by Melanie Bettinelli on June 17, 2013
Still. It’s an amazing, beautiful little world and she loves inhabiting it. And I don’t mind at all.
2. The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
This book is a gem. The story of a bat who falls in love with the daylight and, listening to the mockingbird’s songs, become a poet and tells his poems to a chipmunk and other animals.
When I finished this she went right out to the driveway and started drawing bats and mockingbirds and chipmunks with sidewalk chalk. Sophie and Ben both enjoyed the book too. And I adore it. So beautiful
3. Little House
I’m finding I don’t really remember this book much at all, though I’m sure I’ve read it before. And how delightful it is. All the bits about Almanzo courting Laura are well over Bella’s head. But she loves the details, the richness of the world Laura creates.
When we were at the library this week Bella rediscovered this picture book version of an episode from Little House in the Big Woods. Oh she was in heaven. I’m not terribly fond of the picture book myself. And having just re-read Little House in the Big Woods to Sophie, I was irrationally annoyed that they changed Ma’s green delaine dress to a green ruffled dress. (I just looked up delaine and—of course!—it is from the French de laine of wool.) I understand why they changed it, I do, but it reinforced that one thing I love about the originals is that Laura uses the proper words and doesn’t worry about whether young readers will understand them. Recently one of my sister’s friends remarked how our girls talk like characters out of books. They do and I love it. They have such rich vocabularies and it makes me happy to hear them use rare words, even if sometimes they don’t quite know what they mean. I love to hear them playing with language and tasting new words on their tongues.
4. Ancient Greece
This week I decided it was high time we delved more deeply into the Ancient Greeks. We’ve finished all the Greek chapters in The Story of the World and I want to do more. So I went to the history section of the library and gathered a pile of books on Ancient Greece. And suddenly Bella is discovering a new passion and making new connections and oh I just love this part. (I love that her primary interest in history is that it gives her new material for her games. Someday we’re going to have to read The Egypt Game, but not now. Not yet.)
Greek Town (Metropolis) by John Malam a beautiful illustrated book that takes you on a guided tour through a sort of idealized Greek town that has elements from various Greek cities. The Time-Traveler’s Guide section at the back did give me pause when it suggested that the time traveling reader would want to make a sacrifice to the household gods when visiting with a Greek family: “If you are invited to a meal you should accept, as to refuse would cause offense to the host, who likes to dine with company. At the meal show respect for the god of the house by offering a small gift of wine or food at the altar.” I amended it a bit to say that guests in Ancient Greece would have been expected to behave that way, but of course as Christians we couldn’t make sacrifice to pagan gods as that would be a violation of the first commandment. A little opportunity to reinforce the catechism. Although I do understand the purpose of phrasing things in the second person and framing it as a time traveling guide, meant to help draw the child into the foreign space of the ancient world, I did wonder at the editorial decision to phrase the book in precisely that way when the awkwardness could have been avoided by a slight rephrasing.
Ancient Greece (DK Eyewitness Books)-I’m not really a fan of the Eyewitness style with all the little blocks of text scattered all over the page next to the various pictures. It feels busy to me and I hate that there isn’t a necessary order to read the page in. But Bella loves these books and learns so much from them that I have come to appreciate them for her sake. One thing that stood out especially in the Greece volume: it seems to me a bit confusing that they use modern art alongside ancient art when discussing literature such as The Odyssey or The Iliad, though the art used was very good. I thought it was a bit confusing.
The Ancient Greeks by Pat Taylor. A nice overview. Good map, a mix of brightly colored illustrations and photographs of artifacts and sites. I like to have one or two of this kind of general overview books for any focused study we do because we can read them in one sitting—and thus will probably read them several times—and they help to reinforce the main ideas.
5. The Children’s Homer: The Adventures of Odysseus and The Tale of Troy by Padraic Colum
This is one of those books I’ve seen on a dozen different homeschooling book lists and blogs and so I dutifully found a copy on BookMooch and put it on the shelf without actually reading it for myself. So I’m discovering it along with Bella. And what a delight! This volume compresses The Iliad and The Odyssey into one story, The Iliad told as flashbacks while Telemachus is visiting Menelaus and Helen in Sparta. The language is rich and Colum preserves some, though not all, of the Homeric similes. It really captures the flavor of Homer without being quite so overwhelming. In short, a perfect book for Bella. Yesterday we read two chapters that recounted battle scenes before the walls of Troy, Aias and Achilles and Agamemnon and Nestor and Hector…. spears and chariots and ships and fire. Oh Bella kept shivering and I was afraid it might be a bit too much for her, but when we got to the end her eyes were shining as she exclaimed to me how she could just see everything in her imagination.
It was delightful tonight then to read the book about Greece and to find there the Mask of Agamemnon and the story of Schliemann and vases depicting the various scenes from the stories. I can’t wait to take Bella back to the Greek rooms in the MFA to see her discover her friends from the stories in the red and black pictures on the vases that last visit were just pretty artifacts.
I know Padraic Colum first of all from my Irish Studies days because of his involvement with the Irish Literary Revival. I’m not sure what I’ve read except maybe some lyric poems, but his name was definitely familiar. I do think that his work as a poet and playwright has informed this work. It has such a depth and a richness that aren’t often to be found in children’s books. I’m looking forward to discovering his book of Irish hero tales: The King of Ireland’s Son. I guess we’ll read that next year.
6. Jim Weiss is another of those names you’ll stumble over again and again in certain homeschooling circles. I was curious so I looked him up in the library’s catalogue and found a copy of his Egyptian Treasures: Mummies and Myths. We listened to it in the car and of course Bella, my resident Egyptophile was hooked. Sophie and Ben loved it too.
Then one day last week I was feeling quite at my wits end and so I bought Greek Myths and played it for the kids while I cooked dinner. Never have my four children made it through the witching hour with so little fuss. Again it wasn’t just Bella, Ben and Sophie were also entranced. When it was over Ben announced to me that it was his favorite.
7. Sea Shanties
This was a surprise. One day I wanted something different in the car so I selected Dom’s Age of Sail playlist. It has Roast Beef of Old England, an album of sea shanties I bought for him a few years ago, as well as the soundtrack to Master & Commander and Musical Evenings with the Captain, an album inspired by Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey and Maturin books. It makes for a rather schizophrenic play list as the three albums have very different styles, but it’s kind of nice to listen to nonetheless. And the kids like all three kinds of music. Bella says the soundtrack songs sound like they tell a story and should go with a play. She likes the classical pieces because they are pretty—Ben exclaimed over one of them one day as he got out of the car, “I like that one. It’s very beautiful!” And the sea shanties are just plain fun. Bella and Sophie were singing sea shanties in the bath tub the other night, oh that makes me so happy.
by Melanie Bettinelli on June 15, 2013
ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES
by Melanie Bettinelli
“In accordance with the scriptures”
This is one of those phrases that I find it very easy to pass over without remarking as I’m saying the Creed at Mass, but that when I pause to really consider what it means I am overwhelmed. I find I could contemplate it for days and weeks without coming to the end of it.
