Saturday, October 11, 2014

Getting the most out of London (while I still can): NEWS ALERT

This has been an interesting week, if by "interesting" you mean "phone calls that can change your life." A month from today I will be in a new community, back on the other side of the pond. In Beantown, to be precise. My year abroad will have been, instead, a half-year abroad--still not a bad deal, as far as I'm concerned! I will be assigned to the Digital Publishing division of Pauline Books and Media, doing the geeky things I've always done, but this time with deadlines. I will also continue to assist the sisters in the UK with the current website project (thank goodness for Skype!); it has been very important for that project that I have been working on it on location, so that is a grace.

Meanwhile, it is time for our Pauline prayer "the Pact," in which we ask the Lord to "multiply the fruits of our spiritual work, of our study, of our apostolate and of our poverty," so that every effort yields surprising, supernatural results. I can't wait to show you the work we've been doing--but that will have to wait until some technical snafus get straightened out (Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us!).

While I am still here, I have the chance on the weekends to see as many of the local wonders as possible. And so today, even though I only had a few hours of free time, I made it to the justly famous Tower Bridge (you might think of it as "London Bridge," because it is the bridge you always see in depictions of the city, but in actual fact, London Bridge is the next one to the west, a nondescript modern thing dedicated in 1973 whose only current merit is that it offers amazing views of the River Thames and the Tower Bridge). To get to my destination, I decided to take the bus, which is significantly cheaper than the (faster) Underground. The traffic was so dense my bus trip became something of a bus crawl of London. This was especially brought home to me when we hit Piccadilly Circus. I had no idea. Piccadilly Circus is the Times Square of London, complete with giant video screens. If I had more time (and more spending money!!!!) I would make a special trip there, but as it is... other things are on my list.

Anyway, I went all the way to the end of that bus line (basically, Leicester Square) and then transferred to a river line bus which would take me to Tower Gate. Halfway there, about 3:00, I was feeling pretty hungry. (Aside from a caramel latte, I had not had any lunch--so eager was I to get out and see the sights.) I recognized where we were: Southwark's Borough Market! I rang the bell and descended into the throng of foodies, spotting new and interesting things as I went. A salami named Jesus? (Yes, because it looks like the Christ-Child wrapped in swaddling clothes.) I bought an amazing sandwich for lunch (pork belly with a crispy rind), stopped again in Southwark Cathedral where the choir was practicing Evensong, and then continued on my way on foot, crossing London Bridge and taking the river walk to the Tower of London.

In honor of the fallen of World War I, the Tower's moats are being filled with ceramic poppies. I'm sorry I don't have the time to tour the Tower (or see the Crown Jewels) again (I saw them in 2000 when I was here on another website project), but I am so glad I took the time to walk around two sides of the complex to see the poppy installation. Gorgeous. Continuing on, I found the path to actually cross the Tower Bridge, which I did (taking pictures every few steps). That brought me back again to the south side of the Thames just when I needed to begin working my way to the Kensington convent. Easier said than done. The roads do not simply go "east" or "west." (I needed to go west, then north.) Instead, they seemed to go only northeast or southwest, leading me farther and farther from my destination. Eventually I got to a street with promising transportation. Ah, but the promises were broken! I got on a bus that announced "to Royal Albert Hall" (not far from the convent).  I didn't know where to go when it stopped short of Sloan Square with the declaration that this was the end of the line. I started walking again, but, you know: northeast or southwest--when I needed to go northwest (but more north than west). I had already notified the sisters that I was running late; thankfully, they were not worried when I tromped in 25 minutes late for supper (and the pasta was still hot!).

Tomorrow I might take in a gallery--or maybe the Imperial War Museum (right across the street from the Catholic Cathedral of Southwark, where I went to Mass last week). This week two different people recommended the IWM, so I put it on the "must see" list. I will let you know if it happens!

Prayers, please, during this new and unexpected transition, for me and for the sisters who will be most affected by it. Thanks.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

More Adventures in the Land of the Angles

As another Saturday ends, I have chalked up a few more adventures in exploring London. This latest round started on September 21, when the "London Open House" meant that some of the city's architectural attractions would be open (and free) to visit. Among them was a location that was on my "must see" list: the Charterhouse.

