The Prodigal Church

A TSD Book Announcement

I’m sorry to have stopped producing the newsletter without warning. It wasn’t the plan, but one week (going into Holy Week) I didn’t get around to it, and thus the habit that had carried me through an entire year of these was broken. Combined with all the other changes to our habits amid the pandemic, it just never got back on my radar.

I’m back today, though, with a happy announcement: My first book, The Prodigal Church, is available for pre-order and will be shipping to readers in the next few weeks!

Pretty snazzy, imho.

The idea behind The Prodigal Church is that we need a clear-eyed but hope-filled vision for what the Church can be in our time—and that this begins by understanding what the Church, the community, and the family really are in God’s design. The book is honest about the struggles of the past few generations without obsessing over them, and creative in crafting a vision for the future that’s anchored in tradition and open to authentic innovation.

Here’s what others are saying:

This book is as clear-eyed about the past as it is about the future. McGinley draws from history so that we can learn from the saints’ successes. But he applies those lessons to the future in ways that are fresh, realistic, and astonishingly creative. There is no other book like this. I hope many readers will take it to heart and take it to prayer.

Mike Aquilina

McGinley paints the challenging landscape of the modern Church with honesty and clarity. But this book is about more than the challenges we face, it is a brilliant and insightful examination of what the Church can be. No book is more effective at communicating what we must recover, ways to innovate, and how we must act in order to have a thriving Church in the 21st century. McGinley never falls into cynicism nor mere wishful thinking, but bases his vision in what we can anchor our hope for the future in: the grace of God.

Haley Stewart

The Prodigal Church is an essential intervention from one of our most exciting young Catholic commentators, offering both a forceful critique of the bourgeois spirit in American Catholicism and a practical, humane blueprint for renewal.

Sohrab Ahmari

You can pre-order The Prodigal Church from Sophia Institute Press right here.

I’ll keep the newsletter open for now, in case it’s something I decide to come back to, perhaps in a different form. I’ve found that I’ve been less aware of the liturgical calendar since I stopped writing it—rarely knowing whose feast it is and so on—so it’s absolutely possible I’ll pick it up again, if the various other things going on in my life permit it.

For now, though, I’m focused on getting this book out there, and a few other projects. Thanks for your support of TSD, and I hope you’ll give The Prodigal Church a look! And I’ll be back in touch when events warrant it.

TSD 52: Passiontide in Plague Times

Deliver us, O Lord...if it be Your will...

Thank you to everyone who wrote to me with kind words about reaching a full year of These Seven Days. It’s wonderful to know this little project has been meaningful for so many people.

I received a few inquiries about the Tip Jar, which I didn’t include in the last edition: I’ll reinstate it here, and include it from time to time in these shorter versions.

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The readings are Ezekiel 37:12-14, Romans 8:8-11, and John 11:1-45, the raising of Lazarus.

Two weeks in a row for the great Henry Ossawa Tanner. Resurrection of Lazarus, 1896.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is Passion Sunday. The Epistle is Hebrews 9:11-15 and the Gospel is John 8:46-59, Christ’s discourse with the Jews regarding Abraham.

Can’t find any information about this depiction.

Friday, April 3, is the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is kept on the Friday after Passion Sunday. This is the first repeat feast from an earlier newsletter: You can read about it in TSD 1.

Pieter Pourbus, 1556.

…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Thursday, April 2, is the Feast of St. Francis of Paola.

The Vision of St. Francis of Paola by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, c. 1670.

Saturday, April 4, is the Feast of St. Isidore of Seville.

Isidor von Sevilla.jpeg

Also by Murillo, 1655.

Urbi et Orbi

If you weren’t able to see the Holy Father’s extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing on Friday, I highly recommend watching the raw Italian footage from Vatican News—that is, without live English commentary and translation. This unadorned presentation allows the prayer and the staging to wash over you without distraction.

Then read the translation of the address, which I believe works better as a written document than as a television homily. The entire production was the high point of this papacy—and maybe the best thing Rome has done in many years beyond that.

Tip Jar

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Thank you!

TSD 51: We Made It

A new era

(We had an internet outage this evening; sorry about the late arrival.)


The first edition of These Seven Days was on the 4th of April last year, and it commemorated the Fifth Sunday of Lent. This week, in this year, it is the Fourth Sunday of Lent. So this newsletter has made one full circle around the liturgical calendar.

I wasn’t really sure what I was doing when I starting this thing, but over time I think I smoothed things out and got into a groove. I hope you have found the words and images and music helpful in some way; I know I’ve learned a lot.

