venues, our religion is a temple religion and at the center of the Church’s way of life is the temple.

Today’s scriptures describe what sort of temple in which we worship.

The first scripture is an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Revelation.

This scripture presented a vision of the temple of heaven and the earthly temple of the Church on earth is meant to be a representation of the temple of heaven.

This temple is the Mass. The Mass is not just an expression of the community, but it is the community of the Church worshipping God as he wants to be worshipped. The ritual of the Mass is meant as an expression on earth of the worship of heaven, not as simply an act of communal self-expression. This is the difference between true worship and false worship or what can be called faith-based entertainment. True worship honors God in Christ as he wants to be worshipped. False worship seeks to honor ourselves and uses the worship of God to give sanction to this self-reference.

The worship of the Church in the temple of the Mass makes heavenly realities present and available to us, we receive these heavenly realities in all the signs and symbols of the rituals of our worship, but most importantly, we receive the divine presence of God himself in the gift of the Blessed Sacrament.

And this is St. Paul’s point in his first letter to the Corinthians.

A temple is a dwelling place, a house for God. When St. Paul makes reference to the Christian as being a dwelling place for God or a kind of portable temple, his meaning is that we Christians receive the divine presence of God through our participation in the Eucharist. Having received the Eucharist we become, literally, bearers of the divine presence of Jesus Christ, living sanctuaries for God.

From 2008, Pope Benedict XVI:

The beauty and the harmony of churches, destined to render praise to God, invites us human beings too, though limited and sinful, to convert ourselves to form a “cosmos”, a well-ordered construction, in close communion with Jesus, who is the true Holy of Holies. This reaches its culmination in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the “ecclesia” that is, the community of baptized finds itself again united to listen to the Word of God and nourish itself on the Body and Blood of Christ. Gathered around this twofold table, the Church of living stones builds herself up in truth and in love and is moulded interiorly by the Holy Spirit, transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself ever more to her Lord Jesus Christ. She herself, if she lives in sincere and fraternal unity, thus becomes a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.

Dear friends, today’s feast celebrates an ever current mystery: that God desires to build himself a spiritual temple in the world, a community that adores him in spirit and truth (cf. Jn 4: 23-24). But this occasion reminds us also of the importance of the concrete buildings in which the community gathers together to celebrate God’s praises. Every community therefore has the duty to carefully guard their holy structures, which constitute a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy, so that she might help us to become, like her, a “house of God”, living temple of his love.

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Below is one of the most mesmerizing things I’ve ever watched. In my life.

Rabbit hole trail: This Atlas Obscura article on La Taranta – which most of us associate with the Tarantella…more than a song from Peter Pan.

Anna wasn’t suffering from the average spider bite: she had been bitten by the tarantola, a creature of local myth and legend. She had become a tarantata.
Soon, the tambourines, mandolins, guitars, and harmonicas crowded into her small room in the center of town and began to play. They played one melody, and then another. But the woman barely stirred. “At the third melody, or maybe the fourth, the young woman in my presence awoke and began to dance with so much force and fury that one might have called her crazy,” writes Caputo, in his 18th century study of the infamous tarantula and its victims. “After two days of dance, she was free and healed.”

Salento is a region of Italy in the southernmost part of the Apulian peninsula, the “heel of the boot.” The region has long been associated with magic, music, and dance: from the Middle Ages until just a few decades ago, physicians, travelers, ethnomusicologists and anthropologists documented the regional phenomenon of tarantismo, or “tarantism.” Young women, and occasionally men, bitten by tarantulas or other venomous insects like scorpions, would be stricken by an apathetic unresponsiveness, from which they could recover only through hours, and often days, of lively dance.
“As she dances, she becomes the spider that bit her,” describes mid-20th century Italian anthropologist Ernesto de Martino in The Land of Remorse, one of the most extensive studies of the phenomenon.

