Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Today is the memorial of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, C.S.Ss.R., whose story and tireless ministry is amazing to read about:

His availability and innate kindness in understanding and responding to the needs of the faithful, quickly made him well known as an expert confessor and spiritual director, so much so that people came to him even from neighboring towns. Faithful to the Redemptorist charism, he practiced a simple lifestyle and a simple manner of expressing himself. The themes of his preaching, rich in biblical content, were always heard and understood even by everyone, regardless of education, culture, or background. A constant endeavor in this pastoral activity was instructing the little children in the faith. He not only favored this ministry, he held it as fundamental for the growth of the Christian community in the parish. In 1854, he was transferred from Pittsburgh, to Baltimore, then Cumberland in 1857, and to Annapolis (1862), all the while engaged in parish ministry and serving in the formation of future Redemptorists as Prefect of Students. Even in this post, he was true to his character remaining always the kind and happy pastor, prudently attentive to the needs of his students and conscientious of their doctrinal formation. Above all, he strove to instill in these future Redemptorist missionaries the enthusiasm, the spirit of sacrifice and apostolic zeal for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the people.

In 1860 he was proposed as a candidate for the office of Bishop of Pittsburgh. Having been excused from this responsibility by Pope Pius IX, from 1863 until 1866 he dedicated himself to the life of an itinerant missionary preaching in English and German in the states of Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

After a brief period of parish ministry in Detroit, Michigan, he was assigned in 1866 to the Redemptorist community in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here also, as pastor of the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption, he was known as a pastor who was joyously available to his faithful and singularly concerned for the poorest and the most abandoned. In God’s plan, however, his ministry in New Orleans was destined to be brief. In the month of September, exhausted from visiting and caring for the victims of yellow fever, he contracted the dreaded disease. After several weeks of patiently enduring his illness, he passed on to eternal life on October 4, 1867, at the age of 48 years and 9 months.

A few years ago, we visited the Seelos shrine in New Orleans. I tell the story here and here, including why this…

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More here…

This statue of Our Lady of Sorrows was at the shrine. It was blessed by Fr Seelos. I find it really lovely

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

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

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

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

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

Bullet points for brevity’s sake.

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

Okay, break time.

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

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

Back to bullet points.

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

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


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

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

“I am the servant of all”  


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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I have a long-overdue blog post about a certain book I read  while back. I had read it on the Kindle app, and highlighted quite a bit. What I wanted was a way to copy and paste those highlights – I found some instructions here, if you are interested. (Basically, go to Kindle.Amazon.com, sign in, and find, er, “Your Highlights.”)

I thought it might be fun to share some of these highlights from a couple of years worth of reading on Kindle, randomly.  So without cheating and planning brilliant and ironic choices, I’m going to share the…let’s see …third…highlight from every book’s list that’s stored. Let’s see what we’ve got:

(I think they go in reverse chronological order, most recently read first. These are from the last couple of years.)