Everything that Jesus did was foretold in the Scriptures hundreds, even more than a thousand years before he was born. That really is amazing. It was all a part of a plan. And not just part of a plan, it was something that God had been preparing us for in ways big and small. For it wasn’t just the words of the prophets that foretold Jesus’ coming, it was also the history of Israel itself, the very fabric of history as recorded in Scripture echoes forth the amazing truth of the Incarnation, the Death and the Resurrection of God made man.
More, the Scriptures are the Word of God and God the Word who became Man is not just written about in the Scriptures. He is the Word of the Scriptures. It really is more than my little mind can fathom.
About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Luke 9: 28-31
I just love Luke’s version of the transfiguration because in it Jesus speaks of his “exodus that he was going to accomplish.” He makes explicit the parallel between Israel’s escape from Egypt and his own death and resurrection, which accomplishes the even more wonderful freedom, not from the bondage of slavery but from the slavery of sin and death. This is how the God of history writes his story, this is how he reveals it to his people: Moses and Elijah, all of the law and the prophets, point to this moment, to this truth. What Jesus accomplishes is “according to the scriptures.”
After his resurrection from the dead Jesus appears to two of his disciples as they were walking to Emmaus and reproaches them for their lack of understanding:
“Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer* these things and enter into his glory?”
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.p
My husband likes to refer to that incident as the best Bible study ever.
Having finished reading the Gospel of Mark, Bella and I are now beginning the Gospel of John. Today we read John chapter 3 and when we got to the passage about Moses lifting up the serpent, “And just as Moses lifted up* the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Bella looked puzzled. “What does that mean?” So we flipped back to Numbers and read it.
From Mount Hor they set out by way of the Red Sea, to bypass the land of Edom, but the people’s patience was worn out by the journey;
So the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!”*
So the LORD sent among the people seraph* serpents, which bite the people so that many of the Israelites died.
Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you. Pray to the LORD to take the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people,
and the LORD said to Moses: Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and everyone who has been bitten will look at it and recover.*
Accordingly Moses made a bronze serpent* and mounted it on a pole, and whenever the serpent bit someone, the person looked at the bronze serpent and recovered.
She was delighted,“Echoes!” We’ve been talking about how the New Testament echoes what already happened in the Old. She loves finding the parallels. At seven she’s a bit young to fully understand the significance of these echoes: how the Church teaches that the New is concealed in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New. But she loves the way they “rhyme.” And in her delight is the beginning of wonder. Dare I say, the beginning of wisdom?
According to the Scriptures.
The other day I read a passage from St Jerome in the Office of Readings:
When I read the Gospels and thee come across testimonies from the Law or the prophets, I think only of Christ. I have only considered Moses, I have only considered the prophets with the intention of understanding what they say about Christ. For, after all, when I come before Christ’s splendor and thee perceive a brilliant light of bright sunshine, so to speak, then I cannot look on the light of a lamp. If you light a lamp at noon, can it show things up? When the sun rises then lamplight is invisible. In the same way, when Christ is present then the Law and the prophets vanish utterly away. I’m not criticizing the Law and the prophets; to the contrary, I praise them since they foretell Christ. But when I read the Law and the prophets my aim is not to hold fast to the Law and the prophets, but by means of the Law and the prophets, to come to Christ.
And then on yet another day this from St Ambrose:
And as for the power of prophecy – what can I say? Other prophets spoke in riddles. To the psalmist alone, it seems, God promised openly and clearly that the Lord Jesus would be born of his seed: I promise that your own son will succeed you on the throne.
Thus in the book of psalms Jesus is not only born for us: he also accepts his saving passion, he dies, he rises from the dead, he ascends into heaven, he sits at the Father’s right hand. The Psalmist announced what no other prophet had dared to say, that which was later preached by the Lord himself in the Gospel.
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As it was written, so Jesus did. When he came among us he did exactly what he had already said he was going to do. He fulfilled his promise:
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
—Benedictus (Canticle of Zechariah) Luke 1:68-79
How else could God have kept his promise to set us free? How else could he remember his holy covenant? We had broken the covenant and that oath breaking had a price. The price was blood. Either God could shed our blood or he could shed his own. Although it was we who broke the covenant, it was he who paid the price. Had he made us pay, then we would not have been free but would have still been enchained by our sins.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “according to the scriptures”?
Melanie Bettinelli is a mother of five who blogs because not writing is not an option.
Read all the entries in the Blog Series: Credo: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith.
by Melanie Bettinelli on June 15, 2013
1. 100 YEARS / STYLE / EAST LONDON
A really fun video. It’s neat how the not only the clothes but also the music and dance moves change. (via Lissla Lissar)
When I saw the title, I rolled my eyes. Ugh. Hipsters. But when I clicked through to look at the photos they were oddly compelling. I think seeing them with the clothes makes it easier to see the faces as faces. You know Greek and Roman statues were originally painted. They were never supposed to be stark white. So there’s some of that effect. Also, seeing them in modern attire makes them more immediate somehow.
Though this comment seems to question how authentic the reconstructions are:
“It’s reasonable to assume that the painting on the figures was at least as sophisticated as the figures themselves. By the time of the Alexander Sarcophagus the subtlety of the sculpture has far outstripped the colors identified and applied by Brinkmann. This does not mean that Brinkmann has left the path of accurate reconstruction; it may mean that his ultimate goal is impossibly distant. The colors he has identified on later pieces are clearly just underpainting for a far more realistic final finish. This was the process used in Renaissance oil paintings of equivalent visual sophistication. The assumption that the painting was as sophisticated as the figures is an extremely conservative one. The artistic and manual skills required for realistic sculpting are far greater than those required for life-like painting of a finished figure. And the painting task was a relaxed one, far more amenable to messing around until the artist got it right. So painting was easier, less risky and, because of weathering, constantly in demand. It is reasonable to conclude that until sculpting reached its zenith, painting of figures was substantially more sophisticated than the figures themselves. With luck, Brinkmann will eventually find a piece with all the layers intact.
4. Speaking of the Romans…. Ancient Roman Concrete Is about to Revolutionize Modern Architecture
Over the past decade, researchers from Italy and the U.S. have analyzed 11 harbors in the Mediterranean basin where, in many cases, 2,000-year-old (and sometimes older) headwaters constructed out of Roman concrete stand perfectly intact despite constant pounding by the sea.
The most common blend of modern concrete, known as Portland cement, a formulation in use for nearly 200 years, can’t come close to matching that track record, says Marie Jackson, a research engineer at the University of California at Berkeley who was part of the Roman concrete research team. “The maritime environment, in particular, is not good for Portland concrete. In seawater, it has a service life of less than 50 years. After that, it begins to erode,” Jackson says.
The secret to Roman concrete lies in its unique mineral formulation and production technique. As the researchers explain in a press release outlining their findings, “The Romans made concrete by mixing lime and volcanic rock. For underwater structures, lime and volcanic ash were mixed to form mortar, and this mortar and volcanic tuff were packed into wooden forms. The seawater instantly triggered a hot chemical reaction. The lime was hydrated—incorporating water molecules into its structure—and reacted with the ash to cement the whole mixture together.”
