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Posts Tagged ‘Prayer’

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If you scroll back through earlier postings from this week, you’ll see some reading notes.

I pretty much wore myself out reading a bunch of noir novels by David Goodis, and am recovering by now reading about the move of the Portuguese royal court to Brazil in 1808.

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I had never heard of that particular historical event – not surprising since neither South American nor Portuguese history are my strong suits. But I learned about it through another great BBC radio/podcast discovery – How to Invent a Country.  

I’ve listened to the two episodes on Brazil and the first of the Hapsburgs episode. Very well done and not too anti-religious, although there’s always a bit of that if it’s from the BBC – In Our Time tends to be the most fair-minded, by far.

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This is one of those stories that came through the social media feed today, which I then tracked down and found it was originally published a couple of years ago. But hey, it’s new to me, and I thought you’d find it interesting: the churches of Antarctica. 

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Another history tidbit. Here’s a good list of books on the Crusades from different perspectives. 

 

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Speaking of history and the BBC, In Our Time‘s episode this week was about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I haven’t listened yet, but you might want to. 

— 6 —

Yesterday was the feast of St. Vincent de Paul – I have a post here on him, which is also a reflection on some contemporary trends in popular spiritual writing. Come back tomorrow for a post on the feast of the archangels with a reflection centered on the Prayer of St. Michael.

And check out Living Faith  for this past Wednesday. 

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It’s been a relatively quiet month – getting in the groove of school and music lessons – but October’s going to see a little more action. Two trips out of state, and hooray…..the my re-engagement with my absolutely FAVORITE thing…..

….the FAFSA.

(We’ve had three college acceptances so far and are waiting for one more. I have to say that I have a very clear memory of the last time I pushed “send” on the FAFSA for my daughter five years ago. It was the best feeling. )

(To follow travels and music performances, follow me on Instagram.) 

 

 

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

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It’s the second of September’s Ember Days. Go here for more information on what that means. 

Today’s the feast of St. Matthew.

A few St. Matthew links for you.

From B16,back in 2006:

On the basis of these simple observations that result from the Gospel, we can advance a pair of thoughts.

The first is that Jesus welcomes into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was regarded as a public sinner.

Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the"amy welborn"People of God, but he also collaborated with an alien and despicably greedy authority whose tributes moreover, could be arbitrarily determined.

This is why the Gospels several times link “tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 9: 10; Lk 15: 1), as well as “tax collectors and prostitutes” (Mt 21: 31).

Furthermore, they see publicans as an example of miserliness (cf. Mt 5: 46: they only like those who like them), and mention one of them, Zacchaeus, as “a chief tax collector, and rich” (Lk 19: 2), whereas popular opinion associated them with “extortioners, the unjust, adulterers” (Lk 18: 11).

A first fact strikes one based on these references: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Indeed, precisely while he is at table in the home of Matthew-Levi, in response to those who expressed shock at the fact that he associated with people who had so little to recommend them, he made the important statement: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2: 17).

The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: offering God’s grace to the sinner!

Elsewhere, with the famous words of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus actually indicates an anonymous tax collector as an appreciated example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the “tax collector… would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”.

And Jesus comments: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18: 13-14).

Thus, in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God’s mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvellous effects in their own lives.

From today’s Office of Readings:

There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Matthew’s assessment, no riches at all. Our Lord summoned Matthew by speaking to him in words. By an invisible, interior impulse flooding his mind with the light of grace, he instructed him to walk in his footsteps. In this way Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.

What strikes us about the story of Matthew is the immediacy of his response. Invited by Jesus, he simply leaves his sinful life behind. No ambiguity, no parsing of matters of subjectivity and objectivity. This perhaps is not something we are all capable of at every moment, but it is certainly a response we recognize as the ideal one, articulated by Jesus himself (Mark 10:29) and lived out by people like Matthew.

The spiritual life is a never-ending, fascinating and mysterious dynamic, it seems to me, between finding God in all things and if anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother…cannot be my disciple. 

 

 

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This, of course, is from one of his GA talks on the apostles and which were collected in book form by various publishers, including OSV. Back in the day, I wrote a study guide for these collected talks to be used either by individuals or groups in parish discussion settings. Here’s the section on Matthew. Feel free to use!

 

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Speaking of St. Matthew and speaking of parish adult religious education, maybe consider this Loyola Press Six Weeks with the Bible book on the Passion accounts in Matthew:

 

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This came across one of my social media feeds, as things do, and it was very striking and sobering: “27 Photos that prove that depression has no face or mood.”  Photographs  – random, candid photos – of people smiling and having a great time, people who just a day or two after the photo was taken, committed suicide. 

Well worth pondering and prayer, and a reminder to be aware, be kind, be open and never assume. Anything.

 

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Something surprising and sad: one of the earlier Catholic bloggers, Zippy Catholic, died this week in a bike accident. 

 

 

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Here’s something: a secret Reformation-era chapel in Amsterdam: 

One of the oldest continuously operating churches in the Netherlands is hidden away in an attic not far from Amsterdam’s infamous red-light district.

The story of how the chapel came to be starts with Jan Hartman, a German Catholic living in Amsterdam during the Reformation.

During the 17th century, Hartman, like all Catholics, was prevented from exercising his faith in public following the rebellion of the majority-Protestant Low Countries, encompassing parts of modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands, against the Catholic king Philip II of Spain. This led to hostility towards Catholics in the Dutch capital. All Catholic churches were turned into Protestant ones, and many Catholics fled the city to pursue their religious freedom.

But instead of fleeing, Hartman came up with an innovative solution to continue practicing his faith. He brought the two properties on each side of his own home and turned the attic in one of them, at Number 40, Oudezijds Voorburgwal, right near the infamous red light district, into a secret Catholic church. Fellow Catholics could access the “schuilkerk” (literally “clandestine church”) through a spiral staircase hidden behind a fake door in the living room. They would often resort to code language to share news about Mass and other services. F or instance saying “I am going to the parrot” was a way to say that Mass was going to be celebrated.

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Finally, here’s a story about spiderwebs enveloping a Greek town, notable, not only for the very fact of it, but for this quote, which I would like to frame:

“The spiders will have their party and will soon die.”

I mean….is there a more succinct summary of life on earth?

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

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Guys, this is random. I have been doing a lot of staring at pieces of paper this week and attempting to get my head into a particular mode. I’m almost there.

So: linkish takes. That’s it. In the mess, I’m sure you’ll find something to interest you.

From William Newton – about a…performance artist…at…Lourdes:

When these sorts of stories come up in art news, as they occasionally do, it’s very easy to become angry. Leftists behave like this because they know that it’s a cheap and easy way to offend a significant number of people, and get press attention for themselves. However with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes the knowledge that Ms. de Robertis is quite powerless, having no idea what she has just unleashed in her life.

In her prior performances, Ms. de Robertis targeted the world of fine arts, such as the leadership of prestigious museums like the Louvre and the Orsay. But now, she has targeted the Virgin Mary before pilgrims to Lourdes. These pilgrims are devout Catholics, suffering from painful disabilities or chronic, often incurable or fatal illnesses, who are accompanied by family, friends, and volunteers, all of whom have gathered together to pray together for God’s Grace through the intercession of Jesus’ Blessed Mother. These are not people to be trifled with.

I can guarantee you that somewhere in Lourdes, right at this very moment, there is a group of pious Catholic grandmothers and nuns who are praying to the Virgin Mary to intercede with her Divine Son for Ms. de Robertis’ conversion and redemption. Such a conversion will be far more effective, and of far greater worth to the artist, than any public attempt to criminalize her bad behavior. If she had just left the ladies of Lourdes alone, she could have continued in her rather bestial way of life, but now she is going to be made into a special intention for the prayers of others, and particularly that of the Mother whom she rather foolishly chose to insult.