I also never really had a set plan for how long the newsletter might last. I definitely wanted to make it an entire year—and here we are. After that, though, the future was always dim. I considered adding a “premium” subscription tier with information about daily Masses or the Liturgy of the Hours or something like that, but the numbers never came together to make that much work worthwhile. I also considered keeping this going basically as is, but, if I’m being honest, I’m getting a little tired of it.

In the end, my decision was made for me by the pandemic. I need to focus on two things right now: work that supports my family, and spending time with my family. (I really need to spend less time following the news…) Unfortunately, I just don’t see a place in my life for this newsletter as it has existed. While I am grateful for your generosity in the “tip jar,” I simply can’t justify spending half a day each week on this project.

I’m not going to kill TSD. Rather, I’m going to send out pared down versions, focusing on art and possibly music, for a while and see how that goes; today’s will be an example of that. Also, once we start repeating feasts and so on, I’ll link to some of last year’s content.

I really wish I could justify keeping this going in its completeness during our shared lockdown; there’s something lovely and courageous about keeping liturgical time even without liturgy. Still, I hope the new, smaller TSD will contribute to that for you.

Thank you for sticking with me for this year, and I hope you’ll stick with me a little longer. If mini-TSD isn’t for you, though, I won’t feel bad if you take your leave. All the old content will still be at if you ever way to peruse it.

In Christ,

Brandon McGinley

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Fourth Sunday of Lent. The readings are 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Ephesians 5:8-14; and John 9:1-41, the healing of the man blind from birth.

El Greco, c. 1570.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday). The Epistle is Galatians 4:22-31 and the Gospel is John 6:1-15, the loaves and the fishes.

Tintoretto, c. 1545-1550.

Tuesday, March 24, is the Feast of the Archangel Gabriel.

Annunciation (Leonardo) (cropped).jpg

Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1472-1475.

Friday, March 27, is the Feast of St. John Damascene.

John Damascus (arabic icon).gif

Attributed to Ne'meh Naser Homsi, 19th c.

Saturday, March 28, is the Feast of St. John Capistran.

Image result for john capistrano

Unknown, c. turn of the 19th c.

…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Wednesday, March 25, is the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898.

Thank You

Thank you again for your interest in and support of These Seven Days. You can still get in touch with me at with any question, ideas, and so on.

TSD 50: In Time of Pestilence

Liturgy under lockdown

I assume many of you won’t be making it to Mass this weekend. I hope this newsletter provides some small comfort. There’s information about making a Spiritual Communion down in the Twitter section. Our neighborhood of Catholic families is also doing novenas to Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos, also below.

I hope you will excuse a somewhat shorter edition. I’ve been (probably too) preoccupied with the pandemic, and I trust you know all about St. Patrick and St. Joseph already.

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Third Sunday of Lent. The readings are Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; and John 4:5-42, the story of Jesus with the woman at the well.

Between the first reading and the Gospel we see two kinds of life-giving water: the kind that sustains bodily life, which the Israelites whined at Moses for, and the kind that sustains the life of the soul. Augustine says about this more perfect water:

Which is true indeed both of material water, and of that of which it is the type. For the water in the well is the pleasure of the world, that abode of darkness. Men draw it with the waterpot of their lusts; pleasure is not relished, except it be preceded by lust. And when a man has enjoyed this pleasure, i. e. drunk of the water, he thirsts again; but if he have received water from Me, he shall never thirst. For how shall they thirst, who are drunken with the abundance of the house of God? (Ps. 36:8.) But He promised this fulness of the Holy Spirit.

We can see this selfish appetite for bodily sustenance in the extraordinary way the Israelites addressed Moses, who had redeemed them: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?”

Chrysostom also points to another way Christ subverts and fulfills the law: Through dealing with a Samaritan woman at all:

But why did Christ ask what the law allowed not? It is no answer to say that He knew she would not give it, for in that case, He clearly ought not to have asked for it. Rather His very reason for asking, was to shew His indifference to such observances, and to abolish them for the future.

The life-giving water is not only liberation from our concupiscence, but also from division and rancor between the nations.

Paolo Veronese, 1585. There’s a certain pure intimacy in this dialogue that is wonderfully captured in so many depictions. Christ is almost always portrayed, as here, with an open, welcoming, vulnerable posture toward the Samaritan woman.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Third Sunday of Lent. The Epistle is Ephesians 5:1-9 and the Gospel is Luke 11:14-28. The tract is Psalm 122:1-3.

The readings this week emphasize the starkness of the choice we have to make between light and dark, holiness and depravity, Christ and the Enemy.

