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Repost from a previous year. New stuff coming soon…from Honduras…

My search for material to share with you on today’s feast naturally led to other interesting places which ate up too much time but also reminded me of how much good stuff is out there to read, and how limited our sense of the past is, and how we suffer for that narrowness.

Anyway.  To start where I like to, if possible – with the pastoral and clear catechesis of B16, from a 2007 Angelus talk:

Today, 11 November, the Church remembers St Martin, Bishop of Tours, one of the most celebrated and venerated Saints of Europe. Born of pagan parents in Pannonia, in what is today Hungary, he was directed by his father to a military career around the year 316. Still an adolescent, Martin came into contact with Christianity and, overcoming many difficulties, he enrolled as a catechumen in order to prepare for Baptism. He would receive the Sacrament in his 20s, but he would still stay for a long time in the army, where he would give testimony of his new lifestyle: respectful and inclusive of all, he treated his attendant as a brother and avoided vulgar entertainment. Leaving military service, he went to Poitiers in France near the holy Bishop Hilary. He was ordained a deacon and priest by him, chose the monastic life and with some disciples established the oldest monastery known in Europe at Ligugé. About 10 years later, the Christians of Tours, who were without a Pastor, acclaimed him their Bishop. From that time, Martin dedicated himself with ardent zeal to the evangelization of the countryside and the formation of the clergy. While many miracles are attributed to him, St Martin is known most of all for an act of fraternal charity. While still a young soldier, he met a poor man on the street numb and trembling from the cold. He then took his own cloak and, cutting it in two with his sword, gave half to that man. Jesus appeared to him that night in a dream smiling, dressed in the same cloak.

Dear brothers and sisters, St Martin’s charitable gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist, supreme Sign of God’s love, Sacramentum caritatis. It is the logic of sharing which he used to authentically explain love of neighbour. May St Martin help us to understand that only by means of a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if a world model of authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.

Let us turn now to the Virgin Mary so that all Christians may be like St Martin, generous witnesses of the Gospel of love and tireless builders of jointly responsible sharing.

St. Martin is also mentioned in the 2005 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:

Finally, let us consider the saints, who exercised charity in an exemplary way. Our thoughts turn especially to Martin of Tours († 397), the soldier who became a monk and a bishop: he is almost like an icon, illustrating the irreplaceable value of the individual testimony to charity. At the gates of Amiens, Martin gave half of his cloak to a poor man: Jesus himself, that night, appeared to him in a dream wearing that cloak, confirming the permanent validity of the Gospel saying: “I was naked and you clothed me … as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:36, 40).[36] Yet in the history of the Church, how many other testimonies to charity could be quoted! In particular, the entire monastic movement, from its origins with Saint Anthony the Abbot († 356), expresses an immense service of charity towards neighbour. In his encounter “face to face” with the God who is Love, the monk senses the impelling need to transform his whole life into service of neighbour, in addition to service of God. This explains the great emphasis on hospitality, refuge and care of the infirm in the vicinity of the monasteries. It also explains the immense initiatives of human welfare and Christian formation, aimed above all at the very poor, who became the object of care firstly for the monastic and mendicant orders, and later for the various male and female religious institutes all through the history of the Church. The figures of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Giuseppe B. Cottolengo, John Bosco, Luigi Orione, Teresa of Calcutta to name but a few—stand out as lasting models of social charity for all people of good will. The saints are the true bearers of light within history, for they are men and women of faith, hope and love.

And then I spent some time with The Life of St. Martin written by a contemporary and defender, Sulpitius Severus:

ACCORDINGLY, at a certain period, when he had nothing except his arms and his simple military dress, in the middle of winter, a winter which had shown itself more severe than ordinary, so that the extreme cold was proving fatal to many, he happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens a poor man destitute of clothing. He was entreating those that passed by to have compassion upon him, but all passed the wretched man without notice, when Martin, that man full of God, recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak in which he was clad, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar purposes. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Upon this, some of the by-standers laughed, because he was now an unsightly object, and stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar. They especially felt this, because, being possessed of more than Martin, they could have clothed the poor man without reducing themselves to nakedness. In the following night, when Martin had resigned himself to sleep, he had a vision of Christ arrayed in that part of his cloak with which he had clothed the poor man. He contemplated the Lord with the greatest attention, and was told to own as his the robe which he had given. Ere long, he heard Jesus saying with a clear voice to the multitude of angels standing round — “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.” The Lord, truly mindful of his own words (who had said when on earth — “Inasmuch as ye have done these things to one of the least of these, ye have done them unto me”), declared that he himself had been clothed in that poor man; and to confirm the testimony he bore to so good a deed, he condescended to show him himself in that very dress which the poor man had received. After this vision the sainted man was not puffed up with human glory, but, acknowledging the goodness of God in what had been done, and being now of the age of twenty years, he hastened to receive baptism. He did not, however, all at once, retire from military service, yielding to the entreaties of his tribune, whom he admitted to be his familiar tent-companion.[11] For the tribune promised that, after the period of his office had expired, he too would retire from the world. Martin, kept back by the expectation of this event, continued, although but in name, to act the part of a soldier, for nearly two years after he had received baptism.

The whole thing is fairly short and quite interesting to read – as I read this ancient documents, what I am always looking for is commonalities – of human nature, of belief, of human choices and reactions. Consider the reactions of the bystanders described in the passage above.

Has anything really changed?

Underneath all that is “new” for us…has anything fundamental about who we are and the redemption for which we yearn really changed?

Well, anyway.

Traditions of Martinmas.

More from Cooking for Christ, a cookbook published by the Catholic Rural Life Conference, which I wrote about here. 

A partial list of subsequent burrows that ate up this evening:

Martin of Tours
By Charles L. O’Donnell

“AS I today was wayfaring”—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—low—
Said Christ in heaven’s evening—
The Holies yet more hushed and slow—
“I met a knight upon the road;
A plumed charger he bestrode.

“He saw the beggar that was I—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—long—
Head and foot one beggary—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—song— 
One that shivered in the cold
While his horse trailed cloth of gold.

“Down he leaped, his sword outdrawn—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—swells—
Cleaved his cloak, laid half upon—
Holy! now a peal of bells—
Shoulders that the cross had spanned;
And I think he kissed my hand.

“Then he passed the road along,
Holy, Holy, Holy!—laud— 
Caroling a knightly song—
Holy! in the face of God.
Yea, Father, by Thy sovereign name,
Begging is a goodly game.”

Restoration

From these dead leaves the winds have caught
And on the brown earth fling,
Yea, from their dust, new hosts shall rise
At the trumpet call of Spring.

