Posts Tagged ‘religion’

An introduction, from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

St Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch, which today is located in Turkey. Here in Antioch, as we know from the Acts of the Apostles, a flourishing Christian community developed. Its first Bishop was the Apostle Peter – or so tradition claims – and it was there that the disciples were “for the first time called Christians” (Acts 11: 26). Eusebius of Caesarea, a fourth-century historian, dedicated an entire chapter of his Church History to the life and literary works of Ignatius (cf. 3: 36).

Eusebius writes: “The Report says that he [Ignatius] was sent from Syria to Rome, and became food for wild beasts on account of his testimony to Christ. And as he made the journey through Asia under the strictest military surveillance” (he called the guards “ten leopards” in his Letter to the Romans, 5: 1), “he fortified the parishes in the various cities where he stopped by homilies and exhortations, and warned them above all to be especially on their guard against the heresies that were then beginning to prevail, and exhorted them to hold fast to the tradition of the Apostles”.

The first place Ignatius stopped on the way to his martyrdom was the city of Smyrna, where St Polycarp, a disciple of St John, was Bishop. Here, Ignatius wrote four letters, respectively to the Churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralli and Rome. “Having ignatius-of-antiochleft Smyrna”, Eusebius continues, Ignatius reached Troas and “wrote again”: two letters to the Churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna, and one to Bishop Polycarp.

Thus, Eusebius completes the list of his letters, which have come down to us from the Church of the first century as a precious treasure. In reading these texts one feels the freshness of the faith of the generation which had still known the Apostles. In these letters, the ardent love of a saint can also be felt.

Lastly, the martyr travelled from Troas to Rome, where he was thrown to fierce wild animals in the Flavian Amphitheatre.

No Church Father has expressed the longing for union with Christ and for life in him with the intensity of Ignatius. We therefore read the Gospel passage on the vine, which according to John’s Gospel is Jesus. In fact, two spiritual “currents” converge in Ignatius, that of Paul, straining with all his might for union with Christ, and that of John, concentrated on life in him. In turn, these two currents translate into the imitation of Christ, whom Ignatius several times proclaimed as “my” or “our God”.

Thus, Ignatius implores the Christians of Rome not to prevent his martyrdom since he is impatient “to attain to Jesus Christ”. And he explains, “It is better for me to die on behalf of Jesus Christ than to reign over all the ends of the earth…. Him I seek, who died for us: him I desire, who rose again for our sake…. Permit me to be an imitator of the Passion of my God!” (Romans, 5-6).

One can perceive in these words on fire with love, the pronounced Christological “realism” typical of the Church of Antioch, more focused than ever on the Incarnation of the Son of God and on his true and concrete humanity: “Jesus Christ”, St Ignatius_of_AntiochIgnatius wrote to the Smyrnaeans, “was truly of the seed of David”, “he was truly born of a virgin”, “and was truly nailed [to the Cross] for us” (1: 1).
Ignatius’ irresistible longing for union with Christ was the foundation of a real “mysticism of unity”. He describes himself: “I therefore did what befitted me as a man devoted to unity” (Philadelphians, 8: 1).

For Ignatius unity was first and foremost a prerogative of God, who, since he exists as Three Persons, is One in absolute unity. Ignatius often used to repeat that God is unity and that in God alone is unity found in its pure and original state. Unity to be brought about on this earth by Christians is no more than an imitation as close as possible to the divine archetype.

Thus, Ignatius reached the point of being able to work out a vision of the Church strongly reminiscent of certain expressions in Clement of Rome’s Letter to the Corinthians.

For example, he wrote to the Christians of Ephesus: “It is fitting that you should concur with the will of your Bishop, which you also do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the Bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore, in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And man by man, you become a choir, that being harmonious in love and taking up the song of God in unison you may with one voice sing to the Father…” (4: 1-2).

And after recommending to the Smyrnaeans: “Let no man do anything connected with Church without the Bishop”, he confides to Polycarp: “I offer my life for those who are submissive to the Bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may I along with them obtain my portion in God! Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together as the stewards and associates and servants of God. Please him under whom you fight, and from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your Baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply” (Polycarp, 6: 1-2).

Overall, it is possible to grasp in the Letters of Ignatius a sort of constant and fruitful dialectic between two characteristic aspects of Christian life: on the one hand, the hierarchical structure of the Ecclesial Community, and on the other, the fundamental unity that binds all the faithful in Christ.
Consequently, their roles cannot be opposed to one another. On the contrary, the insistence on communion among believers and of believers with their Pastors was constantly reformulated in eloquent images and analogies: the harp, strings, intonation, the concert, the symphony. The special responsibility of Bishops, priests and deacons in building the community is clear.

This applies first of all to their invitation to love and unity. “Be one”, Ignatius wrote to the Magnesians, echoing the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper: “one supplication, one mind, one hope in love…. Therefore, all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one” (7: 1-2).