  • People were nice if you found the right ones. The trouble was there were so many of the wrong ones.  The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes
  • And suppose that you have nothing in you except your egoism and a dexterity that goes no higher than the elbow: suppose that your real gift is for a detailed, academic, representational style of drawing, your real métier to be an illustrator of scientific textbooks. How then do you become Napoleon? “Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali” – George Orwell
  • It is accomplished by unflagging assiduity in the system of puffing. To puff and to get one’s self puffed have become different branches of a new profession. – The Way We Live Now. Anthony Trollope
  • Two further steps result naturally from this second remark. To begin with, we must take note of the fact that the community of Jesus’ disciples is not an amorphous mob. At its center are the Twelve, who form a compactly knit core.  Called to Communon  – Joseph Ratzinger
  • I felt for quite a while as though four inches had been clipped from my shoulders, three inches from my height, and for good measure, someone had removed my ribs and my chest had settled meekly in towards my back. Good-bye Columbus by Philip Roth
  • Captain Wawn is crystal-clear on one point: He does not approve of missionaries. They obstruct his business. They make “Recruiting,” as he calls it (“Slave-Catching,” as they call it in their frank way) a trouble when it ought to be just a picnic and a pleasure excursion. Following the Equator  by Mark Twain
  • “Which of the extremes of human temperature does your courage start from—the dead cold or the white hot?”  No Name by Wilkie Collins
  • Almost home, stuck in traffic, I gazed south toward the Art Deco tower of the Wiltern Theater and thought: Well, one part’s over. I will never have to go through the first day after finding out I have cancer again.  Stripped by Heather King.
  • I confess I could not follow him clearly. He seems deeply interested in Church matters. Are you quite sure he is right in the head? I have noticed again and again since I have been in the Church that lay interest in ecclesiastical matters is often a prelude to insanity.  Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
  • Old Suarez was there waiting in the cambio line, the exchange line, a revolutionary in coat and tie and black felt hat. He was all in black, watchful, on the lookout for little signs of disrespect to his person. A big American woman had sat down on him once. She hadn’t seen him on the park bench. Today he was lecturing. The leathery woman in front of him was from Winnipeg. She painted big brown landscapes. Suarez didn’t think much of Canadians either and he was setting her straight on a few things. Their nation was illegitimate. Their sovereignty had been handed to them on a platter, an outright gift, instead of having been properly won through force of arms. The birth throes had to be violent. There had to be blood. Gringos by Charles Portis
  • Through the entire body of the church not a man was to be seen. Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan. John L. Stephens
  • She chose a tall, glassy, urban-looking building of the kind that made conservationist groups send round-robin letters, accompanied by incriminating photographs, to newspapers in Lausanne. “From the Fifteenth District” in “Paris Stories” by Mavis Gallant
  • He’s looking for one image that will connect or combine or embody two points; one is a point in the concrete, and the "amy welborn"other is a point not visible to the naked eye, but believed in by him firmly, just as real to him, really, as the one that everybody sees.  Mysteries and Manners by Flannery O’Connor
  • ‘Just a minute, gentlemen,’ Shivlochan, BA (Professor), said, rising. ‘You are rejecting the doctrine of non-violence. Do you realize that?’ ‘Rejecting it just for a short time,’ Misir said impatiently. ‘Short short time.’  A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipul (never finished that one)
  • What was Camille doing right now? She was home, Judith knew that much, but your daughter being home was a consolation of yesteryear. With the Internet, Camille might as well be leaning against a lamppost in New Orleans or São Paulo. To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal
  • Whole paragraphs were maddeningly free of both mistakes and meaning. Nate in Venice by Richard Russo
  • And then there is the question, on which so much depends, of how we react to the damage: whether we admit it or repress it, and how this affects our dealings with others. Some admit the damage, and try to mitigate it; some spend their lives trying to help others who are damaged; and then there are those whose main concern is to avoid further damage to themselves, at whatever cost. And those are the ones who are ruthless, and the ones to be careful of. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.

…well, that was entertaining.

And also Exhibit A in “Why I didn’t even try to get a doctorate” – can’t focus. Too scatterbrained.

But then I realized that the book I needed the highlights from was not a Kindle book after all, but a book downloaded onto the app from archive.org…oh well…..

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St. Junipero Serra now….

Go here for more information. There’s a particularly good FAQ.

I read a good introduction to him in an older book called Adventurer Saints that I’d forgotten I owned. As Pope Francis said in his homily, St. Junipero’s life was marked by movement away from comfort zones – a university professor who left it all to minister in the New World amid tremendous physical suffering, he was all about bringing the love of Christ to the edges of the world, in love, not domination.

Siempre Adelante!

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One of the most fascinating elements of the missions to the New World -all of them, but especially the Franciscans and Jesuits in South America and the Southwest – was the importance of music.  You remember the role of music in The Mission, right? Well, it was that way for all the missions. In The Loyola KIds Book of Saints, I wrote about one missionary, St. Francis Solano, who saw the value of music in missionary work.

There is a lot out there written about music in the California missions, specifically. This might be a good start:

very mission had a library, carried on the schooling of Indian residents and provided instruction in the various manual arts. In addition, music instrument collections were amassed which involved organs, (barrel, reed and pipe), as well as string (violins, violoncellos, contrabass), woodwind (piccolos, flutes, oboes, clarinets), brass (trumpets and horns) and percussion instruments. Choirs and orchestras, in some cases of significant size and competence, were trained, often to a level of considerable proficiency. Visitors to the missions, as early as the closing years of the eighteenth century, commented upon the quality and scope of the music making at individual missions.

The sacred music of California that remains in manuscript form is the most extensive and diverse body of plainsong and polyphonic music to survive from any of Spain’s colonies in the contiguous forty-eight states. Much of the polyphonic music was brought to California from locations in Spain and Mexico, including the Convento de San Francisco, Palm, Mallorca and the Cathedral in Mexico City. The manuscript remains are preserved in ten different libraries and archives throughout California.

