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Posts Tagged ‘Loyola Press’

—1 —

I was in Living Faith yesterday. And here’s a post with photos to illustrate the point of that entry. 

— 2 —

Here’s a forthcoming book that looks great!

The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science

In this book, we walk the path of medieval science with a real-life guide, a fourteenth-century monk named John of Westwyk – inventor, astrologer, crusader – who was educated in England’s grandest monastery and exiled to a clifftop priory. Following the traces of his life, we learn to see the natural world through Brother John’s eyes: navigating by the stars, multiplying Roman numerals, curing disease and telling the time with an astrolabe.

We travel the length and breadth of England, from Saint Albans to Tynemouth, and venture far beyond the shores of Britain. On our way, we encounter a remarkable cast of characters: the clock-building English abbot with leprosy, the French craftsman-turned-spy and the Persian polymath who founded the world’s most advanced observatory.

An enthralling story of the struggles and successes of an ordinary man and an extraordinary time, The Light Ages conjures up a vivid picture of the medieval world as we have never seen it before

Well, a bit overwrought, but if it enlightens folks, have at it!

The Light Ages by Seb Falk | Penguin Random House Canada
Available in the US in November.

— 3 —

Speaking of books, as I mentioned before, I’ve been tracking my book sales since the Covid-soused pre-Easter plunge. (Tracking in the only way I can, through the metric Amazon provides authors, which tracks…something. I really have no idea what. I think it’s more than Amazon sales, but I’m not sure).

The cratering reached its worst point the last week of April, when sales this year were about a tenth of what they were last year. Maybe an eighth. No First Communions, no Confirmations, not much Easter visiting and associated gifting from grannies. This year’s sales lagged behind last’s until the second week of May when the tables began to turn.

All summer, slowly but surely, this year’s sales started to surpass last year’s. By mid-summer this year’s cumulative sales of all my titles (as recorded by this metric) were regularly double or triple what they were last year each week.

It’s interesting to me because it’s my way of tracking parish life – obviously what was happening was that parishes were slowly opening back up and beginning to celebrate these sacramental milestones again. And then, as summer waned, folks started looking for religious education materials and supplements. This week’s big sellers were Prove It God, Prove it Prayer (both with sales about ten times the usual – it seems to me that they were required by some classes or schools) and the book of Heroes (sales 7 x what they were the same week last year) and Sign and Symbols (3 x this week last year).

It’s fascinating because at this rate, my sales during this six month royalty period are probably, after a disastrous start, going to even out and end up being commensurate with last year’s.

As I said, it’s mostly interesting to me as a sort-of concrete way to “measure” Catholic parish and catechetical life in these very weird times.

And guess what – you don’t even have to pay a dime for this title!

Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies – normally priced at an exorbitant .99 – is absolutely, positively free through Saturday midnight.

Pretty exciting stuff, all around.

— 4 —

Speaking of Catholic parishes and the pandemic, if you know of a parish that’s truly worked hard to serve the needs of its people and the community during this time – nominate them to be recognized for this! Here’s an article about the effort, and here’s the site.

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Yes, there’s good news out here in Catholic land – I’ve tried to highlight some local parishes that I believe have really stepped up – but I also will co-sign Phil Lawler’s stance here:

As much as I applaud him for bringing our Eucharistic Lord out onto the streets of the city…

As much as I thank him for taking the lead (when so many other prelates remain silent) in insisting that religious worship is “essential activity”…

As fully as I agree with him that the response from city officials—or rather, their failure to make any response—is an insult to Catholics…

Still I wonder: If the archbishop thinks that the city’s restrictions are unreasonable—if he thinks that it would be safe to celebrate Mass for a larger congregation in the city’s cathedral—why doesn’t he take the obvious action? Why doesn’t he go into his own cathedral, invite the public, and celebrate Mass?

Before I go any further let me emphasize that I do not mean to single out Archbishop Cordileone for criticism here. On the contrary, I mean to praise him. The question that I ask of him could apply, far more pointedly, to all the other bishops and priests who have meekly accepted unreasonable restrictions on the administration of the sacraments—to the bishops and priests who have not raised public objections, have not mobilized the faithful, have not organized Eucharistic processions.

Give Archbishop Cordileone full credit for speaking truth to power: for telling the faithful who joined him last Sunday outside the cathedral that city officials “are mocking you, and even worse, they are mocking God.” Credit him, too, for the public campaign that has urged faithful Catholics to call San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed, and has already raised 17,000 signatures on a petition “asking the City of San Francisco to free the Mass.

But again: Why ask city officials to “free” the Mass? There is only one man who has the rightful authority to restrict and regulate the liturgy of the Catholic Church in San Francisco, and his name is Cordileone. If he wants to celebrate Mass for the public in his cathedral, he can do it.

But wait, you say. He can’t celebrate Mass for the public in his cathedral. It would be against the law.

To which I respond: what law?

— 6 —

Looking for a movie to watch or argue about? Check out Movie/Writer Son’s “Definitive Ranking of David Lean Films” here.

David Lean was a great filmmaker who grew up in the British studio system preceding the outbreak of World War II and became a director, hitched to Noel Coward, during the conflict. After working directly with Coward for four films, he broke out on his own and became one of the most important British filmmakers. His great epics tend to overshadow his smaller films, some of which are pretty much just as great, and that’s really why I do these exercises of running through entire filmographies.

Looking for a quick Halloween craft? Pick up this kit from my daughter’s Etsy shop!

Trio Halloween  Witchs Hat Jack O Lantern and Bat  image 1

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Speaking of books, again – a few lists if you are poking around for something to read either now or in the future.

Micah Mattix’s ongoing bookshop of interesting forthcoming titles.

Looking backwards, the #1956Club – from my favorite “The Neglected Book Page”

For about five years now, Karen Langley (Kaggsy of Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambles) and Simon Thomas (of Stuck in a Book) have instigated a semi-annual event in which people around the world take a week to read and write about books published during a particular year. The next round, coming up the week of 5-11 October, will look at books from the year 1956.

1956 was a terrific year for what I might call good but not stuffily great books. Perhaps the best example is Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond, which won her the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and which is much loved for the spirit embodied in its opening line: “‘Take my camel, dear,’ said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.” This was Macaulay’s last novel; also appearing in 1956 is Anthony Burgess’s first novel Time for a Tiger, the first book in his Malayan Trilogy.

To encourage folks to take advantage of the #1956Club while also discovering something beyond what’s readily available for instant download or overnight delivery, I’ve put together this list of 10 long-forgotten and out of print books from 1956.

Go here for the list.

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

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Today’s her feastday. 

Pope Francis’ homily at her canonization:

Following Jesus is a serious task, and, at the same time, one filled with joy; it takes a certain daring and courage to recognize the divine Master in the poorest of the poor and to give oneself in their service.  In order to do so, volunteers, who out of love of Jesus serve the poor and the needy, do not expect any thanks or recompense; rather they renounce all this because they have discovered true love.  Just as the Lord has come to meet me and has stooped down to my level in my hour of need, so too do I go to meet him, bending low before those who have lost faith or who live as though God did not exist, before young people without values or ideals, before families in crisis, before the ill and the imprisoned, before refugees and immigrants, before the weak and defenceless in body and spirit, before abandoned children, before the elderly who are on their own.  Wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence – and the presence of the Church which sustains and offers hope – must be.

Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded.  She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable”.   She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created.  For Mother Teresa, mercy was the “salt” which gave flavour to her work, it was the “light” which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.

St. Teresa is in The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. You can read most of the entry here, at the Loyola site – they have a great section on saints’ stories arranged according to the calendar year. Some of the stories they have posted are from my books, some from other Loyola Press saints’ books.