Ignatius was the first person in Christian literature to attribute to the Church the adjective “catholic” or “universal”: “Wherever Jesus Christ is”, he said, “there is the Catholic Church” (Smyrnaeans, 8: 2). And precisely in the service of unity to the Catholic Church, the Christian community of Rome exercised a sort of primacy of love: “The Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness… and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father…” (Romans, Prologue).

As can be seen, Ignatius is truly the “Doctor of Unity”: unity of God and unity of Christ (despite the various heresies gaining ground which separated the human and the divine in Christ), unity of the Church, unity of the faithful in “faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred” (Smyrnaeans, 6: 1).

Ultimately, Ignatius’ realism invites the faithful of yesterday and today, invites us all, to make a gradual synthesis betweenconfiguration to Christ (union with him, life in him) and dedication to his Church (unity with the Bishop, generous service to the community and to the world).

To summarize, it is necessary to achieve a synthesis between communion of the Church within herself and mission, the proclamation of the Gospel to others, until the other speaks through one dimension and believers increasingly “have obtained the inseparable Spirit, who is Jesus Christ” (Magnesians, 15).

Imploring from the Lord this “grace of unity” and in the conviction that the whole Church presides in charity (cf. Romans,Prologue), I address to you yourselves the same hope with which Ignatius ended his Letter to the Trallians: “Love one another with an undivided heart. Let my spirit be sanctified by yours, not only now, but also when I shall attain to God…. In [Jesus Christ] may you be found unblemished” (13).

And let us pray that the Lord will help us to attain this unity and to be found at last unstained, because it is love that purifies souls.


The writings of St .Ignatius – those letters – are here, as well as many other places.

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Today is her feastday, and 2015 was  the 500th anniversary of her birth (3/28).

When we went to Spain last year, we were not able to go to Avila, unfortunately (chose Segovia as our day trip from Madrid instead), but we did encounter Teresa in an exhibit  at the Biblioteca Nacional – the national library of Spain. This lovely video gives a sense of what it was all about:

The exhibit itself was amazing. We stumbled upon it – I had no idea it was happening until we walked by the library – so our time there was limited.  Nonetheless, even that short time gave us a chance to see manuscripts written in Teresa’s own hand. 

A manuscript of “The Way of Perfection” in Teresa’s own hand. Gulp.

Featuring real Carmelites checking out the exhibit.

Back in 2011, as part of his series of General Audience talks on great figures in the Church (beginning with the Apostles), he turned to Teresa.  It’s a wonderful introduction to her life.  After outlining her biography and achievements, he turns to the impact of her life and work:

In the first place St Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life and in particular, detachment from possessions, that is, evangelical poverty, and this concerns all of us; love for one another as an essential element of community and social life; humility as love for the truth; determination as a fruit of Christian daring; theological hope, which she describes as the thirst for living water.


Secondly, St Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical figures and eager listening to the word of God. She feels above all closely in tune with the Bride in the Song of Songs and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with Christ in the Passion and with Jesus in the Eucharist. The Saint then stresses how essential prayer is. Praying, she says, “means being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us” (Vida 8, 5).


Prayer is life and develops gradually, in pace with the growth of Christian life: it begins with vocal prayer, passes through interiorization by means of meditation and recollection, until it attains the union of love with Christ and with the Holy Trinity. Obviously, in the development of prayer climbing to the highest steps does not mean abandoning the previous type of prayer. Rather, it is a gradual deepening of the relationship with God that envelops the whole of life.


Another subject dear to the Saint is the centrality of Christ’s humanity. For Teresa, in fact, Christian life is the personal relationship with Jesus that culminates in union with him through grace, love and imitation. Hence the importance she attaches to meditation on the Passion and on the Eucharist as the presence of Christ in the Church for the life of every believer, and as the heart of the Liturgy. St Teresa lives out unconditional love for the Church: she shows a lively “sensus Ecclesiae”, in the face of the episodes of division and conflict in the Church of her time.


Dear brothers and sisters, St Teresa of Jesus is a true teacher of Christian life for the faithful of every time. In our society, which all too often lacks spiritual values, St Teresa teaches us to be unflagging witnesses of God, of his presence and of his action. She teaches us truly to feel this thirst for God that exists in the depths of our hearts, this desire to see God, to seek God, to be in conversation with him and to be his friends.

This is the friendship we all need that we must seek anew, day after day. May the example of this Saint, profoundly contemplative and effectively active, spur us too every day to dedicate the right time to prayer, to this openness to God, to this journey, in order to seek God, to see him, to discover his friendship and so to find true life; indeed many of us should truly say: “I am not alive, I am not truly alive because I do not live the essence of my life”.