The Portland cement formula crucially lacks the lyme and volcanic ash mixture. As a result, it doesn’t bind quite as well when compared with the Roman concrete, researchers found. It is this inferior binding property that explains why structures made of Portland cement tend to weaken and crack after a few decades of use, Jackson says.
by Melanie Bettinelli on June 12, 2013
My sister-in-law belongs to a great Catholic homeshooling group which is very active on the North Shore. Unfortunately most of the events are just too far away for us to attend. I pay my yearly dues because they aren’t that much and because they give me access to the group’s members-only website. On Monday a member posted to the group that she planned to take a field trip to the Higgins Armory Museum for their homeschool Wednesday. Dom and I have been talking about visiting the Higgins for forever and realized we’d have to do it soon when we saw the announcement that they are closing at the end of the year and transferring their collection to the Worcester Art Museum. So I decided to jump in on the field trip day. It seemed especially apropos since Bella and I are currently reading Padraic Colum’s The Children’s Homer, and just yesterday read about the armor of Achilles and the death of Hector. Swords and spears and armor have been captivating our imaginations. I knew the boys would love it and Sophie would enjoy it too.
The day got off to a rocky start, but I think it was one of the best field trips we’ve yet taken. First, Ben woke me up at 4:30 or so this morning. Screaming. I went to resettle him and as soon as I walked into his room, got a whiff of what probably disturbed his sleep. Anthony had a dirty diaper. He’s had some digestive issues recently, most likely the result of his general boycott of all fruits and vegetables. I had to turn on a light to change him and then play hunt the diaper cream. All the while Ben was yelling at me to turn out the lights but wouldn’t let me shut the door because he hates to be in his room alone. Dom had to go and sit with him until he fell back to sleep. By the time Anthony’s diaper was changed his eyes had adjusted to the light and he wouldn’t go back to his bed because it was too dark. So I had to settle him on the chair in the living room. And by the time that was done Lucy was awake of course and wanting to eat. And by the time I got her settled my brain was all awhirl. Somehow it had decided that it was the perfect time to compose a new About Me page. After about half an hour of that I decided to just sit up and write the words down, hoping that if I did so I might be able to get back to sleep. By the time I was done my brain was still going crazy. I started Morning Prayer, Dom’s alarm went off, he hit snooze, then Anthony came in to ask for breakfast. Dom got up to help him and Anthony popped into Dom’s place in the bed. Little trickster. So Dom got up and Anthony lay there for some time. Then Anthony got up and left and I finally fell asleep for half an hour.
So I got up, made breakfast, made sandwiches and packed a lunch, herded five children into shoes and socks, braided two girls’ hair, fed the baby…. and then couldn’t find my water bottle, realized the car needed gas, the toll tag was in Dom’s car at his office…. We got to the museum almost an hour after I’d planned to arrive and we missed the start of the talk we wanted to go to by 25 minutes. But though the talk would have been really great for Bella to hear, we still had a great day at the museum.
I am so sad to only be discovering this wonderful place just as it is closing. Wow what a treasure.
What began as one man’s passion for metalcraft and tales of chivalry has today become the only dedicated museum of armor in the western hemisphere, housing one of the few significant collections of knightly armor outside of Europe. The founder, John Woodman Higgins, a prominent Worcester industrialist during the early 1900s, spent a lifetime building his collection. In 1929 he began construction of a five-story building to house it, and in 1931 the John Woodman Higgins Armory opened its doors to the public.
The art-deco building, which the museum still occupies today, was one of the first all steel and glass curtain-wall structures built in America; it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Inside the museum’s Great Hall, high ceilings and gothic arches are reminiscent of a medieval castle and offer a powerful setting for the museum’s collection.
The collection, some 4000 pieces in all, includes major examples of arms and armor from medieval and Renaissance Europe, Ancient Greece and Rome, Africa, the Middle East, India, and Japan. On display are two dozen full suits of armor for battle, jousting, and courtly ceremony, in addition to swords, staff weapons, firearms, and artwork from the age of knightly armor. The American Association of Museums in its most recent reaccreditation report described the museum as “a place of national significance ... with superb collections.”
Not only do they have a wonderful collection. They also have great programming and a really fun interactive kids’ room with all sorts of hands on activities. And for $5 apiece the kids got to make their own shields. We did catch most of the story time. (Though Ben was very scared at the dragon—he’s very afraid of dragons right now—and ended up on my lap in tears while I couldn’t leave because they girls were on the other side of the room and enthralled but Sophie was about as far away from me as she could bear to be without bursting into tears herself.
Oh my goodness we all had such a great time. We were there until almost 3 and could have stayed for hours more. No one wanted to leave, not even Anthony was too tired. This is a museum first for us. Usually by 1 he is kicking Ben and getting very grumpy. I think I managed our visit very well. We started off on the third and fourth floors, looking at the collection. Then we had lunch and then we went to the second floor for the interactive stuff and making shields. That meant Anthony and Ben were running around and touch stuff instead of sitting still int he stroller when they hit that grumpy can’t get along stage. I left the girls playing with some of the other homeschoolers thanks to a friend who they know who agreed to watch them while I took Ben off to make a shield. It was great getting to focus just on Ben for a while. Meanwhile Anthony trailed along behind us and tried to hand me supplies and played with the glue and the pencils and paper. I didn’t get him a shield, which might have been a mistake. He felt a bit left out, but then I didn’t really have time to have made one for him.
The shields were a major success. Ben was very happy with a minimalist design: a gold crown and a silver axe on a green charge. Bella and Sophie both opted for mermaids. Bella created her own little design without the aid of a template, she said it wasn’t a crown, but couldn’t tell me what it was. Sophie had a heart and crown too. I loved that each stencil had an explanation of the significance of the symbol and there was also a chart on the wall explaining the meaning of each color. Bella was very taken with the meaning of her black arrow: black for constancy and an arrow for military preparedness. I told her it meant she was constantly ready to fight to protect those she loved. She really fastened on that, I could see her eyes gleaming.
Ben really, really wanted a sword like some of the other boys had. I’d already bought them books at the gift shop, so I told him it might have to wait for his birthday. I know what he’s getting: armor and a sword and a knight figurine like the ones he was playing with in the gift shop.
When we got home the three big kids lifted their shields and ran around in the yard in general melee. I had to promise to make them cardboard swords to tide them over till they can get other ones. I also promised Anthony I’d make him a shield. So tomorrow’s activity has already been decided.
I took all five kids to a museum all by myself and we had an awesome time. Maybe I really can do this after all.
by Melanie Bettinelli on June 12, 2013
Continuing my read along of Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus with CatholicMom.com’s summer book club
In her extensive research, Sherry Weddell learned that most Catholics consider their relationship with God a
forbidden topic – too private to discuss with others. What we don’t hear about, we don’t know is possible:
One of our most surprising discoveries has been how many Catholics don’t even know that this personal,
interior journey exists. A high-level, cradle-Catholic leader on the West Coast acknowledged to me
recently that the very idea of a personal relationship with God was still new to him. The possibility had
only dawned upon him for the first time a few years ago, when his parish started offering evangelizing
Our idea of “normal” Christian life is skewed. We consider an interest in the spiritual life to be an exception, and
not the norm. To combat this mistake, the first Catholic discipleship group Sherry belonged to wrote a series of
resolutions as part of their mission statement (here are a few excerpts from their longer list):
. . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be excited Christian activists.
. . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be knowledgeable of their faith, the Scriptures, the doctrinal and
moral teachings of the Church, and the history of the Church.
. . . It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to have fellowship of other committed lay Catholics available to
them, to encourage, nurture, and discern as they attempt to follow Jesus.
. . . It is NORMAL for the local parish to function consciously as a house for formation for lay Catholics . . ..
Questions for Discussion:
In your own faith:
Are you comfortable talking with others about your relationship with God? Would you say that you’re a “normal” Catholic using the criteria outlined above? Or are you a “typical” Catholic, fighting that feeling that interest in the faith is only for a few pious eccentrics?
In your parish:
Do you personally have, within your parish, a group of Catholics you meet with regularly, to discuss the faith, study the faith, and encourage each other to greater virtue? At this time, does your parish have in place a working system for actively mentoring those who want to grow in their relationship with God?
No, I am not comfortable talking about my relationship with God with others. To me it feels private, personal. Except clearly I’m comfortable blogging about it. So maybe it’s just that I’m more comfortable with talking about personal things either with someone I know well or in the faceless realm of my blog. Either way, I sort of see that it’s problematic. And yet…. it’s not just talking about God with people I don’t know well I’m uncomfortable with. I’m uncomfortable talking about a whole array of topics. But yes, God is one of them. Faith is hard for me to wear on my sleeve. I admire my sister so much precisely because she’s one of those people who can talk about faith to just anyone. My husband too. But for me, no. And I’m not sure it’s going to change any time soon. I’m not sure I’m capable of changing that. I wonder how much of this is personality and how much is excuse making? (This is probably why I really need to figure out how to start seeing my spiritual director again.)
Then again I think about Pentecost and the apostles going out like drunk people just standing there on the streets and glowing about God. When I receive the Eucharist I pray the Anima Christi: “Soul of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me. Blood of Christ, inebriate me….” I read a gloss on that last phrase once that connected it to Pentecost and being drunk with the Holy Spirit, so full of Him that we get a little punch drunk and start babbling. We lose our inhibitions and proclaim the Good News.
I like to tell myself this blog and my adventures on social media are a sort of training ground. I’ll get more comfortable talking about faith here and maybe one day I’ll be more comfortable doing it in person too. Am I just fooling myself? Probably.
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So on to the NORMAL list. Yeah, I think on the whole I feel like Sherry’s NORMAL is where I find myself these days. I think the faith is for me, for everyone, not just for pious people and saints. And yet…. I lived the “typical” life for a long time and I probably still have a bit of baggage from that time in my life. I probably fall into patterns of thinking and talking that betray that I haven’t completely climbed on board….
I wouldn’t say I’m an excited Christian activist. Frankly, I’m uncomfortable with the word activist. But I am excited about my faith. It’s just… yeah, when I get excited I only share that with a select few. With people I don’t know well I tend to be very reserved and quiet.
Yes, I would say that I am knowledgeable of their faith, the Scriptures, the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church, and the history of the Church. And when I don’t know the answer to a question about the faith I get very excited to track down the information. I do like sharing that sort of stuff with others, it’s the teacher in me.
Do I have have fellowship of other committed lay Catholics available to me, to encourage, nurture, and discern as I attempt to follow Jesus? Some. Not enough. I have my family, extended family and online friends. In real life… I’m in a tough season right now. I don’t have many friends or even acquaintances that I see very often. I take care of the kids, I occasionally do a homeschooling thing. I don’t have much of a social life…. But I would like more fellowship of committed lay Catholics… I have had it in the past, I know what I’m missing. I hope to have it in the future.
Going back to the book for the NORMAL topics the prompt skipped:
It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to know what their charisms of service are and to be using them effectively in the fulfillment of their vocation or call in life.
This one has been bothering me since I first read the book. If you asked me what my charism of service is…. I’d draw a blank. But maybe it’s really lack of self confidence. Because I think if I dig a bit deeper I do know that I have natural gifts as a writer and as a teacher. But here’s the catch. I can see how I use my teaching charism as a mother. I can see how I use my writing charism to engage in evangelizing the digital continent. But I can’t see how I can put either at the disposal of my parish. I can see how I serve in my domestic church, my family, and how I serve in a wider church. But… How do I serve my local church? I’m still trying to figure that one out. And maybe the answer is that in this season of life I’m not called to do that. I’m merely meant to serve in these other areas until such time as the demands of my primary vocation will let me give more to my parish? I’m not satisfied with that answer, but I guess as long as I keep asking God to show me what he wants me to do, I don’t know what more I can do. Right?
It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to know that they have a primary vocation/mission in life (primarily in the secular world) given to them by God. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be actively engaged in discerning and living this vocation.
Well, as I mentioned above. I know my primary vocation is to marriage. And a huge part of that mission is not only to be a wife but also to be a mother. I am the heart of our domestic church. I (along with my husband) am the primary educator of our children. And yes, I am actively engaged in discerning and living this vocation. And I recognize that any other mission I may undertake must be secondary to this primary mission. If serving my parish were to detract from my ability to serve my family then it would not be the right thing for me to do.
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This week I will answer the parish questions because they seem relevant and more about my place in the parish than asking me to comment on the parish as a whole.
Do you personally have, within your parish, a group of Catholics you meet with regularly, to discuss the faith, study the faith, and encourage each other to greater virtue? No. There is a woman’s group. I’ve met with them once or twice for social events. Perhaps if I could go more frequently it could turn into something like that. And part, a large part, of what it getting in the way is simply the fact that I have five kids, the oldest of whom is seven. We’ve been in our parish four years now and in that time I’ve had three babies. So I’ve been a bit too busy to put much effort into becoming part of a group, making friends, etc. I think I can see places where those relationships could grow given a chance, but I’m not sure how much time and energy I have to devote to nurturing them….
At this time, does your parish have in place a working system for actively mentoring those who want to grow in their relationship with God? Maybe? I think there are some bits and pieces of things in place, but not what I’d call a system. As an outsider coming into the parish I didn’t feel like it was at all easy to find a way in, to make those connections. There wasn’t a system designed to help me integrate into the parish. Four years on I’m still trying to bootstrap my way in. I think an ideal parish would be seeking out newcomers and helping them to find mentoring relationships, to find groups where they fit in. You know I’ve had three babies since we moved here and not once has someone from the parish brought us a meal or come to visit at our home. I don’t think all the burden should be on us to do the inviting, I think there should be some kind of system for reaching out to people and helping them.
by Melanie Bettinelli on June 11, 2013
A collection of pieces I wish I had more time to write about.
1. Bearing writes about
Using Persons as Rhetorical Means to an End
So how do we push back against dehumanizing political speech? The first step is, as always, attention to the beam in our own eyes—the kind of self-examination and purging to which Mark Shea has just vowed to recommit himself. Refuse to return a blow for a blow, and commit yourself to scrupulous attention to the ethics of your own writings.
Only then can you turn your attention to charitable correction of others’ failings. And even then, you have to distinguish between the bad thing So-and-so said, and the badness of So-and-so himself.
One principle is to remember to push back against dehumanizing remarks from the people on “your side” just as fervently as you would push back against similar remarks from the people on “the other side.” Maybe more fervently, because the argument might carry more weight coming from you.
