Friday, May 9

As promised several days ago...

Here are some links to Relics Resources:


Relics - pious and by no means comprehensive (I can you write a book on relics and not mention the corpse of St. Catherine of Bologna on display, seated upright in a golden chair??)...but a useful start.

Furta Sacra about the theft of relics during the Central Middle Ages.

Magnificent Corpses is a guide to some saints' relics in Europe, but is of no use beyond that - the author is not a Catholic, which is fine - (I found the book on Marian shrines by a self-identified agnostic Virgin Trails quite a lovely and compassionate read) - but her description of her experiences of the relics, in every single chapter follows the exact same, numbingly dull pattern: Here's the relic. Here are the relic viewers who are either uncouth, obviously tourists rather than pilgrims and are often wearing obscene t-shirts. Well - so? There are many interesting points to be made about the intersection of pilgrimage and tourism, of the totality of experience and life that people bring to religious shrines - but the author doesn't try to make them.

The Cult of the Saints by Peter Brown, a well-known an highly respected historian of early Christianity. And if you've never read his biography of St. Augustine, , shame on you.

There are some interesting and helpful sites on the web, in no particular order:

Links to background and text of The Pardoner's Tale

Good essay on the development of the cult of relics

Three medieval tales of relics

Two medievel critiques of the cult of relics:

Guibert of Nogent

Bishop Amulo of Lyons

A "Gazeteer" of various relics around the world

Buddhist Relics

The Orthodox view

And finally, the column I wrote that was the root of the talk

Tons and tons o' links to religion stories at Christianity Today's Weblog - as always. Check it out today and every day.

Living in a mid-sized city in this part of the Midwest is definitely a mixed experience.

In one sense, there is no way that we are the white bread monolith that the more cosmopolitan would suggest - when I take Joseph to the park across the street, he is quite often the only White Boy there (and yes, in his little striped shirt and overalls, does he look White Boy - circa 1953, to boot), in a melting pot of African-Americans, Latinos, a good proportion of biracial kids and, each and every time, at least one little Asian kid there with his or her adoptive parents. Sun-deprived? Sure. Homogeneous? Nah...

On the other hand...

Heterogeneity does not cosmopolitan make. Nancy regularly mourns the lack of interesting ethnic restaurants here, and that's only the beginning, and it's a puzzle, considering the cool ethnic neighborhoods you can find in other cities in the Midwest. Heck, there's not even a decent, authentic German restaurant in this Town of a Million Lutherans.

So anyway, all of this leads up to the most insignificant story: Me sitting with Joseph at Wendy's, him with his chicken nuggets, me with my Southwestern Chicken Salad (our reward for going through the trauma of car repair this morning), and I overhear (surprise, surprise, my husband remarks as he reads this) a woman at the next table instructing a little girl what to look for when she takes her impending trip to Orlando:

"The billboards! Don't forget to look at the billboards! They have the best billboards in Orlando - they're all 3-D and they're lit up at night!"

Offering a ray of hope to the future of Fort Wayne, the little girl was obviously and painfully unimpressed...

John Allen writes his Word from Rome, offering the usual small feast of insight and human detail, this week, focusing on the Pope's trip to Spain, a lecture by an under-secretary of the CDF:

In this context, Di Noia cautioned against a particular reading of the idea of a “hierarchy of truths,” found in Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism. This idea is not meant to establish an “A list” and “B list” of doctrines, the second of which can be freely contested or disbelieved, Di Noia said. It was intended to show how the whole doctrinal system hangs together, illustrating how secondary doctrines depend upon core ideas such as the Trinity.Di Noia called for an effort to revitalize the classical understanding, while at the same time recognizing that “we can’t blink our eyes and pretend that modernity never occurred.”......

One intriguing moment came when Di Noia suggested that the emphasis on whether or not a doctrine is “infallible” that followed the First Vatican Council has in some ways placed the accent on the authority of a teaching rather than its truth. He said that when the New York Times called him upon the release of the papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae to ask if it was infallible, he responded that this was “the least interesting question to ask.”

“The better question is, is it true?” he said.

...clarifications of last week's interview with the outgoing Israeli ambassador to the Vatican...and other stuff.

The material on the Church in Spain, expanded in this article is interesting, emphasizing the role of "the movements" - Opus Dei, Regnum Christi, the NeoCatechumate Way and others in church life. Allen quotes one OD guy as saying that 40% of those who regularly attend Mass in Spain are associated with one of "the movements." An interesting European phenomenon - one wonders what need they fill and why a similar kind of growth and attachment isn't seen here - is it because the American Church fills the needs that the movements do at the parish level, or are we just behind the curve?