Therefore time devoted to prayer is not time wasted, it is time in which the path of life unfolds, the path unfolds to learning from God an ardent love for him, for his Church, and practical charity for our brothers and sisters. Many thanks.

Then, in 2012, Benedict sent a letter to the Bishop of Avila on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the beginning of Teresa’s reform. It’s really a wonderful letter:

By distancing herself from the Mitigated Rule in order to further a radical return to the primitive Rule, St Teresa de Jesús wished to encourage a form of life that would favour the personal encounter with the Lord, for which “we have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon him present within us. Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest” (Camino de perfección [the Way of Perfection] 28, 2). The Monastery of San José came into being precisely in order that all its daughters might have the best possible conditions for speaking to God and establishing a profound and intimate relationship with him.


Teresa of Avila’s example is a great help to us in this exciting task. We can say that in her time the Saint evangelized without mincing her words, with unfailing ardour, with methods foreign to inertia and with expressions haloed with light. Her example keeps all its freshness at the crossroads of our time. It is here that we feel the urgent need for the baptized to renew their hearts through personal prayer which, in accordance with the dictates of the Mystic of Avila, is also centred on contemplation of the Most Holy Humanity of Christ as the only way on which to find God’s glory (cf. Libro de la Vida, 22, 1; Las Moradas [Interior Castle] 6, 7). Thus they will be able to form authentic families which discover in the Gospel the fire of their hearths; lively and united Christian communities, cemented on Christ as their corner-stone and which thirst after a life of generous and brotherly service. It should also be hoped that ceaseless prayer will foster priority attention to the vocations ministry, emphasizing in particular the beauty of the consecrated life which, as a treasure of the Church and an outpouring of graces, must be duly accompanied in both its active and contemplative dimensions.

The power of Christ will likewise lead to the multiplication of projects to enable the People of God to recover its strength in the only possible way: by making room within us for the sentiments of the Lord Jesus (cf. Phil 2:5), seeking in every circumstance a radical experience of his Gospel. This means, first of all, allowing the Holy Spirit to make us friends of the Teacher and to conform us to him.


Today, this most illustrious daughter of the Diocese of Avila invites us to this radicalism and faithfulness. Accepting her beautiful legacy at this moment in history, the Pope asks all the members of this particular Church, and especially youth, to take seriously the common vocation to holiness. Following in the footsteps of Teresa of Jesus, allow me to say to all who have their future before them: may you too, aspire to belong totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus. Do not be afraid to say to Our Lord, as she did, “I am yours; I was born for you, what do you want to do with me?” (Poem 2).

I do think here that you can really see the particular way of expression that Benedict used again and again: the journey of the Christian is to be conformed to Christ. (Very Pauline, yes?)  Not merely to imitate, but to be conformed.  This suggests a deep level of engagement, a degree of surrender and understanding of the dynamic and purpose of human life that is far different that simply “trying to be like” and radically different than simply being inspired by.


She’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints, and Loyola has a very readable excerpt here 

(If you would like to read a pdf version, click here.) 



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I had a friend – a saintly friend who died seven years ago next week – who, as I said, was saintly and much holier than I.

I have written about her before, mostly about the time I visited her a couple of months before she died of the cancer she had been fighting for years, and that was finally winning. She talked about how she felt about what was coming, and one of the things she talked about was Purgatory.

I can’t wait to go to Purgatory, she said. To have everything but love burned away. Nothing but love left.

Anyway, this is not about that.

One of the things Mollie used to mention was how watching people receive Communion was a spiritual act for her. To watch women, men and children each receive the Lord and walk away, Christ dwelling within, was something profound.

I get it. But at the same time, I want to say:

Stop staring at me.

For me, that moment of Communion is, indeed strong. Taking in the congregation as a whole, all of us, present in the moment of sacrificial Love, bound in and by Him, I know I’m living in what is most really Real and it’s a glimpse of Heaven. But still. Come on.

Stop staring!

The demise of the hand missal is what did it, and it was no accident. Many of you weren’t there, but in those post-Vatican II years of “renewal,” the anti-private prayer at Mass game was strong. THIS IS NOT PRIVATE PRAYER, they said. THIS IS LITURGY, WHICH MEANS WORK OF THE PEOPLE. YOUR PRIVATE PRAYER TIME COMES LATER.

Stop praying privately!

How that was supposed to work, I never really understood. I mean, even if I’m praying with others, I’m still here and I’m still praying out of my own self, which is not obliterated in the Community Borg..but anyway.

To this end, congregations were told to pay attention.  They were encouraged to be social before and after Mass in the sanctuaries. Missalettes were removed from pews so you could not follow along with the readings privately. The Proclamation of the Word was originally and primally an oral activity, and so two thousand years later, You Must Just Listen as a Community and May Not  Follow Along with Your Own Set of Private Eyes, despite the useful invention of moveable type and widespread literacy. Hand missals, full, not only of the prayers of the Mass, but prayers for Mass and other occasions, once ubiquitous, stuffed with holy cards that marked the owner’s journey from First Communion through marriage and parenthood, through prayers for lost keys and lost jobs and lost children, through sickness, through the inevitability of suffering, decline and death…pray for us! 