When we think about the difference that love can make, many people very often think of one person: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. A tiny woman, just under five feet tall, with no tools except prayer, love, and the unique qualities God had given her, Mother Teresa is probably the most powerful symbol of the virtue of charity for people today.

Mother Teresa wasn’t, of course, born with that name. Her parents named her Agnes—or Gonxha in her own language—when she was born to them in Albania, a country north of Greece.

Agnes was one of four children. Her childhood was a busy, ordinary one. Although Agnes was very interested in missionary work around the world, as a child she didn’t really think about becoming a nun; but when she turned 18, she felt that God was beginning to tug at her heart, to call her, asking her to follow him.

Now Agnes, like all of us, had a choice. She could have ignored the tug on her heart. She could have filled her life up with other things so maybe she wouldn’t hear God’s call. But of course, she didn’t do that. She listened and followed, joining a religious order called the Sisters of Loreto, who were based in Dublin, Ireland.

Years ago,  when the excerpts from Mother Teresa’s journal detailing her “dark night” were published, I wrote several posts. All have links to other commentary.

The first is here.  One of the articles I linked there was this 2003 First Things piece.

A second post, in which I wrote:

My first post on the story of Mother Teresa’s decades-long struggle with spiritual darkness struck some as “dismissive,” and for that I apologize. That particular reaction was against the press coverage – not the Time article, but the subsequent filtering that I just knew would be picked up as a shocking new revelation and used by two groups to promote their own agendas: professional atheists (per the Hitchens reaction in the Time piece itself) and fundamentalist Protestants, who would take her lack of “blessed assurance” emotions as a sure sign that Catholicism was, indeed, far from being Christian.  Michael Spencer at Internet Monk had to issue a warning to his commentors on his Mother Teresa post, for example, that he wouldn’t be posting comments declaring that Roman Catholics weren’t Christian.

So that was my point in the “not news” remark. Because the simple fact of the dark night isn’t – not in terms of Mother Teresa herself or in terms of Catholic understanding and experience of spirituality.  It is very good that this book and the coverage has made this more widely known to people who were previously unaware of either the specifics or the general, and it is one more gift of Mother Teresa to the world, a gift she gave out of her own tremendous suffering. What strikes me is once again, at its best, taken as a whole, how honest Catholicism is about life, and our life with God. There is all of this room within Catholicism for every human experience of God, with no attempt to gloss over it or try to force every individual’s experience into a single mold of emotion or reaction.

In that post, I linked to Anthony Esolen at Touchstone:

Dubiety is inseparable from the human condition.  We must waver, because our knowledge comes to us piecemeal, sequentially, in time, mixed up with the static of sense impressions that lead us both toward and away from the truth we try to behold steadily.  The truths of faith are more certain than the truths arrived by rational deduction, says Aquinas, because the revealer of those truths speaks with ultimate authority, but they are less certain subjectively, from the point of view of the finite human being who receives them yet who does not, on earth, see them with the same clarity as one sees a tree or a stone or a brook.  It should give us Christians pause to consider that when Christ took upon himself our mortal flesh, he subjected himself to that same condition.  He did not doubt; His faith was steadfast; yet He did feel, at that most painful of moments upon the Cross, what it was like to be abandoned by God.  He was one with us even in that desert, a desert of suffering and love.  Nor did the Gospel writers — those same whom the world accuses on Monday of perpetrating the most ingenious literary and theological hoax in history, and on Tuesday of being dimwitted and ignorant fishermen, easily suggestible — refuse to tell us of that moment.

     In her love of Christ — and the world does not understand Christ, and is not too bright about love, either — Mother Teresa did not merely take up His cross and follow him.  She was nailed to that Cross with him. 

Another post with more links to commentary.

And one more.

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First, St. Augustine, who’s in the Loyola Kids Book o’ Saints, under “Saints are people who help us understand God.” The first two pages:

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Secondly…well, we’re back. And about to be gone. So here’s what happened today.

We packed up and left Gardnier, WY, at the north end of the park, about 7:30. We were met at the Yellowstone entrance (which is right there) with the news that not only was the road I knew was closed still closed because of fires (between Old Faithful and West Thumb), but another road  – the alternate I’d been assuming would be our way out – was closed as well, because of an overturned gas-carrying 18-wheeler. That one, between Canyon and the lake (below is a campground map – first thing I grabbed – it’s the road between Canyon Village and “Fishing Bridge” campground.)

So here’s a map.

campgroundmap

You can see the problem. There would be no way to get from Gardiner, in the north, to the South entrance, which then would get us on the road to Jackson. It was going to be a 3.5 hour drive, straight shot (you can’t go over 45 on most park roads), and we were planning to take our time and see things we’d missed and maybe take another look at some geysers.

But with that news, the route had to shift, didn’t it? Like, dramatically – out through West Yellowstone and out and over further west, then south through Idaho, to Jackson from the west. Adding not only distance, but time as well. Okay, champ, I’ll settle in to drive, you settle in to sleep.

And now is the part where I tell you that I just learned that as of 8am this morning that road between Old Faithful and West Thumb was opened. I don’t know why they didn’t know that at the entrance gate at 7:35, but it is what it is. No regrets. It’s fine – we saw some lovely sights along the way.

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I shook traveling companion awake not long after departure to take in the Roaring Mountain – it used to emit this steam with a lot more force and noise (hence the name), but it’s still impressive.

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After that – the drive to West Yellowstone is gorgeous, with stunning cliffsides lining the road.

Then….Idaho. So, new state! That means three new states added to our list with this trip, and I’ve now realized I’m up to 45. Only Oregon, Washington, North Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii remain.

It also means that one traveling companion awakened and learning where we were, it was a steady diet of Napoleon Dynamite quotations until the Tetons loomed into site again – and from the west, they are quite lovely. And we were delighted to see that we could, at last…actually see them, since the smoke from the fires further west had evidently dissipated.

— 4 —

Once over the pass, we took a slight detour into Teton Village, since I was curious what a ski village would look like. I’ve known folks who’ve traveled to the area to ski, and I confess my image of what that was wasn’t exactly what I saw, and not just because it’s summer. I guess I imagined something more bucolic and rural, not condos crammed at the base of a mountain. Huh. Well, it’s probably real nice in winter and obviously people like it, so they can have it.

On to Jackson, lunch, since it was a little early, wander around a bit, since it was still early, finally gain access to hotel.

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This is not from our hotel, but from the balcony of a shop. See the arch? It’s elk antlers, and there’s more of the same on the square, and one at the entrance into the Jackson airport terminal, as well. 

— 5 –

Then back into the car and back up to Jenny Lake – about 30 miles north. We had hours of daylight left, so why not get in some more hiking to points we’d missed before? The route was partway around the lake to the Moose Pond trails – no moose where seen – there– and then up the rest of the way to where the boat had dropped us before, the starting point for hikes to Inspiration Point, Hidden Falls and then the Cascade Canyon trail, which we’d walked a good bit of on Friday, and greatly enjoyed.We decided the best use of our time would be to get up to Hidden Falls and then take the boat back to the other side. Which we did, getting back to the car by 7, back into Jackson by 8, then to dinner at Bubba’s Barbecue, which was excellent. 

— 6 –

And so…..animals today? Lots of elk, of course. Two does with their fawns crossing the road near the Visitor’s Center on this end of Grand Teton NP, and then, on the Jenny Lake hike…

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— 7 —

And….

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I think he was in the same spot 45 minutes later when we rode the boat across the lake, because I could see a group of folks on the trail there, looking down. For video, go to Instagram. 

As per usual, I’ll do a post– probably tomorrow, from the airport – describing our itinerary and accommodations choices, for anyone contemplating a similar trip.