This, I can't rouse myself to care about...although many do, including my middle son who is just as jazzed about Matrix: Reloaded as he has been about the Lord of the Rings movies, and that's saying a lot.'s a look at what people are saying about the theology of The Matrix

Author and dedicated Christian Kristenea LaVelle hoped her scriptural exegesis of the film, "The Reality Within the Matrix," would inspire Christians to apply the movie's gospel message to their own lives. Reaction to her book, however, has been mixed. A Canadian pastor contacted her to ask if he could use "The Matrix" as a keynote for evangelical outreach to teenagers. But she also encountered negative feedback at a book signing - in a Christian bookstore.

The film's bullet-laden violence and strong language, along with Eastern religious influences, she acknowledges, are unsettling to some Christians. But she has high hopes for the sequels. "If you can see a way through those things and really pick out the good stuff ... any Christian could apply those things to life and grow from it."

Mrs. LaVelle says that "The Matrix" expresses the basic idea of Christian salvation. "The whole idea of being 'awakened' or 'un-plugged' is a reference to salvation." She recognizes, however, that her view is not universally accepted.

David Frankfurter, for one, disagrees. "I'd resist the notion of [Neo] as having anything to do with Jesus," says the professor of history and religious studies at the University of New Hampshire. "He's the classic hero figure from early Jewish literature."

Mr. Frankfurter and other religious experts say "The Matrix" does not represent orthodox Christianity nearly as much as Gnostic Christianity.

Gnosticism never developed a well-defined theology, but it depicts Jesus as a hero figure who saves mankind through "gnosis," or esoteric knowledge. In the Gnostic philosophy, the physical world is not part of God's creation, but a manifestation of a lower god - a nightmarish reality that imprisons mankind, say religious experts. Gnostics believed they could achieve salvation, not by overcoming evil and sin with God's grace, but by learning the "higher knowledge" about reality.

Gnostic threads are present in many religious traditions, including Sufism and Buddhism. As woven by "The Matrix," these threads tie together current concerns with an ancient knot.

Here's a superb article on Mary: Kitsch, Culture and the Laughing Madonna

All in all, though, I believed that I was attracted to Catholicism by the depth and riches of its theology, and by the Church’s commitment to social justice. I was also deeply drawn to the charisma of Pope John Paul II, who, in those globe-trotting days of his early papacy, was making the Catholic Church a key player on the international stage, even though I was suspicious of the institution of the papacy. So when I eventually approached a priest and began to attend the RCIA evenings, I thought I had my motives clearly sorted out, and neither the papacy nor the Virgin Mary was high on my list of attractions.

Indeed, so suspicious was I that I nearly dropped out altogether, when the leader of our RCIA group took us into the dimly lit church one evening to explain the meanings of the different statues and pictures. He pointed to an icon in the Lady Chapel and said, ‘That’s called our Lady with the Perpetual Sucker.’ Thinking it was an image of Mary breastfeeding Christ, I rang him up the next morning and said how shocked I was that Catholics called Jesus ‘the perpetual sucker’. After his initial bewilderment, the penny dropped. It was of course an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.

I sometimes ask myself what it was that began to change my mind about Mary. I think it is in no small part due to the fact that, having finally been received into the Church, I found myself in an environment surrounded by maternal feminine symbols. For the first time in my life I was made conscious of the relationship between my gender and my faith, not in terms of playing out the role of the submissive evangelical wife (which was always something of a parody for me), but in terms of being invited into a language of prayer and spirituality that related to my life and my experiences.

A year after my becoming a Catholic we moved to Bristol, and I began to explore the contours of my newfound faith in my local Catholic church. The dusty Madonna in the Lady Chapel, trampling on the serpent and holding her baby in her arms, spoke to me of that combination of dread and tenderness that a mother feels when her children are very young. At the back of the church there is a painted sculpture of the Pietà – Mary cradling the body of her crucified son, looking helplessly up to heaven with tears running down her face. I used to go to that statue awash with the guilt and grief of the bad days of motherhood. With the struggle of trying to adjust to a new country, a new faith and a new way of life, I had begun to feel like the old woman who lived in a shoe. To light a candle and kneel in front of that grief-stricken mother consoled me. She was there for me, and in some imperceptible way she had moved from being the greatest obstacle to my becoming a Catholic, to being the greatest reason for my doing so.


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