Thus may the winds our ashes take,
But in that far dusk dim,
When God’s eye hath burnt up the worlds,
This flesh shall stand with Him.

It is the merit of O’Brien’s study to illuminate this long-hidden context.  Boutle’s profound experiences of purgation, illumination, dark nights, union, and the prayer of simple regard are now rooted in her distinctive vocation as wife and mother.  Her experience of the cross is tied to her struggles with an alcoholic and increasingly violent husband.  The cultivation of patience proved difficult in the presence of a mother-in-law, who externally was considered a living saint due to her generosity toward the poor, but who became venomously sarcastic in the privacy of the home.  Boutle’s hope of eternal life became fused with the certitude that she would be reunited with her beloved daughter, Elisabeth, who died at the age of 14.  Her growing union with Jesus is a union marked by experiences shaped by gender and marital status.

O’Brien also highlights the stormy social and ecclesiastical context of Boutle’s life.  Boutle’s devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of a piece with the piety of French Catholicism in the late 19th century.  Already wounded by the anti-Christian campaigns of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune of 1871, the French church witnessed with apprehension the growing anti-clericalism of the Third Republic. Catholic schools were abolished, and religious orders expelled.  Practicing Catholics soon learned that they could not hope for promotion in a hostile public school system, civil service, and officer corps.  Boutle’s prayer is increasingly marked by intercession for a France which was quickly renouncing all traces of her Catholic heritage.  Her experience of a supernatural peace rests uneasily with bewilderment over the virtual disappearance of Catholic belief among her nation’s urban elite.  Controlling her anger at the anti-clerical remarks made by relatives and acquaintances over the dinner table became a serious ascetical task. Her close affiliation with the Parisian convent of the Adoration Reparatrix nuns also reflects the spirituality of the period.  The emphasis on reparation during the perpetual adoration practiced by the nuns, and their lay associates, was very much a social reparation for the apostasy and persecution represented by a newly secularized France.

O’Brien’s scholarly biography of Mathilde Boutle provides a distinctive spiritual guide for those called to the office of wife and mother, especially in moments of suffering related to spouse and children.  It is also a very modern guide for dealing with Christian bewilderment arising from a powerful religious indifference in a society where a once-vital church has quickly collapsed.

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Image: Zenit. Article here. 

 

Today, four women and one man were canonized as new saints – we all know about the man (more about him at the end of this post) – how about the women?

 

Dulce Lopes Pontes

Not long after joining the missionary sisters, Dulce became determined to shelter the many ill people she encountered on the streets of Salvador. She would house them in abandoned buildings and bring them food and medical care.

Eventually she and her more than 70 patients were kicked out of the building. Left with nowhere to take them, she asked her mother superior for help, and was given the convent’s chicken yard to turn into an improvised hotel.

As part of the agreement, Sr. Dulce was asked to care for the chickens, which she did by butchering them and feeding them to her patients.

This eventually became the site of the Santo Antonio Hospital, which continues to serve Brazil’s poor and disabled.

Bl. Dulce founded the Sao Francisco’s Worker’s Union, the first Christian worker’s movement in the Brazilian state of Bahia, which she later transformed into the Worker’s Center of Bahia.

She also founded the Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce (Obras Sociais Irma Dulce) in 1959, which continues to be one of the most well-known and well-respected charitable organizations in Brazil.

In 1988, Sr. Dulce was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the President of Brazil, Jose Sarney.

She died in 1992, at the age of 77, after battling lung problems for 30 years. 

From the homily at her 2011 beatification Mass, by Cardinal Geraldo Majella:

Thus today we contemplate the holy life of Sister Dulce, with all the fruits in favor not only those lacking everything, especially health, but also as witness of her union with God, across the hearing and contemplation of his Word and of daily communion of his Body and his Blood in the celebration of the Eucharist that is the offering of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ the celestial Father.

But dear brothers and sisters, living holiness as I have already said not is the privilege for some person, but it is the duty of all baptized Christians. In the first Letter of Peter 1:15-16, the apostle tells us: “As he is holy that calls you, making you saints, also you in your conduct. For it is written: ‘Be holy because I am holy’ (Lv 11:44ss; 19:2)”. The Word of God does not say some, but all that hear the Word of God, converted themselves in following Jesus.

Some stand out more clearly by a special gift to become an example and challenge to society that lives without caring about the disadvantaged and needy. Sister Dulce was privileged in thisrespect, not to put limits on the Love of God and neighbor.

Marguerite Bays:

In 1853, when she was 35, Marguerite was operated on for intestinal cancer. The treatments were very invasive, and she prayed to Our Lady for healing and for a different understanding of suffering.

When Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, on 8 December 1854, both of her prayers were answered. From then on, Marguerite was forever bound to the figure of the suffering Christ on the cross.

She developed the stigmata, the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, on her hands, feet and chest. At first she kept it secret, but the news soon leaked out. On Fridays and during Holy Week, she would fall ill or experience moments of ecstasy. Gradually the pain became more and more intense, and on 27 June 1879, Marguerite died.

John Paul II’s homily at her 1995 beatification:

Some of her contemporaries found that her long moments in prayer were a waste of time. But, more her prayer was intense, more she approached God and more she was devoted to serving her brethren. For, only he who prays really knows God and, by listening to the heart of God, he is also close to the heart of the world.

Thus we discover the important place of prayer in secular life. It does not drive one away from the world. On the contrary, it enlarges the internal being, it opens one to forgiveness and fraternal life.

The mission lived by Marguerite Bays is the mission which behoves to each Christian.

In catechism, she endeavoured to present to the children of her village the message of the Gospel, using words that the young could understand. She devoted herself generously to the poor and the sick.

Without leaving her country, she had nevertheless an open heart towards the dimensions of the universal Church and the world. With the missionary spirit which characterised her, she implanted in her parish the Propagation of the faith and of the Holy Childhood.

In Marguerite Bays, we discover what Our Lord did to make her achieve saintliness: she walked humbly with God, in accomplishing each action in her daily life with love.

Giuseppina Vannini

Giuseppina Vannini is a 19th century religious sister from Rome known for founding the congregation of the Daughters of St. Camillus dedicated to serving the sick and suffering. She is the first Roman woman to be canonized in more than 400 years, according to ACI Stampa.

Vannini spent much of her childhood in an orphanage near St. Peter’s Square after losing her father when she was four, and her mother when she was seven. She grew up among the Daughters of Charity sisters, who ran the orphanage. On the day of her first communion, young Giuseppina felt that she was called to a religious vocation.
This desire was not realized until 1892 when she was 33 because she was rejected by the Daughters of Charity after her novitiate due to her poor health.