Let no man deceive you with vain words. For because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief. Be ye not therefore partakers with them. For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light.

Meanwhile, the Gospel gives the account of Christ casting out demons while being accused of doing so under the power and authority of Beelzebub. He responds by reminding us that there are two sides—only the good can cast out the bad—and we must choose: “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”

The lesson concludes with a striking warning against backsliding, which the Venerable Bede elucidates thus:

This may also be taken to refer to certain heretics or schismatics, or even to a bad Catholic, from whom at the time of his baptism the evil spirit had gone out. And “he wanders about in dry places,” that is, his crafty device is to try the hearts of the faithful, which have been purged of all unstable and transient knowledge, if he can plant in them any where the footsteps of his iniquity. But he says, “I will return to my house whence I came out.” And here we must beware lest the sin which we supposed extinguished in us, by our neglect overcome us unawares. But “he finds his house swept and garnished,” that is, purified by the grace of baptism from the stain of sin, yet replenished with no diligence in good works. By the “seven evil spirits which he takes to himself,” he signifies all the vices. And they are called more wicked, because he will have not only those vices which are opposed to the seven spiritual virtues, but also by his hypocrisy he will pretend to have the virtues themselves.

The introit comes from Psalm 24, and also emphasizes our duty to cleave to the Lord:

Oculi mei semper ad Dominum, quia ipse evellet de laqueo pedes meos: respice in me, et miserere mei, quoniam unicus et pauper sum ego. // Ad te, Domine, levavi animam meam: Deus meus, in te confido, non erubescam. Gloria Patri…

My eyes are ever towards the Lord: for He shall pluck my feet out of the snare: look Thou upon me, and have mercy on me; for I am alone and poor. // To Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul: in Thee, O my God, I put my trust, let me not be ashamed. Glory be to the Father…

Dom Johner’s analysis (pp. 130-131) is particularly relevant to our moment of crisis:

Hence the composer of this Introit was concerned in a special manner to give prominent expression to one word, the word which predominates over the rest of the antiphon: evellet—He liberates me, plucks my foot from the snare, frees me. Whatever of consolation and joy (a joy like that of Easter) this word contained, was to penetrate into the heart of the catechumens; at the same time it was to arouse a vehement longing for happiness, for the freedom of the children of God. Evellet takes the part of a leitmotif, receiving a wonderful development especially in today's Gospel. However great Satan's power may be, a superior power will take the field against him. Christ will conquer him, will cast him out from the souls of men and despoil him of the weapons in which he had placed his trust. Thus prays the Introit: Oculi mei— my eyes are ever fixed upon the Lord. Text and melody exhibit a pleasing, symmetric construction.

…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Tuesday, March 17, is the Feast of St. Patrick. Honestly, he’s one of the most upsettingly abused saints in history. The man is a true hero of courage and faithfulness, a man worthy of the widespread veneration he receives—but not of the secular revelry it has morphed into. There is perhaps no better example throughout the year of secularized Catholicism.

Here, by the way, is the tremendous prayer attributed to him, known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate.

Honesty it’s really hard to find a non-kitsch, non-stereotypical depiction of St. Patrick. So here’s an image from Old St. Patrick’s Church here in Pittsburgh. There’s an icon of the saint behind the (green) sanctuary lamp.

Wednesday, March 18, is the Feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Mostly remembered today for his Catechetical Lectures, Cyril of Jerusalem was a fourth-century bishop and essential contributor to early doctrine. He attended the Council of Constantinople in 381, where the Emperor Theodosius (who famously had a run-in with St. Ambrose) promulgated the Nicene Creed for the entire empire—and Cyril came to agree with the Creed’s Christology.

Cyril of Jerusalem died in 386, and was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII.

Image result for cyril of jerusalem

I feel like all these old icons of Church Fathers look alike.

Thursday, March 19, is the Feast of St. Joseph. I think every Catholic man, certainly every Catholic father, thinks first (or nearly first) of the foster-father of Christ when asked to name a favorite saint. The word that comes to mind is solid: quiet, honest, strong, faithful. More than almost anyone, I long to speak to him in heaven. For now, though, only in prayer.

Image result for coronation of st joseph zurbaran

The coronation of St. Joseph by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1640.

Those Seven Days

An important reminder from my friend Zak:

I think it will be especially important for families to make time for special Sunday observances so that children don’t think Mass is the only reason Sundays are special.

Constant activity is neither natural nor good for human beings and societies.

This is (in part) why we have screens!

Please join us:

The evil one is opportunistic. This can be a moment for glorifying God, or further capitulating to the Enemy.