As much as I would like to, incidentally, I can’t give up on anyone; can’t roll my eyes and sigh, “You just can’t argue with him.” It comes down to that theological virtue we call Hope: no person is beyond reach. On the other hand, I might well be the worst person to try to reach a particular individual, so interactions with other’s errors mean constant discernment of whether my decision not to engage is correct (because what I’ll choose to say is unlikely to make things better) or cowardly (because I’ve given up on their ability to see reason at all). It’s not easy, but then, staying true to truth often isn’t.
2. Leah Libresco: The Besetting Sin of Bloggers
But when writing online, and publicly, it’s important to be clear if I’m imputing a view or motivation to the author or just talking about a connection that came to my mind.
I find it easiest to make this distinction clear when I’m writing about fiction or theatre. I’d love to hear from commenters or fellow bloggers about good ways to make it clear that someone else’s writing sparked an idea that’s now several steps removed from the original thing you read. And do call me out if you think I’ve left this too ambiguous in future posts.
In the meantime, I think Mark has a great insight about consciously looking for ways to connect with the author, instead of treating a text or action as though it was as parentless as Aphrodite.
I’ve run into this problem many times. I mean to use a piece as a jumping off point, to trace a line of thought back to the spark. Instead I seem to be in argument with the author or worse to be imputing meaning to them that they didn’t mean. (I seem to run into this problem with Heather King’s writing quite a bit.) How to respect the author’s intention while still following a line of thought to it’s end…. that’s hard. I admit that often for me I get caught up in following the shiny idea and lose track of the person behind the writing. (I love that Leah’s illustrated her post with a picture of a magpie because really the image came to me independently in a completely different context earlier this week.)
3. Mark Shea: An Argument for Arguing Well
The moral, then, is to attend first to the argument, not to the person making it. That can be hard when we know for a fact that the person making an argument is an unscrupulous criminal, or is sticking out their tongue at us when other people are not looking. It can be really easy to divert from addressing the question of, say, evidence for the Resurrection and move straight to “Why my opponent is an abrasive jerk that no decent person should listen to.” But tempting as that is, strangers watching the debate are not interested in your dislike of your opponent, nor is truth really going to be served even if you persuade them to reject his argument based on that. Because, of course, it just may be that even though Galileo is an irascible pain in the neck, he is still right.
Sherry Weddell says never accept a label when you can have a story. Here is what you get when you ask, “Tell us your journey to unbelief.”
That these students were, above all else, idealists who longed for authenticity, and having failed to find it in their churches, they settled for a non-belief that, while less grand in its promises, felt more genuine and attainable. I again quote Michael: “Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.”
Sincerity does not trump truth. After all, one can be sincerely wrong. But sincerity is indispensable to any truth we wish others to believe. There is something winsome, even irresistible, about a life lived with conviction. I am reminded of the Scottish philosopher and skeptic, David Hume, who was recognized among a crowd of those listening to the preaching of George Whitefield, the famed evangelist of the First Great Awakening:
“I thought you didn’t believe in the Gospel,” someone asked.
“I do not,” Hume replied. Then, with a nod toward Whitefield, he added, “But he does.”
5. In that vein, Matthew Warner drops a gauntlet: Why the World Doesn’t Take Catholicism Seriously
We Catholics don’t look or act any different than non-catholics. It’s that simple.
The question we must answer is “if Catholicism offers a better way, why don’t Catholics’ lives seem any better?”
If we believe our faith and action in this life has eternal consequences, why don’t we act like it? If the God of our universe, the Creator of everything, is truly present in the Eucharist, why don’t our actions show this?
If our relationship with God is truly the most important relationship, why don’t our daily schedules reflect that? If our marriages and families are our greatest blessings, why do we sacrifice them for our careers?
If God has a plan for us, why do we make so many plans without him? And why are we not on our knees every morning thanking, praising and giving over to him every moment of our entire day?
If Catholicism is true, why isn’t everything we do ordered around this Truth?
The incongruity between what we claim to believe and the lives we live is revealing. Any honest outsider can surely tell that we can’t possibly believe what we say we believe. Not only is our religion a fraud, but so are we Christians.
That’s what Catholics as a whole communicate about Catholicism.
But we’ve gotten bad at making saints.
Because we’ve gotten bad at teaching. And I’m not talking about what we say in the classroom or preach from the pulpit. I’m talking about our example.
The best teachers show. As children we learn more by what we see our parents do than any words they ever say. We’ve forgotten this when it comes to handing on the faith.
We see this deficiency everywhere, online and off. How many times have you seen charity preached in anger? And orthodoxy preached in uncharity? This is the fruit of pride, not the fruit of a genuine concern for souls. We have fallen in love with knowing we are right and called it loving our neighbor.
My parents’ generation left the Church without leaving the pews. And now they wonder why their kids find it silly to stand in the pews of a church they never really understood professing creeds they never really believed.
And so we find ourselves scrambling for ways to teach the truth. To instruct the ignorant. Demanding orthodoxy. If they only knew what they were leaving! But we go about it all wrong. We attack all the symptoms without really getting to the heart.
Instead of lecturing people that they have to go to Sunday Mass, inspire them to want to go. Instead of telling them to dress more appropriately for Mass, give them something worth dressing up for. Instead of telling them not to be unchaste, fascinate them with chastity. And on and on.
It must not only be an affirmative orthodoxy, but also an active orthodoxy.
Instead of talking about how beautiful the faith is, show them its beauty. Instead of insisting upon how good the Church is, be Good. Instead of lecturing about truth, live a life transformed by it.
You don’t have to beat people over the head with the truth. You just have to open them up to it. Prepare the way. Then get out of the way. Open the cage door and the Truth will speak for itself. It will roar like a lion, who - once encountered - needs no help being taken seriously.
by Melanie Bettinelli on June 11, 2013
1. Another castle: Ozark Medieval Fortress being built by the same guy building the castle in Burgundy. Unfortunately it seems they’ve run out of funding and aren’t open this year.
2. This: I had a mysterious debilitating undiagnosable illness is for my sister, Theresa, who is chronically ill and may never receive a complete diagnosis.
3. Also for Theresa: Pope Francis Says Lamenting Suffering is a Form of Prayer
Pope Francis went on to speak of the day’s Gospel from Mark 12 in which the Sadducees ask Jesus, if a woman is widowed and marries seven times, which man will be her husband in heaven.
He noted the Sadducees were talking about this woman “as if she were a laboratory, all aseptic” and that “hers was an abstract, moral problem.”
“When we think of the people who suffer so much, do we think of them as though they were an abstract, moral conundrum, pure ideas … ?” asked Pope Francis. “Or do we think about them with our hearts, with our flesh, too?”
“I do not like it when people speak about tough situations in an academic and not a human manner, sometimes with statistics and that’s it,” he remarked. “In the Church there are many people in this situation.”
The Pope advised people to pray for those who suffer, noting “here is the mystery of the communion of saints.”
“They must come into my heart, they must be a cause of restlessness for me, my brother is suffering, my sister suffers,” he stated.
“Pray to the Lord, ‘but, Lord, look at that person, he cries, he is suffering,’” the Pope said.