 Mass is not the time for private prayer.

Post-Communion time was the prime battlefront. Kneeling was discouraged in some locations, with Standing as a Community, at the Ready to Welcome the Lord became the normal posture. Standing, yes, and singing. This is what expresses our identity as the Body of Christ. This moment is for visibly witnessing to this community and is not….NOT for private prayer.


And so we did. Yup. But most of us don’t sing, we don’t have anything to help us pray, so we stare instead.

Good job!

I’m sure more than a few of us come to that moment with Mollie’s spiritual vision and indeed, witnessing our brothers and sisters encounter the Lord is part of our own post-Communion prayer.

But I think most of us would welcome a little help, too.

Magnificat certainly fills a gap here. But why not revive that hand missal? They do still exist, you know. Or include a variety of private (yes, I said it) pre- and post-Communion prayers in missalettes?

There are, of course, quite a few small, hand-held Catholic prayer books out there that include these types of prayers. There are some good ones (recommend your favorites), but they tend to have a dated, crowded aspect about them – I think the market is there for a prayer book of this type that does not feel like it was printed from plates last used in 1950 and found in the church basement. Not  – let me repeat NOT with “contemporary” prayers penned by a committee, either.

Further, even if the current selection out there were to remain static, it seems to me that parishes would be doing a real service -an act of mercy, shall we say – by encouraging their use and making them available at low cost.

It is not a matter of going all fascist in the opposite direction now. It is about recognizing that people, in those moments after Communion, are seeking to deepen that encounter with the Lord. Many would welcome the use of prayers to do so, and it is the parish’s job to provide them with the opportunity and the means. Buy a bunch and sell them! Why not?

Let me interject another point here. I said that it’s not about being authoritarian in the “private prayer” direction either. What I mean by this plays off of one of my observations about this post-V2 era: how the liturgical changes, intended to bring the congregation more into the action of the Mass, did so by taking away the congregation’s freedom.

In the pre-Vatican II liturgy, all the burden was on the priest and the other ministers. It was their visible actions that defined the Mass and they were to be performed in specific ways, under pain of sin.

If you think about it, what the congregation did was almost irrelevant, as long as they didn’t touch the  Host and were present from one specific point to another.

Which, of course, in the eyes of liturgical reformers was part of the problem: the promotion of a minimalist, spectator role for the congregation.

Swing, pendulum!

….to the point at which the priest can do whatever the heck he wants, but the congregation’s incorrect actions are given the side-eye and finger-shake.

Members of the congregation are told that they must stand, sit and kneel as a group at these points, and they must sing and pray aloud…with gusto! (has anyone ever been in a congregation in which the celebrant orders the congregation to do a Do Over of a response with more vigor? I have) and they will not receive Communion if they dare to kneel and the children must march out for their own Liturgy of the Word, you must stand and march to Communion when the usher directs you to and you should not privately pray because…this is the liturgy, not your private prayer time

Now, in my limited experience, this is a Middle-Class Caucasian American Catholic problem.

When I have gone to Mass in Europe, when I have gone to Hispanic Masses in the US, when I have attended Easter Catholic liturgies…I don’t feel this. People come and go. Their postures are all over the place most of the time. A good portion of the congregation might be doing the same thing at any given time, but those that are doing something different…are fine.

And then Communion?


Which I like. It takes the pressure off.

So where was I in this blog post I was going to dash off in twenty minutes?

The post-Vatican II emphasis on the Participation of the People in the Mass has come, in many places, to somehow mean The Controlled Movement of the People in the Mass.  As we sit in churches  barren of décor, with nothing to read to help us focus and pray, we watch others walk up in the line when the usher greeter welcoming committee member tells them to, we watch the priest clean the vessels, and we wait for it all to be over.

But at least we’re all doing the same thing in community by God.

Prayer happens. It does. But I do think it’s time to get over that reflexive fear of Private Prayer! During Mass! and consider the possibility that some people’s experience of the reality of our Communion with the Lord and with each other, so profound at the moment, might be helped along by the provision of books with appropriate pre- and post-Communion prayers, and the encouragement to use them.

My true, real and deep pet peeve related to this involves school Masses. Catholic schools are about formation. About helping children draw closer to the Lord by giving them every resource we possibly can to help them focus on Him in this stage of life in which they are open and seeking, and in a culture that encourages them to focus on themselves instead of anything solid and real outside of themselves.

Magnifikid is good, but is a disposable and for Sunday Mass.