Back to ordinary life very, very soon. But in these days, of course, “ordinary” is anything but….

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

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St. Monica…because mothers will never miss a chance to think about St. Monica…

The best source? Her son, throughout the Confessions, but mostly in Book 9. 

Such things was I speaking, and even if not in this very manner, and these same words, yet, Lord, Thou knowest that in that day when we were speaking of these things, and this world with all its delights became, as we spake, contemptible to us, my mother said, “Son, for mine own part I have no further delight in any thing in this life. What I do here any longer, and to what I am here, I know not, now that my hopes in this world are accomplished. One thing there was for which I desired to linger for a while in this life, that I might see thee a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath done this for me more abundantly, that I should now see thee withal, despising st. monicaearthly happiness, become His servant: what do I here?”

What answer I made her unto these things, I remember not. For scarce five days after, or not much more, she fell sick of a fever; and in that sickness one day she fell into a swoon, and was for a while withdrawn from these visible things. We hastened round her; but she was soon brought back to her senses; and looking on me and my brother standing by her, said to us enquiringly, “Where was I?” And then looking fixedly on us, with grief amazed: “Here,” saith she, “shall you bury your mother.” I held my peace and refrained weeping; but my brother spake something, wishing for her, as the happier lot, that she might die, not in a strange place, but in her own land. Whereat, she with anxious look, checking him with her eyes, for that he still savoured such things, and then looking upon me: “Behold,” saith she, “what he saith”: and soon after to us both, “Lay,” she saith, “this body any where; let not the care for that any way disquiet you: this only I request, that you would remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you be.” And having delivered this sentiment in what words she could, she held her peace, being exercised by her growing sickness.

But I, considering Thy gifts, Thou unseen God, which Thou instillest into the hearts of Thy faithful ones, whence wondrous fruits do spring, did rejoice and give thanks to Thee, recalling what I before knew, how careful and anxious she had ever been as to her place of burial, which she had provided and prepared for herself by the body of her husband. For because they had lived in great harmony together, she also wished (so little can the human mind embrace things divine) to have this addition to that happiness, and to have it remembered among men, that after her pilgrimage beyond the seas, what was earthly of this united pair had been permitted to be united beneath the same earth. But when this emptiness had through the fulness of Thy goodness begun to cease in her heart, I knew not, and rejoiced admiring what she had so disclosed to me; though indeed in that our discourse also in the window, when she said, “What do I here any longer?” there appeared no desire of dying in her own country. I heard afterwards also, that when we were now at Ostia, she with a mother’s confidence, when I was absent, one day discoursed with certain of my friends about the contempt of this life, and the blessing of death: and when they were amazed at such courage which Thou hadst given to a woman, and asked, “Whether she were not afraid to leave her body so far from her own city?” she replied, “Nothing is far to God; nor was it to be feared lest at the end of the world, He should not recognise whence He were to raise me up.” On the ninth day then of her sickness, and the fifty-sixth year of her age, and the three-and-thirtieth of mine, was that religious and holy soul freed from the body.

Benedict XVI, from 2006, sums it all up:

Today, 27 August, we commemorate St Monica and tomorrow we will be commemorating St Augustine, her son: their witnesses can be of great comfort and help to so many families also in our time.

Monica, who was born into a Christian family at Tagaste, today Souk-Aharàs in Algeria, lived her mission as a wife and mother in an exemplary way, helping her husband Patricius to discover the beauty of faith in Christ and the power of evangelical love, which can overcome evil with good.

After his premature death, Monica courageously devoted herself to caring for her three children, including Augustine, who initially caused her suffering with his somewhat rebellious temperament. As Augustine himself was to say, his mother gave birth to him twice; the second  time  required  a  lengthy  spiritual travail of prayers and tears, but it was crowned at last with the joy of seeing him not only embrace the faith and receive Baptism, but also dedicate himself without reserve to the service of Christ.

How many difficulties there are also today in family relations and how many mothers are in anguish at seeing their children setting out on wrong paths! Monica, a woman whose faith was wise and sound, invites them not to lose heart but to persevere in their mission as wives and mothers, keeping firm their trust in God and clinging with perseverance to prayer.

As for Augustine, his whole life was a passionate search for the truth. In the end, not without a long inner torment, he found in Christ the ultimate and full meaning of his own life and of the whole of human history. In adolescence, attracted by earthly beauty, he “flung himself” upon it – as he himself confides (cf. Confessions, 10, 27-38) – with selfish and possessive behaviour that caused his pious mother great pain.

But through a toilsome journey and thanks also to her prayers, Augustine became always more open to the fullness of truth and love until his conversion, which happened in Milan under the guidance of the Bishop, St Ambrose.

He thus remained the model of the journey towards God, supreme Truth and supreme Good. “Late have I loved you”, he wrote in the famous book of the Confessions, “beauty, ever ancient and ever new, late have I loved you. You were within me and I was outside of you, and it was there that I sought you…. You were with me and I was not with you…. You called, you cried out, you pierced my deafness. You shone, you struck me down, and you healed my blindness” (ibid.).

May St Augustine obtain the gift of a sincere and profound encounter with Christ for all those young people who, thirsting for happiness, are seeking it on the wrong paths and getting lost in blind alleys.

St Monica and St Augustine invite us to turn confidently to Mary, Seat of Wisdom. Let us entrust Christian parents to her so that, like Monica, they may accompany their children’s progress with their own example and prayers. Let us commend youth to the Virgin Mother of God so that, like Augustine, they may always strive for the fullness of Truth and Love which is Christ:  he alone can satisfy the deepest desires of the human heart.

2009:

Three days ago, on 27 August, we celebrated the liturgical Memorial of St Monica, Mother of St Augustine, considered the model and patroness of Christian mothers. We are provided with a considerable amount of information about her by her son in his autobiography, Confessions, one of the widest read literary masterpieces of all time. In them we learn that St Augustine drank in the name of Jesus with his mother’s milk, and that his mother brought him up in the Christian religion whose principles remained impressed upon him even in his years of spiritual and moral dissipation. Monica never ceased to pray for him and for his conversion and she had the consolation of seeing him return to the faith and receive Baptism. God heard the prayers of this holy mother, of whom the Bishop of Tagaste had said: “the son of so many tears could not perish”. In fact, St Augustine not only converted but decided to embrace the monastic life and, having returned to Africa, founded a community of monks. His last spiritual conversations with his mother in the tranquillity of a house at Ostia, while they were waiting to embark for Africa, are moving and edifying. By then St Monica had become for this son of hers, “more than a mother, the source of his Christianity”. For years her one desire had been the conversion of Augustine, whom she then saw actually turning to a life of consecration at the service of God. She could therefore die happy, and in fact she passed away on 27 August 387, at the age of 56, after asking her son not to trouble about her burial but to remember her, wherever he was, at the Lord’s altar. St Augustine used to say that his mother had “conceived him twice”.

2010:

Again, in Confessions, in the ninth book, our Saint records a conversation with his mother, St Monica, whose Memorial is celebrated on Friday, the day after tomorrow. It is a very beautiful scene: he and his mother are at Ostia, at an inn, and from the window they see the sky and the sea, and they transcend the sky and the sea and for a moment touch God’s heart in the silence of created beings. And here a fundamental idea appears on the way towards the Truth: creatures must be silent, leaving space for the silence in which God can speak. This is still true in our day too. At times there is a sort of fear of silence, of recollection, of thinking of one’s own actions, of the profound meaning of one’s life. All too often people prefer to live only the fleeting moment, deceiving themselves that it will bring lasting happiness; they prefer to live superficially, without thinking, because it seems easier; they are afraid to seek the Truth or perhaps afraid that the Truth will find us, will take hold of us and change our life, as happened to St Augustine.