Pope Francis explained that because of their prayers, God did not let Tobit and Sarah die, but rather healed Tobit and gave a husband to Sarah.
“Prayer always reaches God, as long as it is prayer from the heart,” he said.
“When it is an abstract exercise, such as that the Sadducees were discussing, it never reaches him because it never goes out of ourselves,” he remarked.
In those cases, the Holy Father asserted, it “is an intellectual game” and “we do not care.”
This week’s daily Mass readings from Tobit and Office of Reading excerpts from Job, two of my favorites.
And a related quote from St Teresa of Avila: “One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer.”
5. Interesting look at Hydropower
“We justify dams for the hydropower, flood protection, irrigation water, and recreation that they provide. Yet over time, accumulating silt reduces and then eliminates each benefit. As long as the laws of physics hold, large reservoirs must fill with mud. After Lake Powell fills, the Colorado River will meander across a mud flat and plunge down the face of Glen Canyon Dam in a waterfall that will undercut and eventually collapse the dam. In time, the river will remove the dam debris and lake sediments as though they never existed. Dams imprison rivers, but eventually they annihilate their jailers and escape. Like the truth, a river will out.”
This article made me think of one of my favorite lines in one of my favorite T.S. Eliot poems: “I do not know much about gods but I believe the river is a strong, brown god”
6. Dwija has some nice tips about Homeschooling Kindergarten
7. How to Avoid a People Hangover. Add to the care and feeding of introverts file. I just love the phrase “people hangover.”
I think our educational system reacts to the action. We need to respond to what is causing the action.
“This is such a paradigm shift, you have to believe in it to make change happen,”
A student blows up at a teacher, drops the F-bomb. The usual approach at Lincoln – and, safe to say, at most high schools in this country – is automatic suspension. Instead, Sporleder sits the kid down and says quietly:
“Wow. Are you OK? This doesn’t sound like you. What’s going on?” He gets even more specific: “You really looked stressed. On a scale of 1-10, where are you with your anger?”
The kid was ready. Ready, man! For an anger blast to his face….”How could you do that?” “What’s wrong with you?”…and for the big boot out of school. But he was NOT ready for kindness. The armor-plated
defenses melt like ice under a blowtorch and the words pour out: “My dad’s an alcoholic. He’s promised me things my whole life and never keeps those promises.” The waterfall of words that go deep into his home life, which is no piece of breeze, end with this sentence: “I shouldn’t have blown up at the teacher.”
And then he goes back to the teacher and apologizes. Without prompting from Sporleder.
“The kid still got a consequence,” explains Sporleder – but he wasn’t sent home, a place where there wasn’t anyone who cares much about what he does or doesn’t do. He went to ISS — in-school suspension, a quiet, comforting room where he can talk about anything with the attending teacher, catch up on his homework, or just sit and think about how maybe he could do things differently next time.
9. I almost never share memes on social media, but this one really spoke to me. Both of those images are lovely pieces of art in their own right. And I think this meme, while funny, points to the crux of why the incarnation is so amazing: God’s amazing condescension.
Source: Catholic memes
by Melanie Bettinelli on June 10, 2013
In her book, Forming Intentional Disciples Sherry Weddell tells the story of two men, Gareth and Thomas:
Gareth was a lifelong, militant, scientific atheist who had always heaped scorn on Thomas’s deep Catholic faith. But six months earlier Gareth’s wife had died, and suddenly Gareth turned up on Thomas’s doorstep, wanting to talk about God. Somehow over the years of working together, a bridge of trust had been built, and in this moment of vulnerability Gareth turned to Thomas.
Gried didn’t make Gareth any easier to deal with. He would borrow books like St. Therese’s Story of a Soul, and a week later he’d throw the book down on Thomas’s table, declare it to be rubbish—and then borrow three more books. It required tremendous patience and prayer on Thomas’s part to put up with Gareth’s tantrums and occasionally I’d get an intensely frustrated email from Thomas—it all seemed so pointless, Gareth would rant endlessly about the stupidity of the very idea of God and attack Thomas’s beliefs and yet very slowly, despite his kicking and screaming, Gareth was changing. After several years he acknowledged that he believed that God existed. But as for an organized religion like Catholicism—hah!
Then came the day when Gareth asked Thomas if he could go to an RCIA session with him.
[. . . ]
It was not exactly a surprise when Gareth decided after a single session that RCIA wasn’t for him. He came to the same conclusion on his second experiment with RCIA. Perhaps the third time will be the charm…. But Gareth is still dropping by Thomas’s house, and the talk almost always turns to Christianity and faith.
When I think of the threshold of openness, I think of Gareth. Curiosity is a God-given part of being human that is ordered to ultimate fulfillment in God. Under the influence of grace, it is intended to lead on to the next threshold: openness. But moving into that threshold is one of the most difficult journeys for twenty-first-century people to make because it demands that we declare ourselves open to the possibility of personal and spiritual change. Openness is the premier example of a decision point that can feel dramatically different for outsiders than for insiders. The one on the verge of openness can feel as if he or she is teetering on the edge of an abyss, while the lieflong catholic wonders what all the fuss is about.
Despite all his protests, Gareth has actually undergone significant spiritual change and is haunting the frontier of openness. Whether or not he will be able to make the final plunge into openness is the question about which Thomas and I have been praying for years.
Moving from curiosity to openness is one of the hardest transitions to make because it involves, as earlier thresholds do not, making the choice to lower such defenses as cynicism and antagonism, and to acknowledge to God (if he is really there and listening) and to oneself that you are open to change. It can feel dangerous and crazy, frightening, and out of control. There are many internal and external pressures, fears, and blocks that must be overcome to reach openness. Because of this,many who are curious never make this transition.
This description of the encounter between Thomas and Gareth has been haunting me, especially Weddell’s account of his vitriol and tantrums. Today I put it together with another encounter that I haven’t been able to forget, between an atheist and a Catholic in a comment box on a Catholic website. An encounter in which the atheist exhibited the same kind of hostility, cynicism and antagonism which Weddell says often characterize people hovering at the threshold of openness. And I began to wonder: What if Gareth hadn’t had a Catholic coworker? What if he didn’t know any Christians at all, or at least none that he felt were trustworthy? What if he instead turned to Catholic websites, blogs, and online publications? What if instead of turning to a trusted friend he instead turned to anonymous, faceless online presences to answer his questions and respond to his challenges? What if once there he threw the same kind of tantrums and spewed the same kind of vitriol? What reception might he have had? Would he have found someone as patient and kind as Thomas? Would he have found someone to answer his challenges with love and prayer? Would he have found understanding? Or would he have encountered a self-appointed guardian of the combox, a defender against trolls? Here’s just a small taste of the reception that the atheist received: (I decided to eliminate the names of the parties involved, even though they were all most likely pseudonyms. I debated about quoting the exchange at all, but I do think it’s illustrative.
