Quick Hits: Elections, Newman, Augustine, Media, and more on Rose Hawthorne
Five highlights today:
- American election year 2020: Every year is an election year, of course, but Presidential election years are America’s biggest horse races. Sometimes they offer significant possibilities for change; sometimes not. This year, we do not even know yet who will be running…for either party. Exciting as politics can be, I worry at times that even good Catholics expect too much from our political process every four years. Yet over my lifetime of 71 years, our culture has steadily deteriorated.
It is always right to be zealous for the common good, of course, using whatever genuine opportunities we have. But 2020 will almost certainly be another political crazy season, with the danger of forgetting—if only for a little while—that if we do not strengthen the Church and increase the power with which she preaches the Gospel, then the culture is unlikely to change for the better, and political gains are most likely to prove illusory. The key is to be politically active in accordance with God’s will but, at the same time, to remember the lesson of Psalm 146: “Put not your trust in princes” for “happy is he whose hope is in the Lord his God.” As we have seen again and again in history, it is a kind of blasphemy or idolatry to make political excitement or political zeal an emotional substitute for grace.
- Augustine on heaven and earth in the Church: The great St. Augustine distinguished between the earthly and heavenly cities, knowing that the lines of distinction are not clear. His immense work on this subject is fairly hard to understand, without falling into errors on one side or the other. But Augustine was also a bishop much beloved by his flock, and he fielded ordinary questions about ordinary Catholic life from far and wide. One of the questions that still plagues us today is how we are to regard the preferred spiritual customs of one group or another within the Church, be they separated by geography or by personal habits.
This is what makes James T. Majewki’s reading of St. Augustine’s Letter to Januarius so important in our own time. Listen to it (it is less than twenty minutes long) and marvel at how easily one of the greatest intellects in history can get down to basics and shed light on the little preferences, and not so little mistakes, which plague those who may be too attached to their own Catholic customs and forms of piety today. (Listen on CatholicCulture.org or in your favorite podcast app.)
- Who wants to use our material? An important part of CatholicCulture.org’s mission is to make our resources available free of charge for reproduction in parish bulletins, newsletters, newspapers and magazines; in blogs and on other websites; in Catholic radio and television productions; and in Catholic education at every level—all around the world. A certain proportion of those who reuse our material ask permission by email, and a few years ago I began saving those requests in a separate email folder. I counted the items in that folder today, and found 150 saved requests—all of which, by the way, were answered affirmatively.
But perhaps I should share more with our users. Today alone we had two requests. Armor of God Catholic Radio, located in Texas, has floated an idea about rebroadcasting our podcasts. And a student-run website drawing on talent from four colleges (Franciscan University of Steubenville, Benedictine College, Catholic University, and Notre Dame) would like to share our material from time to time in the effort to explain Catholicism to young people of all religions or no religion: Clarifying Catholicism.
- Meditating with St. John Henry Newman: During Advent and Christmas this year, I read the meditations from St. John Henry Newman which were edited and put together in a single book for this purpose by the Augustine Institute: Waiting for Christ. One of the great things about Newman’s sermons is that, although they can often be linked with particular days of the year, they always deal with deep spiritual issues which we can meditate on not only at any time, but regularly. So while this collection is keyed to the days of the Advent and Christmas seasons, it really can be used—and used repeatedly—in almost any reading pattern and during any season or seasons of the year.
Edited and assembled by Christopher Blum, each of the thirty-eight meditations has been whittled to just over three pages in length. Topics covered include worship, reverence, the glories of Mary, dispositions for faith, the mystery of Godliness, martyrdom, friendship, affliction, and a great many more, including love itself. Newman is always fresh, deep, astonishing, and in his sermons, accessible.
- Follow-up to Rose Hawthorne on unusual vocations: My essay last week (Ecclesiastical judgment: Saints who left spouse or children for consecrated life?) was prompted by the cause for canonization of Rose Hawthorne. I also mentioned the cases of St. Jane Frances de Chantel and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. This struck a chord, and alert readers have shared two more instances of men and women leaving their children and/or their spouses to enter religious life.
Sr. Dolores Liptak, RSM (PhD) wrote me about a couple she had studied while organizing the archives of the Georgetown Visitation Monastery. This nineteenth-century American couple had five children, but the husband (Virgil Barber) converted from Episcopalianism and felt a strong call to religious life, while his wife (née Jerusha Booth) seemed to have a similar vocation thrust upon her by her respect for her husband. Archbishop Benedict Fenwick had to make the decisions. Anyway, both entered religious life, Virgil to be a Jesuit and Jerusha a Visitation nun at Georgetown. Her baby was cared for by Bishop Fenwick’s mother, and the other children became boarders. The boy was educated at Georgetown, and the three girls, with their mother, were educated at the academy run by the Visitation sisters. Eventually, all of the children entered religious life.
Fr. Leo S. Mwenda, OP, of the Dominican Vicariate of East Africa acquainted me with another case, that of a seventeenth-century French woman, now Saint Marie of the Incarnation, who was left with a six-month-old son when her husband died after two years of marriage. There followed a long period of vocational discernment, and when her son was twelve years old, Marie was given permission to enter the Ursuline convent in Tours. Initial opposition by her family subsided, and a sister and brother-in-law agreed to raise her son and pay for his education. But the boy suffered understandable distress after an initial acceptance, raising obvious difficulties for all concerned. After about nine years in the convent, Marie set out on a mission to Canada in 1639. All such accounts are hard to fathom, and sometimes harder to explain, but in the end Marie was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1980, and canonized by Pope Francis in 2014.
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