(Summary/review of that book here – gives good background on the phenomenon)

On the Atlas Obscura site, there is a short clip from an (also) short documentary made in the early 60’s, based on de Martino’s work. The full version – only 18 minutes – is also online, here. I don’t understand a word of it, but I couldn’t stop watching. It’s hypnotic, strange, mysterious and sad, thought-provoking and intriguing.  It includes images from a “session” (for lack of a better word) inside a home, then moves to the village of Galatina and its chapel:

In the late 1700s, a chapel dedicated to St. Paul was built in Galatina, next to a well whose water, as the legend goes, had been blessed by St. Paul during his travels across the Mediterranean. If local musicians were unsuccessful in curing a tarantata in her home, she would be brought to St. Paul’s chapel in Galatina, where she would plead with the saint for mercy from the spider’s venom and often drink the blessed well water. In addition to the suite of musicians, the family would also bring monetary offerings for the saint and the church. For many tarantatas, this trip to Galatina became a yearly pilgrimage: in June of each year, her symptoms would return, and she and her family would work to collect the money to fund the trip and the pay the musicians that would accompany her.

Everything about it is fascinating: the afflicted (?) women’s behavior (including climbing around the chapel…), the postures and expressions of their friends and families, and the crowd behavior.

Most haunting to me is the brief scene around the 8-minute mark of the woman kneeling in front of the little boy holding the image of St. Paul. I would love to know what she is saying, but it seems unintelligible, even if you understand Italian.

You wonder what is embodied in her gesture.


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Yes, there’s a stupid radio station in this town that is already playing Christmas music 24/7. They’ve been doing so since September 25. Yikes.

Well, as soon as I say that in a disparaging tone, I’ll follow it right up and say this…order your stuff! 


The Advent item I have out is the family devotional Creative Communications published last year. Perhaps for your parish or religious education program?amy_welborn2

Years ago, I wrote, also for Creative Communications, a little booklet on St. Nicholas.  I rather liked it, but unfortunately it’s out
of print. You can grab the prayer I wrote for it here (remember it was a booklet for non-Catholics as well as
Catholics). You can also read the excerpt on St. Nicholas from The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints here – both are at the fabulous St. Nicholas Center which you might want to start exploring now, as opposed to the night of December Bambinelli Sunday5, the way I usually do.

And Bambinelli! Sunday!

Many, many posts on it – are you a DRE or Catholic school teacher/administrator or pastor? Consider doing your own Bambinelli Sunday, like they will do in Rome on the 3rd Sunday of Advent…


The most efficient way to learn about it is to go to the Pinterest Board I’ve made. 

I have a lot of copies of Bambinelli Sunday on hand, so if you would like to order, let me know. 

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We all love St. Francis, and most of us know a bit about him, too.

But as many have noted over the years, St. Francis is like Jesus in more ways than one. Like Jesus, he’s put to many uses by people with sometimes wildly varied agendas.

In general, though, we all agree that in essence, Francis of Assisi decided to follow Jesus by giving up material things and living with and for the poor, he really loved nature and he founded a religious order in order to spread his message.

There’s truth in that common portrait, but there are also distortions and gaps.

Because Francis lived so long ago and because the written record is challenging to interpret, the search for the “real Francis” is a fraught one. A few years ago, Fr. Augustine Thompson set to the task, and produced a biography that anyone seriously interested in Francis should read.  I’ve written about it a couple of times, including here. Also here, and I’ll quote from it. Well, I’ll just repost most of it. #lazy

Bullet points for brevity’s sake.