But it’s only a start…there’s so much out there, including music not just imported, but written in the New World. New World Baroque music is absolutely one of my favorite types of music to listen to.

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Chanticleer recorded an album of music from the California missions:

Speaking of the California missions, I’ve been to one: San Juan de Bautista (famous because of Vertigo, among other reasons.)  It’s so lovely. Here are some other images from that 2011 visit:

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These are from 2011. I guess it was that trip I had an afternoon all mapped out to go to Carmel, where (now) St. Junipero is buried, but we got there and for some reason it was closed – it was Thanksgiving week, and I had checked the website to make sure it would be open, but lo and behold, we pulled up and saw several other people milling around the locked gates, peering through, trying to catch a glimpse of..something.  Should have called!

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It was interesting to me that all the controversy preceding this canonization seemed to have flattened out somehow. It’s odd that there was hardly any expectation that Pope Francis would address any controversy or disappointment/criticism that he didn’t. Teflon, I tell you!

It’s too bad, too,  because I don’t believe in whitewashing historical apologetics about any era of history, ecclesiastical or secular. The encounter between Europeans and the native peoples of the Americas has layers of complexity and nuance as cultures clash, and especially as the Gospel finds its way to human beings in need of it in the midst of a maze of empire, power and exploitation. That dynamic is worth a moment of attention, and that attention is not an “attack” on anything (well, it doesn’t have to be), but merely exploration and questioning. How do we serve people and minister to them without becoming accessories to the sinful structures that enable our presence and activity? What is that relationship all about?

Still pertinent questions.

— 5 —

Homeschool book of the week is Adam of the Road – which is delightful and should be read in all late-elementary Catholic classrooms instead of the mostly prescriptive pap from secular textbooks that most of them unfortunately use.  It’s given us a chance to do history and geography, of course, but also to talk about various aspects of medieval Church life, including the monastery as a vibrant center of life in a society. Not closed-off, to be sure.

— 6 —

Read a couple of books this week, for really no reason except because they were around:

Catholic Revivalism was a re-read, since I’d used it in college decades ago. But do you remember how I keep telling you about the importance of reading history?  Doing so is helpful in keeping you grounded, anchored between either thinking the present is the absolute worst or the fabulous best. Reading a book like Catholic Revivalism reminds you, in case you didn’t know, that Catholics were actually not indifferent to evangelization, outreach and personal faith before two minutes ago and  that pastoral ministers have been concerned about Catholics not practicing their faith and knowing zilch about it anyway forever.

Comforting? Depressing? Both? Maybe.

Oh, and The Girl on the Train. Was that it? There were a bunch of copies on the shelf at the library, I vaguely remembered that it’s popular, so I took a couple of nights a read it. I liked the set-up and I thought the protagonist’s alcoholism was a different twist and initially well-done, but then it got tedious and repetitive, the other characters were superficially drawn, and the whole thing got absurd, just as most books like that do.

I need to get me another Dorothy Hughes.  That would be far more interesting to write about, too.

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Don’t forget…St. Francis of Assisi in a week or so…get your books here or here!

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

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A sort of busy couple of weeks.  With more to come.  I just realized I never did a 7 QT last week…so..

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I did manage a “Learning Notes” which included information about the homeschool rock-climbing and Asian art workshop in which we participated. You can read about it here. 
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I just love the colors of these mushrooms. And the little cap they’ve broken through visible on the ground.

— 3—

On Sunday, we took a drive a little west and south – between here and Tuscaloosa – to a place called Perry Lakes Park. It’s on the Cahaba River (which is long and winding – look it up!), has nature trails, a former fire tower transformed into a bird-watching tower, and a little bit of a beach.


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Our opportunities for travel – even locally – are pretty limited these days, so I am determined to squeeze what I can out of every nice day and free afternoon. As we walked out the door, some water issues related to the basement bathroom were pointed out to me.  I teetered for a moment, cursed the fates, decided it would (obviously) still be there in four hours…and moved out and onward….

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A couple of interesting local Catholic-y things.

First, a tiny, historic parish not far from where we live has strong ministries for the local neighborhood, especially for children. We are going to be involved in this fabulous after school reading room – you can read about it on the pastor’s blog here, and if you are able, to help out a bit with the final expenses? Maybe?