Tip Jar

Image result for hat tip gif

Tips definitely not for rum

As for me…

I wrote about the pandemic as a Long Lent for the Scottish Catholic Observer:

The suffering that we may be about to endure will be, on a world-historical scale, relatively minor. For most it will involve adjustments to regular habits of daily life and of consumption. But, in an age of abundance and comfort, to many this will feel like the ground beneath our feet is, for the first time in our lives, unreliable. It may permanently alter perceptions of just how stable our global order really is, and of what is really important.

… While 40 days—roughly ten per cent of the year—is usually enough to unsettle us and refocus us on Christ, in a world of extreme materialism and comfortable self-absorption, something more intense and lasting may be in order. A long Lent may be just what we need.

Feedback, &c.

Did I miss something important? Get something wrong? Do you have ideas for how to improve These Seven Days? Drop me a line at This is a work in progress, and your feedback will help to make it the best it can be.

And if you enjoyed this, please forward it along to friends. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss a week of These Seven Days.

TSD 49: Transfigured

Body and spirit, man and God

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Second Sunday of Lent. The readings at Genesis 12:1-4a, 2 Timothy 1:8b-10, and Matthew 17:1-9, the Transfiguration.

Early in Lent, the focus remains on God’s promise and glory; we have not yet turned to the near anticipation of His Passion. And so we begin with the promise of temporal and spiritual power given to Abram:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

Then we turn to St. Paul, who begs us to remember…

the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest
through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

This language of light and glory is, of course, brought to life in the Transfiguration. St. Jerome says of this extraordinary episode:

Such as He is to be in the time of the Judgment, such was He now seen of the Apostles. Let none suppose that He lost His former form and lineaments, or laid aside His bodily reality, taking upon Him a spiritual or ethereal Body. … For that His face is said to shine, and His raiment described to become white, does not take away substance, but confer glory. In truth, the Lord was transformed into that glory in which He shall hereafter come in His Kingdom. The transformation enhanced the brightness, but did not destroy the countenance, although the body were spiritual; whence also His raiment was changed and became white to such a degree, as in the expression of another Evangelist, no fuller on earth can whiten them. But all this is the property of matter, and is the subject of the touch, not of spirit and ethereal, an illusion upon the sight only beheld in phantasm.

This Transfiguration (c. 1865) by Carl Bloch is probably the closest to how I have always pictured the event in my head. Bloch’s Life of Jesus series is particularly favored by the LDS church, for reasons I have not sussed out.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Second Sunday of Lent. The Epistle is 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7 and the Gospel is also Matthew 17:1-9, the Transfiguration. The tract is Psalm 105 (104):1-4. The St. Andrew Missal notes that the Transfiguration gospel is the same as the day before, the Lenten Ember Saturday, and its reason for being used is a bit more obscure: “The Gospel relates the meeting on Mount Tabor of the three who gave us the example of a forty days fast: Moses, Elias, and Jesus.”

If we were to reason a connection between the Epistle and the Gospel for Sunday, it would be purity rather than promise and glory. The reading from Thessalonians is an exhortation to upright conduct, concluding with: “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto sanctification: in Christ Jesus our Lord.” On this entire chapter of the epistle, Haydock quotes Ambrose:

In this chapter the apostle begins to remind them of their obligation of always striving to increase in virtue. Though he praises them through the whole epistle, he still thinks it necessary to warn them not to be surprised in uncleanness. He repeats what he had taught them before; first, that there is vengeance awaiting the workers of evil; and secondly, that the favour of God is the reward of those who deal with the brethren in simplicity, and preserve themselves from the defilements of the Gentiles.

A more sedate Transfiguration, by Giovanni Bellini, c. 1490.

The gradual this week come from Psalm 24, and goes like this:

Tribulationes cordis mei dilatatae sunt: de necessitatibus meis eripe me, Domine. // Vide humilitatem meam, et laborem meum: et dimitte omnia peccata mea.

The troubles of my heart are multiplied: deliver me from my necessities, O Lord. // See my abjection and my labor, and forgive me all my sins.

Dom Johner says (p. 127):

[In the Epistle] the Apostle had cried: “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” We are all aware how difficult is this life's task, how the heart, desirous of love, has to struggle, how arduous the conflicts of life really are. And we frequently feel exhausted and miserable, because we have often added our personal failings to the burden of life. At the sight of all these miseries, we address to the Lord this threefold petition: Deliver us, see our abjection, forgive us our sins.

