TSD 13: A Mary-haunted Culture

Bathtub Mary, patroness of the Rust Belt

Along one of the main roads near us there’s a lawn goods store whose front yard/parking lot is littered with ornaments and statuary for sale: Yetis and dolphins and bending-over-garden-ladies, and a good deal of saints. Most prominent of all, lording over her apparent domain, is a larger-than-life-size Mary.

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The quality and repair of residential Marian shrines are often not in keeping with their surroundings.

So-called “bathtub Madonnas” are common around Pittsburgh, as I assume they are around other old Catholic towns. This one, though, would need a California-sized tub (is that a thing?) to fit her. When I drove by earlier today, an older man was casually loitering in front of her, and she looked like a strangely solid specter, arms outstretched in welcome, seemingly awaiting his (or anyone’s) embrace.

We talk about living in a Christ-haunted civilization, but on the ground there are at least as many reminders of Mary as there are of her son. There’s something about her tenderness, her motherliness, that endures in the Catholic psyche and in a Catholic culture even as we become increasingly uncomfortable with Jesus. I suspect it will be Marian devotion—likely under the auspices of Our Lady of Guadalupe or the Immaculate Conception, both patronesses of this continent—that will be the proximate cause of any Catholic renewal in our land.

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. (“Ordinary Time” might be my least favorite thing about the new calendar.) The readings are 1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; and Luke 9:51-62.

There’s no rest for the weary as we embark on the second period of Ordinary Time: In the immediate aftermath of Pentecost and the great feasts of the Trinity and Corpus Christi, the Church presents us with exceptionally challenging teachings about the preeminence of spiritual over temporal—and specifically familial—duties. Christ’s admonitions to the men who would follow Him mirror Elijah’s rebuke to Elisha in the first reading:

And to another he said, "Follow me." But he replied, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father." But he answered him, "Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." 

Commentators do not seem to agree about whether the father Christ’s would-be disciple desires to bury is already dead (Ambrose, for instance, seems to assume this) or whether “bury” here is meant to include a wider range of duties. This is what Cyril of Alexandria assumes:

Or else, his father was borne down with years, and he thought he was doing an honorable act in proposing to pay the kind offices which were due to him…. Hence when calling him to the ministry of the Gospel, our Lord said, “Follow me,” he sought for a time of respite, which should suffice for the support of his decrepit father, saying, “Permit me first to go and bury my father,” not that he asked to bury his deceased father, for Christ would not have hindered the wish to do this, but he said, “Bury,” that is, support in old age even till death. But the Lord said to him, “Let the dead bury their dead.” For there were other attendants also bound by the same tie of relationship, but as I consider dead, because they had not yet believed Christ. Learn from this, that our duty to God is to be preferred to our love for our parents, to whom we shew reverence, because through them have we been born. But the God of all, when as yet we were not, brought us into being, our parents were made the ministers of our introduction.

Note Cyril’s argument, reflected throughout the early commentaries, that Christ’s statement, “Let the dead bury their dead,” is meant to be wordplay reflecting the spiritual death of sin by which the still-living are afflicted.

Monday, July 1, is the Feast of St. Junipero Serra, the Apostle of California and the first saint to have his canonization celebrated on American soil. An academic by training, Fr. Serra arrived at a Mexican missionary college in 1749, at the age of 36, and soon requested to be assigned to the growing missions to the indigenous peoples of the region. He traveled north to California, where he established the network of missions for which he and that region became famous:

Those established by Father Serra or during his administration were San Carlos (3 June, 1770); San Antonio (14 July, 1771); San Gabriel (8 September, 1771); San Luis Obispo (1 September, 1772); San Francisco de Asis (8 October, 1776); San Juan Capistrano (1 Nov. 1776); Santa Clara (12 January, 1777); San Buenaventura (31 March, 1782).

While Fr. Serra has traditionally been revered in California, with statues from SoCal to NorCal representing him as a kind of founding father of the state, his methods have come in for modern criticism. I think we can manage a reasonably fair synthesis:

  • Fr. Serra’s paternalistic attitude toward his neophytes (including corporal punishment), while not abnormal in his era for the relationship between a spiritual father his charges, does not meet modern standards of conduct—and rightfully so.

  • Fr. Serra treated indigenous people far better than the secular political-military authorities of Spain, and regularly intervened on behalf of the natives against those authorities.

  • Fr. Serra was motivated by a genuine missionary zeal to save souls (even his critics acknowledge this), and the reality of the necessity of baptism for salvation should leave us unconcerned about the suppression of pagan belief systems. Whether other aspects of indigenous culture were unnecessarily steamrolled is an interesting and open question.