This same outcome is what we want for the youth who live near my smaller parish, Holy Rosary. They live in one of the most afflicted neighborhoods of Birmingham, Alabama. The public schools in the area have not always had the highest ratings. We have encountered children who – even in third or fourth grade, and receiving decent grades on their report cards – had extremely low or nearly non-existent levels of literacy. These children often come from irregular family situations and poverty. Some have never really been read to. And in the face of this, our local situation, we want to make a difference.

Thus, thanks to the inspiration of a certain special lady and the great help of many parishioners, friends, and other members of our community, we have started a new apostolate, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Learning Center – named for the first canonized American-born saint and founder of Catholic schools in our country, who also had a religious order that served the poor. The Center just opened this past week. It consists of two rooms and a bathroom in an existing building on our campus, which we renovated so that the youth will have a good place to do homework and read. And there are no concrete block walls or harvest gold drapes. Much to the contrary. Take a look:

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Birmingham is a diocesan see, and JUST LIKE St. Patrick’s in NYC, our cathedral has undergone an important and beautiful restoration over the past years.  In the process, some of the crosses on the roof were removed or replaced. A local photographer got the idea for a project using those crosses:

Having overlooked the city of Birmingham, AL for the past 120 years, the crosses that once adorned The Cathedral of St. Paul have hit the streets to view firsthand the city that they have watched change over the past century.

aCROSS BIRMINGHAM is a book of photographs of the crosses around their city.

All proceeds support The Cathedral of St. Paul.

You can see some of the photos here. 

Courtesy aCross Birmingham Facebook page. 

They are set up at the big downtown art festival this weekend, and do you know what that is?

(Okay, besides a fundraiser)


— 6 —

Later in the week, some rock scrambling. Here.

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"amy welborn"

We’re still at the very beginnings of the biology study, so after mold comes algae and lichen…so that all was found and discussed….

— 7 —

Last weekend, we watched The Lavender Hill Mob. The boys enjoyed it. Pro tip for getting a kid to watch an older film, if he or she is not so inclined. Tell them Obi-Wan Kenobi is in it. They’re all in at that point.

Speaking of which – this was depressing. To me.

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An entire Star Wars  section? Really? I guess so. One more reason to go to Target by myself…..

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

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“No life, except the life of Christ, has so moved me as that of St. Peter Claver.”

Pope Leo XIII

A statue of Peter Claver and a slave in Cartagena. This is a very good introduction, from a Cartagena page. 

From Crisis:

Claver’s heroism in dealing with the diseased and sick is astounding. Even so, it was an everyday occurrence. Claver would wipe the sweat from the faces of the slaves with his own handkerchief. Moreover, he would often clothe the sick and diseased in his own cloak. As some of his interpreters witnessed, the cloak had to be washed up to seven times a day from the stink and filth which it had accumulated. It was routine for Claver to console his fellow man by joyfully undertaking practices which were considered extremely repugnant to most. As one eye-witness notes, “Most admirable was that he not only cleansed these plague-ridden ulcers with the two handkerchiefs he kept for that, but did not hesitate to press his lips to them.” He plainly saw Christ “in the least of these brethren.”

The chief problem in the evangelization of the slaves lay in the numerous languages used by the many “races” of Africans. Although Claver himself never mastered the African languages, he did have some facility with Angolese, the most common of them. On account of these linguistic difficulties, he continually worked with a team of interpreters, black slaves who had a fine ear and tongue for languages. It is important to note that Claver empowered these slave interpreters to become true leaders, diligently training them in the Christian faith. Treating them as his equals, close friends, and true collaborators in the work of evangelization, he always carefully looked after their food, clothing, and medicines. If they were seriously sick, he gave up his bed to them, and slept on the floor.

As images are the books of the illiterate, Claver was liberal in his use of pictures in catechizing the new converts. In his instructions, he taught them the rudiments of the faith. He especially enjoyed teaching them about the life, passion, and death of Christ through illustrations and the crucifix. At times, he even used the monitory pictures of hell to inspire in them a true sense of contrition for their own sins. At the same time, he also gave them hope, teaching them about the glories of heaven. It was not an easy task. The slaves had to be patiently drilled in such simple matters as the sign of the cross. At all times, however, he reminded them of their own dignity and worth, teaching them that Christ had redeemed them at a great price with his blood.