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to say to all of you and also to those who are passing through a difficult moment in their journey of faith, to those who take little part in the life of the Church or who live “as though God did not exist” not to be afraid of the Truth, never to interrupt the journey towards it and never to stop searching for the profound truth about yourselves and other things with the inner eye of the heart. God will not fail to provide Light to see by and Warmth to make the heart feel that he loves us and wants to be loved.

May the intercession of the Virgin Mary, of St Augustine and of St Monica accompany us on this journey

St. Monica is in The Loyola Kid’s Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love their families.”  A page:

From Living Faith in 2014:

We may not all be mothers, as Monica was, but we all have had one. Our relationships with our mothers might be terrible or beautiful, or somewhere in an in-between place: bewildering, regretful and hopeful.


Desire lies at the heart of our mistakes and successes as parents, caretakers and children. Monica desired her son Augustine’s salvation, and Augustine yearned for a love that would not die. Around and around they went.


What is it I desire for others? Is it that, above all, they find authentic, lasting joy?

Lord, may I be a help to others as we journey to you.

 

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—1 —

Well, here we are. Just a few days until the Return. The Return to College. For a few months, we hope, and not just for a few weeks, as College Guy pessimistically predicts. As I keep saying, I’m optimistic.

We’ll see.

School for the other one is slowly picking up speed – to be interrupted by travel next week, to be sure, but getting a little more organized nonetheless. This week has seen meetings with Algebra 2 and Latin tutors as well as a piano lesson. We talked over plans for literature and history study. Looked at photos posted by the private high school most of his friends attend, saw all the images of people in single file in masks looking at each other from behind plexiglass in the lunchroom, and if there were any lingering questions, they were answered. “We’re good. Thanks.”

— 2 —

There’s been a bit of blogging this past week. Here’s a review of a novel called Followers and another of a novel, which I liked quite a bit, called Nothing to See Here. 

All done on a new laptop. I have a desktop, which is my preference for working, but I needed a new laptop – for a couple of years I’d been depending on a Chromebook we’d had to buy for Son #4’s high school career – and I hate Chromebooks. I mean, just hate. I love small laptops – that’s not the issue. The issue is the dependence on the cloud and the Internet and Google and all of that. And the fact that if you forget your passwords, it just might wipe the device of all local data on it – which happened to me last summer in Spain after I’d written a short piece for the Catholic Herald, but before I’d sent it in.  Cue new scene with me sitting on the floor in a hotel room in Caceres, Spain at 6 am, fuming (and worse) attempting to reconstruct and rewrite.

Plus, we needed a better, more dependable machine for Kid #5’s academics, such as they are. We don’t do a lot of screen stuff, and no remote classes of any sort, but you never know. Might as well have something decent, just in case.

Anyway, new computers are sweet.

— 3 —

I mentioned before that my book sales, like everyone else’s, have been impacted by this virus and responses to it – namely, no big gift-giving binges around Easter and the Spring Sacramental Season. But, as I noted, since mid-May, sales have been slowly but steadily edging back up. It’s really interesting. I’m still behind last year, but every week since mid-May, sales this year have topped the equivalent week last year, sometimes more than doubling the number of units sold.  The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes is now even with total sales from the same period last year (by the measure I have access to through Amazon Author portal – which doesn’t record all sales.). I think parishes that didn’t have big First Communion or Confirmation celebrations when they normally do have been having them in smaller batches through the summer, and people have purchased gifts for that – and then you throw in the increase in people doing homeschooling, and there you go.

So, yeah, if you know anyone who’s interested or in need of good titles for homeschooling catechism for children or young people, do consider pointing them my way –here’s a link to the Loyola Kids Books and here’s a link to the Prove It titles for teens. 

Today: St. Maximilian Kolbe. In the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

"amy welborn"

 

— 4 —

From William Newton:

One of the most famous works of art rescued from the Nazis by the Monuments Men is, of course, “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, more commonly known as “The Ghent Altarpiece”, a 15th-century masterpiece by the Van Eyck brothers that resides in St. Bravo’s Cathedral in the Belgian city of Ghent. Readers will recall that recently, a number of ill-informed commentators and meme-makers criticized the recent cleaning and restoration of the piece, because the face of the Lamb came out looking more humanoid and less lamb-like. After an exhaustive review, experts from the University of Antwerp and the National Gallery of Art have concluded that the Van Eycks did, in fact, intend to have the Lamb – who symbolizes Christ Himself – display the (to modern eyes) slightly disturbing face that we see gazing out at us now. It may be a late Medieval convention with respect to how to portray animals, since similar faces appear among the horses in one of the other panels of the altarpiece, or it may be that one or both of the Van Eycks intentionally wanted to have the viewer thrown a bit off-balance when praying or meditating before the image.

— 5 –

I meant, but forgot to mention last week, that the Cathedral parish held a celebration on August 2, bringing the traditional way of celebrating Our Lady of the Snows from St. Mary Major in Rome down here to Birmingham. That is – letting white rose petals fall from the ceiling.

More here.

 

(And yes, the Cathedral has been having Mass with full ceremony since April/May – no congregational singing, every other pew roped off, etc., but a full music program – you can see the orders of worship here.)

This next Sunday’s Mass, for example– Viadana’s Missa l’Hora Passa. 

— 6 —

From the New Yorker, on two new biographies of Poulenc:

Both accounts undermine the popular image of Poulenc—carefully cultivated by the man himself—as the epitome of Parisian suavity and ebullience. He was, in fact, a turbulent, even tortured character: sometimes arrogant, sometimes self-castigating, sometimes lovable, sometimes impossible. That complexity only adds to the interest of the music. The critic Claude Rostand famously commented that Poulenc was a combination of “moine et voyou”—monk and rogue. Many of the composer’s works fall cleanly into one category or the other, but some of the strongest fuse the two personalities in one. The Organ Concerto (1938) interlaces brimstone dissonances with rollicking fairground strains. The Gloria (1959-60) exudes an almost scandalous joy, as if a crowd of drunken angels were dancing down the boulevards.

— 7 —

My son watched all of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. All of them. Here’s his ranking. 

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Fr. Steve Grunow:

We should not look back wistfully on the twentieth century, nor should we be uncritical about the so-called achievement of the modern world. 

One of the lessons we might learn from all this is that what we call civilization is a rather thin veneer, and what lies beneath this surface is a terrifying heart of darkness. Christians, who are called to live in the truth, must be realists about this and cannot afford to be naive. 

It was in the heart of civlized Europe, among the fading remains of Christian culture, that the death camps were built and millions of innocent men, women and children were put to death for no other reason than that their very existence challenged the ideological conceits of their oppressors. 

In the midst of the world’s darkness, we are called by our Baptism to be a light in the shadows of this fallen world. Saint Maximilian is one such light, his life and death stands as a testimony to Christ, the eternal light, whom the darkness cannot overcome. 

For too many Christians, the faith is a safe routine, a kind of philosophy of self-improvement, something meant to be comfortable and comforting. 

The witness of St. Maximilian stands against this illusion. Christian faith is not so much about safety as it is about risk. It is meant to take us out into the world, into the shadows, to be a light to show the way home to those who live in darkness. 