Despite her own health problems, Vannini went on to found the Daughters of St. Camillus, whose charism is to serve the sick, even at the risk of their own lives. However she did not live to see the congregation fully recognized by the Vatican. She died at the age of 51 in 1911.]

Here’s the Italian text of John Paul II’s homily at her (and others’) beatification. Can’t find an English text. 

Mother Mariam Thresia

Mother Mariam Thresia (1876-1926) was an Indian mystic and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family. Her prayer life was characterized by frequent ecstasies in which she would sometimes levitate above the ground. In 1909, Thresia received the stigmata, after which she also suffered from demonic attacks.

Mother Thresia cared for the poor, sick, and dying in Kerala, visiting those with leprosy and measles. She also preached to the poor and the rich alike the importance of happy, healthy families to uplift all of society.  In 1914 Thresia founded the Congregation of the Holy Family, which has grown to have 176 houses around the world with 1,500 professed sisters.

Cardinal Newman is featured in Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series. I wrote a prayer/meditation companion book for the series Praying with the Pivotal Players.  Below are pages from a chapter on “The Idea of the University.” Note that this book is designed to aid the reader in personal reflection, so the chapter leads from Newman’s general points to suggestions on how his thought in this area might lead and challenge us in our spiritual growth.

Here is a website dedicated to Mother Mariam Thresia

John Paul II’s homily at her 2000 beatification. 

“Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest” (Jn 12: 24). From childhood, Mariam Thresia Mankidiyan knew instinctively that God’s love for her demanded a deep personal purification. Committing herself to a life of prayer and penance, Sr Mariam Thresia’s willingness to embrace the Cross of Christ enabled her to remain steadfast in the face of frequent misunderstandings and severe spiritual trials. The patient discernment of her vocation eventually led to the foundation of the Congregation of the Holy Family, which continues to draw inspiration from her contemplative spirit and love of the poor.

Convinced that “God will give eternal life to those who convert sinners and bring them to the right path” (Letter 4 to her Spiritual Father), Sr Mariam devoted herself to this task by her visits and advice, as well as by her prayers and penitential practice. Through Bl. Mariam Thresia’s intercession, may all consecrated men and women be strengthened in their vocation to pray for sinners and draw others to Christ by their words and example.

7. “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31: 33). God is our only Lord and we are his people. This indissoluble covenant of love between God and humanity was brought to its fulfilment in Christ’s paschal sacrifice. It is in him that, despite belonging to different lands and cultures, we become one people, one Church, one and the same spiritual building whose bright and solid stones are the saints.

 

Pope Francis’ homily from today:

To cry out. To walk. To give thanks. Today we give thanks to the Lord for our new Saints. They walked by faith and now we invoke their intercession. Three of them were religious women; they show us that the consecrated life is a journey of love at the existential peripheries of the world. Saint Marguerite Bays, on the other hand, was a seamstress; she speaks to us of the power of simple prayer, enduring patience and silent self-giving. That is how the Lord made the splendour of Easter radiate in her life. Such is the holiness of daily life, which Saint John Henry Newman described in these words: “The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not… The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretence… with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, V, 5).

Let us ask to be like that, “kindly lights” amid the encircling gloom. Jesus, “stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as Thou shinest: so to shine as to be a light to others” (Meditations on Christian Doctrine, VII, 3). Amen.

As I’ve mentioned before, Cardinal Newman is featured in Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series. I wrote a prayer/meditation companion book for the series Praying with the Pivotal Players.  Below are pages from a chapter on “The Idea of the University.” Note that this book is designed to aid the reader in personal reflection, so the chapter leads from Newman’s general points to suggestions on how his thought in this area might lead and challenge us in our spiritual growth.

amy welborn

amy_welbornamy welborn

There are four more chapters on Newman in the book. 

More Newman in a book I’ve had a hand in:

My book Be Saints!  – illustrated by the artist Ann Engelhart – was inspired by a talk to young people that Pope Benedict XVI gave on his visit to England in 2010. 

amy welborn

 Benedict XVI’s homily at the beatification Mass for Newman:

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).    .…more

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In case you missed it, I have some thoughts on the post-Vatican II era, riffing off the novels of David Lodge, here at Church Life Journal from Notre Dame. 

Please to read and share.

Writer/Film Guy Son has been working through Kubrick, as he did through Bergman and Marvel. Go here to see what he thinks.

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Canonization of Cardinal Newman coming on Sunday – more on him from me here. 

amy welborn

amy welborn

Images from Praying with the Pivotal Players and Be Saints! 

 

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Yah, by the time you read this, El Camino will either be ready for viewing on Netflix, or close to it. I’m staying away from SpoilerLand all day and seeing it Friday night in the theater (unless I look at the traffic in the afternoon and it’s a mess around Talladega – it’s the big racing weekend, and I-20 goes right by the track. A couple of times over the past few years, I’ve forgotten that it was race weekend, and gone either to or from Atlanta, and gotten stuck. )

So, in any case, if you are interested, come back here late Friday night for my thoughts. I’ll have them, I’m sure.

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Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a play I would very much like to see – and if I did, indeed live in Atlanta and could hop Spirit Airlines to NYC for a hundred bucks, I’d probably do it. But since I don’t and life is fairly busy here, I’ll have to pass and read about it instead. From Chad Pecknold:

The play often works around internal conservative disputes — Bannonist, Benedict Option, Traditionalist — but the deeper undercurrents are those ‘dark and complicated’ mysteries of Catholicism. It is a strength of the play that the conservative and Catholic themes intermingle but never merge into one.

Theologically, the play is ambitious, covering everything from the nature of evil — inexplicable and meaningless disruptions which deprive us of goodness — to the Virgin Mary, to the Eucharist, to pulling human suffering into Christ’s sacrifice. Emily, a character racked by the pain of Lyme Disease, speaks about how each of us is a gift, akin to Christ himself who was “begotten not made.” And in a very important monologue in the play Teresa the young Bannonist tells her friend Kevin that he doesn’t understand the Virgin Mary because he’s “afraid of the scandal of particularity.”

“This is the thing about God. He makes us work out our salvation through other people.”

“We’re not meant to structure our society according to every freakish chosen ‘right.’ We’re supposed to strive for the good,” Teresa fervently implores in her Marian speech, “The particular, written, incarnate, natural Christian good. Otherwise, what are we? A throbbing mass of genderless narcissists. There’s no ‘thisness’ in the liberal future. There’s no there there. It’s empty. What’s really radical is sacrifice.”