[. . .] bless you, but [R] is the biggest Anti-Catholic bigot that anyone has the displeasure of coming across to. [R] has nothing better to do with her life than to spread her Anti-Catholic lies on the Internet; that is her biggest “accomplishment” sadly. [. . .] Her Atheism is getting annoying & boring. I don’t know why [R] doesn’t keep her Atheism at her home instead of trying to shove her Atheistic religion down our throats. [R] is the most close-minded & close-hearted person on the blog, & she hates God & Catholics with a passion- if you stick around long enough you’ll notice she has schizophrenia-like isses that she won’t admit to. [. . .] Seriously, the IQ points of readers have been lowered when reading [R]’s attacks/comments. Our brains deserve better. [R], I’ll continue to pray for you, but you need to be banned for your own sake. You need to resolve your personal issues first & stop your hate & then come back & comment at the blog.
Of course, it’s not surprising that when given that kind of brush-off the atheist in question lashed out:
You obviously didn’t read my post. Maybe all caps will get to your minuscule intellect.
I AM AN ATHEIST. THAT MEANS THAT I DO NOT ‘WORSHIP’ ANY BEING OR ANYTHING. I HAVE NO IDOLS—PERIOD!
I DO HATE CATHOLICISM BECAUSE IT MOTIVATES AND FUNDS PEOPLE TO HATE HUMANITY AND LOVE A SUPERNATURAL CONSTRUCT THAT HAS NO MEANING.
THERE IS DOCUMENTED PROOF THAT MT WAS JUST ANOTHER FRAUDULENT STOOGE FOR THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, AND HER ‘MISSIONARIES OF CHARITY’ ARE HELL-HOLES FOR PEOPLE TO DIE WITHOUT MEDICAL ATTENTION.
THE CHURCH HAS DECIDED FOR YOU WHAT YOU SHOULD BELIEVE AND YOU ARE TOO TERRIFIED TO QUESTION IT. YOU HATE ME BECAUSE I DO QUESTION CATHOLIC BELIEFS. YOU ARE TERRIFIED OF NOT BEING CATHOLIC BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO VALUES OF YOUR OWN.
FOR CATHOLICS, ‘EVIL’ IS DEFINED AS UNBELIEF. ANY OTHER HUMAN ACTION—RAPE MURDER, SEXUAL DEPRAVITY, ETC., IS FORGIVABLE, AND THUS PERPETUATED WITH THE APPROVAL OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.
YOU WOULDN’T WANT ME BANNED IF YOU HAD ANY ANSWERS TO DISPUTE ME.
Yes, the reply is unpleasant and yet I can’t help but see in this atheist a woman who, like Gareth, is seeking answers. She wouldn’t keep coming back and coming back to this Catholic site if she weren’t grappling with something, being pulled by something. Maybe she is, as the Catholic commenter says, an anti-Catholic bigot. Still, I see in her a lost sheep needing a shepherd.
And I can’t help but be frustrated with the Catholics who are so dismissive toward her. On the one hand, it’s understandable. She is an unpleasant person once she gets riled up. She loves to sling mud at Catholics, and especially at Mother Teresa. On the other hand, she’s got some genuine questions, she’s grappling with one of the hardest questions out there: the problem of evil.
What if instead of railing at her and calling her a troll and wishing someone would ban her, the Catholics on the site tried to be more like Thomas, to understand where she is coming from? That last sentence speaks volumes to me: “You wouldn’t want me banned if you had any answers to dispute me.”
Now although I wish I could be the one to set the example and engage with her, I don’t have time to go round after round with her in the comments. I barely have time to dash off a quick blog post now and then. But some of the Catholics who were engaging with her clearly had time. They recognized her, despite her constantly changing pseudonym. They had time to fire off response after response at her. But sadly, their responses were not likely to help her come any closer to openness to Christ and the Church.
Sherry Weddell says:
Since the journey to openness may well be a slow process, patience is vital. We need to remember that our friend’s surface questions about large, cosmic issues may well hide deeper personal questions that drive the search and yet make it difficult to move forward. Serious, enduring intercession is especially critical when someone is on the verge of openness. That is because God is not the only one at work in this process. Many influences—the person’s wounded nature, family dynamics, unhealthy or hostile friends, as well as the culture, the enemy, and the world—all conspire to block a move into openness. And our care for the person must be genuine. No matter what our friend decides, he or she needs to know that we truly are friends.
Now Weddell is clearly imagining face to face encounters with real life friends and not strangers on the internet, but I think her basic strategies should still apply. The anonymous “troll” in the comment box is still a real person, just as much as your coworker or neighbor or cousin. Though you may not have a friendship with her, you still owe her respect and even love. You are an ambassador for Christ, perhaps the only one she will ever encounter. What welcome are you giving her? What messages are you sending her about Christ and His Church? Are you inviting her in or pushing her away? It is true you may be limited in your ability to cultivate a friendship with her, but you can still treat her with the same kind of patience that Thomas extended to Gareth.
Pope Benedict called us to evangelize the digital continent. Every time you leave a comment anywhere on the internet, you are acting as an evangelist. What does it mean to love our neighbor on the internet? How might that exchange have been different?
I am sure that both the Catholics in the exchange did start out trying to be patient and loving toward the atheist. But her vitriol and bile began to wear on them and they began to lash out. I hope they do spend time in intercessory prayer for her as they say they do. I do wonder though, given the tenor of their comments, do they ever ask the Holy Spirit to guide them when they engage with her? I always mean to ask for guidance before I write comments but, alas, I often forget to really pause and pray before leaving comments. My fingers start flying over the keyboard, I’m reacting with emotion instead of walking away to calm down, writing from the gut instead of from the heart of contemplation and prayer.
At the beginning of this exchange one of the Catholics does begin to ask questions and seems to be heading in the direction of a less confrontational engagement, but it breaks down pretty quickly. I think it’s almost bound to break down when we rely on our own powers. Here’s where I come back to my idea that there must be a special charism out there for dealing with angry atheist trolls.Wouldn’t it be great if there were a religious community that took it on as their special mission? They would ideally spend hours each day in prayer and fasting and Eucharistic adoration so that when the encountered angry atheists they would be wearing the armor of Christ and would be impervious to the slings and arrows of outrage.
This is kind of a follow-up to some questions I asked in my post which explored a bit of the ethics and tactics of winning the culture wars, Do We Know What Victory Looks Like?. I suggested that
Most people engaging in that battle of winning hearts and minds aren’t trained. Most armchair apologists are flailing, and probably doing more harm than good, because they are more focused on being right than on really trying to win people’s trust, to build bridges and make common ground wherever they are able. Most people not only don’t know how to argue, they also don’t know why to argue.
I think another problem is that we tend to look at people as either friends or enemies. If you aren’t with us, you’re against us. We tend to forget that people are never the enemy. All people are on a journey, either moving toward Christ or away from Him. It is our job to help them on their way. But we have to remember that we may never see the fruits of our labors. Your job may be to plant a seed you will never see sprout, much less flourish.
We also lack a narrative that helps us to see the path. This is where Weddell’s list of the five thresholds of discipleship is so very helpful. It’s a road map. It can help you to see where a person is on their journey and to know what you might be able to do to help them move forward. And it’s a good reminder that the process of conversion is a long one and we need to not worry about visible results so much as
“Trust cannot be built if the evangelizers regard the unevangelized with fear and disdain.”