  • Francis didn’t have a plan.  He did not set out to form a band of brothers – at all.   His conversion was a personal one, and the life he lead for the first couple of years after it was the life of a penitent, pure and simple.
  • What was his conversion, exactly?  This actually is a knottier problem than we assume.  It wasn’t simply rejecting a life of relative wealth for a life lived in solidarity with the poor, through Christ.  In fact, well, it doesn’t seem to be fundamentally about that at all.
  • Screen shot 2014-10-05 at 11.50.50 PMFrancis doesn’t say much about this at all himself.  He refers to being “in his sins.”  After his traumatic battle experiences, Christ drew him closer, he abandoned all for Christ, lived as a rather sketchy hermit-type penitent on the outskirts of Assisi, and then, in a crucial moment, encountered a leper.
  • As he describes it himself, lepers had been figures of particular horror to him when he was “in his sins.”  But now, God intervened, converted him, and the leper became a person through whom Francis experienced peace and consolation.
  • Francis sought to do penance, live the Gospel and be a servant.  He did not intend to draw followers, but did, and their initial way of life was simply living in this same way, only in community.
  • It wasn’t until their form of life was approved by Pope Innocent that preaching entered the picture – it was an element that the Pope threw into his approval.  This was a surprise to Francis.

Okay, break time.

To me, this is most fascinating because, as I mentioned in the other blog post, when we read history, we often read it with the eyes of inevitability.  As in:  everything unfolds according to intention and human plan.  Just as it is with life in general, this is not the way history is, and it’s not the way the life of Francis was – well, not according to his plan.  For he didn’t have one.

But this interesting turn of events shows how the Spirit shakes us up and turns us in a slightly different direction from where we thought we were going.  It happened to Francis.  He adapted, shakily and slowly.  It happens to us.

Back to bullet points.

  • When you actually read Francis’ writings, you don’t see some things that you might expect.  You don’t, for example, read a lot of directives about serving the poor.   You don’t see any general condemnations of wealth.  You don’t read a call for all people, everywhere, to live radically according to the evangelical counsels.
  • You do read these sorts of things – although not exactly – in the early guidelines for the friars and the few letters to fellow friars that have come down to us.
  • But surprisingly, it’s not what is emphasized.  So what is?
  • Obedience. 
  • When Francis wrote about Christ embracing poverty, what he speaks of is Christ descending from the glory of heaven and embracing mortal flesh – an act  – the ultimate embrace of poverty – not just material poverty, but spiritual poverty – the ultimate act of obedience.
  • Through this act of obedience, Christ is revealed as the Servant of all.
  • So, as Francis writes many times, his call was to imitate Christ in this respect:  to empty himself and become the lowly servant of all.  To conquer everything that is the opposite: pride, self-regard, the desire for position or pleasure.
  • Francis wrote that the primary enemy in this battle is our “lower nature.”  He wrote that the only thing we can claim for ourselves are our vices and all we have to boast about is Christ.
  • Francis also emphasized proper celebration and reception of the Eucharist – quite a bit.  He had a lot to say about proper and worthy vessels and settings for the celebration of Mass.  He was somewhat obsessed with respectful treatment of paper on which might be written the Divine Names or prayers.  He prescribed how the friars were to pray the Office.
  • The early preaching of the Franciscans was in line with all of this as well as other early medieval penitential preaching: francis of assisithe call to the laity to confess, receive the Eucharist worthily, and to turn from sin.
  • Praise God.  Whatever the circumstances – and especially “bad” circumstances – praise God.
  • Accept persecution.  It’s interesting that Francis routinely resisted church authorities affording his order any privileges or even writing them letters allowing them to preach in a certain vicinity.  He felt that if they entered an area and were rejected, this was simply accepting the Cross of Christ, and should not be avoided.
  • Begging was not a core value for Francis, as we are often led to believe.  He and his friars did manual labor.  In the early days, begging was only allowed on behalf of sick and ailing brothers, and then only for things like food.  No money, ever.
  • He really didn’t like telling people what to do.  Well, my theory was that he actually did – what we know about his personality, pre-conversion, indicates that he was a born leader.  Perhaps his post-conversion mode was not only an imitation of the Servant, but a recognition that his “lower nature” included a propensity to promote himself and direct others.
  • That said, Francis’ emphasis on servanthood meant that his writings don’t contain directions for others beyond what the Gospel says (repent/Eat the Bread of Life) unless he’s forced to – when composing a form of life and so on.   This tension, along with ambiguities in the Franciscan life, made for a very interesting post-Francis history, along with problems during his own lifetime as well.