Tuesday, March 10, is the Feast of the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste, Armenia. I knew nothing about this remarkable story until just now. It seems easiest to quote the Catholic Encyclopedia, which follows a sermon by St. Basil the Great, at length:

According to St. Basil, forty soldiers who had openly confessed themselves Christians were condemned by the prefect to be exposed naked upon a frozen pond near Sebaste on a bitterly cold night, that they might freeze to death. Among the confessors, one yielded and, leaving his companions, sought the warm baths near the lake which had been prepared for any who might prove inconstant. One of the guards set to keep watch over the martyrs beheld at this moment a supernatural brilliancy overshadowing them and at once proclaimed himself a Christian, threw off his garments, and placed himself beside the thirty-nine soldiers of Christ. Thus the number of forty remained complete. At daybreak, the stiffened bodies of the confessors, which still showed signs of life, were burned and the ashes cast into a river. The Christians, however, collected the precious remains, and the relics were distributed throughout many cities; in this way the veneration paid to the Forty Martyrs became widespread, and numerous churches were erected in their honour.

This icon in ivory dates from tenth-century Constantinople. Wikipedia, quoting the Met: “Byzantine artists were fascinated with the subject that allowed them to graphically show human despair. The Martyrs were typically represented at the point when they were about to freeze to death, ‘shivering from the cold, hugging themselves for warmth, or clasping hands to their faces or wrists in pain and despair.’”

Thursday, March 12, is the Feast of St. Gregory the Great. We briefly discussed this magnificent man in TSD 22 for his modern feast, September 3. The Catholic Encyclopedia article begins with an epigraph from a non-Catholic writer that, it says, “will justify the length and elaboration of the following article”:

[Gregory] is certainly one of the most notable figures in Ecclesiastical History. He has exercised in many respects a momentous influence on the doctrine, the organization, and the discipline of the Catholic Church. To him we must look for an explanation of the religious situation of the Middle Ages; indeed, if no account were taken of his work, the evolution of the form of medieval Christianity would be almost inexplicable. And further, in so far as the modern Catholic system is a legitimate development of medieval Catholicism, of this too Gregory may not unreasonably be termed the Father. Almost all the leading principles of the later Catholicism are found, at any rate in germ, in Gregory the Great.

Image result for zurbaran "gregory the great"

A magisterial depiction (1626-1627) of St. Gregory by TSD favorite Francisco de Zurbarán.

…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Monday, March 9, is the Feast of St. Frances of Rome. The patron of Benedictine Oblates, Frances was born into an aristocratic family who wished her to marry, against her own desire to enter religion. She relented, though, and had what was apparently a happy marriage of 40 years to Lorenzo Ponziani, a military man loyal to the pope and often off on campaigns. She bore him several children, then they agreed to live in continence while Frances expanded her life of prayer, healing, and charity. The Catholic Encyclopedia goes into more detail about her blessings:

Her visions often assumed the form of drama enacted for her by heavenly personages. She had the gift of miracles and ecstasy, we well as the bodily vision of her guardian angel, had revelations concerning purgatory and hell, and foretold the ending of the Western Schism. She could read the secrets of consciences and detect plots of diabolical origin. She was remarkable for her humility and detachment, her obedience and patience, exemplified on the occasion of her husband's banishment, the captivity of [her son] Battista, her sons' death, and the loss of all her property.

In 1425 she founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary to serve the poor and sick of Rome, and on the death of her husband in 1436 she entered a monastery with her oblates—and was quickly named superior. She died four years later.

The Vision of Saint Francesca Romana (1610s) by Orazio Gentileschi. More information: “The painting illustrates one of the saint's visions, in which she sees the glory of Heaven, where the Virgin allows her to hold the Christ Child for a brief moment. The artist suppresses the glories expressed in the text as well as the saint's meditation on the symbolic meanings of the Child's features, focusing instead on the tenderness of the moment.”

Those Seven Days

There are several problems here, but let me take the opportunity to say again: The 1950s are not “traditional.”

I remember seeing a billboard for a local Catholic elementary school that advertised…tablets for every student.

It’s easy if you try.

I’d go door-to-door for Jeremy.

“Religion” “News” “Service.” The coronavirus and Communion stuff is really bringing out the worst in religion journalism.

Tip Jar

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Unfortunately the beginning of the baseball season in Pittsburgh is more an occasion of morbid curiosity than of excitement.


Feedback, &c.

Did I miss something important? Get something wrong? Do you have ideas for how to improve These Seven Days? Drop me a line at This is a work in progress, and your feedback will help to make it the best it can be.

And if you enjoyed this, please forward it along to friends. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss a week of These Seven Days.

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