Sorry, Ms. de Robertis, but you’ve finally met your match.

 

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Charles Collins on the 1908 Eucharistic Congress in England:

Despite the cardinal’s assurance, anti-Catholic sentiment was still common in early 20th century England, and the proposed Eucharistic procession was opposed by many Protestant groups.

Schofield told Crux the radical Protestant Alliance claimed that the procession breached the Catholic Emancipation Act (1829), which prohibited Catholic priests ‘to exercise any of the rites or ceremonies of the Roman Catholic religion, or wear the habits of his Order, save within the usual places of worship, or in private houses.’

The archivist pointed out this “might have been true on paper” but the law wasn’t really enforced, and several churches held public processions every year in England for Corpus Christi.

However, the prospect of a procession even worried some establishment figures.

“It is impossible to deny, however, that this assemblage of princes of the Church and of lesser members of the Roman hierarchy from all parts of the world wears the appearance of a demonstration, and almost of a challenge, which excites apprehension in respectable quarters, and has given rise to regrettable effusions of bigotry in others. An unfounded idea has been disseminated that the Congress is a move in the campaign for the restoration of the temporal power of the Papacy, and for the re-establishment of direct diplomatic relations with the Vatican,” said the September 12, 1908, edition of The Spectator, a London-based weekly.

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On Dr. Beau Braden’s attempts to open a small rural Florida hospital – and the forces arrayed against it. 

A few doctors have offices in town, but patients say their hours are unpredictable. One afternoon, an older man who had been waiting outside a locked doctor’s office slid off his walker and curled up on the shaded pavement under an awning. He just needed to rest, he said.

“There’s huge need,” said Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, the area’s Republican congressman.

Dr. Braden, 40, said he realized this soon after he and his wife moved in 2014 to Ave Maria, where they are raising five children. He specializes in emergency medicine and frequently flies himself from Immokalee’s tiny airfield to pull overnight shifts at nearby hospitals.

When he started pulling together the hospital application to the state, letters of support flowed in from the fire department, county commissioners, local businesses, developers and nonprofit health providers.

The hospital would be built on the edge of Ave Maria, about seven miles south of Immokalee, on land now owned by a development company that supported the proposal. But the hospital still exists only in blueprints and paperwork.

After years of work and spending about $400,000 from a family trust on lawyers, consultants and state filing fees, Dr. Braden submitted a 2,000-page application to Florida’s health care regulators this spring, seeking a critical state approval called a certificate of need.

Update: When I read this story, I immediately spotted what seemed like what Terry Mattingly calls a religion “ghost.”  I passed it along to him, and he writes about it in the Get Religion blog today:

If you have followed GetReligion for a decade or so, you know that one of our goals is to spot “religion ghosts” in mainstream news coverage.

What’s a “ghost”? Click here for our opening post long ago, which explains the concept. The short version: We say a story is “haunted” when there is a religious fact or subject missing, creating a religion-shaped hole that makes it hard for readers to understand what is going on….

….

So we have a young doctor – with five kids – who is making a high-stakes, risky effort to start a small hospital that will provide care for an area with lots of low-income people and a controversial Catholic community.

What do we know about this man’s background? Might there be a hint there about his motives? Well, a quick glance at his online biography shows that he is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California – a small, very doctrinally conservative Catholic liberal arts college in California.

So we have a rather young, clearly idealistic Catholic doctor who moves, with his semi-large family, to the Ave Maria area to start a clinic to serve the poor and others near a controversial Catholic town.

Might religion have something to do with this story?

 

 

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Hilary Yancey on her son’s prenatal diagnoses, suffering, and God:

I prayed in that room while lying in an anxious horizontal position. God spoke one thing back, something I proclaimed for a week or two, until the diagnosis, until the end and the beginning: “She can never tell you something about this person I do not already know.”

When we think about God’s foreknowledge, we are tempted to run so far out, foreknowledge trailing behind us like a kite. We cannot do, say, think, be anything but what God has already seen, already ordained, already determined. We think in terms of past and present and future, and God contains them all in his knowledge, a bucket of truths about us. We think, “God already knows,” and we often translate this as “God already made it to be the case that …” or “God already did.” At least we think, It can’t be anything except this.

But I think God’s foreknowledge might be better understood as an action. God foreknows because he is in all the places where we will go, because he stands next to us and near us before and after we get there. He hovers over and in and through time, and here the descriptions feel thin, unable to pin down the truth. God stands where we will stand. God moves where we will move. God sees what we do not yet but will someday see.

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And now…the Tyburn Monks:

The priests met Mother Marilla and her assistants in Rome that year, certain of their vocation as Tyburn Monks. But the nuns were hesitant, having no idea about how to establish a male order. In Colombia, the priests would also soon experience opposition from their bishop, who was reluctant to lose two of his finest men.

Negotiations continued tentatively for nearly four years until the archivist at Tyburn Convent discovered among the possessions of a recently deceased Sister a document from 1903 which changed everything. It was entitled “The Monk of the Sacred Heart” and was written by Marie Adèle Garnier. Over 33 pages it set out in detail her vision for the Tyburn Monks, even down to the colours of their habits and scapulars.

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A French illustrator obsessed with Byzantium:

Helbert, who only made his first visit to Istanbul at the age of 35, has put in that amount of imaginative work and much more besides. “Since then,” writes Risson, Helbert “has taken great care to resurrect the city of the emperors, with great attention to details and to the sources available. What he can’t find, he invents, but always with a great care for the historical accuracy.” Indeed, many of Helbert’s illustrations don’t, at first glance, look like illustrations at all, but more like what you’d come up with if you traveled back to the Constantinople of fifteen or so centuries ago with a camera. “The project has no lucrative goal,” Risson notes. “It’s a passion. A byzantine passion!”

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Don’t forget – The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols.

 

NOTE: If you really want a copy soon – I have them for sale at my online bookstore (price includes shipping)  Email me at amywelborn60 AT gmail if you have a question or want to work out a deal of some sort. I have many copies of this, the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, the Prove It Bible and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days on hand at the moment.

Also – my son has been releasing collections of short stories over the summer. He’s currently prepping his first (published) novel, The Battle of Lake Erie: One Young American’s Adventure in the War of 1812.  Check it out!

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

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Only one substantive thing today, related to reading. Not surprisingly, this took me down a rabbit trail that ended up being quite absorbing and, in several strange turns, pertinent to the present day.

But first: Writing: Still working on an essay, which I hope to finish today, then on to the talk for Saturday. From the past – since it’s the feast of the Queenship of Mary – don’t forget that you can get my e-book Mary and the Christian Life – for .99 here. 

Reading: The only pieces of substance that I read were journal articles –  two available through “open access” at the Journal of Ecclesiastical History: “The ‘Affair of the Photographs:’ Controlling the Image of a Nineteenth-Century Stigmatic.” The abstract:

The article focuses on an episode concerning the photographs of the famous Belgian Louise_Lateaustigmatic, Louise Lateau. Examining the events leading up to the bishop’s decision to restrict the circulation of her portrait, it becomes clear that the ‘affair’ of 1877 was as much about creating her public saintly image as it was about controlling it. Studying the ecclesiastical response to grassroots initiatives adds a more religious perspective to the young field of celebrity studies and offers a more complex view on sanctity, and the role of the media and modern techniques in its creation, use and misuse.

.