I would love to see a publisher produce an inexpensive, attractive, but not twee or childish Mass book especially for groups of CatmAGholic children. It would include the main parts of the Mass in English and Latin, the rite for Benediction, and a few pre and post Communion prayers. That’s it. Nothing more fancy than that. Sell it in bulk, teach schools how to teach their kids to use them, and boom. More choices, more active participation than just sitting and watching the first grade trail up the aisle, hands folded over chests for their blessing while not singing “Our God is Here.” Yes, there are children’s missals, but I am thinking about something that falls between that kind of vinyl-bound actual book and a flimsy pamphlet and that is not as picture heavy as a typical “Mass for Children” book. Something that a school or parish can publish in bulk and pull out for Masses and encourage children to use. Perhaps it exists? If so..tell me!

Note that this is not a screed against “how people act in Mass,” even though it may sound like it. Some bloggers do that. I don’t. I stand (or kneel or sit..whatever) in awe of every congregation of which I am a part and indeed, contemplating the diversity of people there and praying for their needs, whatever they might bed, forms a bedrock of my own experience at Mass.

But still, it  bothers me to see all of us – us – just..staring at the Communion line as it creeps up that aisle.

Because it is a struggle to focus, isn’t it? You are curious to see who’s there. You’re starting to think about what you have to do and where you have to go later. Your kids are poking at each other. You know you should be praying, and indeed you want to, for Jesus is here, right now, but you are not a Spiritual Master, it’s hard to concentrate, it’s hard to know what you want to say, what you could say, what you should say, and it’s really hard to know, simply, how to listen, since you know that’s what you should be doing right now, above anything else.

Different people are helped in this moment by different things: contemplating the congregation, the priest’s actions, the crucifix, the art in the church, listening to the music, singing the music, smelling the remaining scent of incense, fingering beads, closing one’s eyes and listening, opening one’s eyes and seeing.

And one of those things that can help are words printed on a page in a small book you’ve slipped in your purse or pocket, words that reflect what others – hundreds, thousands and millions – have found in this moment, in this Presence. It is good to have that book, to open it up right now in this place, present with your own quiet, noisy, still, moving, wandering crowd – to open it up in this Presence, see those words, and join them.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ’s side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints

and with Thy angels
Forever and ever


Dorothy Day at Mass. Source.

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He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

"amy welborn"



In 2010, the Church experienced the same close juxtaposition of the the Lazarus Gospel and this saint as we did this year. B16 commented:

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 16: 19-31), Jesus tells the Parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus. The former lives in luxury and egoism and when he dies, he will go to hell. The poor man on the contrary eats the food left over from the table of the rich man, and at his death he will be brought by angels to his eternal dwelling place with God and the saints. “Blessed are you poor”, the Lord proclaimed to his disciples, “for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Lk 6: 20). But the message of the parable goes further. It reminds us that while we are in this world we should listen to the Lord who speaks through the Sacred Scriptures and to live according to his will, otherwise after death it will be too late to repent. This parable teaches us two lessons: the first is that God loves the poor and comforts their humiliation; the second is that our eternal destiny is conditioned by our attitude, it is up to us to follow the path that God has laid out for us in order to attain life and this path is love, not intended as a feeling but as service to others in the charity of Christ.

By a happy coincidence, tomorrow we shall be celebrating the Liturgical Memorial of St Vincent de Paul, Patron of Catholic charities, on the 350th anniversary of his death. In 16th-century France, he himself keenly perceived the strong contrast between the richest and the poorest of people. In fact, as a priest, he had the opportunity to experience the aristocratic life and life in the country, as well as the dregs of society in Paris. Encouraged by the love of Christ, Vincent de Paul knew how to organize permanent forms of service for marginalized people, giving life to the so-called “Charitées” and “Charities”, that is the groups of women who gave their time and belongings to the most marginalized people. Some of these volunteers chose to consecrate themselves completely to God and to the poor, with St Louise de Marillac, and St Vincent, Founder of the “Daughters of Charity” the first female congregation to live a consecrated life “in the world”, with the common people, including the sick and the needy.


More about St. Vincent de Paul:


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A Birmingham-based writer and acquaintance of mine had a piece about mental illness and faith published in the Washington Post today. It’s very good, and I’d recommend anyone in any kind of pastoral ministry read it:

The Scripture for this morning was John 16:16-24. The pastor read the verses aloud and said a short prayer. As soon as he began talking through his main points, I braced myself for the disappointment I knew was coming. I suspected he wouldn’t take this opportunity to discuss things such as depression and anxiety in the Christian life.

I was right.

Although much of what he said was good and biblical, he didn’t mention mental illness. Instead, he said if you aren’t experiencing joy, you should examine your life and repent of any sin that might be blocking it.