Teresa’s political speeches are always theological, and her speech about the scandal of particularity above is precisely in the place of the deer’s blood, which Justin occasionally wipes down throughout the play to remind the audience of the presence of a sacrifice. For Teresa, however, “thisness” seems to keep her on the surface of things. It takes Emily, the Lyme Disease suffering woman whose body she describes as a “prairie of pain,” who breaks into the substance of things, who near the end of the play drags herself across a figure of Christ’s sacrifice, brings her suffering into contact with something real.

The play is remarkable for managing to make progressives and conservatives think about the parts we are playing in history – less Plato’s historical determinism and more Augustine’s “we are the times”. Fundamentally it’s a play which asks about the moral thinness of our present crisis, our “fourth turning,” and asks the audience to break into a bigger conversation about a “terrible beauty which sustains us.”

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One of the long blog posts I have up my sleeve is, of course, about gender. Yes, another one. To tide you over, here’s a philosophical primer from Public Discourse. 

Notwithstanding all the talk of people being “born that way,” the gender construct means to release us precisely from the way we were born. This is particularly evident in the most prominent representative of gender theory, Judith Butler, who adamantly rejects the need for any justification for being at variance with one’s bodily sex. For Butler, “gender” is not something we observe in ourselves, whether in our bodies or in our “deep-seated feelings.” It is something we do to ourselves. It is a groundless deed “performed” on ourselves, a sort of self-creation ex nihilo.

Indeed, it is noteworthy that despite the many “naturalistic” references to the lifelong deep-seated feelings of the respondent in the Harris Homes case, they are not used in the Sixth Circuit decision in his favor. On the contrary, there, only the most voluntarist definition of “gender” is used: something “fluid, variable, and difficult to define . . . [having] . . . a deeply personal, internal genesis that lacks a fixed external referent.” What in the end does it matter if someone has a “deep-seated feeling”? Why can it not be just a choice? It is enough that the employee has declared himself to be a woman for him to be one and to be treated as such. “Gender” has effectively vaporized the “fixed external referent,” all the evidence of our birth.

Benedict XVI summed up this final stage of the new philosophy of sex, saying:

Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be.

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This might interest you. I’m just tossing it out here and will do a deeper dive later.

The Experience of Worship Project – an fascinating project to recreate various medieval liturgies in situ. 

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What was it like to be in a church in the Middle Ages? What did you see around you? What did you hear, sense and feel? At one level at least, these are unanswerable questions, because the lost past is irrecoverable. But imagination has always been a crucial tool for historians seeking to understand the past – imagination combined with the evidence that can be garnered from what does survive. That is what this research project is about. But in asking these questions, and in combining imagination with evidence in seeking to answer them, it goes beyond the written narrative of historical study: it seeks to address the questions directly by active participation in the processes of making and enacting: enriching a medieval space with the furnishings, artefacts, vestments and books; filling it with the sights, sounds and sensory experience of medieval worship; and populating it by being the people performing and attending medieval liturgies.

A thorough exploration, complete with video, glossaries and explanations of artifacts. As I said – meriting a deeper look.

An article about the project:

Pragmatism and practicality had inevitably to be exercised. This was particularly true in the preparation of texts and ritual directions for both clergy and singers. Apart from limited time for rehearsal, there was no hope of achieving the accumulated memory, mores, habits and conventions that medieval clergy and singers took for granted in their recitation of 60 or more liturgies each week. Recitation and singing in Latin may have been attainable, but rubrics had to be adapted and in English. In the Mass, a medieval priest or singer was used to turning to at least three parts of the Missal or Gradual to find the necessary texts; these needed to be placed in sequence. Even so, the three clergy, the four assisting servers, and the singers all have their own ritual narrative to follow; and only the priest and the singers have constant access to a text. Furthermore, up to five different actions may be taking place simultaneously.

In all, three liturgies took place in Salisbury Cathedral, including a major procession around the cathedral and cloisters; and nine in St Teilo’s Church at St Fagans. The audio-visual recordings provide a record not of polished performances but of a fluent working through of these rituals. The procession and two Masses were enacted in both buildings, and revealed some of the challenges faced by local parish clergy, who lacked both the space and human resources of Salisbury Cathedral. The ritual of Salisbury (the so-called Use of Sarum) was used in over 7,000 churches by the end of the Middle Ages, all varying from the cathedral and from one another to a greater or lesser extent in configuration and resources. St Teilo’s is about an eighth of the length of Salisbury Cathedral, yet the same texts and ritual directions were to be followed in both buildings. Where did the priest of St Teilo’s go in procession in a church without the choir aisles and cloisters that are part of the directed route on great feast days? Where, on days when the Gospel was to be recited from the pulpitum above the choir screen, did the two clergy and three servers specified undertake this ritual when the only access to the top of the screen was a ladder – bearing in mind that they were processing formally, wearing vestments and carrying either book, candlestick or thurible? The texts recited and the chants sung may have been identical, but, notwithstanding the directions of the rubrics, the ritual had to be adapted.

Clergy, singers and the furniture, vestments and artefacts they required, formed one dimension of medieval worship at the east end of the church. The people formed the other dimension, unspecified in number, and largely unscripted, in the nave. Most of the participants in the enactments were either engaged in master’s or higher degrees or were research-active staff, and most were practising Christians, Newly constructed great lectern in use, with the 15th-century Ranworth Antiphonal. Photo: Mark Cator. 65 British Academy Review Spring 2019 though from a variety of denominations, traditions and spiritualities. Freed from expectations to follow a book text or to participate actively, they found themselves alert to a richer mix of the sensory, emotional, spiritual and intellectual qualities of worship, including long periods of silence during the Canon of the Mass; to use images or memorised devotional text as a focus, and to be enveloped by the whole experience of worship, thereby discovering new means of participation. Certain moments of engagement proved especially significant, like the kissing of the Pax Board by each person present, often the nearest that medieval laity came to contact with the consecrated bread and wine of the priest’s sacrifice. These were experiences of 21st-century individuals, but they have offered new insights on the artefacts, decorative elements, and devotional texts of late medieval religion

 

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Are you in parish/school or diocesan ministry? Advent is coming! Consider these resources – for Advent 2019, a family devotional I wrote for Creative Communications

Wonders Of His Love

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More samples – pdf 

Also this pamphlet on St. Nicholas, from Creative Communications as well:

Nicholas Of Myra

pdf sample

And this 2020 daily devotional – useful (I hope) for anyone, but, as I understand it from the publisher, a popular choice for Catholic institutions to share with employees and volunteers. It goes from the beginning of Advent 2019 to the December 31, 2020. 