Painting of the Trappists being led to Tyburn for execution.
They were held in such esteem that their capitulation meant
everything to the King. But that esteem was merited: they did
not (except for a final few members) give in to his will. 
The name "Charterhouse" sounds like it might be an old timey pub or perhaps a mapmakers, but it was actually the Trappist monastery on the London outskirts, and in its heyday (if a Trappist monastery can be said to have a "heyday"), it had quite a bit of terrain, along with the monastic chapel, the "chapter house" for community meetings, and the community living spaces (including the monks' cells). St Thomas More explored the Trappist vocation here for a while, before recognizing that his vocation was to be a Christian "in the world." He and the monks did not realize it at the time, but they did share a common vocation: that of martyrdom. For this Charterhouse was emptied, the monks condemned to ghastly executions, and the chapel torn down (its foundations lost until the bombing in World War II revealed them), all over the "King's Great Matter."

That little circle between the two
sets of window is the "squint."
The property exchanged hands a few times after the King gave it to one of his supporters (the one who tore the chapel down). Eventually, a prosperous Elizabethan businessman bought it and turned it into a charitable institution: on the one hand, a school for poor boys (with paying pupils as well), and on the other, a residence for poor, but respectable bachelors. By today's standards, a rather hideous situation, but it seems to have worked out for several hundred years. The school graduated such luminaries as William Makepeace Thackeray, John Wesley and Roger Williams (who went on to found the State of Rhode Island). Eventually the school relocated, but the residence continues on, and in the spirit of the home's origins, the residence call themselves Brothers, and commit to a simple form of community life. It was the Brothers who welcomed me and Sister Giovanna and the other visitors on the day of the Open House, and they could not have been more gracious. They were especially happy to talk about the martyrs to the visiting nuns (and also very proud of their association with the Benedictine sisters from the Tyburn convent). Each and every brother we met went out of his way to point out some of the hidden Catholic history of the place: "Did you see the painting of the martyrs?" "Sisters, look behind this panel in our chapel [the former Chapter Room]: this was the stone sink where the altar linens were washed."  "Did you see 'the squint'?" That turned out to be a kind of peep hole from the monastery office where the bursar could follow Mass from where he was: it looked straight down to the altar. Now it looks straight down into a grassy courtyard where only a stone outline marks where the chapel stood--and a commemorative stone where the altar once was honors the martyrs, with a plaque on the nearby wall listing them by name.

Sister Giovanna and I had planned to go to St Paul's for Evensong, but a headache ruled that out (it's still on the "to do" list!). London sightseeing would have to wait for another opportunity.

That opportunity came the following Saturday. I was on my own this time (not as much fun, for sure), but decided the time had come to visit the Royal Residence. Make that one of the Royal Residences.
Palaces abound over here. But you know what I mean: Buckingham Palace. I had a general idea of where it was, having crossed by the front gates a few times when walking to our Kensington book shop from Westminster, but I had no idea where to buy a visitor's pass. I figured I would wing it. The day started with confession and Mass in Westminster Cathedral, where a Saturday mid-morning Mass brings you the Westminster Cathedral Choir and a full serving of Palestrina. In other words, a perfect beginning! From there I found my way to the Palace and happened upon the very spot I needed to be. As I scanned the area to see where exactly the queue was, a woman with an Irish accent asked me, "Do you need a ticket to the Exposition?" Not even knowing what the Exposition was, but figuring it would get me where I wanted to be, I said, "Sure!" Turns out that she and her daughter had arranged with a friend to visit the State Rooms and the current exhibit on Royal Childhood, but the friend had to cancel. Lucky me! (Pray for the friend; she was quite ill.) So not only did I get to visit the main attractions of Buckingham Palace for free, I had company to share the experience with! And it was
No pictures allowed inside the Palace. Too bad!
quite an experience. You get a free audio guide with as much detail as you can handle by way of presentation (for more about the Green Room, press 1; for more about the princesses who used this doll house, press 2...). I loved the picture gallery where the first painting to greet me was a Rembrandt self-portrait, the second was a Rubens Assumption and down the line I discovered a Caravaggio I never knew existed (Jesus calling Peter and Andrew). The Royal Childhood exhibit was as sweet as you can imagine, with baby clothes from the 1700's up to Princes William and Harry, and the toys Queen Elizabeth and her sister played with. When I had made it through and thanked my benefactors (also promising prayers for David, the husband, who is also ill), I popped into the gift shop and got my sisters and nieces the most practical and inexpensive souvenir I could find. No spoilers, though. They have to wait for my return to see just how practical (and...inexpensive) I was!
Ah, modern art!