This, somehow, lead me to another journal article (also with open access) on a very specific topic – as journal articles tend to be – on the use of houses and memorabilia collections in canonization campaigns: 

In this article, I argue that the houses and memorabilia collections associated with venerated personages played an important role in campaigns to elevate popular, unofficial, saintly figures to the level of the blessed or even canonised saints. Two practices converged in these campaigns: the Catholic tradition of sacralising specific sites and endowing material remnants with special meaning, and the ‘museumification’ of memorial houses and collections. The focus here is on the use of material culture in the beatification campaigns for modern stigmatics (who carried the wounds of Christ). Of the hundreds of cases that were reported, only a few were beatified and canonised. The article concentrates primarily on one success story: the evolution of the German stigmatic Anne Catherine Emmerick (1774–1824) from a ‘living saint’ to her being officially blessed (2004) and the role that her houses and possessions played in the promotion of her cult following and image construction.

Whether you are interested in these particular areas or not, hopefully, even scanning these abstracts might remind you of something important: Our sense of the past (and present, for that matter) tends to be flattened into a series of inevitable narratives that fit neatly into whatever our contemporary ideological narrative is – that is just not the way it was or is. Digging into particular elements of history even from weirdly specific angles (like museum studies) sheds light on the past – and present – in valuable ways. In other words: things just don’t happen. People make them happen. 

By the way, a side road unrelated to canonization that popped out of these articles was the very bizarre case of the Bishop of Tournai, one Edmond Dumont. Bear with me and read along. You won’t regret it.

This is a translated version of the French Wiki page. Born in 1828, apparently brilliant, studied in Rome, ordained, and the volunteered for North American missions (inspired by DeSmet)  where he served in Michigan for six years before returning to Belgium because of health issues. Appointed to the see of Tournai, he was a vocal supporter of the papacy and of a more “conservative” angle to Catholicism among more “liberal” voices in the Belgian church. (And a supporter of stigmatist Louise Lateau.)

He generated hostility among his clergy, and an apostolic administrator was appointed by Rome. At this point, he became even more vocal, and, in the words of this biography of Leo XIII: “…influenced by the enemies of religion, with his mental troubles growing worse, he began to protest, ever more and more violently, by word of mouth, and in the Press, against the Papal decree. Having become a rock of scandal, acting in concert with writers most hostile to the Catholic Church, he almost daily poured out insult and outrage through the newspapers, exciting the faithful to the same insolence, insulting men clad in the highest dignities of the Church….”

The pope convened a commission to study the situation, and the recommendation was to depose Dumont – so he was. Deposed of any episcopal jurisdiction and stripped of his title.

But wait!

There’s more!

From something called Appleton’s  – a very detailed annual almanac of world events (here, 1883), we learn the following:

In Belgium, there was property associated with clerical offices, property which was passed on to successors. After Dumont’s power was diminished by the appointment of an apostolic administrator (but before he was deposed), the diocesan administrator decided it would be wise to protect that property, so he put them under the charge of one Canon Bernard.

“Although Tournai is the smallest and poorest of the six Belgian sees, yet the portable funds in the treasury amounted to more than 5 million francs. Canon Bernard, after that-escalated-quicklyfirst consulting [a member of the Belgian cabinet] ran away with the securities and accounts to America and deposited most of them in safety-vaults in New York and Boston. About 1,700,000 francs of the private funds of Monseigneur  Dumont were sent back to Belgium in charge of a Montreal attorney, named Goodhue, who was arrested on his arrival. The Belgian government applied for his [I think “he” here is Bernard] extradition and he was arrested at Havana and sent back to Belgium on charges of embezzlement.”

Bernard was tried and acquitted since his actions were under obedience to church authorities.

More detail here. 

Crazy. 

(I will say that there are a lot of pieces missing to the English-speaker here. Perhaps somewhere in Belgium archives there is a complete telling of this story, but there are so many gaps and questions – how did this ultramontane bishop turn into a rabble-rouser against papal authority? Was he really mentally unstable, or was that a story told by his opponents?)

Now, let’s look at that rabbit trail.

Regular readers are probably tired of me advocating for reading history as a remedy for despair in the present – but do you see why? Saying that corruption and sin have always been a part of Church life is not in any way a diminishing of current troubles, scandals and sins. But it does, I hope, moderate our temptation to despair and – this is important – see how the Church has dealt with corruption in the past – which it has, in varied ways, in varied circumstances, with varied results, including  – yes – removing and deposing bishops.

 

 

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Perhaps you recall this year’s Baby Robin drama…

It began when I noticed a nest being constructed between a downspout and an eave.

 

Soon, the robins had laid their eggs, and just a couple of weeks ago,  they hatched.

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We watched them the best we could – we of course didn’t want to disturb them, but even if we did, the parents were vigilant guards, perching on nearby branches and wires whenever we came near, squawking repeatedly and even swooping down towards us if it all became too much.

A week and a half ago, we checked on the babies on Sunday evening, and saw their little heads.

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Monday morning:

Carnage:

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What made it even sadder was that the parents were still around, perched, chirping, squawking and swooping. You have to wonder – what did they “think” – if anything?

I thought that was the end of it. I left the nest on the ground for the moment, intending to take it up later. Before I could do anything with it, the yard guys came and just put it back up atop the downspout.

Nice, I thought. But why?

The next day, I noticed that the parents were flying around with grass in their beaks – they were rebuilding the nest.

And now, a few days later – look at that.

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They’re trying again. I had no idea that would happen.We will probably be in Japan  by the time they hatch – but depending on when that is (they say 12-14 days) – we might be back for part of the infancy, although my daughter will certainly be here and can keep us posted.

I just hope the hawk has moved on to other parts of the neighborhood….

(Six years ago, in our previous house, we had a fantastic view of the entire process, as robins built a nest on a window ledge. Here’s a post summarizing what we were privileged to witness.)

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The shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is in the outskirts of Mexico City. I suppose it is a suburb? I don’t know. Rather than even attempt public transportation, we went the Uber route, getting up and out earlier than usual  – 9:30 – which meant we arrived at the Basilica a bit after 10.

I admit I was startled. We’re riding through this typical busy Mexican business area, the driver stops, I look to the left, and there’s the basilica right across the road!

I was startled a second time, when we actually went in. The basilica complex is, indeed, in the middle of the town, but large, with many different areas and buildings, including Tepayac hill where Our Lady appeared. All I knew about it ahead of time was: the new basilica has a negative reputation because it’s modern and secondly, you view the tilma via a moving walkway. I had envisioned that this moving walkway was in the midst of a vast space and that there was some buildup to the approach. Well, not the way we got in!

The driver dropped us off across from a bottom entrance to the basilica. We walked in, followed the crowd, and boom there we were on this maybe 30-foot moving walkway and, well, look up right now because there she is!

What I didn’t understand, but do now, is that the tilma is, of course, actually hanging in the church, so that you can see it while you are within that space, and also from underneath, where the moving walkway runs.

(If you want to see video, go to Instagram.)

You are also free to go back and forth on the moving walkway as much as you want. There’s no guard forcing crowd movement. It wasn’t super mobbed today, so we felt very comfortable going back on a the walkway a couple of times before we ascended to the church.

Where there was Mass going on. It was offertory – Mass with about 15 concelebrants a deacon, a slew of servers and a male choir (boys and men). The sign outside that I later read indicated this was the Chrism Mass – but is this a diocesan Cathedral, too? It isn’t, is it? Can non-Cathedrals do a Chrism Mass? Anyway, we got there too late to see any Chrism-related activity anyway. The core of the Mass congregation filled maybe half the church, with the rest of the space filled with people drifting in and out.

After Mass, we toured the site. Some notes:

The old basilica has been damaged in earthquakes, and you can really tell. The whole place is crooked – I tried to capture it in photos, but I am not sure if I was successful –  from the floor to the columns to the baldacchino. It’s a very strange feeling walking around. I can’t see how one more Big One isn’t going to do the place in.