 

Note: None of those links go to Amazon. Also, these were each written for a stipend, paid and delivered, in some cases (the Nicholas pamphlet), years ago. No royalties come to me from their sales. I’m just happy to share them and hope they help. 

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

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Today’s the memorial for Blessed John Henry Newman – and of course this coming Sunday, he’ll be canonized.

As I mentioned, yesterday, Church Life Journal published an essay of mine on the novels of David Lodge, particularly those that excavated the lives of young midcentury English Catholics, trying to figure out life and faith around the time of the Second Vatican Council. One thing I noticed on this most recent reading, but could not elegantly work into the essay, was that Newman – whom we see today as a titan of English Catholicism – plays no role in these young Catholics’ lives. None. He’s not mentioned, not he – nor any of those 19th century Catholics, Oxford Movement or outside of it – not a one. Graham Greene is a touchstone – he’s the public Catholic that this crew, particularly Michael (whom I suspect is the most autobiographical character)keeps tabs on, tracking his perceived faith perambulations on a regular basis. Which brings us back to my theme of narratives – our contemporary narrative of engaged English Catholicism is dominated by Newman – but even a few decades ago, were most engaged, self-consciously Catholic Catholics even thinking about him at all?

Cardinal Newman is featured in Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series. I wrote a prayer/meditation companion book for the series Praying with the Pivotal Players.  Below are pages from a chapter on “The Idea of the University.” Note that this book is designed to aid the reader in personal reflection, so the chapter leads from Newman’s general points to suggestions on how his thought in this area might lead and challenge us in our spiritual growth.

 

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There are four more chapters on Newman in the book. 

More Newman in a book I’ve had a hand in:

My book Be Saints!  – illustrated by the artist Ann Engelhart – was inspired by a talk to young people that Pope Benedict XVI gave on his visit to England in 2010. 

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI beatified Newman on that visit. So naturally, on that visit, he had many interesting things to say about him:

In an interview on the plane to England:

He was a man of great spirituality, of humanity, of prayer, with a profound relationship with God, a personal relationship, and hence a deep relationship with the people of his time and ours. So I would point to these three elements: modernity in his life with the same doubts and problems of our lives today; his great culture, his knowledge of the treasures of human culture, openness to permanent search, to permanent renewal and, spirituality, spiritual life, life with God; these elements give to this man an exceptional stature for our time.

At the prayer vigil before the beatification:

Let me begin by recalling that Newman, by his own account, traced the course of his whole life back to a powerful experience of conversion which he had as a young man. It was an immediate experience of the truth of God’s word, of the objective reality of Christian revelation as handed down in the Church. This experience, at once religious and intellectual, would inspire his vocation to be a minister of the Gospel, his discernment of the source of authoritative teaching in the Church of God, and his zeal for the renewal of ecclesial life in fidelity to the apostolic tradition. At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly. The truth that sets us free cannot be kept to ourselves; it calls for testimony, it begs to be heard, and in the end its convincing power comes from itself and not from the human eloquence or arguments in which it may be couched. Not far from here, at Tyburn, great numbers of our brothers and sisters died for the faith; the witness of their fidelity to the end was ever more powerful than the inspired words that so many of them spoke before surrendering everything to the Lord. In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied. And yet, the Church cannot withdraw from the task of proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth, the source of our ultimate happiness as individuals and as the foundation of a just and humane society.

Finally, Newman teaches us that if we have accepted the truth of Christ and committed our lives to him, there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives. Our every thought, word and action must be directed to the glory of God and the spread of his Kingdom. Newman understood this, and was the great champion of the prophetic office of the Christian laity……more.

And then, of course the homily at the Mass:

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).    .…more

This site offers more quotes from Benedict on Newman:

Conscience for Newman does not mean that the subject is the standard vis-à-vis the claims of authority in a truth less world, a world which lives from the compromise between the claims of the subject and the claims of the social order. Even more, conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself. It is the overcoming of mere subjectivity in the encounter of the interiority of man with the truth from God. The verse Newman composed in 1833 in Sicily is characteristic: “I loved to choose and see my path but now, lead thou me on!” Newman’s conversion to Catholicism was not for him a matter of personal taste or of subjective, spiritual need. He expressed himself on this even in 1844, on the threshold, so to speak, of his conversion: “No one can have a more unfavourable view than I of the present state of Roman Catholics.” Newman was much more taken by the necessity to obey recognized truth than his own preferences – even against his own sensitivity and bonds of friendship and ties due to similar backgrounds. It seems to me characteristic of Newman that he emphasized the priority of truth over goodness in the order of virtues. Or, to put it in a way which is more understandable for us, he emphasized truth’s priority over consensus, over the accommodation of groups

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Today’s her feastday!

She’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

 

 

For more on that book go here. 

They’ve created a matching game with some of the images from the book here. 

I have copies here – if you’d like a signed one! 

(St. Jerome images from the book in yesterday’s post)

She’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love their families.”  Here are the first two pages of the entry:

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on today’s saint, Therese of Lisieux.  From the General Audience of 4/6/11:

 

Dear friends, we too, with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love authentically and totally. Thérèse is one of the “little” ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery. A guide for all, especially those who, in the People of God, carry out their ministry as theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Thérèse continually entered the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this interpretation of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not in opposition to academic knowledge. Thescience of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of her The Story of a Soul, is the loftiest science.

“All the saints have understood and in a special way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of the evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that St Paul, St Augustine, St John of the Cross, St Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic, and so many other friends of God drew thatwonderful science which has enthralled the loftiest minds?” (cf. Ms C 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, for Thérèse the Eucharist was the sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to the extreme to raise us to him. In her last Letter, on an image that represents Jesus the Child in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!” (LT 266).

In the Gospel Thérèse discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point that she said: “To me, He has given his Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other divine attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love” (Ms A, 84r).

In these words she expresses herself in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “I have only to open the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the perfume of Jesus’ life, and then I know which way to run; and it is not to the first place, but to the last, that I hasten…. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit… my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Saviour Jesus, because I know that he loves the Prodigal Son” who returns to him. (Ms C, 36v-37r).

“Trust and Love” are therefore the final point of the account of her life, two words, like beacons, that illumined the whole of her journey to holiness, to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226).

Trust, like that of the child who abandons himself in God’s hands, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of self for ever, as the Saint says, contemplating Mary: “Loving is giving all, and giving oneself” (Why I love thee, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Thérèse points out to us all that Christian life consists in living to the full the grace of Baptism in the total gift of self to the Love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, his same love for all the others.