When that was done, I had hoped to see the London Bridge, but I couldn't figure out how to get there, so I looked on a map and decided to take in a little bit of the Tate Gallery, which turned out to be fairly close by. Passing under a modern art installation (can you see my enthusiasm?) and avoiding a gallery with some other modern art, I found a gallery of mid 1800's works. The first thing I came across was "Jesus Washeth Peter's Feet" by Ford Madox Brown, about which I have previously written in this blog. What a find!

The following day I was also free to explore, so I set off for the choir Mass at the Jesuit parish, Immaculate Conception, known as the "Farm Street Church." It is in a VERY posh district. (As I walked through the streets, I passed a parking lot with two Aston Martin convertibles in it.) The Jesuit church is lovely; built in the early 1900's in a lacy Gothic style, it reminded me of Holy Name Church where my parents were married--only half the size and twice as ornate. The choir Masses here are almost always in Latin, a kind of hybrid liturgy between the older rite and the contemporary missal--the readings are in English, the liturgy is mostly the "novus ordo" that we use in English, the altar is between the priest and the people, but instead of a Responsorial Psalm, the choir sings a couple of lines taken from the Psalms, and often the Sanctus is sung, but the Benedictus used either in addition to or before the acclamation of the Mystery of Faith! It takes a bit of getting used to, as does the Gregorian Chant prayer (in Latin) for Queen Elizabeth, graciously ruling over us.

Today, Saturday, was again my day on the town. Now, after Mass last week while I enjoyed the Jesuits' coffee, a woman from the parish welcomed me, and with great enthusiasm told me that I absolutely must visit Southwark Cathedral (the "w" is silent, as is usual here: Suthark is the pronunciation). It had been a convent as far back as 600 AD, then an Augustinian priory and then, with the King's Great Matter, it was "surrendered" to the Crown and since then has been used by the Church of England. It is now the Cathedral of the Diocese of Southwark. When I got home, Sister Giovanna told me that she had been, of all places, to Southwark Cathedral. She even brought me the brochure to encourage me to visit. So what else could I do today but go to Southwark? I took the Underground to London Bridge (yes! that London Bridge), and got a little lost--actually I got
distracted by the sight of the bustling Southwark Market: an open air (mostly roofed) market filled with produce stalls, fishmongers, cheesemongers, butchers and bakers (probably candlestick makers, but they interest me very little) and tons of little specialty kitchens--and thousands of foodies and tourists. This is FOODIE HEAVEN. All the good food in England wants to come here, and probably does. But I didn't have time for that: I wanted to spot check Southwark Cathedral and then zip off to the Catholic Cathedral (St George's, one mile away) for the 12:30 Mass, and then back to Southwark Cathedral to really visit...and probably catch lunch in that fabulous market. Which I did, dodging the raindrops and trying to protect my camera, hold my umbrella and follow the GPS app on my phone all at the same time. (It was a bit exhausting.) When I got to St George's, about a hundred people were gathered for Eucharistic Adoration. Benediction was a bonus. After Mass, dodging more raindrops, but less worried about the GPS, I managed to get lunch in and visit Southwark Cathedral, where the volunteers were exceedingly gracious. I paid the £2.50 fee to take pictures freely while the choir rehearsed for Evensong.

I'll let the pictures say the rest; suffice it to say that--as for the Market--I'll be back! (Besides, I still didn't see London Bridge!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

From the Dowry of Mary

Today is a kind of double Marian feast in England, and it was pretty confusing to me. My missallette had it as Our Lady of Walsingham, the title of Mary at the medieval pilgrimage destination also known as "England's Nazareth," where a replica of Mary's little house represented the whole mystery of the Annunciation of the Lord and the hidden life of the Holy Family. But the sisters kept talking about it being "Our Lady of Ransom." We prayed the Evening Prayer of this second memorial, and the closing prayer made it very clear that this was a kind of feast in which the English church, calling itself "the Dowry of Mary," reaffirms its connection to Peter.