I don’t want to hijack Charlotte’s excellent piece for my own purposes – but, well, old habits are hard to break. My tangent is to observe how this attitude reflects the dangers of superficial religious practice in which definitions of things like “joy” and “peace” have been untethered from hundreds of years of tradition – which means, basically, “human experience” – and come to mean not much more than what the culture-of-the-moment says they mean.

For indeed, traditional, historic Christian spirituality may not have understood the nature of mental illness the way we do today, but it did embody an understanding of the complexities of the human person, accept a mystery of how our particular personalities interact with the transcendent, and provide understanding pathways of how to navigate that.

It also points out to me, once again, why emotion-based religious events are so terrible. Usually I say something like “inadequate” or “flawed” when I talk about this, but I think I’ll just move on and say that gatherings in which individuals are manipulated into a certain emotional state by music, environment, rhetorical tricks, guilt and even personal witness are terrible.  Defining “great worship today” by the tears shed or emotions felt by the hundreds swaying along to your music makes me think, Fascist! 

Back to Charlotte’s point. This is an important one, and I think her treatment is balanced and fair. It’s not, she says, that every word spoken should revolve around the reality of mental illness, but neither should it be ignored, especially when speaking of the practice of spirituality.

Therese Borchard has been writing about the issue of spirituality and depression for many years.

I know someone who read this book – A Catholic Guide to Depression –   and found it very helpful.


This brings another, somewhat related point to mind.

I was talking to someone who knew a younger teen who was experiencing some faith questions. In fact, this young person had reluctantly determined that he must be an agnostic. Why? Because he didn’t and couldn’t seem to feel anything. 

When I heard this, my heart cracked a little and then I experienced a moment of clarity, in which my sometimes inchoate skepticism about youth ministry all pulled together and made sense.

I thought about all of the youth ministry programs that I see and am somewhat familiar with, that my kids are invited to participate in. They’re all emotionally-based. One one level, they’re about the emotion of enjoyment and fun, based on the assumption that this is necessary in order to just get them in the door. Moving to another level, they tend to emphasize other emotions – joy, remorse, connectedness, excitement –  from retreats to Adoration events that feature praise music and personal witness.

What if you’re a kid who searches for evidence of truth mostly through your head and not through your emotions? 

Adults can look at all of this with some perspective. We can separate the emotion from the core of faith. We can understand that for a lot of us, that emotionally-based stage – the affective stage  – is important and maybe even necessary. It was for me, when I was a senior in high school, and was deeply moved and felt an individual, very emotional encounter with Christ at a class retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Atlanta. But that was one moment, and perspective taught me that there was more to faith. The holistic nature of Catholic spirituality taught me that this type of intensity was rare, and didn’t define faith – my faith.

But teens?

Most of them probably don’t understand this. I’d say that the vast majority don’t. They just haven’t lived long enough. And so picture a kid whose personality and character is not oriented towards truth-seeking via emotion. Perhaps this stuff even makes them feel uncomfortable. They’re in all of these youth ministry events in which they’re constantly preached at about feelings of joy and happiness as the definition of faith, in which other kids are crying because Jesus is so real to them…

…and they’re not feeling it. They’re not crying. It’s not intense for them.

Does that mean I maybe don’t have faith? At all?


(What helps? Correctly defining faith, to begin with. Start here.)

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Seven Quick Takes

Sorry. SexyTime is over!

— 1 —

Well, last week, it was Ben Hatke with good news, and this week it’s Gene Luen Yang, who was awarded a McArthur “Genius” Fellowship.  Yang is the author of some excellent works, including AMERICAN BORN CHINESE and the 2 volume BOXERS and SAINTS. Catholics might have first “met” him as the creator of a really good “Rosary Comic Book” published by Pauline Books and Media in 2003. Yang is Catholic and up until last year, worked in a Catholic high school in Oakland.

So great to see Yang’s fine work recognized in this way.

(By the way, Hatke is on a short book tour right now in support of his new series, Ordinary Jack…and Birmingham is on the list! Looking forward to meeting him next week.)

— 2 —

Good news: my favorite podcast, the BBC4 history-themed series In Our Time has returned for a new season. I haven’t yet listened to the first episode, aired Thursday, on Zeno’s Paradoxes, but I did catch up this past week with an excellent episode on Margery Kempe.

kempeFor those of you who don’t know, Kempe was a medieval English mystic. She experienced her first vision of Christ after a profoundly difficult post-partum experience, bore thirteen more children, then started having more visions and going on pilgrimages. Her account of her life and visions was well known, but, of course, the Reformation Vandals took care of that, and – this, I didn’t know – a complete version was unknown to the post-Reformation world until 1934, when a copy was found in a cabinet in which someone was looking for ping-pong balls. You can read about the story of the discovery, and theories as to how this copy survived and got to its finding place here.

— 3 —

This jibed nicely with some reading I’ve been doing for a project on women and the Reformation, only serving to reinforce my convictions about what a disaster the Protestant Reformation was for women (not to mention most other aspects of life in the West) and contribute to my inexorable, steadily growing aggravation with the apparent approaching canonization of Martin Luther.