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From The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

My kids know all about St. Jerome because we frequent art museums, and St. Jerome is a very popular subject. I don’t think you can hit a museum with even the most meager medieval or renaissance collection and not encounter him. And since the way I have engaged my kids in museums since forever  – besides pointing out gory things – is to do “guess the saint” and “guess the Bible story” games -yes, they can recognize a wizened half-naked skull-and-lion accompanied St. Jerome from two galleries away.

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Good children’s books on St. Jerome:

Oh my gosh!

Margaret Hodge’s version with paintings by Barry Moser is..OUT OF PRINT?!

Well, thank goodness we have a copy, and hey, publishers…somebody pick this up and bring it back into print. Free advice, no charge.

Not surprisingly, Rumer Godden’s version is also out of print. 

Oh well…maybe you can find them at the library? Again…Catholic publishers..get on this!

I have St. Jerome in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints under “Saints are people who help us understand God.”

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And now…from 2007. Two GA talks devoted to Jerome. From the first:

What can we learn from St Jerome? It seems to me, this above all; to love the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. St Jerome said: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. It is therefore important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialogue with the Word of God given to us in Sacred Scripture. This dialogue with Scripture must always have two dimensions: on the one hand, it must be a truly personal dialogue because God speaks with each one of us through Sacred Scripture and it has a message for each one. We must not read Sacred Scripture as a word of the past but as the Word of God that is also addressed to us, and we must try to understand what it is that the Lord wants to tell us. However, to avoid falling into individualism, we must bear in mind that the Word of God has been given to us precisely in order to build communion and to join forces in the truth on our journey towards God. Thus, although it is always a personal Word, it is also a Word that builds community, that builds the Church. We must therefore read it in communion with the living Church. The privileged place for reading and listening to the Word of God is the liturgy, in which, celebrating the Word and making Christ’s Body present in the Sacrament, we actualize the Word in our lives and make it present among us. We must never forget that the Word of God transcends time. Human opinions come andgo. What is very modern today will be very antiquated tomorrow. On the other hand, the Word of God is the Word of eternal life, it bears within it eternity and is valid for ever. By carrying the Word of God within us, we therefore carry within us eternity, eternal life.

And from the second

Truly “in love” with the Word of God, he asked himself: “How could one live without the knowledge of Scripture, through which one learns to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?” (Ep. 30, 7). The Bible, an instrument “by which God speaks every day to the faithful” (Ep. 133, 13), thus becomes a stimulus and source of Christian life for all situations and for each person. To read Scripture is to converse with God: “If you pray”, he writes to a young Roman noblewoman, “you speak with the Spouse; if you read, it is he who speaks to you” (Ep. 22, 25). The study of and meditation on Scripture renders man wise and serene (cf. In Eph.,Prol.). Certainly, to penetrate the Word of God ever more profoundly, a constant and progressive application is needed. Hence, Jerome recommends to the priest Nepotian: “Read the divine Scriptures frequently; rather, may your hands never set the Holy Book down. Learn here what you must teach” (Ep. 52, 7). To the Roman matron Leta he gave this counsel for the Christian education of her daughter: “Ensure that each day she studies some Scripture passage…. After prayer, reading should follow, and after reading, prayer…. Instead of jewels and silk clothing, may she love the divine Books” (Ep. 107, 9, 12). Through meditation on and knowledge of the Scriptures, one “maintains the equilibrium of the soul” (Ad Eph., Prol.). Only a profound spirit of prayer and the Holy Spirit’s help can introduce us to understanding the Bible: “In the interpretation of Sacred Scripture we always need the help of the Holy Spirit” (In Mich. 1, 1, 10, 15).

A passionate love for Scripture therefore pervaded Jerome’s whole life, a love that he always sought to deepen in the faithful, too. He recommends to one of his spiritual daughters: “Love Sacred Scripture and wisdom will love you; love it tenderly, and it will protect you; honour it and you will receive its caresses. May it be for you as your necklaces and your earrings” (Ep. 130, 20). And again: “Love the science of Scripture, and you will not love the vices of the flesh” (Ep. 125, 11).

For Jerome, a fundamental criterion of the method for interpreting the Scriptures was harmony with the Church’s Magisterium. We should never read Scripture alone because we meet too many closed doors and could easily slip into error. The Bible has been written by the People of God and for the People of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in this communion with the People of God do we truly enter into the “we”, into the nucleus of the truth that God himself wants to tell us. For him, an authentic interpretation of the Bible must always be in harmonious accord with the faith of the Catholic Church. It is not a question of an exegesis imposed on this Book from without; the Book is really the voice of the pilgrim People of God and only in the faith of this People are we “correctly attuned” to understand Sacred Scripture.

Finally, Pope Benedict XV wrote an encyclical about St. Jerome on the 1500th anniversary of his death, and in it declared him the patron of all who study Sacred Scripture. You can read it here. 

Immense, then, was the profit Jerome derived from reading Scripture; hence came those interior illuminations whereby he was ever more and more drawn to knowledge and love of Christ; hence, too, that love of prayer of which he has written so well; hence his wonderful familiarity with Christ, Whose sweetness drew him so that he ran unfalteringly along the arduous way of the Cross to the palm of victory. Hence, too, his ardent love for the Holy Eucharist: “Who is wealthier than he who carries the Lord’s Body in his wicker basket, the Lord’s Blood in his crystal vessel?”[128] Hence, too, his love for Christ’s Mother, whose perpetual virginity he had so keenly defended, whose title as God’s Mother and as the greatest example of all the virtues he constantly set before Christ’s spouses for their imitation.[129] No one, then, can wonder that Jerome should have been so powerfully drawn to those spots in Palestine which had been consecrated by the presence of our Redeemer and His Mother. It is easy to recognize the hand of Jerome in the words written from Bethlehem to Marcella by his disciples, Paula and Eustochium:
What words can serve to describe to you the Savior’s cave? As for the manger in which He lay – well, our silence does it more honor than any poor words of ours. . . Will the day ever dawn where we can enter His cave to weep at His tomb with the sister (of Lazarus) and mourn with His Mother; when we can kiss the wood of His Cross and, with the ascending Lord on Olivet, be uplifted in mind and spirit?[130]

Filled with memories such as these, Jerome could, while far away from Rome and leading a life hard for the body but inexpressibly sweet to the soul, cry out: “Would that Rome had what tiny Bethlehem possesses!”[131]