To me, Francis is a compelling spiritual figure not simply because he lived so radically, but, ironically, because the course of his life seems so normal. 


Because he had a life.  That life was disrupted, and the disruption changed him.  Disoriented him.  He found a re-orientation in Christ: he found the wellspring of forgiveness for his sins and the grace to conquer them (a lifetime struggle).  His actions had consequences, most of which were totally unintended by him, and to which he had to adapt, as he sought to be obedient to God.  His personality and gifts were well-equipped to deal with some of the new and changing circumstances in his life, and ill-equipped for others.  He died, praising God.

Yes, Francis was all about poverty. All about it.  He was about the poverty of Christ, who was obedient and emptied himself.

“I am the servant of all”  


SO…I decided to write a book trying to communicate this to kids.  I worked, of course, with my friend Ann Engelhart, and the result is Adventures in Assisi, in which two contemporary children travel in Francis’ footsteps, confront their own need for greater charity and humility, and experience the fruit. It’s intended to be a discussion-starter, to get kids talking and thinking and praying about how they treat each other, and how they think about Christ in relationship to their own lives.

I mean..it’s not hard to get kids to get into animals or Christmas creches.  But St. Francis of Assisi was fundamentally about imitating Christ in his poverty of spirit, and I thought that aspect of the saint’s life was woefully underrepresented in Francis Kid Lit.

I’ll have more about it in the next couple of days, but we’ll start with an interview Ann and I did with Lisa Hendey:

Q: What prompted you to write/illustrate “Adventures in Assisi” and what will our readers discover in this book?

Amy: I love history and I love to travel and the saints are central to my Catholic spirituality. In my teaching and writing, I’ve always particularly enjoyed bringing Catholic tradition and history to readers and listeners and many of my books reflect that interest.

St. Francis of Assisi has always interested me not only because his is a truly compelling, radical figure, but also because he is  rather mysterious.  The radical nature of his conversion and the singularity of his journey is unique, but the legends and stories that have grown around him over the past eight hundred years have only added to the mystique and have always "amy welborn"piqued my curiosity.  My earliest encounters with Francis were both quite memorable, although both were rooted, I now understand, in more fiction, personal ideology and a cultural moment than fact – reading NIkos Kazantzakis’ St. Francis as a teenager and seeing Brother Sun, Sister Moon with my friends from the Catholic campus ministry in college.  Despite the serious limitations of both, what moved me in these works was my vivid and thought-provoking encounter with the possibility that radical sacrifice was, paradoxically, the path to fullness of life.

In the subsequent years, I encountered St. Francis here and there.  I taught his story when I taught high school theology.  I wrote about him in the Loyola books. I wrote about his prayers in The Words We Pray.  Over the years, I probably read every existing children’s picture book about Francis to my own children, most of which were about either the wolf of Gubbio or the Christmas creche.

And then, a few years ago, I read the new biography of Francis by Fr. Augustine Thompson OP  – Francis of Assisi: A New Biography.  It’s a tight, compact, rich work, and Fr.Thompson’s insights struck me to the core, so once again, St. Francis moved me…. MORE

Q: Ann, please say a few words on the artwork in this new book. How did you conceive of the characters “look”? What type of research do you have to undertake to artfully depict a venue like Assisi?

Ann: I was able to visit Assisi on two occasions, once with my teenage children and another time alone with my husband. I was able to walk the same paths as the characters in this book as they followed St. Francis’ footsteps.

I took countless photos because the style of my work is quite detailed, and I wanted the reader to authentically experience the exquisite Umbrian landscapes, the extraordinary architecture that is both grand and humble, and the simple beauty of the country roads and olive groves that surround St. Francis’ hilltop hometown….


"amy welborn"

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