May St. Maximilian intercede for us. May we imitate his selfless courage. May the fire of his holy light enkindle the embers of faith that may have grown cold in our own hearts.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

In fact, how many examples we could cite of situations in which it was precisely prayer that sustained the journey of Saints and of the Christian people! Among the testimonies of our epoch I would like to mention the examples of two Saints whom we are commemorating in these days: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, whose feast we celebrated on 9 August, and Maximilian Mary Kolbe, whom we will commemorate tomorrow, on 14 August, the eve of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both ended their earthly life with martyrdom in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. Their lives might seem to have been a defeat, but it is precisely in their martyrdom that the brightness of Love which dispels the gloom of selfishness and hatred shines forth. The following words are attributed to St Maximilian Kolbe, who is said to have spoken them when the Nazi persecution was raging: “Hatred is not a creative force: only love is creative”. And heroic proof of his love was the generous offering he made of himself in exchange for a fellow prisoner, an offer that culminated in his death in the starvation bunker on 14 August 1941.

On 6 August the following year, three days before her tragic end, Edith Stein approaching some Sisters in the monastery of Echt, in the Netherlands, said to them: “I am ready for anything. Jesus is also here in our midst. Thus far I have been able to pray very well and I have said with all my heart: “Ave, Crux, spes unica'”. Witnesses who managed to escape the terrible massacre recounted that while Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, dressed in the Carmelite habit, was making her way, consciously, toward death, she distinguished herself by her conduct full of peace, her serene attitude and her calm behaviour, attentive to the needs of all. Prayer was the secret of this Saint, Co-Patroness of Europe, who, “Even after she found the truth in the peace of the contemplative life, she was to live to the full the mystery of the Cross” (Apostolic Letter Spes Aedificandi).

“Hail Mary!” was the last prayer on the lips of St Maximilian Mary Kolbe, as he offered his arm to the person who was about to kill him with an injection of phenolic acid. It is moving to note how humble and trusting recourse to Our Lady is always a source of courage and serenity. While we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, which is one of the best-loved Marian feasts in the Christian tradition, let us renew our entrustment to her who from Heaven watches over us with motherly love at every moment. In fact, we say this in the familiar prayer of the Hail Mary, asking her to pray for us “now and at the hour of our death”.

St. Maximilian Kolbe is included in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints, pp. 244-247 in the section “Saints are people who are brave.

"amy welborn"

 

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

It’s July 31 – the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola.

St. Ignatius was in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints, and you can read the entire chapter here:

Because he had spent all those months in his sickbed, Ignatius got bored. He asked for something to read. He was hoping for adventure books, tales that were popular back then: knights fighting for the hands of beautiful ladies, traveling to distant lands, and battling strange creatures.

But for some reason, two completely different books were brought to Ignatius. One was a book about the life of Christ, and the other was a collection of saints’ stories.

Ignatius read these books. He thought about them. He was struck by the great sacrifices that the saints had made for God. He was overwhelmed by their love of Jesus.

And Ignatius thought, “Why am I using my life just for myself? These people did so much good during their time on earth. Why can’t I?”

Ignatius decided that he would use the talents God had given him—his strength, his leadership ability, his bravery, and his intelligence—to serve God and God’s people.

While Ignatius continued to heal, he started praying very seriously. God’s peace filled his heart and assured him that he was on the right path.

When Ignatius was all healed and ready to walk and travel again, he left his home to prepare for his new life. It wasn’t easy. He was 30, which was considered old in those days, and he was getting a late start in his studies for the priesthood. In those days, the Mass was said only in Latin, and Latin was the language all educated people used to communicate with each other. Ignatius didn’t know a bit of Latin. So for his first Latin lessons, big, rough Ignatius had to sit in a classroom with a bunch of 10-year-old boys who were learning Latin for the first time too!

That takes a different kind of strength, doesn’t it?

saints

 

— 2 —

 

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

In The Words We Pray, I wrote about the Suscipe Prayer. That chapter is excerpted here:

The more you roll this prayer around in your soul, and the more you think about it, the more radical it is revealed to be.

One of the primary themes of the Spiritual Exercises is that of attachments and affections. Ignatius offers the account of “three classes of men” who have been given a sum of money, and who all want to rid themselves of it because they know their attachment to this worldly good impedes their salvation.

The first class would really like to rid themselves of the attachment, but the hour of death comes, and they haven’t even tried. The second class would also like to give up the attachment, but do so, conveniently, without actually giving anything up.

Is this sounding familiar at all?

The third class wants to get rid of the attachment to the money, which they, like the others, know is a burden standing in the way. But they make no stipulations as to how this attachment is relinquished; they are indifferent about the method. Whatever God wants, they want. In a word, they are the free ones.

The prayer “Take Lord, receive” is possible only because the retreatant has opened himself to the reality of who God is, what God’s purpose is for humanity, and what God has done for him in a particularly intense way.

A Response to God’s Love

The retreatant has seen that there is really no other response to life that does God justice. What love the Father has for us in letting us be called children of God, John says (1 John 3:1). What gift does our love prompt us to give?

In ages past, and probably in the minds of some of us still, that gift of self to God, putting oneself totally at God’s disposal, is possible only for people called to a vowed religious life. Well, God didn’t institute religious life in the second chapter of Genesis. He instituted marriage and family. I’m not a nun, but the Scriptures tell us repeatedly that all creation is groaning and being reborn and moving toward completion in God. Every speck of creation, everything that happens, every kid kicking a soccer ball down a road in Guatemala, each office worker in New Delhi, every ancient great-grandmother in a rest home in Boynton Beach, every baby swimming in utero at this moment around the world—all are beloved by God and are being constantly invited by him to love. And all can respond.

— 3 —

Depicting Dante’s heaven:

“Dante is often presented in a very secular way,” Schmalz said, noting the obsession that universities, artists and writers have had with the Inferno, ignoring the rest of poem.

According to Schmalz, limiting the poem’s scope to the Inferno means “not giving the proper representation of Dante and also the Christian ideas that are in the ‘Divine Comedy.’

“As a Catholic sculptor I have been very angry about this for many years,” he said.

An example of the fascination Dante’s Inferno has had on artists throughout history is the famous “Thinker” by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The popular image was originally meant to portray Dante as the “Poet,” and a miniature version of it can be found atop Rodin’s massive representation of “The Gates of Hell.”

“Because I am a Christian sculptor I will right this wrong,” Schmalz said. “I will do what has never been done before in the history of sculpture, which is to create a sculpture for each canto of the ‘Divine Comedy.’

 

 — 4 —

On a biography of Charles Peguy

In a way, Péguy preserved and cherished each of these influences: He would maintain an obsessive concern for the dispossessed, an ardent passion for France, and an unyielding faith in God all his life. But his intensity of belief did not prevent him for recognizing and pointing out the flaws in that which he loved. Péguy deplored the Catholic Church’s reactionary excesses and the Third Republic’s racialist conception of citizenship, and his unorthodox view of socialism rejected Marx’s enforced equality and anti-religious undertones. To him, solidarity — and politics itself — began with the “mystical,” that is, the set of myths and shared transcendent beliefs that underpin the construction of communities. Resolutely anti-cosmopolitan, he did not believe in the transnational alliance of workers that would become central to the Soviet project. For him, to reject the centrality of local attachments was to abstract away the suffering of people close-by; only cold-hearted bourgeois were rootless enough to live in multiple cities at once, to oscillate between cultures and languages, to detach themselves from the warmth of traditions and communities. The very small and the transcendent were the scales that mattered. Real change would not come through centralized Jacobin putsches, but through local micro-revolutions.