Every spring, Claver would set out on rural missions to plantations surrounding Cartagena. Here he would check up on the lives of his charges as much as he was able. Refusing the hospitality of the plantation owners, he dwelt in the Negro slave quarters. On many occasions, he was ill-received by the plantation owners and their wives. They looked at his spiritual ministrations among their slaves as a waste of their time. Throughout his life, he was never a revolutionary, a “hater of the rich and embittered protector of the poor.” Although he had a special predilection for the poor black slaves, he did not ignore the rich; rather, he exhorted the wealthy to carry out their social duties and he promoted cooperation between the classes.

He’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints

An excerpt:

Peter claver

If you’re ever in Cartegena…from Lonely Planet:

This convent was founded by Jesuits in the first half of the 17th century, originally as San Ignacio de Loyola. The name was later changed in honor of Spanish-born monk Pedro Claver (1580–1654), who lived and died in the convent. Called the ‘Apostle of the Blacks’ or the ‘Slave of the Slaves,’ the monk spent all his life ministering to the enslaved people brought from Africa. He was the first person to be canonized in the New World (in 1888).

The convent is a monumental three-story building surrounding a tree-filled courtyard, and much of it is open as a museum. Exhibits include religious art and pre-Columbian ceramics, and a new section devoted to Afro-Caribbean contemporary pieces includes wonderful Haitian paintings and African masks.

You can visit the cell where San Pedro Claver lived and died in the convent, and also climb a narrow staircase to the choir loft of the adjacent church…. The church has an imposing stone facade, and inside there are fine stained-glass windows and a high altar made of Italian marble. The remains of San Pedro Claver are kept in a glass coffin in the altar. His skull is visible, making it an altar with a difference.


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What do we know about St. Clare of Assisi?

As is the case with many historical figures, separating legend and history can be a challenge with Clare and the effort can even miss the point because…well, who knows?

But it can be helpful and important to try to tease the two apart, not just for the sake of accuracy, but also so that we engage the willingness to be critical, not so much of the record that comes to us, but of our own assumptions.  Are we, for example, molding the figure of St. Francis to a particular modern agenda by  embracing some exaggerated legendary material about him but ignoring aspects of his life that are actually historically verifiable  – his strict views on liturgy and reverence, for example?

So, Clare.

58d729de3674eabab7869868b547b9aaIn his excellent and necessary biography of Francis, Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. writes a bit about Clare, what we know about her and what is disputed.

He says that it is not clear how Francis and Clare came to meet. For his part, as an historian, he leans toward the view that it was via one of Francis’ early followers, Rufino, who was also Clare’s cousin. We don’t know how many times they met, but, as Fr. Thompson says, “The eventual result, however, was a plan for Clare to ‘leave the world,’ just s Francis had nearly seven years earlier.” (46)

The night of Palm Sunday 1212,  Clare and her sister Pacifica left the family home and went to the Porziuncula. “They found Francis and the community waiting for her in prayer before the candlelit altar. Francis cut the young woman’s hair and gave her a habit like that of the brothers, but with a veil. Before the ceremony, as Clare later recounted herself, she made profession of religious obedience for life directly to Francis…Francis now faced a new problem: what to do with his first female disciple. As on several other occasions of need, he turned to Benedictines.” (47)

After some time, they were settled at San Damiano. Francis prepared a rule of life for them by which they were charged to “follow the perfection of the holy Gospel.” (48)

And from that point, until his death, we have no record of contact between Francis and Clare.

When he died in 1226, his body was taken to the sisters at San Damiano for reverence.


The letters of St. Clare to Agnes of Prague. 

Agnes was the daughter of a king and espoused to the Emperor Frederick, who remarked famously upon news of her refusal of marriage to him, “If she had left me for a mortal man, I would have taken vengeance with the sword, but I cannot take offence because in preference to me she has chosen the King of Heaven.”

She entered the Poor Clares, and what makes the letters from Clare so interesting to me is the way that Clare plays on Agnes’ noble origins, using language and allusions that draw upon Agnes’ experience, but take her beyond it, as in this one: 

Inasmuch as this vision is the splendour of eternal glory (Heb 1:3), the brilliance of eternal light and the mirror 6477dcad09d8967545d8190b6c9cbdc1without blemish (Wis 7:26), look upon that mirror each day, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually study your face within it, so that you may adorn yourself within and without with beautiful robes and cover yourself with the flowers and garments of all the virtues, as becomes the daughter and most chaste bride of the Most High King. Indeed, blessed poverty, holy humility, and ineffable charity are reflected in that mirror, as, with the grace of God, you can contemplate them throughout the entire mirror.