Actually, I liked the Walsingham liturgical prayer better, the way it tied in the concept of pilgrimage, the Annunciation and our becoming the dwelling place of God:
Our Lady of Walsingham,
enthroned today in Westminster Cathedral
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that as in the mystery of the Incarnation
the blessed and ever Virgin Mary
conceived your Son in her heart
before she conceived him in the womb,
so we, your pilgrim people,
rejoicing in her motherly care,
may welcome him into our hearts
and become a holy house fit for his eternal dwelling.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

UPDATED: Humble Thanks on Buy a Nun a Book Day

It's not even September 17 and three lovely people have already showered me with blessings (of the literary kind) for Buy a Nun a Book Day. Thanks, V.P., M.S. and C.S. (from Malta!); I am humbled by your kindness. I've already polished off one book (The Lost Painting, about that Caravaggio that showed up--after a 500 year vanishing act--in a Jesuit residence in Dublin; fascinating!) and I look forward to pondering the riches of the other titles (especially the Kindle edition of the Bible!).

Just wanted to say thanks so very much.

September 17 update:
I just learned that our sisters in San Antonio, a community that was just started up this summer, are seeking books (and key subscriptions) to build a community library from scratch. If you'd like to contribute, here's their "wish list."  (You might have to sign out of Amazon to see it; my friend kept getting her own list!)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Let it go": the Jesus version

Today's Gospel is where Jesus really proves he is out to change the world. Nothing he tells us today comes "naturally." Nothing he calls for is intuitive. It's all evidence that he is introducing a new and unfamiliar world, a greater one, based on foundations that most of us have trouble imagining, never mind ordering our life by.

What struck me today in a new way was the command that we not try to get back stolen goods. In the translation used here in the UK it reads "do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you." (So polite!) My community runs bookstores, and we have had more than a few experiences with theft. We tell grand stories about the few sisters who have gone after a thief and actually gotten the stolen item(s) back: the Infant of Prague statue hidden in a coat, the stack of CDs, things like that. (We never did recover the Stations of the Cross that vanished, one by one, from our downtown Boston bookstore back in the day.) Once I watched a customer chase a thief down Michigan Avenue after she witnessed him shoplifting in our Chicago center. (Her family had worked in retail, so she knew what it was like to suffer from walking inventory.) Then there is the man who comes in, on a regular basis, to slip individual volumes of the Liturgy of the Hours into his open backpack... But, in the words of the song, Jesus says, "Let it go." Why?

I got a hint of where he is coming from (and where he means to take us) from the last sentence in today's passage of Luke: "full measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over..." Jesus is testifying to a world of abundance. Who is it who would shrug off a theft? The rich person who knows "there's more where that came from." Yesterday we heard Jesus tell of woes for the rich, but today he is turning that around. He is telling us to have the kind of poverty of spirit that St Paul witnessed to: "We seem to have nothing, but everything is ours!"

It is not enough for us to be created in the image of God like a static portrait; we are meant to make the living God, "kind to the ungrateful and the wicked" (moi?) manifest amid all the "gods and lords" of this earth.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

On Reporting Savagery

I gave a digital communications workshop over the weekend, and in updating my resource links for the participants (my online chart of links was swallowed up by the cloud sometime over the spring, I just realized), I came across some timely advice from a really important (in my opinion, unsurpassed) Church document on communications, Communio et Progressio.

Since the barbarians in Iraq and Syria are using social media so effectively, it would be very helpful for our media, and for all of us readers and writers and re-tweeters of social media to keep this in mind:

43. The reporting of violence and brutality demands a special care and tact. There is no denying that human life is debased by violence and savagery and that such things happen in our own time and perhaps more now than ever before. It is possible to delineate all this violence and savagery so that men will recoil from it. But if these bloody events are too realistically described or too frequently dwelt upon, there is a danger of perverting the image of human life. It is also possible that such descriptions generate an attitude of mind and, according to many experts, a psychosis which escapes the control of the very forces that unleashed it. All this may leave violence and savagery as the accepted way of resolving conflict.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Meanwhile, back on the home front...