 

I didn’t hate the new church. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, and I’ll just go ahead and say that I didn’t think it was bad at all. I think what it is that the ceiling swoops so low (it’s supposed to evoke Mary’s mantle taking everyone into her care) that it obscures the lack of wall décor – you really don’t notice it, partly because of that low beamed ceiling and partly because most of your attention is on the tilma.

The place was fairly busy, but not crowded. The feeling was relaxed, grateful reverence. I saw one woman approaching the tilma on her knees. Priests were hearing confessions in the church after Mass, and there were long lines.

There are a lot of vendors on site – I was a little surprised that they sold refreshments on top of the hill around the chapels are out there, but, why not?

Third favorite personage after the Blessed Mother and St. Juan Diego? St. Pope John Paul, hands down. He was everywhere.

I’m very glad we went – one more layer added to This is Mexico.

 

Before we leave the shrine – take a look at these ex votos.  I have seen all different sorts of ex votos left in churches around the world: imitation body parts, crutches, plaques, blue and pink ribbons (in gratitude for babies), photographs – but never anything like this: small paintings relating the specific story of the answered prayer. They are fascinating and lovely. They help make it all very real.

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Our Uber driver back into the city spoke more English than any we’ve had before, so we had a chance to talk – an interesting story of a graduate student looking to emigrate to Canada in order to teach.

I had him drop him off at the Zocalo, where we ate a quick lunch at a Mexican fast food place, then wandered a bit back and forth until we ended up, first at the Cathedral – where we heard some choir and organ practice, but didn’t have a chance to see much more – it was closed off for Triduum preparations. A disappointment but one I probably should have expected. Back outside.

When you’re in this area, one of the things that is impossible to avoid is a constantly beating drum – it’s “Aztec” dancers right outside the Cathedral. I think they are there all the time, drumming, burning herbs and dancing. I didn’t hang around and watch because I think they’re annoying, and I don’t know the motivation for them being there – is it just because it’s a convenient place to snag a lot of tourist attention? Is it a protest against Christianity? Is it more than a protest? I don’t know. It may be nothing but opportunism, but it’s still aggravating. So we moved on to the very interesting site right next to the Cathedral – the Templo Mayor. You can read more about it here, but the short story is that it’s a fairly recently (1970’s – on) excavated site of a major Aztec (Mexica) temple. There’s a large outdoor section that shows the various stages of construction and a few artifacts and elements they have left in situ, and a museum – larger than I’d expected – that exhibited many more artifacts, including the huge stones depicting various gods that have been found.

Layers upon layers, both in the landscape and in the culture.

 

My next goal was to see the Diego Rivera murals in the National Palace, but alas, it was not to be. The place was closed up, tight as a drum, which I should have expected – late in the afternoon on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Closed, probably for the rest of the week. Oh well….next time.

A bit more wandering (one stop for a fresh pineapple drink), then caught an Uber back to the apartment. A few doors down from the apartment, a small crowd was gathered outside an office building and a mariachi band was playing. A man explained to us that a woman was retiring – it was her last day in the office – and this was her sendoff.

Time for some rest, and then dinner at a place I’d seen a day ago and pegged as a good spot for us – large busy, with roast chicken and other meats in evidence, as well as tortillas being made. It was good, although I’m still stumped by about 50% of the menu – my percentages are going down, so that’s progress. I had a fantastic Caldo de Gallina (basically…soup) with chicken. J had something that was not called flautas, but ended up being basically flautas, and M had a big plate of steak, cheese, peppers and onions all cooked together – sort of fajita-like, except, as I said, cooked together. There was a lot, so I helped. It was very tasty.

The atmosphere in the restaurant was fun to experience: all locals, every table, it seems, marked by large bottles of Victoria beer – nothing else was being consumed except liter after liter of Victoria beer. The jukebox was going and tables of women were singing along. A cat wandered through. Price? A little more than usual because I had a beer (not a liter of Victoria – a small bottle of Negra Modela. I think the tab was 268 pesos: about $15 for the three of us.

Tomorrow: a bit more Mexico City and then…the bus to Puebla.

As usual – head to Instagram for videos. I also have a real camera with me and am taking actual photographs with it, but I also left the doohicky that I need to transfer the photos from a SD card to the computer at home. 

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We have several of his Lenten homilies – I can’t find them all in English translation online, but what is there…is linked here. I think 49 is my favorite.

Reading these excerpts – or better, the entire homilies (it won’t take long – good Lent prep!) I’m struck, once again, by the continuity of human experience and, consequently, the continuity of the Catholic spiritual tradition which reflects that experience in dialogue with God and what God has revealed. “… for it is equally unhealthy to languish under empty delights, or to labour under racking anxiety.”

No less true today than it was 1600 years ago…

Sermon 39:

Relying, therefore, dearly-beloved, on these arms, let us enter actively and fearlessly on the contest set before us:  so that in this fasting struggle we may not rest satisfied with only this end, that we should think abstinence from food alone desirable.  For it is not enough that the substance of our flesh should be reduced, if the strength of the soul be not also developed.  When the outer man is somewhat subdued, let the inner man be somewhat refreshed; and when bodily excess is denied to our flesh, let our mind be invigorated by spiritual delights.  Let every Christian scrutinise himself, and search severely into his inmost heart:  let him see that no discord cling there, no wrong desire be harboured.  Let chasteness drive incontinence far away; let the light of truth dispel the shades of deception; let the swellings of pride subside; let wrath yield to reason; let the darts of ill-treatment be shattered, and the chidings of the tongue be bridled; let thoughts of revenge fall through, and injuries be given over to oblivion. 

40

Let works of piety, therefore, be our delight, and let us be filled with those kinds of food which feed us for eternity.  Let us rejoice in the replenishment of the poor, whom our bounty has satisfied.  Let us delight in the clothing of those whose nakedness we have covered with needful raiment.  Let our humaneness be felt by the sick in their illnesses, by the weakly in their infirmities, by the exiles in their hardships, by the orphans in their destitution, and by solitary widows in their sadness:  in the helping of whom there is no one that cannot carry out some amount of benevolence.  For no one’s income is small, whose heart is big:  and the measure of one’s mercy and goodness does not depend on the size of one’s means.  Wealth of goodwill is never rightly lacking, even in a slender purse.  Doubtless the expenditure of the rich is greater, and that of the poor smaller, but there is no difference in the fruit of their works, where the purpose of the workers is the same.

42

Being therefore, dearly-beloved, fully instructed by these admonitions of ours, which we have often repeated in your ears in protest against abominable error, enter upon the holy days of Lent with Godly devoutness, and prepare yourselves to win God’s mercy by your own works of Leo the Greatmercy.  Quench your anger, wipe out enmities, cherish unity, and vie with one another in the offices of true humility.  Rule your slaves and those who are put under you with fairness, let none of them be tortured by imprisonment or chains.  Forego vengeance, forgive offences:  exchange severity for gentleness, indignation for meekness, discord for peace.  Let all men find us self-restrained, peaceable, kind:  that our fastings may be acceptable to God.  For in a word to Him we offer the sacrifice of true abstinence and true Godliness, when we keep ourselves from all evil:  the Almighty God helping us through all, to Whom with the Son and Holy Spirit belongs one Godhead and one Majesty, for ever and ever.  Amen.