Look at the parameters of this mirror, that is, the poverty of Him who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. O marvellous humility, O astonishing poverty! The King of the angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger! Then, at the surface of the mirror, dwell on the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labours and burdens which He endured for the redemption of all mankind. Then, in the depths of this same mirror, contemplate the ineffable charity which led Him to suffer on the wood of the cross and die thereon the most shameful kind of death. Therefore, that Mirror, suspended on the wood of the cross, urged those who passed by to consider it, saying: “All you who pass by the way, look and see if there is any suffering like My suffering!” (Lam 1:2). Let us answer Him with one voice and spirit, as He said: Remembering this over and over leaves my soul downcast within me (Lam 3:20)! From this moment, then, O queen of our heavenly King, let yourself be inflamed more strongly with the fervour of charity!

Now, more on Clare herself, from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, first from a General Audience in 2010

Especially at the beginning of her religious experience, Francis of Assisi was not only a teacher to Clare whose teachings she was to follow but also a brotherly friend. The friendship between these two Saints is a very beautiful and important aspect. Indeed, when two pure souls on fire with the same love for God meet, they find in their friendship with each other a powerful incentive to advance on the path of perfection. Friendship is one of the noblest and loftiest human sentiments which divine Grace purifies and transfigures. Like St Francis and St Clare, other Saints too experienced profound friendship on the journey towards Christian perfection. Examples are St Francis de Sales and St Jane Frances de Chantal. And St Francis de Sales himself wrote: “It is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there. I am not now speaking of simple charity, a love due to all mankind, but of that spiritual friendship which binds souls together, leading them to share devotions and spiritual interests, so as to have but one mind between them” (The Introduction to a Devout Life, III, 19).

After spending a period of several months at other monastic communities, resisting the pressure of her relatives who did not at first approve of her decision, Clare settled with her first companions at the Church of San Damiano where the Friars Minor had organized a small convent for them. She lived in this Monastery for more than 40 years, until her death in 1253. A first-hand description has come down to us of how these women lived in those years at the beginning of the Franciscan movement. It is the admiring account of Jacques de Vitry, a Flemish Bishop who came to Italy on a visit. He declared that he had encountered a large number of men and women of every social class who, having “left all things for Christ, fled the world. They called themselves Friars Minor and Sisters Minor [Lesser] and are held in high esteem by the Lord Pope and the Cardinals…. The women live together in various homes not far from the city. They receive nothing but live on the work of their own hands. And they are deeply troubled and pained at being honoured more than they would like to be by both clerics and lay people” (Letter of October 1216: FF, 2205, 2207).

Jacques de Vitry had perceptively noticed a characteristic trait of Franciscan spirituality about which Clare was deeply sensitive: the radicalism of poverty associated with total trust in Divine Providence. For this reason, she acted with great determination, obtaining from Pope Gregory IX or, probably, already from Pope Innocent III, the so-called Privilegium Paupertatis (cf. FF., 3279). On the basis of this privilege Clare and her companions at San Damiano could not possess any material property. This was a truly extraordinary exception in comparison with the canon law then in force but the ecclesiastical authorities of that time permitted it, appreciating the fruits of evangelical holiness that they recognized in the way of life of Clare and her sisters. This shows that even in the centuries of the Middle Ages the role of women was not secondary but on the contrary considerable. In this regard, it is useful to remember that Clare was the first woman in the Church’s history who composed a written Rule, submitted for the Pope’s approval, to ensure the preservation of Francis of Assisi’s charism in all the communities of women large numbers of which were already springing up in her time that wished to draw inspiration from the example of Francis and Clare.

In the Convent of San Damiano, Clare practised heroically the virtues that should distinguish every Christian: humility, a spirit of piety and penitence and charity. Although she was the superior, she wanted to serve the sick sisters herself and joyfully subjected herself to the most menial tasks. In fact, charity overcomes all resistance and whoever loves, joyfully performs every sacrifice. Her faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was so great that twice a miracle happened. Simply by showing to them the Most Blessed Sacrament distanced the Saracen mercenaries, who were on the point of attacking the convent of San Damiano and pillaging the city of Assisi.