The inscription, signed by a Fr. Jose Mosqueda, reads, “Portrait of Father Friar Junípero Serra, apostle of Alta California, copied from the original preserved at the Convent of the Holy Cross in Queretaro.” The original is lost.

Leaving that little spit of hair in the middle of his forehead (which appears in just about every depiction) is an example of mortification to which we can all aspire.

Thursday, July 4, is U.S. Independence Day. That this appears on the liturgical calendar in the United States is extremely upsetting to me, and we will not speak further of it.

Saturday, July 6, is the Feast of St. Maria Goretti. Maria was murdered at the age of 11 by her 20-year-old housemate, Alessandro Serenelli, whose sexual advances she consistently refused. The traditional way to celebrate this feast is to participate in extremely unproductive online debates about Catholic teaching on virginity and rape.

This is a tremendous shame, because Maria Goretti’s story is beautiful and inspiring—but not primarily because she died a virgin. Had she relented or had Alessandro consummated his assault over her resistance, this would not have been a failure of Maria’s, nor would she have been morally sullied. Her resistance was truly heroic—well beyond the call of duty—and was motivated primarily by concern for Alessandro’s soul, not some abstract notion of her own purity.

And this—Maria’s Christian love for her violent enemy—is what we should focus on in celebrating her. The next day, she forgave Alessandro and expressed the desire that he would someday join her in heaven. This act of grace burned in his heart, and he did repent, and he was reconciled with the Church (becoming a lay Capuchin) and the Goretti family, and he even appeared with them at Maria’s canonization. Forgiveness saves souls. Let’s focus on this beautiful truth on this day, rather than cruel attempts to co-opt Maria’s legacy for intra-Catholic flame wars.

The only known photo of Maria Goretti.

I generally don’t care for depictions of Maria Goretti: They tend to be either generic, anachronistic representations of a virgin martyr, or weirdly elegant, almost sexualized. This one, for which I cannot find a source, seems to capture both her youth and the mature dignity of her heavenly purpose.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Third Sunday after Pentecost. An external solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus can also be celebrated today. For the regular Sunday, though, the Epistle is 1 Peter 5:6-11 and the Gospel is Luke 15:1-10.

On Peter’s description of the devil as “a roaring lion [who] goeth about seeking any one to devour,” St. Cyprian writes in his Treatise on Jealousy and Envy:

He goeth about every one of us; and even as an enemy besieging those who are shut up (in a city), he examines the walls, and tries whether there is any part of the walls less firm and less trustworthy, by entrance through which he may penetrate to the inside. He presents to the eyes seductive forms and easy pleasures, that he may destroy chastity by the sight. He tempts the ears with harmonious music, that by the hearing of sweet sounds he may relax and enervate Christian vigour. He provokes the tongue by reproaches; he instigates the hand by exasperating wrongs to the wrecklessness of murder; to make the cheat, he presents dishonest gains; to take captive the soul by money, he heaps together mischievous hoards; he promises earthly honours, that he may deprive of heavenly ones; he makes a show of false things, that he may steal away the true; and when he cannot hiddenly deceive, he threatens plainly and openly, holding forth the fear of turbulent persecution to vanquish God’s servants—always restless, and always hostile, crafty in peace, and fierce in persecution.

The introit is the Respice in me, taken from Psalm 24 (in the Douay-Rheims; Psalm 25 in other numberings):

Respice in me et miserere mei, Domine, quoniam unicus et pauper sum ego: vide humilitatem meam et laborem meum, et dimitte omnia peccata mea, Deus meus. / Ad te, Domine, levavi animam meam: Deus meus, in te confido, non erubescam.

Look Thou upon me, O Lord, and have mercy on me, for I am alone and poor. See my abjection and my labor and forgive me all my sins, O my God. / To Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul: in Thee, my God, I have put my trust: let me not be ashamed.

Dom Johner (p. 252) writes on this Introit and its relationship with this week’s Gospel, in which Jesus tells of the Shepherd who rejoices over the return of the lost sheep:

And they heard from Him that word for which their souls were famishing: the call of the Good Shepherd, who opened His compassionate and forgiving heart even to them; who would not rest till He had found the lost sheep and pressed it to His bosom. Where such love is shown, confiding prayer again becomes easy. Not by chance has the sixth mode been selected for the sweet melody of today's Introit, which runs entirely in this vein. The text, it is true, speaks of loneliness and distress of heart, of misery and suffering, and requests forgiveness of all sins. But over all this the melody spreads a warm, invigorating light, issuing from the very heart of the Good Shepherd. Assurance of being heard pervades all, in accordance with the psalm verse: “In Thee I trust, let me not be put to shame.”