46

We know indeed, dearly-beloved, your devotion to be so warm that in the fasting, which is the forerunner of the Lord’s Easter, many of you will have forestalled our exhortations.  But because the right practice of abstinence is needful not only to the mortification of the flesh but also to the purification of the mind, we desire your observance to be so complete that, as you cut down the pleasures that belong to the lusts of the flesh, so you should banish the errors that proceed from the imaginations of the heart.  For he whose heart is polluted with no misbelief prepares himself with true and reasonable purification for the Paschal Feast, in which all the mysteries of our religion meet together.  For, as the Apostle says, that “all that is not of faith is sin933,” the fasting of those will be unprofitable and vain, whom the father of lying deceives with his delusions, and who are not fed by Christ’s true flesh.  As then we must with the whole heart obey the Divine commands and sound doctrine, so we must use all foresight in abstaining from wicked imaginations.  For the mind then only keeps holy and spiritual fast when it rejects the food of error and the poison of falsehood, which our crafty and wily foe plies us with more treacherously now, when by the very return of the venerable Festival, the whole church generally is admonished to understand the mysteries of its salvation. …

Relying, therefore, dearly-beloved, on so great a promise, be heavenly not only in hope, but also in conduct.  And though our minds must at all times be set on holiness of mind and body, yet now during these 40 days of fasting bestir yourselves938 to yet more active works of piety, not only in the distribution of alms, which are very effectual in attesting reform, but also in forgiving offences, and in being merciful to those accused of wrongdoing, that the condition which God has laid down between Himself and us may not be against us when we pray.  For when we say, in accordance with the Lord’s teaching, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors,” we ought with the whole heart to carry out what we say.  For then only will what we ask in the next clause come to pass, that we be not led into temptation and freed from all evils:  through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.

49

For as the Easter festival approaches, the greatest and most binding of fasts is kept, and its observance is imposed on all the faithful without exception; because no one is so holy that he ought not to be holier, nor so devout that he might not be devouter.  For who, that is set in the uncertainty of this life, can be found either exempt from temptation, or free from fault?  Who is there who would not wish for additions to his virtue, or removal of his vice? seeing that adversity does us harm, and prosperity spoils us, and it is equally dangerous not to have what we want at all, and to have it in the fullest measure.  There is a trap in the fulness of riches, a trap in the straits of poverty.  The one lifts us up in pride, the other incites us to complaint.  Health tries us, sickness tries us, so long as the one fosters carelessness and the other sadness.  There is a snare in security, a snare in fear; and it matters not whether the mind which is given over to earthly thoughts, is taken up with pleasures or with cares; for it is equally unhealthy to languish under empty delights, or to labour under racking anxiety.

And so, that the malice of the fretting foe may effect nothing by its rage, a keener devotion must be awaked to the performance of the Divine commands, in order that we may enter on the season, when all the mysteries of the Divine mercy meet together, with preparedness both of mind and body, invoking the guidance and help of God, that we may be strong to fulfil all things through Him, without Whom we can do nothing.  For the injunction is laid on us, in order that we may seek the aid of Him Who lays it.  Nor must any one excuse himself by reason of his weakness, since He Who has granted the will, also gives the power, as the blessed Apostle James says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, Who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him949.”  Which of the faithful does not know what virtues he ought to cultivate, and what vices to fight against?  Who is so partial or so unskilled a judge of his own conscience as not to know what ought to be removed, and what ought to be developed?  Surely no one is so devoid of reason as not to understand the character of his mode of life, or not to know the secrets of his heart.  Let him not then please himself in everything, nor judge himself according to the delights of the flesh, but place his every habit in the scale of the Divine commands, where, some things being ordered to be done and others forbidden, he can examine himself in a true balance by weighing the actions of his life according to this standard.  For the designing mercy of God950 has set up the brightest mirror in His commandments, wherein a man may see his mind’s face and realize its conformity or dissimilarity to God’s image:  with the specific purpose that, at least, during the days of our Redemption and Restoration, we may throw off awhile our carnal cares and restless occupations, and betake ourselves from earthly matters to heavenly.

V.  Forgiveness of our own sins requires that we should forgive others.

But because, as it is written, “in many things we all stumble,” let the feeling of mercy be first aroused and the faults of others against us be forgotten; that we may not violate by any love of revenge that most holy compact, to which we bind ourselves in the Lord’s prayer, and when we say “forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors,” let us not be hard in forgiving, because we must be possessed either with the desire for revenge, or with the leniency of gentleness, and for man, who is ever exposed to the dangers of temptations, it is more to be desired that his own faults should not need punishment than that he should get the faults of others punished.  And what is more suitable to the Christian faith than that not only in the Church, but also in all men’s homes, there should be forgiveness of sins?  Let threats be laid aside; let bonds be loosed, for he who will not loose them will bind himself with them much more disastrously.  For whatsoever one man resolves upon against another, he decrees against himself by his own terms.  Whereas “blessed are the merciful, for God shall have mercy on them:”  and He is just and kind in His judgments, allowing some to be in the power of others to this end, that under fair government may be preserved both the profitableness of discipline and the kindliness of clemency, and that no one should dare to refuse that pardon to another’s shortcomings, which he wishes to receive for his own.

VI.  Reconciliation between enemies and alms-giving are also Lenten duties.

Furthermore, as the Lord says, that “the peacemakers are blessed, because they shall be called sons of God,” let all discords and enmities be laid aside, and let no one think to have a share in the Paschal feast that has neglected to restore brotherly peace.  For with the Father on high, he that is not in charity with the brethren, will not be reckoned in the number of His sons.  Furthermore, in the distribution of alms and care of the poor, let our Christian fast-times be fat and abound; and let each bestow on the weak and destitute those dainties which he denies himself.  Let pains be taken that all may bless God with one mouth, and let him that gives some portion of substance understand that he is a minister of the Divine mercy; for God has placed the cause of the poor in the hand of the liberal man; that the sins which are washed away either by the waters of baptism, or the tears of repentance, may be also blotted out by alms-giving; for the Scripture says, “As water extinguisheth fire, so alms extinguisheth sin.”  

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"amy welborn"

(As with all the graphics I create – although not with my personal photos! – feel free to copy, share and use as you wish.)

A few of St. Augustine’s sermons on Lent have come down to us. This is a translation published in 1959 – you want sermons 205-211, that start on p. 185.  I am not sure of the dating or specific context – they seem to have been preached in different years, since the themes carry over from sermon to sermon – such as the repeated reminder that if you abstain from some food or drink, it then makes no sense to replace what you have sacrifice with something that either is more costly or affords you as much or greater pleasure.

I appreciated this, from Sermon 207. Forgive the formatting – go the original for a better view, in the format of your choice!

By the help of the merciful Lord our God, the temptations of the world, the snares of the Devil, the suffering of the world, the enticement of the flesh, the surging waves of troubled times, and all corporal and spiritual adversities are to be overcome by almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.

These practices ought to glow throughout the entire life of a Christian, but especially as the Paschal solemnity approaches which stirs up our minds by its yearly return, renewing in them the salutary memory that our Lord, the only-begotten Son of God, showed mercy to us and fasted and prayed for us. As a matter of fact, eleemosyna in Greek signifies mercy in Latin. Moreover, what mercy could be greater, so far as we poor wretches are concerned, than that which drew the Creator of the heavens down from heaven, clothed the Maker of the earth with earthly vesture, made Him, who in eternity remains equal to His Father, equal to us in mortality, and imposed on the Lord of the universe the form of a servant, so that He, our Bread, might hunger; that He, our Fulfillment, might thirst; that He, our Strength, might be weakened; that He, our Health, might be injured; that He, our Life, might die? And all this [He did] to satisfy our hunger, to moisten our dryness, to soothe our infirmity, to wipe out our iniquity, to enkindle our charity. What greater mercy could there be than that the Creator be created, the Ruler be served, the Redeemer be sold, the Exalted be humbled and the Reviver be killed?