Thank goodness for social media! This was a big week for my community back in the States, and through the marvels of Twitter and Facebook (and, yes, even e-mail), I could participate with more attentiveness.

In the lead-in to the main event, the sisters in the concert choir got together to rehearse for this year's Christmas program. (Ouch.) While they were all in the sound studio, a camera crew from "" came for some interviews...

The really big event of the week was the first profession (vows) of two of the novices. They received their habit in a simple ceremony the day before, but couldn't actually wear it until the morning of their profession Mass. (See all the pictures here!)

First vows is also the time when a sister gets a new name. We don't actually change our name, but have the option to add a name to our Baptismal name. (After all, Baptism is the primary vocation, the sacrament in which we were already definitively "claimed for Christ.") Well, one of the novices had always gone by her first name, while her Christian name was not really used. So she decided to reclaim her very Christian name--Khristina. The other sister added a new name: Aletheia (Greek for "truth"). Her explanation was beautiful, but personal enough that I will see if she comments on it in her blog and will link you to that if the opportunity arises. Suffice it to say that since Jesus IS Truth ("I am the Way, the Truth and the Life"), both sisters appear to have taken the same name--and in a very Pauline way, since it was Paul himself who said, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

And then last night, the spot aired in Miami--but you can watch it here! How many nun stereotypes will the sisters blast away as they talk about what it means to be a vowed person who is active on social media?

Friday, August 29, 2014

It's me again!

I'm standing at my makeshift computer desk here in Langley, the window open just enough for some fresh (autumn!) air, birdsong and the sounds of planes heading for or from Heathrow Airport.

After almost three weeks in Italy, I am still on Italian auto-pilot, about to respond to things in that language, stumbling though my efforts will be. (I am really good at translating from Italian into English, but the other way around leaves the Italians misty-eyed with compassion. Or maybe it's just confusion.)  On arriving back in the London area, I really had to hit the ground running: we Daughters of St Paul are having a weekend gathering of all the sisters in the UK, and I am providing the first morning's session, getting everyone on the same pages in terms of awareness of social media trends and how the Daughters of St Paul fit into this new media culture.
Sorry, but I can see your kind in
abundance in the British Museum!

Still, after all that time in Italy, there's a lot I want to share, but I think I'll start, for now, toward the end...on our second-to-last outing, which definitely had a more cultural flavor: a morning at the Vatican Museums. Because audio guides are available in the different languages I was officially off duty as a translator; in fact, the directors of the Pauline spirituality program left me free to visit the Museums at my own pace, while the group attempted more or less to stick together. I was grateful for the opportunity to spend extra time in the areas that most interested me, many of them having been restored since the last time I was able to visit (whether that was 30 or 15 years ago!). An added perk is that photography is allowed (no flash, but you knew that), so I can share some highlights with you for years to come.
Ceiling scene of heaven!

Pinturicchio Annunication from the Borgia Apartments.
Don't let the infamy of Pope Alexander VI blind you to
his artistic sensibilities. 
But first, a bit of advice: when you go to the Vatican Museums, start at the Pinacoteca (the art gallery). Many of the other museums in the complex have exhibits of the sort you can find in any well-maintained museums or art or history: Egyptian sarcophagi (and one unwrapped mummy whom I couldn't help but pity), Etruscan vases, cuneiform tablets--that sort of thing. The Pinacoteca has one of a kind stunners like Raphael's immense Transfiguration and Caravaggio's "Deposition of Christ." I regret that I left the Pinacoteca for last, when I was falling prey to sensory overload (not to mention hunger); I didn't have the energy to really enjoy those paintings and altarpieces that deserve to be seen in person and not just in reproduction.

Another hint: bring a mirror. There's an incredible amount of loveliness on the ceiling, and you don't want to get a crick in your neck from trying to take it all in.

Detail: Attila the Hun being run off (by the Apostles Peter and
Paul in the skies over Rome) at his meeting with Pope Leo. 

I made a remark about being "force fed"
through the Contemporary Art section, and
then came across this.

There was always someone pausing before
the Caravaggio Deposition.