Péguy abhorred all attempts to demystify life’s mysteries. He rejected the scientism of his era, and laughed at the claim — seemingly blind to its own metaphysical assumptions — that empirical science would ever supersede the need for metaphysics. He thought that Adam Smith and Karl Marx had equally simplistic views of history, views that sacrificed transcendence on the altar of materialism. Yet he did not believe that the Bible had all the answers, either — or, at least, he did not believe that any human being could ever access all the answers. In fact, he fervently opposed what he saw as a conservative attempt to weaponize scripture. In a way, he thought, both sides emptied metaphysics of their significance; the Left reduced religion to “the opium of the masses,” and the Right relegated faith to a mere political tool. Like Dostoevsky, Péguy thought that in the absence of God, men would devolve into beasts; unlike Dostoevsky, he also believed that if God were too present in human affairs, the same degeneration would ensue.

— 5 

Watch out. This Sunday brings us the Miracle of Sharing….

6–

One of the newsletters I enjoy reading is The Convivial Society..about tech and life and such. This is from a recent edition – not from the author of the newsletter itself, but from a writer named Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation (1981). See if you can relate.

Rather than creating communication, [information] exhausts itself in the act of staging communication. Rather than producing meaning, it exhausts itself in the staging of meaning. A gigantic process of simulation that is very familiar. The nondirective interview, speech, listeners who call in, participation at every level, blackmail through speech: ‘You are concerned, you are the event, etc.’ More and more information is invaded by this kind of phantom content, this homeopathic grafting, this awakening dream of communication. A circular arrangement through which one stages the desire of the audience, the antitheater of communication, which, as one knows, is never anything but the recycling in the negative of the traditional institution, the integrated circuit of the negative. Immense energies are deployed to hold this simulacrum at bay, to avoid the brutal desimulation that would confront us in the face of the obvious reality of a radical loss of meaning.

 

 

— 7 —

Tomorrow is the memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori, whom I wrote about here. Just a brief excerpt – related to the travails of writers, which he shared:

The letters reflect quite a bit on his concern to get this books out there to people who will read them – Naples is always out of copies, but that’s one of the few places he has an interested audience, and the priests, well….

I am glad that the History of the Heresies is finished. Once more, I remind you not to send me any copies for sale, as the priests of my diocese are not eager for such books; indeed, they have very little love for any reading whatsoever.

Besides, I am a poor cripple, who am Hearing my grave, and I do not know what I should do with these copies.

Rest assured, that I regard all your interests as though they were my own. If I could only visit Naples, I might be able to do something personally. But confined here in this poverty-stricken Arienzo, I write letters innumerable to people in Naples about the sale, but with very little result. I am much afflicted at this, but affliction seems to be all that I am to reap from these negotiations.

So, writers….you’re not alone!

 

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amy_welborn2

 

His memorial is today.

peter_to_rot_stamp_2

Here is a good version of his life:

One of the patron saints of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, was Bl. Peter To Rot, a native son of Papua New Guinea. A second-generation Catholic during the evangelization of his Southern Pacific island in the early twentieth century, Peter was an exemplary husband, father, and catechist. In 1945 he suffered martyrdom at the hands of Japanese soldiers for his courageous defense of Christian marriage…

 

…The mission field in Oceania was immense but the missionary priests were few, and so young men were trained as catechists to work with them. Peter threw himself cheerfully into his new daily routine at St. Paul’s College: spiritual exercises, classes, and manual labor. The school had a farm that made it largely self-supporting. When the tropical sun was blazing and some of the students preferred to take it easy, Peter by his example and urging convinced them to get down to work. He was a “joyful companion” who often put an end to quarrels with his good-natured joking, although he learned to refrain from humor at the expense of the instructors. Through frequent Confession, daily Communion, and the Rosary, he and his fellow students fought temptations, increased their faith, and became mature, apostolic Christian men.

Peter To Rot received from the bishop his catechist’s cross in 1934 and was sent back to his native village to help the pastor, Fr. Laufer. He taught catechism classes to the children of Rakunai, instructed adults in the faith and led prayer meetings. He encouraged attendance at Sunday Mass, counseled sinners and helped them prepare for Confession. He zealously combated sorcery, which was practiced by many of the people, even some who were nominally Christian.

In 1936 Peter To Rot married Paula Ia Varpit, a young woman from a neighboring village. Theirs was a model Christian marriage. He showed great respect for his wife and prayed with her every morning and evening. He was very devoted to his children and spent as much time with them as possible.

A Time of Trial

During World War II, the Japanese invaded New Guinea in 1942 and immediately put all the priests and religious into concentration camps. Being a layman, Peter was able to remain in Rakunai. He took on many new responsibilities, leading Sunday prayer and exhorting the faithful to persevere, witnessing marriages, baptizing newborns, and presiding at funerals. One missionary priest who had escaped arrest lived in the forest; Peter brought villagers to him in secret so that they could receive the sacraments.

Although the Japanese did not outlaw all Catholic practices at first, they soon began to pillage and destroy the churches. To Rot had to build a wooden chapel in the bush and devise underground hiding places for the sacred vessels. He carried on his apostolic work cautiously, visiting Christians at night because of the many spies. He often traveled to Vunapopé, a distant village, where a priest gave him the Blessed Sacrament. By special permission of the bishop, To Rot brought Communion to the sick and dying.

Exploiting divisions among the people in New Guinea, the Japanese reintroduced polygamy to win over the support of several local chiefs. They planned thereby to counteract “Western” influence on the native population. Because of sensuality or fear of reprisals, many men took a second wife.

Peter To Rot, as a catechist, was obliged to speak up. “I will never say enough to the Christians about the dignity and the great importance of the Sacrament of Marriage,” he declared. He even took a stand against his own brother Joseph, who was publicly advocating a return to the practice of polygamy. Another brother, Tatamai, remarried and denounced Peter to the Japanese authorities. Paula feared that her husband’s determination would result in harm to their family, but Peter replied, “If I must die, that is good, because I will die for the reign of God over our people.”

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And then the homily on the occasion of his beatification by Pope John Paul II, in 1999:

3. Blessed Peter understood the value of suffering. Inspired by his faith in Christ, he was a devoted husband, a loving father and a dedicated catechist known for his kindness, gentleness and compassion. Daily Mass and Holy Communion, and frequent visits to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, sustained him, gave him wisdom to counsel the disheartened, and courage to persevere until death. In order to be an effective evangelizer, Peter To Rot studied hard and sought advice from wise and holy “big men”. Most of all he prayed – for himself, for his family, for his people, for the Church. His witness to the Gospel inspired others, in very difficult situations, because he lived his Christian life so purely and joyfully. Without being aware of it, he was preparing throughout his life for his greatest offering: by dying daily to himself, he walked with his Lord on the road which leads to Calvary (Cf. Mt. 10: 38-39).

4. During times of persecution the faith of individuals and communities is “tested by fire” (1Pt. 1: 7). But Christ tells us that there is no reason to be afraid. Those persecuted for their faith will be more eloquent than ever: “it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you” (Mt. 10: 20). So it was for Blessed Peter To Rot. When the village of Rakunai was occupied during the Second World War and after the heroic missionary priests were imprisoned, he assumed responsibility for the spiritual life of the villagers. Not only did he continue to instruct the faithful and visit the sick, he also baptized, assisted at marriages and led people in prayer.

When the authorities legalized and encouraged polygamy, Blessed Peter knew it to be against Christian principles and firmly denounced this practice. Because the Spirit of God dwelt in him, he fearlessly proclaimed the truth about the sanctity of marriage. He refused to take the “easy way” (Cf. ibid. 7: 13) of moral compromise. “I have to fulfil my duty as a Church witness to Jesus Christ”, he explained. Fear of suffering and death did not deter him. During his final imprisonment Peter To Rot was serene, even joyful. He told people that he was ready to die for the faith and for his people.