In regard to almsgiving, we are commanded to give bread to the hungry,  but He first gave Himself over to cruel enemies for us so that He might give Himself as food to us when we were hungry. We are commanded to receive the stranger; for our sake He ‘came unto his own and his own received him not.’  In a word, let our soul bless Him who becomes a propitiation for all its iniquities, who heals all its diseases, who redeems its life from corruption, who crowns it in mercy and pity, who satisfies its desires in blessings.  Let us give alms the more generously and the more frequently in proportion as the day draws nearer on which the supreme almsgiving accomplished for us is celebrated. Fasting without mercy is worthless to him who fasts.

 Let us fast, humbling our souls as the day draws near on which the Teacher of humility humbled Himself becoming obedient even to death on a cross.  Let us imitate
His cross, fastening to it our passions subdued by the nails of abstinence. Let us chastise our body, subjecting it to obedience, and, lest we slip into illicit pleasures through
our undisciplined flesh, let us in taming it sometimes withdraw licit pleasures. Self-indulgence and drunkenness ought to be shunned on other days; throughout this season, however, even legitimate eating is to be checked. Adultery and fornication must always be abhorred and avoided, but on these days special restraint must be practised even by mar-
ried persons. The flesh, which has been accustomed to restraint in regard to its own satisfaction, will readily submit to you when there is question of clinging to another’s goods. 

Of course, care must be taken to avoid merely changing instead of lessening pleasures. For you may observe that certain persons seek out rare liquors in place of their ordinary wine; that they, with much greater relish, counterbalance by the juice of other fruits what they lose by denying themselves the juice of grapes; that, in place of meat, they procure food of manifold variety and appeal; that they store up,
as opportune for this season, delights which they would be ashamed to indulge in at other times. In this way, the observance of Lent becomes, not the curbing of old passions, but an opportunity for new pleasures. Take measures in advance, my brethren, with as much diligence as possible, to prevent these attitudes from creeping upon you. Let frugality be joined to fasting. As surfeiting the stomach is to be censured, so stimulants of the appetite must be eliminated. It is not that certain kinds of food are to be detested, but that bodily pleasure is to be checked. Esau was censured, not for having desired a fat calf or plump birds, but for having coveted a dish of pottage. 5 And holy King David repented of having excessively desired water. 6 Hence, not by delicacies obtained with much labor and at great expense, but by the cheaper food found within reach, is the body to be refreshed, or, rather, sustained in its fasting.

 

So, no, the parish Lenten All-You-Can-Eat Fish Fry would probably not fly with St. Augustine. Or any other the saints, I’m guessing.

For you see, traditionally, Catholic spirituality emphasizes frugality, simplicity and an appropriate level of asceticism, for all, not just religious. This was undoubtedly a more organically experienced reality in times in which most people lived in survival mode most of the time anyway. Our more generally prosperous times have undercut this sensibility, narrowed it and domesticated it, so that any call to bodily mortification and sacrifice is presented as a possibly helpful lifestyle choice rather than what all Christians should be striving for, since all Christians (as Augustine notes) live in imitation of Christ and his sacrifice and humility.

It is also a fundamental orientation that lived alongside the Catholic embrace of the Incarnation and God’s goodness as experienced through creation: that is the Feast, alongside the Fast. They coexist, sometimes uneasily and in tension, questioning and challenging each other in spiritual writings, traditions, liturgy, church law and the lives of ordinary Christians. They do so vividly this week, as Carnivale tumbles into Ash Wednesday.

Together we feast, together we fast, on our way, letting Jesus teach us what it is we are really hungry for.

 

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"amy welborn"

 

(Also a repeat from last year – but it bears repeating…)

Preparing for the Lenten fast? I last posted some thoughts contrasting contemporary paradigms for fasting and the deeper Catholic tradition. No deep thoughts from me today, but just pointing you to St. Robert Bellarmine and his book The Art of Dying Well.  (Which, of course, is really about the art of living well.) It’s available free online here. 

The fruit and advantages of fasting can easily be proved. And first; fasting is most useful in preparing the soul for prayer, and the contemplation of divine things, as the angel Raphael saith: “Prayer is good with fasting.” Thus Moses for forty days prepared his soul by fasting, before he presumed to speak with God: so Elias fasted forty days, that thus he might be able, as far as human nature would permit, to hold converse with God: so Daniel, by a fast of three weeks, was prepared for receiving the revelations of God: so the Church has appointed “fasts” on the vigil of great festivals, that Christians might be more fit for celebrating the divine solemnities. The holy fathers also everywhere speak of the utility of fasting. (See St. Athanasius, Lib. de Virginitate St. Basil, de Jejunio. St. Ambrose, de Elia et Jejunio. St. Bernard, in sermone de Vigilia Santi Andræ., &c.) I cannot forbear quoting the words of St. Chrysostom (Homily in Genesis): “Fasting is the support of our soul: it gives us wings to ascend on high, and to enjoy the highest contemplation.!

 

Another advantage of fasting is, that it tames the flesh; and such a fast must be particularly pleasing to God, because He is pleased when we crucify the flesh with its vices and concupiscences, as St. Paul teaches us in his Epistle to the Galatians; and for this reason he says himself: “But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.” (1 to Cor. ix. 27.) St. Chrysostom expounds these words of fasting; and so also do Theophylact and St. Ambrose. And of the advantages of it in this respect, St. Cyprian, St. Basil, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine, and in the office for Prime the whole Church sings, “Carnis terat superbiam potûs cibique Parcitas.” (Moderation in food and drink, tames the pride of the flesh.)

 

Another advantage is, that we honour God by our fasts, because when we fast for His sake, we honour Him: thus the apostle Paul speaks in his Epistle to the Romans: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service”(chap, xii.) In the Greek, “reasonable service,” is, reasonable worship: and of this worship St. Luke speaks, when mentioning the prophetess Anna: “And she was a widow until fourscore and four years; who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day.” (chap. ii. 37.) The great Council of Nice in the V. Canon, calls the fast of Lent, “a clean and solemn gift, offered by the Church to God.” In the same manner doth Tertullian speak in his book on the “Resurrection of the Flesh,” where he calls dry, unsavoury food taken late, “sacrifices pleasing to God:” and St. Leo, in his second sermon on fasting saith, “For the sure reception of all its fruits, the sacrifice of abstinence is most worthily offered to God, the giver of them all.”

 

A fourth advantage fasting hath, is being a satisfaction for sin. Many examples in holy Writ prove this. The Ninivites appeased God by fasting, as Jonas testifies. The Jews did the same; for by fasting with Samuel they appeased God, and gained the victory over their enemies. The wicked king Achab, by fasting and sackcloth, partly satisfied God. In the times of Judith and Esther, the Hebrews obtained mercy from God by no other sacrifice than that of fasting, weeping, and mourning.

How to go about it? His thoughts:

The chief end of fasting, is the mortification of the flesh, that the spirit may be more strengthened. For this purpose, we must use only spare and unsavoury diet. And this our mother the Church points out since she commands us to take only one “full” meal in the day, and then not to eat flesh or white meats, hut only herbs or fruit.

This, Tertullian expresses by two words, in his book on the “Resurrection of the Flesh,” where he calls the food of those that fast, “late and dry meats.” Now, those do not certainly observe this, who, on their fasting-days, eat as much in one meal, as they do on other days, at their dinner and supper together: and who, at that one meal, prepare so many dishes of different fishes and other things to please their palate, that it seems to be a dinner intended, not for weepers and fasters, but for a nuptial banquet that is to continue throughout most of the night! Those who fast thus, do not certainly derive the least fruit from their fasting.