It’s going to be a loooong 500th anniversary, and..



But wait! We do! Never mind. We’ll get make it. God’s got this!


 — 4 —

Also on the listening front: this episode of The Food Programme, another BBC radio show I really like. This episode told the story of Charles Green, who was the cook on Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. Oh, what a tale. Green lived until 1973, and for a time, gave talks to groups with slides that Shackleton had given him, slides which he unfortunately felt necessary to sell when times got hard.

There is one audio recording of an interview with Green, and in the program, his own voice is interspersed with the narration of Gerard Baker , who has served as a cook on modern Antarctic expeditions. The account of what Green had to and did accomplish to keep the men alive, as healthy as possible and, in a sense, spiritually fed is quite moving. It is a reminder of all that goes into human accomplishment, and how most of it is unseen and unheralded.


— 5 

Today is the memorial of Padre Pio – or, more formally, St. Pius of Petrelcina, by far the most popular saint in Italy. His image is in every church and more shops than you can count. …..The relic of his heart has been in Boston over the past couple of days. Domenico Bettinelli writes a bit about it here and has links to other accounts. And oh, you must see the photos. So moving.


Here’s a good blog post. Timothy O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, on why “Chant is Good for Children.”

Last Sunday, we went to the Melkite Liturgy on campus. The entire liturgy, as anyone knows who has attended Eastern liturgies, is sung. Despite our son’s lack of familiarity with the words on the page, he hummed along the entire time (sometimes even during the Eucharistic Prayer). With his slight speech delay, with his limited grasp of understanding of English, the chant allowed him to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice in a way that he rarely experiences.

Not once did he ask to leave.

Not once was he bored (though he did perform frequent prostrations and crossing of himself).

To this Catholic, we have to admit that music too often functions in our parishes as quaint interludes between the rationalism of speech. Our liturgies are wordy, sounding more like bad speeches than prayer. Why would anyone believe that we’re participating in the very liturgy of heaven itself?

If this is heaven, perhaps, I don’t want it. It seems really boring.

The chant of the Roman Missal should be normative in our parishes. Priests should learn to sing. We should chant the readings, the Psalm, the Creed, the Intercessions, the Eucharistic Prayer, the Pater Noster. Everything that can be chanted.

Years ago, I made a similar observation, also partly inspired by the experience of Eastern Catholic liturgy:

The organic integrity of the chanted liturgy. I must say that is attendance at the Eastern Catholic liturgies that helped me understand the concept of “singing the Mass” as opposed to “singing at Mass.” Chant is, I think, the natural language of vocal prayer – not recitation, but chant, even if that chant is nothing more than a sing-song. There was one aspect of this last liturgy that was recited – the prayer before reception of Communion. But that was it.

— 7 —

Get some copies! Spread the word! There will be a Spanish-language edition as well. 

Advent 2016 Daily Devotional

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

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You may or may not have heard about a controversy in the Diocese of Nashville about sexuality education. Some parents at Father Ryan High School are protesting the content of the 9th grade theology program, and the bishop has told them straight up too bad. No opting out allowed.

I looked at some of the material that’s been posted online. (warning…)

I’m a mother of five kids. I’m a grandmother. I’ve taught high school theology. I’ve written for Catholic teens and young adults. I’ve stood up at meetings and defending the teaching of sexuality education in a Catholic middle school program.  Here’s my response.

Wow. This is some really, really weird s***.

Not inherently, mind you. It’s just basic sexual mechanics and physiology. But in context? Of 14-year olds in classrooms? In between Algebra and History class? In a Catholic school? Right after Mass?


Work with me here.

You’re the parent of an 8th grader. Maybe not a sweet innocent 8th grader, but just your normal 13-year old. You’re all pretty excited about next year.

High school!

And what’s more…

Catholic! High school!

There’s going to be Mass and crucifixes and people are going to talk about Jesus and there’s going to be praying and saint-talk, not to mention algebra and history and literature and Spanish….


Oh, and did you get the memo on this class?

OUTER LIPS (Labia Majora) a. The outermost hair-covered folds of skin surrounding the genitals. b. They vary greatly in size. c. Like the scrotum, the outer lips swell slightly with  stimulation; in their stimulated state they pull back and expose the Inner Lips.

That’s happening too.

Is that what you envisioned for next year for your kid?


Now, in the official responses from All The Officials, I’m reading a lot of consistent with Church teaching…sanctity of human body….the…and…maybe…shut up…

And words like that.

Guess what?


Classroom lessons and tests for teens on the effect of stimulation on lady and gent parts? Not sane Catholic pedagogy. Pretty much not sane pedagogy at all.