The focus of Sherry’s book is evangelizing at the parish level. In all of her stories she assumes a face to face encounter. Therefore I’m not sure to what extent her strategies will be useful in anonymous online encounters. Developing a bridge of trust, having a threshold conversation… you might be able to do that with someone in certain online settings, but I’m not sure whether you can do that with strangers in a third party’s comment box. Still, I think the basic postures are helpful. More helpful that reacting with fear and disdain. Perhaps we can work together to develop some useful narratives to help guide our encounters with hostile people, strategies to deploy in these anonymous encounters. I think the one thing we can’t afford to do is keep flailing about attacking every “troll” who stumbles into our Catholic online spaces. We should find a way to extend hospitality and mercy toward the most vile bile spewers, remembering that every chance word we type might be the pivot to turn them toward Christ or to turn them away from him. Common wisdom says that one should not “feed the trolls,” but that is a dehumanizing attitude. After all these “trolls” are sons and daughters of God, they are the lost sheep… and Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep. While it might be prudent to avoid pointless engagement, to lovingly open up dialogue, even with someone spewing bile, might be a great act of evangelization. Meeting people with love and compassion can actually change hearts and minds.
By the way, this isn’t to say that bloggers can’t or shouldn’t set guidelines about commenting. I think a solid policy that requires all people to follow certain basic rules of behavior are a good thing. I notice that this kind of trolling and troll shaming happens most in comment boxes that are largely unregulated because of high volume of comments. I do think it’s perfectly reasonable to hold angry atheists to a standard of behavior. But then you can point to a set of rules, an objective standard rather than just them making you angry because they are attacking you.
by Melanie Bettinelli on June 07, 2013
“Then they came to the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Baptist was bemused.
“Why do y’all have a statue of Jesus with his heart on the outside?”
“Well,” said the Catholic lady sweetly, “You Baptists like to ask Jesus into your heart right?”
“We like to ask Jesus to take us into his heart.”
Perfect apologetics. Welcoming and kind and working from what the other person knows to what they have yet to discover.”
from Have You Accepted Jesus into Your Heart? by Fr Dwight Longenecker
If you read enough novels that feature Catholic characters, you’re bound to run across a Catholic family described as having an “oleograph of the Sacred Heart” hanging somewhere in their house (usually the kitchen, the dining room or the bedroom). It’s the lazy novelist’s shorthand for a certain kind of kitschy, overheated devotional stance that is supposed to “locate” for the reader the pious sensibilities of the (usually indigent or uneducated) Catholic characters.
The Sacred Heart is one of the few devotions that have probably suffered from its artistic representations. Many of the images with which older Catholics are familiar are both kitschy and off-putting: a doe-eyed Jesus pointing to his heart, which is always pictured outside his body. There is the yuck factor (the bleeding heart surrounded by a crown of thorns is often pictured in gruesome detail) and the disbelief factor (there’s no way that a carpenter from Nazareth looked so effeminate). It’s a tragedy that art has distanced many Catholics from a powerful way of looking at Jesus.
The devotion began with the mystical visions of Jesus and his Sacred Heart as revealed to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), a Visitation Sister living in the French town of Paray-le-Monial. As is often the case, the sisters in her community were highly doubtful about her reported visions. At one point Margaret Mary was told in prayer that God would send her “his faithful servant and perfect friend.” Shortly afterwards, the mild-mannered St. Claude la Colombiere, a Jesuit priest living nearby, was assigned to serve as her spiritual director. Later, Margaret Mary would have a vision that showed their two hearts (hers and Claude’s) united with the heart of Jesus.
From that point the two worked together to spread the devotion, which became strongly associated with the Jesuits, who promoted it with vigor in the following centuries. As the devotion flourished, the paintings, mosaics, sculptures and yes, oleographs proliferated. So did parishes, hospitals, retreat centers, schools and universities named in its honor. Everything you know that is named “Sacred Heart” (including the great church of Sacré Coeur in Paris) stems from these two people—and Jesus of course.
(By the way, Fr. Claude wasn’t thought of too highly by his brothers either. Jesuit communities used to have house “historian” who would record the events of the community life. The final few days before Claude’s death were recorded as follows by the house historian: “Nothing worthy of note.”)
In time, though, devotion to the Sacred Heart fell off to such an extent that Pedro Arrupe, SJ, then the superior general of the Society of Jesus, had to remind his brother Jesuits in 1981: “I have always been convinced that what we call ‘Devotion to the Sacred Heart’ is a symbolic expression of the very basis of the Ignatian spirit.” He told them that the Sacred Heart is “one of the deepest sources of vitality for [my] interior life.” Yet Father Arrupe acknowledged, “In recent years the very expression ‘Sacred Heart’ has constantly aroused, from some quarters, emotional, almost allergic reactions.”
Those “allergic reactions” mean that we are missing a powerful and vivid symbol of the love of Jesus. For the Sacred Heart is nothing less than an image of the way that Jesus loves us: fully, lavishly, radically, completely, sacrificially. The Sacred Heart invites to meditate on some of the most important questions in the spiritual life: In what ways did Jesus love his disciples and friends? How did he love strangers and outcasts? How was he able to love his enemies? How did he show his love for humanity? What would it mean to love like Jesus did? What would it mean for me to have a heart like his? How can my heart become more “sacred”? For in the end, the Sacred Heart is about understanding Jesus’s love for us and inviting us to love others as Jesus did.
Perhaps newer images are needed to revive this storied devotion. Or perhaps we just need newer ways of thinking about this Solemnity, which is today.
Two years ago I participated in the “Hearts on Fire” retreat, a young-adult retreat sponsored by the Apostleship of Prayer. It was a wonderful day-and-a-half of talks and prayers and songs and sharing led by a group of talented young Jesuits. During one session, Phil Hurley, S.J., the director of the program, gave a lively presentation to the young adults on the Sacred Heart. He recounted how he had recently shown some images of the Sacred Heart to some schoolchildren. “Why do you think Jesus’s heart is shown on the outside of his body?” he asked the children.
One girl spoke up: “Because he loves us so much that he can’t keep it in!”
from Father James Martin on Facebook I can’t figure out how to link to the individual post.
Also, don’t miss Apathy, Illness, Enthronement Sally Thomas’s reflection on the Sacred Heart devotion and her experience of enthroning the image in her home.
by Melanie Bettinelli on June 06, 2013
Now that my dad’s firmly on the road to recovery, can I beg you to join me in praying for my friend Dwija and her baby.
So, basically there has been no change. The amniotic sac has not healed, so I continue to leak whatever new fluid is created. But the baby- the baby has a strong heartbeat and a perfect placenta and has grown properly since last week, which was, to be totally honest, a surprise to the doctor. Normally with a rupture this early, a miscarriage follows shortly thereafter. But it hasn’t. So that’s good.
You guys, so often when I pray, I pray for the peace and strength to accept God’s will. He knows what I wish would happen, so often prayer is as much, or more, for me than it is for Him anyway. But not this time. No. This time I just want my baby to live. I don’t want to say goodbye so soon. I don’t want to have to tell my older kids, who are already so in love with their new sibling, that he or she has already gone home to Jesus. I don’t want it. I can’t want it. I can’t bring myself to pray for the peace and strength to endure that.
I just want my baby to live
St Gerard Majella, St Gianna Molla, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Pray for us!