Nor do those derive any fruit who, although they may eat more moderately, yet on fasting-days do not abstain from games, parties, quarrels, dissensions, lascivious songs, and immoderate laughter; and what is still worse, commit the same crimes as they would on ordinary days. ….They also spent that time which ought to have been devoted to prayer, in profane quarrels, and even in contentions. In fine, so far were they from attending to spiritual things, as they ought to have done on the fasting-days, they added sin to sin, and impiously attacked their neighbours. These and other such sins ought those pious people to avoid, who wish their fasting to be pleasing unto God, and useful to themselves: they may then hope to live well, and die a holy death.

 

 

 

MORE, including on almsgiving:

Lastly, It is necessary above all things, if we wish to be saved and to die a good death, diligently to enquire, either by our own reading and meditation, or by consulting holy and learned men, whether our “superfluous” riches can be retained with out sin, or whether we ought of necessity to give them to the poor; and again, what are to be understood by superfluities, and what by necessary goods. It may happen that to some men moderate riches may be superfluous; whilst to others great riches may be absolutely essential. But, since this treatise does not include nor require tedious scholastic questions, I will briefly note passages from Holy Writ and the Fathers, and so end this part of the subject. The passages of Scripture: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” “He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner.” And in the 12th chapter of St. Luke it is said of one who had such great riches, that he scarcely knew what to do with them: “Thou fool, this night do they require thy soul of thee.” St. Augustine, in the 50th book of his Homilies, and the 7th Homily, explains these words to mean, that the rich man perished for ever, because he made no use of his superfluous riches.

The passages from the Fathers are chiefly these: St. Basil, in his Sermon to the Rich, thus speaks: “And thou, art thou not a robber, because what thou hast received to be given away, thou supposest to be thy own?” And a little farther he continues: “Wherefore, as much as thou art able to give, so much dost thou injure the poor.” And St. Ambrose, in his 81st Sermon, says: “What injustice do I commit, if, whilst I do not steal the goods of others, I keep diligently what is my own? impudent word! Dost thou say thy own? What is this? It is no less a crime to steal than it is not to give to the poor out of thy abundance.” St. Jerome thus writes in his Epistle to Hedibias: “If you possess more than is necessary for your subsistence, give it away, and thus you will be a creditor.” St. John Chrysostom says in his 34th Homily to the people of Antioch: “Do you possess anything of your own? The interest of the poor is entrusted to you, whether the estate is yours by your own just labours, or you have acquired it by inheritance.” St. Augustine, in his Tract on the 147th Psalm: “Our superfluous wealth belongs to the poor; when it is not given to them, we possess what we have no right to retain.” St. Leo thus speaks: “Temporal goods are given to us by the liberality of God, and He will demand an account of them, for they were committed to us for disposal as well as possession.”

And St. Gregory, in the third part of his Pastoral Care: “Those are to be admonished, who, whilst they desire not the goods of others, do not distribute their own; that so they may carefully remember, that as the common origin of all men is from the earth, so also its produce is common to them all: in vain, then, they think themselves innocent, who appropriate to themselves the common gifts of God.” St. Bernard, in his Epistle to Henry, archbishop of Sens, saith: “It is ours, for the poor cry out for what you squander; you cruelly take away from us what you spend foolishly.” St. Thomas also writes: “The superfluous riches which many possess, by the natural law belong to the support of the poor”; and again: “The Lord requires us to give to the poor not only the tenth part, but all of our superfluous wealth.” In fine, the same author, in the fourth book of his “Sentences,” asserts that this is the common opinion of all theologians. I add also, that if one be inclined to contend that, taking the strict letter of the law, he is not bound to give his superfluous riches to the poor; he is obliged to do so, at least by the law of charity. It matters little whether we are condemned to hell through want of justice or of charity.

 

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(This is a repeat, but worth a revisit. Feel free to use the image at the bottom of the post.)

(Welcome new visitors – check out a new posts with some more Vintage Catholic thoughts on fasting – from St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Augustine. )

 

What’s Lent? This thing that’s coming soon?

You might have the impression that Lent is all about you. Your personal growth. Your spiritual health. Your happiness.

Maybe.

Or maybe not. Maybe there’s more to Lent than how it’s going to make your life better.

For you see, there’s a difference between understanding Lent as a particularly listcicle-friendly (40 days! 3 disciplines!)  opportunity for an individual’s spiritual growth and understanding it as the entire Church’s solemn call and responsibility to do penance and grow in faith.

Are those different things? Yes.  Think about it. Not in tension, not opposed, but slightly different roads and paradigms.  The first is centered on pleasing ourselves, the second on pleasing God.

It is the distinction highlighted by Francis de Sales’ last of three pointers for a good fast, highlighted below: fast to please God alone.  To many of us, this sounds odd, since we have been formed to believe that we need to nothing to please God other than accepting ourselves as we are, haven’t we?

For what happens in modern spiritual discourse is that we have collapsed the two – we please God most of all when we are ourselves and are content with ourselves.  When you dig deeply, that’s true – when we are the selves God created and that above all brings us contentment and peace.

But what our spiritual wisdom has also reminded us of is that reaching that point requires stripping and sacrifice and a hard journey – not simply acceptance of the Good News that we are God’s creatures and loved by him. It is complicated, yes, but the bottom line seems to me that when you remove penance and the organic nature of fallen creation and the role of our fallen selves in that, you really are just left with individuals on a journey to feel okay about themselves, and not much more.

It’s an intriguing distinction. As an amateur student of the strangeness of modern Catholicism, I am most often struck by the sharp ironies and waves of unintended consequences that mark our slice of history.

We post-Conciliar Catholics were formed in a way that emphasized both individual spiritual freedom yet also the greater weight of  community, perhaps best encapsulated by the sense that no, Mass is not the time to come and focus on God’s presence as an individual. Rather, it is the time in which individuals freely come, but not to pray individually, but rather to do “the work of the people” in liturgy.

(This is why some liturgists think the worst sin one can commit during Mass is to kneel and pray quietly after receiving Communion instead of standing with the group and singing that you are bread ready to be chewed for justice or some such. We are here as the people of God, by God.)

The irony to me is that when you consider pre-Vatican II materials, the sense of communal identity was actually much stronger in those bad old days when (we are told) indvidual piety was emphasized above community.

So why is it that now, we are continually having to be told that we are community, experience community-building experiences and asked how we would like our parishes to create stronger communities?

Part of it is simply cultural and social.  “Community,” period was stronger, sometimes to oppressive extents.  You didn’t have to build community, you were born into it, you lived in it your entire life, and perhaps woe to you if you attempted to crack those walls.

Double-sided and full of shadows – that’s everything, that’s life.

But you see it in older treatments of Lent.   If you read pre-Vatican II popular and catechetical works on Lent, you encounter an unmistakable sense of the season being about the entire Church – the community – engaged in a journey – being willing to sacrifice in order to form itself to be more like Christ, in gratitude for all God has given, in sorrow for sin, with each individual’s efforts being a part of that greater whole, and being important because of it.

But today, we are on our own. Lent is about you and your walk with Jesus and making that better. It’s ironic. Matthew Kelly’s “Best Lent Ever” marketing campaign is the pinnacle of this sensibility: it’s all about Lent as a peak individual consumer experience – like Sandals for the soul.

As an aside on the “best Lent ever” slogan…I’m reminded of the more traditional way of inspiring spiritual fervor during the season, something an older priest up in Indiana used to regularly pull out and that I’ve heard on retreat…not make it your best Lent ever but a reminder that we should approach the season as if it were our “Last Lent ever.”

(The same template might be used for Advent or even about Sunday and reception of Communion….receive Communion as if it might be your last..)