68. But we rejoice – and Rome with us – that the Saint’s desire has been fulfilled, though far otherwise than he hoped for. For whereas David’s royal city once gloried in the possession of the relics of “the Greatest Doctor” reposing in the cave where he dwelt so long, Rome now possesses them, for they lie in St. Mary Major’s beside the Lord’s Crib. His voice is now still, though at one time the whole Catholic world listened to it when it echoed from the desert; yet Jerome still speaks in his writings, which “shine like lamps throughout the world.”[132] Jerome still calls to us. His voice rings out, telling us of the super-excellence of Holy Scripture, of its integral character and historical trustworthiness, telling us, too, of the pleasant fruits resulting from reading and meditating upon it. His voice summons all the Church’s children to return to a truly Christian standard of life, to shake themselves free from a pagan type of morality which seems to have sprung to life again in these days. His voice calls upon us, and especially on Italian piety and zeal, to restore to the See of Peter divinely established here that honor and liberty which its Apostolic dignity and duty demand. The voice of Jerome summons those Christian nations which have unhappily fallen away from Mother Church to turn once more to her in whom lies all hope of eternal salvation. Would, too, that the Eastern Churches, so long in opposition to the See of Peter, would listen to Jerome’s voice. When he lived in the East and sat at the feet of Gregory and Didymus, he said only what the Christians of the East thought in his time when he declared that “If anyone is outside the Ark of Noe he will perish in the over-whelming flood.”[133] Today this flood seems on the verge of sweeping away all human institutions – unless God steps in to prevent it. And surely this calamity must come if men persist in sweeping on one side God the Creator and Conserver of all things! Surely whatever cuts itself off from Christ must perish! Yet He Who at His disciples’ prayer calmed the raging sea can restore peace to the tottering fabric of society. May Jerome, who so loved God’s Church and so strenuously defended it against its enemies, win for us the removal of every element of discord, in accordance with Christ’s prayer, so that there may be “one fold and one shepherd.”

And finally, Fr. Steve Grunow:

There is another quality of St. Jerome’s character that will console many of us who struggle to be virtuous and holy, a quality which surprises many whose image of sanctity lacks a sense of how Christ’s holiness transforms human character. Jerome was known for being a cantankerous fellow. He struggled at times with the virtue of patience, could be overbearing with those who disagreed with him, and had a reputation for being cranky. One commentator on Saint Jerome’s life noted that perhaps Jerome chose to be a hermit, not so much as a heroic act of sacrifice, but because had he not lived alone, he most assuredly would not have been a saint! 

The spiritual lesson for us in this might be to remember that saints are not born with perfect characters and that even the holiest among us has become that way over time. This means that saints have shared with us all the qualities and weaknesses that vex us. However, flaws in character did not assuage them from seeking to know Christ and to live in such a way that their relationship with him was evident in their way of life. 

Therefore we should never believe that our weaknesses be justified as an excuse that exempts us from living as disciples of the Lord Jesus. The saints know their weaknesses and can readily admit them, but they also accept them as opportunities to for conversion and humility. 

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A friend from Red Mountain Park on Sunday.

Just a bit of blogging this past week – scroll back for that. Some homeschooling thoughts, some El Camino thoughts. Important, big stuff.

I’ll be in Living Faith on Tuesday – go here for that.

And per usual, check out my son’s writings on film and his fiction!

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After flailing away for months, trying to find thinkers and thoughts that in some way echo my own chaotic thoughts on the Present Moment, particularly in regard to mass and social media, the self and spirituality, I’ve stumbled upon a couple of works that I think might help – one I should have read decades ago, the other new to me:

The Culture of Narcissism – duh. It’s one of those books that for years I’ve just thought, yeah, I get it – as I’ve read other authors referencing it. But then I thought – yeah, I should probably just read it.

and then Society of the Spectacle by Frenchman Guy Debord, referenced by Catholic thinkers here and  here and available here. 

So perhaps at some point, you can return for any insights gained from that.

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Debord wrote from the position of a cultural Marxist, and before you get all frazzled by that, consider:

It goes without saying that Western culture is saturated with images. They are on our billboards, on sides of vehicles, buildings, clothing and phones. We cannot even answer nature’s call without the walls of toilets calling to us with the latest offer we cannot refuse. The explosion of smartphone technology means that users have round-the-clock screen time. Our world is awash with signs and symbols that flood every corner of our social space and fill our collective imaginations.

But what is the cultural effect this image-saturation? This is where Kulturkritik comes in. The heart of Kulturkritik is the well-known Marxist analysis of the process of commodification ― the conversion of things into units of exchange. In brief, Marx saw commodities not merely as things but also carriers of meaning acquired through the process of industrial manufacture and commercial distribution. This cultural meaning accrues in the form of a series of images that surround the commodity, the most important of which is the conceit that the commodity possesses self-contained value ― and it is this value that facilitates commodity-exchange. The upshot of this is that, for Marx, a commodity is a thing with an image fused to it. And through these images, the commodity acquires a symbolic power over its creator, shaping ― and clouding ― the creator’s perceptions of the world around him. This was described by Marx not only as an illusion, but also as a “religious fog.”

But Marx was talking about tables and chairs. What happens when non-physical goods like images become commodities in themselves? This is where Baudrillard and Debord make their singular contributions. In 1967, Guy Debord published his landmark work Society of the Spectacle, in which he argued that images have the mobilising power they have now because “the commodity has succeeded in totally colonising social life … we no longer see anything else; the world we see is the world of the commodity.” Images are not distractions from the real world, they have become the means by which we apprehend the real world. They, moreover, give a certain consistency to the world; as Debord writes, images are “a means of unification … the focal point of all vision and consciousness.”

That’s from Matthew Tan, who blogs at Awkward Asian Theologian – a spot I will be exploring with great interest. 

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This is the Debord reference that piqued my interest:

This debris, the culture of late-modern industrial society – as has been realized at both ends of the political spectrum – is really little more than a spectacle designed to reproduce and inculcate a secular, consumerist ethos and order of production, which itself is essentially a theatre. This partly lies in the fact that the gratuitous consumption fundamental to our society is driven not by need, but by wants related to the construction and maintenance of “identities” and “lifestyles” paraded about in a collective charade with little connection to authentic human realities. Thus, to paraphrase Guy Debord, cultural Marxist par excellence, spiritually lifeless mass culture in late-modern capitalism is just a spectacle for the sake of maintaining a spectacle. 

It’s from Catholic Insight – another online publication, this one Canadian, that is also worth your time. 