Monday, July 1, is the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus. While this celebration is said to have roots in sixteenth century Spain, it only came to the attention of the Italians, and then the Universal Church, in the nineteenth century. This was due to the work of St. Gaspare del Bufalo and the Congregation of the Most Precious Blood (now the Missionaries of the Precious Blood), which he founded in 1815. The Catholic Encyclopedia:

When Pius IX went into exile at Gaeta (1849) he had as his companion the saintly Don Giovanni Merlini, third superior general of the Fathers of the Most Precious Blood. Arrived at Gaeta, Merlini suggested that His Holiness make a vow to extend the feast of the Precious Blood to the entire Church if he would again obtain possesion of the papal dominions. The pope took the matter under consideration, but a few days later sent his domestic prelate Jos. Stella to Merlini with the message: “The pope does not deem it expedient to bind himself by a vow; instead His Holiness is pleased to extend the feast immediately to all Christendom.” This was 30 June, 1849, the day the French conquered Rome and the republicans capitulated.

Pius IX set the date as the first Sunday of July—that is, the first Sunday after June 30, in commemoration of the victory. Pius X, as part of his calendar reforms, fixed it to July 1. This feast was suppressed in the 1969 calendar as redundant with Corpus Christi and other remembrances of Christ’s Passion.

On a personal note, our parish will be re-christened Most Precious Blood of Jesus on this day.

The Mond Crucifixion by Raphael, an altarpiece (c. 1502). Note the classic depiction of the angels catching the Precious Blood in chalices. See further commentary by Dr. Caroline Farey and David Clayton here.

Those Seven Days

Please pray for the four men of the Diocese of Pittsburgh who will be ordained to the priesthood tomorrow: Brendan Dawson, Timothy Deely, David Egan, and Mingwei Li.

Please also pray for C. Matthew Hawkins, recently ordained to the transitional diaconate, who received a lovely write-up in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

[grinning devil emoji]

Not Catholic in the slightest, but a great, short take-down of Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” video from the left:

So the Beautiful People are aggrieved, we gather, at the hate? But turn the sound off and what you’ll see is the people who have everything, all the beauty and all the fun, all the cake, all the colors even, and their total contempt for those who have nothing, not even teeth. Talk about ugly. It’s an amazing statement, particularly so because Taylor Swift’s teeth are so spectacularly perfect, beautiful.

I mean this reaction to poverty is not even mocking, or laughing. The have-nots hate the haves just for being themselves, glorious, glossy and rich; thus the haves needn’t, and won’t, even acknowledge that the have-nots exist, those gap-toothed ignorant peasants in their gross marabou-free clothes. They need to shut up, control themselves. Calm down.

Of course a left-wing writer cannot say this, but it seems to me that this downright reactionary manifestation of class politics—the ugly, stupid, and ignorant poor folk versus the beautiful, intelligent, and urbane wealthy elite—is not just a Taylor Swift problem, but an LGBT politics problem generally.


After a protracted (and, frankly, scandalous) legal battle among the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Peoria, and the Sheen family, Venerable Fulton Sheen’s remains have been returned to Illinois, allowing his cause for canonization to continue.

We laugh, but…

An excerpt from Mother Angelica’s What is Heaven?, which I compiled and edited from a series of episodes of Mother Angelica Live! for EWTN Publishing, has been released at Catholic Exchange:

It doesn’t matter what we have or don’t have here on earth. The work of everyday living is important work, but it’s not the most important work we are called to. Our greatest work on earth is to cooperate with the Will of God in the present moment so that the Spirit of the Lord can transform us into His image. If we miss that, no matter how hard we might work on our careers or other things, we’ve lost everything!

Spicy, and I am 100% here for it.

As for me…

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At the Scottish Catholic Observer, I have a column about the necessity of humo(u)r and its role in reconciliation, with special mention of the wildly successful comedy show Jeremy McLellan put on in my diocese last week:

It has been said (perhaps by St Francis de Sales?) that humour is the foundation of reconciliation.

We can broaden this to say: humour is an example of something shared, a point of contact among persons, that allows for the process of reconciliation to begin.

If we can agree to laugh together, especially about shared experiences, then maybe we can agree to talk together.

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 tsd.brandonmcg@gmail.com. This is a work in progress, and your feedback will help to make it the best it can be.

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