Dire, yes, but as the kids say, you’re not wrong. 

Because it could be, indeed.  Both “best” and “last” indeed center us on the self and the needs of the soul, but with different orientations and expectations. 

And then there is penance.  Fasting serves many purposes, as St. Francis de Sales will tell us. But at root, it is a penitential act, not simply one to help us to “grow in faith” and find peace and joy and focus.  Yes it does, indeed do so, but it does so, Catholic tradition has normally held, because, among other things, the penitential act of fasting is part of the process of ridding our lives of sin and its effects – a process which  of course brings us closer to Christ. Not just because it’s fasting and giving stuff up, but because it is penitential.  I’ll let St. Francis de Sales explain.

 

To treat of fasting and of what is required to fast well, we must, at the start, understand that of itself fasting is not a virtue. The good and the bad, as well as Christians and pagans, observe it. The ancient philosophers observed it and recommended it. They were not virtuous for that reason, nor did they practice virtue in fasting. Oh, no, fasting is a virtue only when it is accompanied by conditions which render it pleasing to God. Thus it happens that it profits some and not others, because it is not undertaken by all in the same manner.

We find some people who think that to fast well during the holy season of Lent it is enough to abstain from eating some prohibited food. But this thought is too gross to enter into the hearts of religious, for it is to you I speak, as well as persons dedicated to Our Lord. We know very well that it is not enough to fast exteriorly if we do not also fast interiorly and if we do not accompany the fast of the body with that of the spirit.

 

The first condition is that we must fast with our whole heart, that is to say, willingly, whole-heartedly, universally and entirely. If I recount to you St. Bernard’s words regarding fasting, you will know not only why it is instituted but also how it ought to be kept.

He says that fasting was instituted by Our Lord as a remedy for our mouth, for our gourmandizing and for our gluttony. Since sin entered the world through the mouth, the mouth must do penance by being deprived of foods prohibited and forbidden by the Church, abstaining from them for the space of forty days. But this glorious saint adds that, as it is not our mouth alone which has sinned, but also all our other senses, our fast must be general and entire, that is, all the members of our body must fast. For if we have offended God through the eyes, through the ears, through the tongue, and through our other senses, why should we not make them fast as well? And not only must we make the bodily senses fast, but also the soul’s powers and passions — yes, even the understanding, the memory, and the will, since we have sinned through both body and spirit.

How many sins have entered into the soul through the eyes, as Holy Scripture indicates? [1 In. 2:16]. That is why they must fast by keeping them lowered and not permitting them to look upon frivolous and unlawful objects; the ears, by depriving them of listening to vain talk which serves only to fill the mind with worldly images; the tongue, in not speaking idle words and those which savor of the world or the things of the world. We ought also to cut off useless thoughts, as well as vain memories and superfluous appetites and desires of our will. In short, we ought to hold in check all those things which keep us from loving or tending to the Sovereign Good. In this way interior fasting accompanies exterior fasting.

This is what the Church wishes to signify during this holy time of Lent, teaching us to make our eyes, our ears and our tongue fast. For this reason she omits all harmonious chants in order to mortify the hearing; she no longer says Alleluia, and clothes herself completely in somber and dark colors. And on this first day she addresses us in these words: Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return [Gen. 3:19], as if she meant to say: “Oh man, quit at this moment all joys and merrymaking, all joyful and pleasant reflections, and fill your memory with bitter, hard and sorrowful thoughts. In this way you will make your mind fast together with your body.”

This is also what the Christians of the primitive Church taught us when, in order to spend Lent in a better way, they deprived themselves at this time of ordinary conversations with their friends, and withdrew into great solitude and places removed from communication with people…….

 

The second condition is never to fast through vanity but always through humility. If our fast is not performed with humility, it will not be pleasing to God…..

But what is it to fast through humility? It is never to fast through vanity. Now how can one fast through vanity? According to Scripture there are hundreds and hundreds of ways, but I will content myself with telling you one of them, for it is not necessary to burden your memory with many things. To fast through vanity is to fast through self-will, since this self-will is not without vanity, or at least not without a temptation to vanity. And what does it mean to fast through self-will? It is to fast as one wishes and not as others wish; to fast in the manner which pleases us, and not as we are ordered or counseled. You will find some who wish to fast more than is necessary, and others who do not wish to fast as much as is necessary. What causes that except vanity and self-will? All that proceeds from ourselves seems better to us, and is much more pleasant and easy for us than what is enjoined on us by another, even though the latter is more useful and proper for our perfection. This is natural to us and is born from the great love we have for ourselves.

Let each one of us examine our conscience and we will find that all that comes from ourselves, from our own judgment, choice and election, is esteemed and loved far better than that which comes from another. We take a certain complacency in it that makes the most arduous and difficult things easy for us, and this complacency is almost always vanity. You will find those who wish to fast every Saturday of the year, but not during Lent.{2} They wish to fast in honor of Our Lady and not in honor of Our Lord. As if Our Lord and Our Lady did not consider the honor given to the one as given to the other, and as if in honoring the Son by fasting done for His intention, one did not please the Mother, or that in honoring the Virgin one did not please the Savior! What folly! But see how human it is: because the fast that these persons impose on themselves on Saturday in honor of our glorious Mistress comes from their own will and choice, it seems to them that it should be more holy and that it should bring them to a much greater perfection than the fast of Lent, which is commanded. Such people do not fast as they ought but as they want.

There are others who desire to fast more than they should, and with these one has more trouble than with the first group.

The glorious St. Augustine, in the Rule that he wrote for his religious (later adapted for men religious), orders that one follow the community as much as possible, as if he wished to say: Do not be more virtuous than the others; do not wish to practice more fasting, more austerities, more mortifications than are ordered for you. Do only what the others do and what is commanded by your Rule, according to the manner of living that you follow, and be content with that. For although fasting and other penances are good and laudable, nevertheless, if they are not practiced by those with whom you live, you will stand out and there will be some vanity, or at least some temptation to esteem yourself above others. Since they do not do as you do, you experience some vain complacency, as if you were more holy than they in doing such things.

Follow the community then in all things, said the great St. Augustine. Let the strong and robust eat what is ordered them, keeping the fast and austerities which are marked, and let them be content with that. Let the weak and infirm receive what is offered them for their infirmity, without wishing to do what the robust do. Let neither group amuse themselves in looking to see what this one eats and what that one does not eat, but let each one remain satisfied with what she has and with what is given to her. By this means you will avoid vanity and being particular.

 

The third condition necessary for fasting well is to look to God and to do everything to please Him, withdrawing within ourselves in imitation of a great saint, St. Gregory the Great, who withdrew into a secret and out-of-the-way place where he remained for some time without anyone knowing where he was, being content that the Lord and His angels knew it.

 

This is all that I had to tell you regarding fasting and what must be observed in order to fast well. The first thing is that your fast should be entire and universal; that is, that you should make all the members of your body and the powers of your soul fast: keeping your eyes lowered, or at least lower than ordinarily; keeping better silence, or at least keeping it more punctually than is usual; mortifying the hearing and the tongue so that you will no longer hear or speak of anything vain or useless; the understanding, in order to consider only holy and pious subjects; the memory, in filling it with the remembrance of bitter and sorrowful things and avoiding joyous and gracious thoughts; keeping your will in check and your spirit at the foot of the crucifix with some holy and sorrowful thought. If you do that, your fast will be universal, interior and exterior, for you will mortify both your body and your spirit. The second condition is that you do not observe your fast or perform your works for the eyes of others. And the third is that you do all your actions, and consequently your fasting, to please God alone, to whom be honor and glory forever and ever.

Lent 2016

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