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Today’s the feastday of St. Vincent de Paul:

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

 

An account of his life:

Thus, although he had no advantages of birth, fortune, or handsome appearance, or any showy gifts at all, Vincent de Paul’s later years became one long record of accomplishment. In the midst of great affairs, his soul never strayed from God; always when he heard the clock strike, he made the sign of the cross as an act of divine love. Under setbacks, calumnies, and frustrations, and there were many, he preserved his serenity of mind. He looked on all events as manifestations of the Divine will, to which he was perfectly resigned. Yet by nature, he once wrote of himself, he was “of a bilious temperament and very subject to anger.” Without divine grace, he declared, he would have been “in temper hard and repellent, rough and crabbed.” With grace, he became tenderhearted to the point of looking on the troubles of all mankind as his own. His tranquillity seemed to lift him above petty disturbances. Self-denial, humility, and an earnest spirit of prayer were the means by which he attained to this degree of perfection. Once when two men of exceptional learning and ability asked to be admitted to his congregation, Vincent courteously refused them, saying: “Your abilities raise you above our low state. Your talents may be of good service in some other place. As for us, our highest ambition is to instruct the ignorant, to bring sinners to a spirit of penitence, and to plant the Gospel spirit of charity, humility, and simplicity in the hearts of all Christians.” One of his rules was that, so far as possible, a man ought not to speak of himself or his own concerns, since such discourse usually proceeds from and strengthens pride and self-love.

From his own words, in today’s Office of Readings:

Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves those who love the poor. For when one person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to understand the poor and weak. We sympathise with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: I have become all things to all men. Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbours’ worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions.

 

— 6 —

The writings that St. Vincent left behind are mostly in the form of correspondence and conferences, which are in print today and easy to find. Some of these thoughts were collected in a small volume of “Counsels” which you can access via archive.org. For example, here.

I find reading works like this instructive for a number of reasons. First, naturally, because they are the thoughts and advice of a great saint, and that’s always good to put in your brain and fill your time with.

But secondly – what a contrast. What a contrast to the contemporary spiritual gestalt and yes, I’m talking about Catholic gestalt, too. Perhaps especially.

I am ever intrigued by popular spirituality, no matter what era, and in particular by the give and take, ebb and flow between Catholicism and secular thought and culture. When does the latter help illuminate the former? When does it obscure, distract and point us away from Christ? When we tease it apart, what should be retained, and what should be tossed?

When you read these Counsels of St. Vincent de Paul, you might start suspecting that much of what you’re encountering in contemporary Catholic spiritual and pastoral efforts falls into that latter category.

Harsh!

But why?

Because traditional Catholic spirituality, from St. Paul on, has been about humility and emptying the self and allowing Christ to fill you. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. 

Consider what you’re being sold these days, even from Catholics. In every way, in every corner, it seems to be about you and your self. We are constantly told that the core of spiritual seeking is to discover who you really are, with gifts ‘n’ talents at the ready, accept who you really are, accept that God accepts you as you really are, arrange your life around the self you have accepted, be passionate about that self and its potential for greatness, find a church community that accepts you as you really are, and then get upset if you feel that you’re not being accepted as you really are. Lather, rinse, repeat.

 

There’s that concept of being stuck in perpetual adolescence, and this seems to me to be one manifestation of it – that unrelenting focus on and anxiety about the self and how well we are understood and accepted. As well as a spirituality formed in a context of relative material prosperity and social segregation. Does it nudge us in the proper direction, open us to the fullness of the Gospel? Sometimes, perhaps. God can work through anything, no matter how weird and odd and even bad, and does. But really, this moralistic therapeutic deism, as it’s commonly called in this, yes, culture of narcissism –  and what St. Vincent is preaching – to not speak of oneself and one’s own concerns –  are…different.  It’s good to pay attention and question your spiritual paradigm, not just once in a while, but every day.

— 7 —

Here’s my tonic for that temptation. From the Counsels:

The methods by which God chooses to work are not in accordance with our ideas and our wishes. We must content ourselves with using those small powers which He has given us, and not be distressed because they are not higher or more far-reaching. If we are faithful in a little, He will give much into our charge ; but that is His province, and does not depend on efforts of ours. We must leave it to Him, and try and fill our own niche.

The spirit of the world is restless, and desires to be active in all things. Let it alone. We must not choose our paths, but follow those into which it is God’s pleasure to direct us. So long as we know ourselves unworthy to be used by Him, or to be esteemed by other men, we are safe. Let us offer ourselves to Him to do or to suffer anything that may be for His glory or for the strengthening of His Church. That is all He asks. If He requires results, that is in His hands and not in ours ; let us spread out heart and will in His presence, having no choice of this or that until God has spoken. And, -‘meanwhile, pray we may have grace to copy our Lord in those virtues that belonged to His hidden life.

Remember always that the Son of God remained unrecognised. That is  our aim, and that is what He asks of us now, for the future and for always, unless He shows us, by some method of His which we cannot mistake, that He wants something else of us. Pay homage to the everyday life led by our Lord on earth, to His humility, His self-surrender, and His practice of  the virtues such a life requires. But chiefly pay homage to the limitations our Divine Master set on His own achievements. He did not choose to do all He might have done, and He teaches us to be content to refrain from undertakings which might be within our power, and to fulfill only what charity demands and His will requires.

I rejoice at this generous resolve of yours to imitate our Lord in the hiddenness of His life. The idea of it seems as if it must have come from God, because it is so opposed to the ordinary point of view of flesh and blood. You may be quite sure that that certainly is the state befitting children of God. Therefore be steadfast, and have the courage to resist all  the suggestions that are against it. You have found the means by which you may become what God asks you to be and learn to do His holy will continually, and that is the goal for which we are striving and for which all the saints have striven.

Another way to think of this, traditionally, is in terms of will. One of St. Benedict’s rules is “to hate one’s own will.” Again – harsh! Isn’t happiness about fulfilling our deepest yearnings?

Well, yes and no, and of course it all comes down to definitions.

We all suffer because we believe that happiness lies in fulfilling our will. But if we have the gift to reflect on our past, we quickly come to the realization that much of what we “will” does not bring us happiness and in fact is quite fleeting and arbitrary–changing with the wind.

To fight “our will” does not mean going off into another direction but rather facing reality. Our “will” often pulls us away from what most needs our attention. We often will to be somewhere other than where we are, to be doing something other than what needs to be done and to be with someone other than the one we are with at the present moment. These are exactly the moments when we are to “hate” our own will and seek to do the will of God.

 


 

Coming Monday: St. Jerome’s feastday:

 

 

From The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

 

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

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