Such episodes, like other miracles whose memory lives on, prompted Pope Alexander IV to canonize her in 1255, only two years after her death, outlining her eulogy in the Bull on the Canonization of St Clare. In it we read: “How powerful was the illumination of this light and how strong the brightness of this source of light. Truly this light was kept hidden in the cloistered life; and outside them shone with gleaming rays; Clare in fact lay hidden, but her life was revealed to all. Clare was silent, but her fame was shouted out” (FF, 3284). And this is exactly how it was, dear friends: those who change the world for the better are holy, they transform it permanently, instilling in it the energies that only love inspired by the Gospel can elicit. The Saints are humanity’s great benefactors!

St Clare’s spirituality, the synthesis of the holiness she proposed is summed up in the fourth letter she wrote to St Agnes of Prague. St Clare used an image very widespread in the Middle Ages that dates back to Patristic times: the mirror. And she invited her friend in Prague to reflect herself in that mirror of the perfection of every virtue which is the Lord himself. She wrote: “Happy, indeed, is the one permitted to share in this sacred banquet so as to be joined with all the feelings of her heart (to Christ) whose beauty all the blessed hosts of the Heavens unceasingly admire, whose affection moves, whose contemplation invigorates, whose generosity fills, whose sweetness replenishes, whose remembrance pleasantly brings light, whose fragrance will revive the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, because the vision of him is the splendour of everlasting glory, the radiance of everlasting light, and a mirror without tarnish. Look into this mirror every day, O Queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually examine your face in it, so that in this way you may adorn yourself completely, inwardly and outwardly…. In this mirror shine blessed poverty, holy humility, and charity beyond words…” (Fourth Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, FF, 2901-2903).

And then from a 2012 letter to the bishop of the area on the occasion of the anniversary of her conversion.

According to St Clare’s Testament, even before receiving his other companions Francis prophesied the way that would be taken by his first spiritual daughter and her sisters. Indeed while he was restoring the Church of St Damian, where the Crucifix had spoken to him, he proclaimed that women would live in this place who would glorify God by the holy tenor of their life (cf. FF 2826; cf. Tommaso da Celano, Vita Seconda, 13: FF 599).

The original Crucifix is now in the Basilica of St Clare. Christ’s large eyes which had fascinated Francis were to become Clare’s “mirror”. It is not by chance that the looking-glass would become a topic so dear to her that in her fourth letter to Agnes of Prague she would write: “Look into this mirror every day, O queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually examine your face in it” (FF 2902).

In the years in which she met Francis to learn from him about the way of God, Clare was an attractive young woman. The “Poverello” of Assisi showed her a loftier beauty that cannot be measured by the mirror of vanity but develops in a life of authentic love, following in the footsteps of the Crucified Christ. God is the true beauty! Clare’s heart was lit up with this splendour and it gave her the courage to let her hair be cut and to embark on a life of penance.

For her, as for Francis, this decision was fraught with difficulty. Although some of her relatives understood her immediately — and Ortolana, her mother, and two of her sisters even followed her in the life she had chosen — others reacted violently. Her escape from home on the night between Palm Sunday and the Monday of Holy Week had something of an adventure about it. In the following days she was pursued to the places Francis had prepared for her but the attempts, even with force, to make her go back on her decision were in vain.

Clare had prepared herself for this struggle. Moreover although Francis was her guide, several clues hint that she also received fatherly support from Bishop Guido. This would explain the prelate’s gesture in offering the palm to her, as if to bless her courageous decision. Without the bishop’s support it would have been difficult for Clare to follow the plan that Francis had devised and that she put into practice, both in her consecration in the Church of the Porziuncola in the presence of Francis and his friars, and in the hospitality she received in the days that followed at the Monastery of San Paolo delle Abbadesse and at the community of Sant’Angelo in Panzo, prior to her definitive arrival at St Damian.

Clare’s story, like Francis’, thus has a specific ecclesial trait: an enlightened pastor and two children of the Church who entrust themselves to his discernment. In it institution and charism wondrously interact. Love and obedience to the Church, so marked in Franciscan-Clarissian spirituality, are rooted in this beautiful experience of the Christian community of Assisi, which not only gave birth to the faith of Francis and of his “little plant”, but also accompanied them, taking them by the hand on the path of holiness.