5. On the day of his death, Blessed Peter asked his wife to bring him his catechist’s crucifix. It accompanied him to the end. Condemned without trial, he suffered his martyrdom calmly. Following in the footsteps of his Master, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn.1: 29), he too was “led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Cf. Is. 53: 7). And yet this “grain of wheat” which fell silently into the earth (Cf. Jn. 12: 24) has produced a harvest of blessings for the Church in Papua New Guinea!

He’s included in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints in the section, “Saints are People Who Come From All Over the World.” You can click on the individual images for a larger, more readable version. I include just the end of the entry because that’s what’s available online.

 

 

 

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—1 —

An interesting few days.

The two fellows who still live here are gone for a bit to visit family elsewhere. They’ll be back early next week, but for the moment, I’m alone for the first time since Christmas.

I was talking to my son who lives in NYC, where they’re opening things up, slowly but surely. The past week, he’s finally had some consistent social, face-to-face interaction with friends again – for the first time in months.

Each of experiencing welcome change, for opposite, but related reasons.

I add – quickly – that it will also be a welcome change when the guys return!

But everyone needs a break now and then, yes?

— 2 —

So what am I doing? Working. I have a project due on June 20, and I’m trying to get it halfway finished by Monday. Then I can coast, working on it for probably an hour or so a day until it’s due.

For me, the part of a project like this that requires the most focus is the framing and thinking through the shape and emphasis of it. And that kind of focus is hard for me to grab in small chunks. I need to have a large expanse of time in which I know I’m not going to be interrupted by anything. It didn’t used to be that way, but you know, guys, I’ll be sixty in a few weeks, and so something like concentration is harder to come by.

Today (Thursday) was a framing/get in the groove day. That done, I can work on it for a couple of hours a day till Monday, and then put my mind to the next fiction project.

Still getting chapters of Nothing Else Occurs to Me up on Wattpad. Slowly but surely. (Backstory: here)

— 3 —

So….we have a new bishop here in Birmingham. Bishop Steven Raica, formerly of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan.

I’ve not met him yet, don’t know a thing about him.

If you’re interested, you can watch the Vespers and Installation Mass that were broadcast on EWTN. If you do, you’ll get to hear the voices of our Cathedral’s core schola, which has been singing Cathedral Masses even through much of the lockdown, when Masses were streaming-only, not public.

 

 

 

As I’ve said before, it’s an approach that makes sense. If you’re not going to have congregational singing, consider the liturgical history of the Church, consider what developed during the centuries when congregational singing in the West was not the norm – and use that. 

It’s far preferable than having to listen to someone gamely warbling Praise and Worship music up there all by themselves.

— 4 —

Okay, I’ve not only been working the past couple of days. I’ve tried to walk a couple of hours a day – which means listening to my BBC radio podcasts – and I’ve read quite a bit as well as (gasp) watched a few movies – films that wouldn’t interest my housemates. So let’s do a quick survey.

First, reading – I finally finished Trevor’s The Boarding-House. That was a tough slog. I was most interested in the structure of it, which switched between points of view very quickly without transitions, as well as the historical detail revealed about London in the early ’60’s. The switching was confusing at first (I read it on Kindle and thought there was something wrong with the formatting), but once I got accustomed to it, I didn’t mind. My problem with the book is that I didn’t care about any of the characters and couldn’t figure out why I should spend time with them.

Anyway, I have a couple more short novels that I checked out via Hoopla that I will try to knock off over the next couple of days, then I think I’m going to plunge back into some Wilkie Collins. I need an absorbing, crazy read like No Name (reviewed here) in my life. I’d started Poor Miss Finch a couple of weeks ago, and will probably return to that. 

— 5 –

Now, movies.

I started watching Rocketman. I did like a few Elton John songs as a teen, but am definitely not a fan, but I was curious about the structure of the film and wanted to see the sections about his early life. Ended up watching the whole thing, not because it was great, but simply because of inertia, I suppose.

I did like the structure – I mean, why not tell a sketchy biographical tale of a living musician by making it a musical of sorts? I actually liked most of the musical set-pieces quite a lot. I think they worked. But the psychological trajectory and personal motivation offered was superficial – to be expected when the piece is produced by intimates and is about a living figure – and formulaic.

Bernie Taupin emerges as the one person you wouldn’t mind spending time with, to be sure.

— 6 —

Il Posto via the Kanopy platform. I gather you’re not supposed to say this is Italian Neorealism, since it’s not immediately postwar, but, well, you could have fooled me. It’s slow and observant, and I liked it quite a bit.

It’s the story of a young man from a village outside Milan who travels to the great city to test for a job, gets the job and begins working at the job. That’s it. It offers us a fascinating look at Italian life in the period and a rather trenchant, mostly wordless critique of white-collar work in large companies.

Except he won’t, and that’s what is so crushing about Il Posto. Antonietta comes to represent the youthful dreams that stagnate in an office building and the drudgery a job enforces. Once Domenico accepts his position as a messenger, Olmi breaks away from his lead for the first time. He takes us on an evening tour of the off-the-clock activities of the accounting staff that Domenico will eventually join. Some have very common, uninspired existences, others harbor their youthful folly as if it were rare treasure. There is the older man who goes to the pub and sings a song that is intended for someone not so advanced in years, and the would-be novelist who scribbles out his book in secret, hiding his light under a towel. Domenico tells his new boss that he may still go to night school to pursue the vocation he wants, but Olmi is showing us the true likelihood of that happening. Domenico’s father told his son that a job like this one is for life, and as the boy will learn, these positions tend to only open up when somebody dies.

Much of Olmi’s framing is intentionally expressionistic. The corporate world alternates between imposing, with the workers appearing small next to the business structure, and claustrophobic, cramped into their own little spaces. On the other hand, though Ermanno Olmi and cameraman Lamberto Caimi shot Il Posto in such a way to show life as it was, hoping to render the dreary gray of an average day, the black-and-white photography has taken on a nostalgic beauty over the years. Domenico and his peers just look more stylish, with their clean haircuts and their suits and ties, than we expect our youths to look today. Looking at Il Posto is like looking at photographs in a vintage magazine back issue: by being frozen in time, the images seem simpler, more desirable, than the busy world we’re used to today. Maybe that was by design. Maybe Olmi wanted it all to look hopeful and modern if only to add to the impact of the crushing blows to come.

The subverted ending of Il Posto sneaks up on the audience. We’ve been trained to expect something more, just like Domenico. We realize that there is nothing else mere moments before he does, and we can only brace ourselves for the heartbreak that is coming.

— 7 —

The Virgin Spring (1960) | The Criterion Collection

Finally, in a move that will please Son #2, I finally watched The Virgin Spring – his pick for his #1 Bergman. Here’s his review, and here’s his list. 

(He’s currently working his way through Hitchcock)

Okay, okay. I agree. It’s a great film, and I’m glad I finally watched it. I’m not an afficiando of Bergman’s films, but I have come to understand a bit about his spiritual-wrestling throughreading my son’s reviews. 

The standouts of that violence made the contemporary New York Times critic say that the movie was a thin morality tale below Bergman’s talents, but there’s actually so much more. What is there just isn’t spoken about, but it lingers in the background of everything. The conflict between the paganism of Odin and the monotheism of the new Christianity isn’t a stand-in for a simplistic good vs. evil battle. Instead, there are interesting shades within each character that drive the ideas even further. The father, Tore, obviously clings to his old pagan ways and has been dragged into the new Christianity by his wife Mareta. Their daughter, Karin, is beautiful and eager to look her best for her mission to deliver candles to the church, but she is also haughty, entitled, and manipulates her parents with ease. Ingeri, the pregnant Odin worshiper the family has taken in as a ward, prays for Karin’s defilement but confesses to Tore after the crime and begs for the punishment Tore will mete out to the perpetrators.