You've seen the Raphael Madonna before,
but the attention always seems to go to
the little putti (boy angels) at her feet.
Here's a different detail, featuring one
of my favorite saints (on the feast day
of his martyrdom).

Raphael's depiction of Peter's release from Herod's prison is
right over a window. I kept a hand under the lens to keep some
of the glare out. 

Peter looks pretty tired from his perch between
a doorway and the ceiling. To see him, you
have to turn completely around when you
enter the hall.
Shepherd at the Crib; detail from a

The sarcophagus of St Helena, of all people. With the military
scenes carved in bas relief all over it, it was probably designed
for the Emperor.

Pinturicchio Visitation--from the Borgia Apartments. Again, you
do not want to miss them, even though you have to weave
your way through lots of contemporary art to get there. (Why,
no, I am not a big fan of contemporary art; how did you guess?)

This is one of those places where you really
need a mirror. I think they said the hall was
40 (or 400?) meters long.
Coming next (or eventually, anyway): Assisi! Nettuno (home of St Maria Goretti)! Orvieto! And the great Pauline centenary celebrations in our congregation's hometown, the home of Nutella and white truffles, Alba!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hard at Rome!

Arrived in Rome on Saturday evening and got to work Sunday afternoon, translating conference talks
for a group of sisters taking a course in our congregation's spirituality. The program is being held in a conference building on the grounds of our world headquarters (Generalate). I have been here several times before, but this is the first time I have even seen the downstairs conference hall with its four booths for simultaneous translation. There are sisters here from India, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Brazil and Venezuela, but only the English-speaking sisters need a translator, so I am alone in the back section, working hard at keeping up with the presenter. For the most part this is fairly easy for me and entertaining as well; I am really getting a lot out of the conference material, which I am following attentively even as I translate it. Once in a while, the speaker gets really impassioned about the topic, and that point I do all I can to capture her attention and ask her to slow down. Yesterday, that involved me standing up and waving my arms wildly until the speaker noticed.

Since I had had a few free hours on Sunday, I was able to go to Saint Peter Square for the Angelus
with Pope Francis. I brought my voice recorder with me, and got some of the ambient sound, the youth groups singing and chanting and roaring their exclamations of encouragement; I interviewed people from England, New Jersey, Verona... I recorded the Holy Father's entire talk as well, where he spoke of the horrors unfolding in Iraq and the necessity of a political solution that would restore the rule of law. It is just as the reports said: you could hear a pin drop in that crowd of thousands.

For a while afterwards, I stood in the security line to go into St. Peter's Basilica, but realized that I would not have time to enter the Basilica and still get back for my translating assignment, so I walked through some of the familiar streets of Rome (and got a gelato while I was at it) before getting on the bus. While I was finishing my gelato a gypsy woman pleaded with me for a donation. I really did not have anything on me (and I was supremely irritated my her refusal to accept that fact); in the end, and only to get rid of her, I gave her the sandwich I had bought for my lunch. Later, I reflected: part of what irritated me was that she approached me as a stereotype: the tender – hearted sister who would surely have a heart for a poor, penniless woman pleading for a bit of bread (sorry to say, that is not me at all!) And I reacted to her as to a stereotype: the whining, importunate Gypsy (I am aware that gypsy is considered a derogatory term now – it is a stereotype, and this is the net in which I found myself trapped). Pope Francis challenges us to treat people in these circumstances like unique persons, not as examples of negative stereotype; to address them as individuals, and present myself as an individual as well. I actually hope I will not have another opportunity for this, but if it comes about, I pray that I will respond better.

On Monday, the group (and I with them!) visited the Coloseum, the Lateran Basilica, the "Holy Stairs" (transported from the Roman praetorium in Jerusalem by St Helena), the catacombs, the Church "of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem" (so called for its relics of the True Cross--including a chunk of worm-eaten wood with an inscription in Hebrew, Greek and Latin "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" that, incredibly enough, bears an interesting hallmark of authenticity) and St. Mary Major. I am ashamed to admit that I took selfies in several of these locales--mostly for my family (but also to share with you).