Francis saw clearly the reason for suggesting to Clare that she run away from home at the beginning of Holy Week. The whole of Christian life — hence also the life of special consecration — is a fruit of the Paschal Mystery and of participation in Christ’s death and Resurrection. The themes of sadness and glory, interwoven in the Palm Sunday liturgy, will be developed in the successive days through the darkness of the Passion to the light of Easter. With her decision Clare relives this mystery. She receives the programme for it, as it were, on Palm Sunday. She then enters the drama of the Passion, forfeiting her hair and, with it, renouncing her whole self in order to be a bride of Christ in humility and poverty. Francis and his companions are now her family.

Sisters were soon to come also from afar, but as in Francis’ case, the first new shoots were to sprout in Assisi. And Clare would always remain bound to her city, demonstrating her ties with it especially in certain difficult circumstances when her prayers saved Assisi from violence and devastation. She said to her sisters at the time: “We have received many things from this city every day dear daughters; it would be quite wicked if we were not to do our utmost to help it now in this time of need” (cf. Legenda Sanctae Clarae Virginis 23: FF 3203).

The profound meaning of Clare’s “conversion” is a conversion to love. She was no longer to wear the fine clothes worn by the Assisi nobility but rather the elegance of a soul that expends itself in the praise of God and in the gift of self. In the small space of the Monastery of St Damian, at the school of Jesus, contemplated with spousal affection in the Eucharist, day by day the features developed of a community governed by love of God and by prayer, by caring for others and by service. In this context of profound faith and great humanity Clare became a sure interpreter of the Franciscan ideal, imploring the “privilege” of poverty, namely, the renunciation of goods, possessed even only as a community, which for a long time perplexed the Supreme Pontiff himself, even though, in the end, he surrendered to the heroism of her holiness.

How could one fail to hold up Clare, like Francis, to the youth of today? The time that separates us from the events of both these Saints has in no way diminished their magnetism. On the contrary, their timeliness in comparison with the illusions and delusions that all too often mark the condition of young people today. Never before has a time inspired so many dreams among the young, with the thousands of attractions of a life in which everything seems possible and licit.

Yet, how much discontent there is, how often does the pursuit of happiness and fulfilment end by unfolding paths that lead to artificial paradises, such as those of drugs and unrestrained sensuality!

The current situation with the difficulty of finding dignified employment and forming a happy and united family makes clouds loom on the horizon. However there are many young people, in our day too, who accept the invitation to entrust themselves to Christ and to face life’s journey with courage, responsibility and hope and even opt to leave everything to follow him in total service to him and to their brethren.

The story of Clare, with that of Francis, is an invitation to reflect on the meaning of life and to seek the secret of true joy in God. It is a concrete proof that those who do the Lord’s will and trust in him alone lose nothing; on the contrary they find the true treasure that can give meaning to all things.

From St. Pope John Paul II

Due to a type of iconography which has been very popular since the 17th century, Clare is often depicted holding a monstrance. This gesture recalls, although in a more solemn posture, the humble reality of this woman who, although she was very sick, prostrated herself with the help of two sisters before the silver ciborium containing the Eucharist (cf. LegCl 21), which she had placed in front of the refectory door that the Emperor’s troops were about to storm. Clare lived on that pure Bread which, according to the custom of the time, she could receive only seven times a year. On her sickbed she embroidered corporals and sent them to the poor churches in the Spoleto valley.

In reality Clare’s whole life was a eucharist because, like Francis, from her cloister she raised up a continual “thanksgiving” to God in her prayer, praise, supplication, intercession, weeping, offering and sacrifice. She accepted everything and offered it to the Father in union with the infinite “thanks” of the only-begotten Son, the Child, the Crucified, the risen One, who lives at the right hand of the Father.

In the fall of 2012, as it happens, we visited Assisi.

The way to San Damiano:

"amy welborn"

The room where St. Clare died – the far corner, in fact.

"amy welborn"

Photographs are not allowed in the chapel – the site where Francis discerned the voice of Christ.  The “San Damiano” cross that is in the chapel at San Damiano is a reproduction – the original is in the church of S. Chiara, back up in Assisi.


S. Chiara basilica. 

And….part of the fruit is Adventures in Assisi…so even if you can’t have a photo of the cross inside S. Chiara, you can have a gorgeous watercolor..

9. Santa Chiara basilica - spread 8 copy

and of San Damiano’s interior:

8. San Damiano Chapel - spread 7


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