But you know what? I’m not even going to focus on the Catholic part of this, because it’s seriously so stupid that anyone thinks that “Instruct the Ignorant” means “Provides schematics of spread-eagle Views of Vaginas for Teenagers to Share.”

One Mad Mom has all of that covered, and very well, thanks. Oh, and the parents, too. They know what’s right.

They’re articulating all of that very well.

I just want to focus on something else.

The weirdness.

Maybe just distance yourself from this for a minute. Pretend that you don’t know anything about culture wars, Catholic or otherwise, or that you don’t have a stake in any of these issues.

Now. Consider this.

Consider the possibility that it’s a little …weird for an adult to stand in front of a group of young teen boys and girls and teach this material:

CLITORIS a) This is the most sexually sensitive part of the female body. It corresponds to the glans or head of the penis. b) Though there is no reproductive purpose, the clitoris is made of erectile tissue and contains a high concentration of erotic neural receptors and blood vessels. c) When flaccid or unaroused the tissue is c.1” long; when aroused, it swells to 2” to 3”.

Not weird in a counter-cultural Albanian-nun-picks-up-dying-poor-from-Calcutta-streets kind of way.

More like…what adult in their right mind wants to talk to other people’s 14-year old kids about the clitoris? kind of weird.

And more like…with all the fascinating things to learn about the world that will help kids find a unique way to help make the world a better place, YES let’s spend time on the mechanics of sexual activity with 14-year olds kind of weird.

(Imagine you are a parent of a teen. And then you stand up in front of your kid and his or friends and give this lesson.

GLANS 1. Located at the tip or head of the penis is a structure which contains a highly concentrated amount of neural receptors sensitive to stimulus; it is the center of sexual pleasure for the male.

That would be weird of you. Your kids would die. You might even get arrested.)

And no nonsense about “What they already know” and “what they see on their smartphones.”  No kidding. And you think this helps? 

It’s not weird at all to want to help kids navigate this culture and their own desires and questions. It’s not weird to want to share the Good News of the truth about sexuality in a reasoned, understanding, realistic way. It’s really important to do this, as a matter of fact.

But again…context. Which is SCHOOL. Required attendance. Grades. Mixed gender groups.

More context:  14-year olds, boys and girls of varying levels of maturity and awareness, going to school as part of a system in which modesty and discretion are still key values and parents have prime responsibility for education. There are many ways that a Catholic school can and should work with parents on fighting this battle and helping kids. Sniffing that  parents should just bug off because they’re not keen on your program that tests their  son or daughter on the physiology of sexual simulation and even subtly encourages them to envision their classmate’s bodies on that level is perhaps not on the top of that list.

Have some mercy for pete’s sake!

Let me share a couple of experiences that might make my perspective clearer.

(Perhaps beginning by reminding you of my fundamental school-skepticism on every score. Remember that?)

Many, many years  ago, the Catholic middle school that one of my kids was attending was going to incorporate some sexuality education in the 8th grade. Very mild, general stuff, really, but there were some who objected, and made that clear at a meeting. At the meeting I defended the curriculum, partly because it was fine, in my opinion, and also because the teacher was a much-beloved, trusted, deeply faithful Catholic woman whom the kids all loved as a firm, calm, charitable person of faith. I felt really good about Theresa affirming in the classroom what we were doing at home, and it was not explicit at all. It was spirituality. 

(But some objected nonetheless, and that was their right! And their kids didn’t have to participate!)

Flash forward a bit. Now it’s another kid in 7th grade parish religious education. Theology of the Body had been mandated, and there was a parent meeting. Things went okay until the actual instructor stood up to talk. I had no idea who she was . My kid didn’t know her. A woman in her mid-40’s, a mom, a parishioner known to many, but not to me – not that that matters.  But this is what she said, in the most casual, hey you guys!  tone about what was coming up for the 12-year olds, and as I recall it, it was almost as if she was chomping gum – “Now I don’t know what you all have told your kids  about the details of sex, but you need to get caught up before we start the class. They need to know everything because we’re going to talk about everything– we’re gonna  talk about masturbation, we’re gonna to talk about porn…”

mad men 6x03 betty draper season 6 field trip

Who are you???? 

Yeah, so that didn’t happen for us.

This is about more than this particular situation. It gives anyone working on these issues in parish or school settings something to think about.

So if you’re in charge of things like this in your school or parish, you might want to consider the weird factor. You might want to consider that the parents who are not down with your plans don’t hate sex, don’t want their kids to be ignorant about sex and don’t want them to be ignorant of the Church’s teaching. The parents of kids in your school might even have had some sexy time themselves recently.

Maybe, just maybe…they think it’s…. odd …for random adults to be bound and determined to talk to young teens  – who are required to be in this setting, without parents present and are graded on their responses- about the mechanics of  sexual activity, diagrams and aroused clitoral dimensions helpfully included. 


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