While the sisters got out of the bus on our final stop, I ran over to my favorite spot in Rome, just yards from St Mary Major: I knew I only had fifiteen minutes before Basilica of St Praxedes would close for a four-hour siesta. One of my last Euros went into the slot to light up the St Zeno chapel, a jewel of Byzantine mosaic. It was as much a service to the other visitors as it was an act of self-indulgence: unless the lights were on, they would have no idea how much beauty they were walking by.

In the afternoon, it was back into the booth with me, and that is where I spent most of the week. But tomorrow, we're in for a big treat: the group is headed to Assisi for a day trip! And on Assumption Day, Italy's official summer holiday (good luck finding a single business open), our group and the sisters of the Generalate plan to go to Mass at St Peter's, climb the cupola (for the able-bodied!) and visit the Vatican Museum. Once we get home from that outing, it's time to pack: the Pauline Family centenary is August 20, and we will be on location in the far north of Italy for the festivities. I was even asked to cantor the Responsorial Psalm for the Mass (in Spanish!) in the great Church of St Paul in Alba, a church constructed with bricks formed and baked by our own Pauline brothers and sisters.

Sorry for the haphazard graphic design in this post; I am doing this on an uncooperative iPad app... (It was really hard for me to leave the computer in England, but I decided to follow the Lord's advice about packing  light!)

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

New book for apologetics without apologies

Patrick Madrid is well known as a Catholic apologist--that is, one who presents the reasonableness of the faith, especially in response to challenges. Every adult Catholic, I am sure, has heard the usual challenges: our faith is not biblical; we worship Mary or statues; we "multiply prayers" in outright contradiction to the command of the Gospel "do not multiply your words when praying. Now, of course, we are hearing new challenges, some of them quite absurd: Catholicism is "anti-intellectual"; Catholic moral teachings do not take practical realities into account; Catholicism is incompatible with the findings of science... 

Assumptions like these can be common currency in our day (especially the newer ones can be almost taken for granted, even by Catholics!). This makes a book like "Why Be Catholic?" helpful not only for the sincere seeker, but for the earnest, but uncertain Catholic who doesn't really "have an answer to those who ask the reason for your hope" (cf 1 Pet 3:15)--and hopes that an answer is out there. 

"Why Be Catholic?" is eminently readable. Madrid is not just an apologist, he is a storyteller (the best kind of apologist!). In responding to the typical Protestant objections or challenges to Catholicism, he hearkens back to his teen years when the object of his affections was from so fundamentalist a background, her Dad had those ridiculous "Chick" pamphlets ready at hand. (Madrid got an early start responding to misconstrues of the faith!) 

Madrid looks at ten basic areas, starting with the most difficult of them all: the sin that is so manifestly present and active among us, most horribly in the clergy sex abuse scandals. Looking through the Old and New Testaments, and especially the Gospel parable of the weeds among the wheat, Madrid points out that "Scandals are part of the life of the Church not because of its teachings and customs, but because individual Catholics choose to reject and ignore those teachings."  He doesn't leave it there, though, on the purely intellectual level of cause and effect. Madrid challenges the reader to face his or her own temptations to lukewarmness and compromise. He affirms the role of conscience, and the deep connection between freedom and truth. He will continue to do this through the next nine chapters: offering a solid, intellectually and historically grounded presentation of some little-understood dimension of Catholic teaching or practice, and then inviting the reader to conform his or her life to the values that teaching reveals.

"Why Be Catholic?" looks at sin and at history, at the sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Confession, which each get a chapter), at the Papacy, Mary and the Saints, about "good works" (especially care for the poor and the fostering of education), and the connection of faith, reason and happiness. 

It was the final chapter that I found the weakest. I believe that Madrid here attempted to do too much, or just didn't have the heart to edit out some favorite phrases or appeals. A distinct and focused chapter on faith, reason and virtue would have been fine, with an epilogue delivering the final exhortation. Instead, it was all kind of loosely lumped together. When I turned the page and realized that there was no "summation" or final punch, I felt let down.

On the whole, however, "Why Be Catholic?" is a helpful book--and not only for the non-Catholic who is "tempted" to test the waters of Catholicism. The wavering Catholic who is willing to reflect with Madrid will also find a great deal of support, perhaps filling in the blanks of an inadequate religious education (or one that stopped at Confirmation!).