Where this movie stands out in Bergman’s filmography most for me is the thematic thrust of the film. The Virgin Spring came out in 1960, just a few years after the existential The Seventh Seal and right before the Silence Trilogy, and yet the thematic point isn’t a form of rejection of religion. In fact, the titular spring is an embrace of the idea that man’s concept of God, as manifested by the Church, is correct. It’s a natural extension of the story he was trying to tell, but also an artifact of the fact that he didn’t actually write the movie. God is still silent in the face of the violence placed upon the innocent Karin, but the existence of the spring that shoots from where her lifeless head had laid for a day, opening up immediately after Tore had promised to build a church of mortar and stone on the spot, is God’s communication. He speaks more in that than in anything else Bergman made.

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Noreen: Camus says knowin’ we’re gonna die makes life absurd.

Betsy : Well, I don’t know who that is. But I’m guessing he doesn’t have a 6-year-old girl.

Noreen : He’s French

Betsy : Ugh, I don’t care if he’s from Mars. Nobody with any sense would say something that foolish. We’re put on this earth to do a job. And each of us gets the time we get to do it. And when this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord… Well, you try tellin’ Him it was all some Frenchman’s joke.

We just finished watching season 2 of Fargo. 

I’d watched seasons 1 and 3 a while back by myself. But they’re both old enough to appreciate it now, so when Better Call Saul ended and the lockdown continued, I thought it might be a good choice to fill some time. It’s rough, and Coenesque and violent, so perhaps it’s not your cup of tea. Lots of exploding heads. Sorry. Know that going forward. I don’t “recommend.”  People are just too different, with varying tastes. I mean. Don’t watch it. You’ll hate it. There.

Anyway, as I said, I’d watched the bookend seasons, but never season 2, for some reason. So this was my first-go through, and I’ll say that I enjoyed it very much. I’m torn about ranking the seasons , though. Perhaps a rewatch will change my mind, but I still think I like season 3 the most, although what season 2 has going for it is a far, far bigger heart than either of the other two. All of the characteristic Noah Hawley/CoenesqueVision aspects are there – extreme violence, weirdness, randomness, chance – but this one has a greater number of sympathetic characters that provide more of an anchor in goodness than the usual almost solitary-figure in the others.

Hanzee Dent - Wikipedia

The cast is amazing – from Patrick Wilson to Jean Smart to Ted Danson to Zahn McLarnon (above) to Bokeem Woodbine (below).

Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan in Fargo's Season 2 | Mike ...

I wrote at length about season 3 here, but was surprised to see that I seem to have never written about season 1. Well, I won’t begin now. Let’s just move on to two.

As per usual, what we have here is a battle between good and evil in the upper Midwest. Here, with the added attraction of evil v. evil driving a great deal of the action as well.

It’s 1979. The big picture here is that the Kansas City mafia – modern, business-oriented and efficient – wants to take over the Gerhardt family mob that runs the northern territories, rooted in their German heritage, out of the rambling family farmhouse.

Jean Smart on 'Fargo': Performance in Season 1 | TVLine

Getting things in motion, as usual, is an accident. The most hapless Gerhardt son, in order to prove himself, puts out a hit on a judge in a waffle restaurant, but on his escape, distracted by (yes) a UFO, he pauses, and in that moment, is struck by a car driven by local beautician Peggy Blumquist, played by Kirsten Dunst. Who’s married to local butcher Ed, played by Jess Plemons, which means that for most of the series, I called him “Todd.” 

The resultant mess and attempt to clean up the mess and avoid trouble gets the Blumquists deeper and deeper into trouble and, without their knowledge, also brings the Kansas City and Fargo sides closer and closer to outright war.

There are lots of fantastic lines in this season of Fargo, but the best probably go to the Blumquists who say things like:

Hon, you got to stop stabbing him.

and

It’s just a flyin’ saucer, Ed. We gotta go.

Well, I guess you had to be there, huh?

Trying to figure all of this out and somehow stay the bloodshed and dig out justice are local law enforcement, some of whom are fools, but two of whom – Lou Solverson and his father-in-law Hank (played by Ted Danson) – are rocks of integrity, humanity and courage. Lou’s wife and Hank’s daughter – Betsy, featured in the scene at the top of this post – is suffering from cancer. During most of the course of the show, she’s part of a clinical trial, taking pills which may or may not be the real thing – or may just be a placebo.

Everyone, it seems, is fighting a battle.

The primary link between seasons 1 and 2 here is, of course that Lou Solverson is the father of Molly – the good cop with sharp intelligence and sound instincts at the center of season 1.

As one expects, the Fargo world is sharply drawn, hilarious, bloody, tragic and ultimately, even in its crazy absurdity and outlandishness, about an important reality: the reality of goodness and the reality of evil.

In season 1, evil was personified in Lorne Malvo, played by Billy Bob Thornton, who may not be the devil himself, but could also be a close relation. He wreaks havoc and destruction on his own, certainly, but his diabolical nature is expressed most powerfully in his role as Tempter. He tempts every single person he encounters, and that temptation takes a particular form: the temptation to see other people as less than human – as no more than animals. Prey, if that’s what you’re into and that’s what you need them to be. Why not?

Evil here is not so individuated. It’s widespread, although it’s just as senseless. The only check against this evil is the goodness and courage of people like Lou, Betsy and Hank, who refuse to objectify human beings, who are content with the beauty and simplicity of human life on earth, instead of lusting for more just because.

Lots of folks have written about this season, but I just want to take a quick look at the setting. I think it’s very important.

The show is set in 1979, and this is about more than simply situating our season 1 characters properly. For the social, political and economic setting is mentioned constantly and is a vital part of the mix.

What’s at hand are first, the repercussions of war – mostly Vietnam, but World War II as well. Most of the male characters served in one capacity or another, and suffered because of it – although one describes a moment of grace he experienced as well. But mostly, this is a time, and these are people who are in a way shellshocked. Some have been desensitized to brutality and violence by what they experienced, others made more determined than ever to right wrongs when they encounter them.

Secondly, there’s the tail end of that Carter-era malaise and the glimmers of Reaganism – Reagan as an actor and as a candidate plays a part in the show, offering, it seems hope (
The first episode is called “Waiting for Dutch.”) – but, as it turns out – false hope.

Third – you have the bumping up of the new, late 20th century all-business ethos up against family and small town.

Fourth- and you won’t be surprised to know that this is my favorite aspect of the show’s 1979 setting – there’s the drive for self-actualization and personal growth that’s in the air, personified here in Peggy Blumquist’s quest to be someone. She lives in a sea of beauty and travel magazines. She’s committed to going to a self-help seminar with her boss. She endlessly jabbers on about being “actualized” and “realized” all the while being absolutely clueless to the reality of the situation around her. Dunst is fantastic in the role – aggravating and heartbreaking all at once.

Why Kirsten Dunst Could Be TV's New Style Icon (With images ...

I had that sweater. I HAD THAT SWEATER. 

The world, it seems, is a brutal place. Life is short and hard and random and even kind of weird (hence the UFOS). Evil is actually real. How do we respond to that? Do we give into the temptation to just try to get more of what doesn’t last anyway? Do we try to make ourselves feel more alive by dehumanizing and objectifying others? Do we deny our own suffering? How do we face the randomness and the chance? Do we pay attention, own up and try to grow – or do we deny, close our eyes and shut our ears?  Do we try to fabricate an alternative reality for ourselves, ignoring the ground under our feet at the moment?

Do we look at this strange mess and just declare it meaningless?

Or, as sick as we are, do we accept why we’ve been put on earth, hold the six-year old all the more tightly, and keep carrying her?

 

 

 

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