TSD 16: The Third Place

Filling a void in our social infrastructure

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend about our neighborhood, and the need for an accessible “third place” for the community. A “third place” is a location or institution that serves as a social gathering space that is neither a living place nor a workplace.

Now, in truth our neighborhood is blessed with third places leftover from old fashioned urban design: parks, a library, barber shops, and so on. But the rugged topography makes these not quite as accessible on foot as we would like. And, more importantly, the subtext to the conversation was the desire for a Catholic third place.

This was the role, of course, traditionally filled by the neighborhood parish. We have one of those, too, but mergers and limited resources and demographic shifts have made maintaining it as a community hub all but impossible.

Megachurches have recognized this need, often including playgrounds and meeting spaces and coffee shops into their design. I’m hesitant to suggest such a consumer-minded model, but there is something to be said for filling the genuine void left by social atomization. A Catholic parish can remain laser-focused on the sacramental life while also helping to organize the increasingly scattered social lives of its parishioners. In fact, I think it has to, allowing sacramental grace make its social efforts fruitful, and its social efforts to bring people in—and keep them tethered—to the grace we all so desperately need.

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings are Genesis 18:1-10a, Colossians 1:24-28, and Luke 10:38-42.

In the Gospel, Luke relates the story of Jesus’ encounter with Martha and Mary. Theophylact of Ohrid warns us against reading the account as a brief against acts of material service:

Our Lord does not then forbid hospitality, but the troubling about many things, that is to say, hurry and anxiety. And mark the wisdom of our Lord, in that at first He said nothing to Martha, but when she sought to tear away her sister from hearing, then the Lord took occasion to reprove her. For hospitality is ever honoured as long as it keeps us to necessary things. But when it begins to hinder us from attending to what is of more importance, then it is plain that the hearing of the divine word is the more honourable.

The Old Testament reading, about Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers, both affirms this aspect of the Gospel and accentuates a contrast: In the new covenant, the life of contemplation and the pursuit of divine wisdom gains priority over—without replacing—material service. Ultimately, of course, they form an integrated whole: Sometimes we are called to be Martha, and sometimes we are called to be Mary.

Two paintings (1552-1553) by the Dutch artist Pieter Aertsen in the style of the vanitas: contrasting decadence with symbols of the ephemerality of material pleasures—in this case background scenes of Christ in the house of Martha and Mary.

Speaking of Mary, Monday, July 22, is the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene. One of the most lovely, fascinating, and complicated figures in the Gospels, Mary’s legacy has gone through innumerable shifts in theological, historical, political, and literary understanding through history.

A consistent source of controversy is Mary Magdalene’s identification with the “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:37-50) and the sister of Martha, as in Sunday’s reading. As far as I can tell, the Church has abandoned this conflation—or at least no longer insists on it. Unfortunately this largely Catholic-Protestant controversy remained so hot into the twentieth century that the entry in the usually excellent Catholic Encyclopedia on this remarkable woman focuses almost entirely on it, rather than on her virtues.

It does seem that relenting in the historiography has correlated with an elevation in Mary Magdalene’s liturgical standing in the Church: While she had always been honored by the inclusion of the Gloria in her feast’s Mass (an honor accorded only to one other woman, the Blessed Mother), it wasn’t until 2016 that her memorial was upgraded to a full feast on par with the Apostles. At the same time, the historical title “Apostle of the Apostles,” which dates to at least a millennium ago, was added to the Preface for her Mass.

Depictions of St. Mary Magdalene are innumerable—outside of Jesus, His mother, and perhaps John the Baptist, she is the most popular Biblical figure in Western art. Here is a simple portrayal, from the St. Albans Psalter, of Mary announcing the Resurrection, thus accentuating her title of “Apostle to the Apostles.”

Friday, July 26, is the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Mother. The identity and story of Joachim and Anne are given only in apocryphal texts, specifically the Protoevangelium of James, and the Catholic Encyclopedia cautions us that “this origin is likely to rouse well-founded suspicions.” However:

It should be borne in mind, however, that the apocryphal character of these writings, that is to say, their rejection from the canon, and their ungenuineness do not imply that no heed whatever should be taken of some of their assertions; side by side, indeed, with unwarranted and legendary facts, they contain some historical data borrowed from reliable traditions or documents; and difficult though it is to distinguish in them the wheat from the tares, it would be unwise and uncritical indiscriminately to reject the whole.

The account, in which the infertile and bereft Joachim and Anne promise to dedicate their child to God should He permit them to conceive, followed by an angelic visit, is basically the same as the story of the birth of Samuel. And because Samuel’s mother was also Hannah (Anne), we wouldn’t be unjustified in doubting her name.

In any event, Joachim and Anne went largely unheralded in the Western Church until the late Middle Ages and her feast was made universal only in 1584. Meanwhile, Joachim only joined her under the reign of Leo XIII in 1879. Their commemorations were combined in the 1969 calendar.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Birth of the Virgin,fresco, 24 feet 4 inches x 14 feet 9 inches, c. 1485-90 (Cappella Maggiore,Santa Maria Novella, Florence)

Birth of the Virgin, by Domenico Ghirlandaio (late fifteenth century), located in the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. More on this painting and this church can be found here.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. The Epistle is Romans 6:3-11—about the necessity of dying to sin in order to live in Christ—and the Gospel is Mark 8:1-9—the story of the loaves and the fishes.

Just like the often horrifying back of our fridge, it’s easy to forget about the leftovers when reading this story in Mark. But the commentators are all over it:

Venerable Bede:

Again, what was over and above, after the multitude was refreshed, the Apostles take up, because the higher precepts of perfection, to which the multitude cannot attain, belong to those whose life transcends that of the generality of the people of God; nevertheless, the multitude is said to have been satisfied, because though they cannot leave all that they possess, nor come up to that which is spoken of virgins, yet by listening to the commands of the law of God, they attain to everlasting life.


After the multitude had eaten and were filled, they did not take the remains; but these the disciples collected, as in the former miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. By this circumstance we are taught to be content with what is sufficient, and to seek no unnecessary supplies. We may likewise learn from this stupendous miracle the providence of God and his goodness, who sends us not away fasting, but wishes all to be nourished and enriched with his grace. 


By the gathering up of the fragments that remained, he not only made the miracle more striking to the multitude and to the apostles, but has also left us a practical lesson, how, in the midst of plenty, which proceeds from the munificence of heaven, we must suffer no waste. 

Image result for loaves and fishes art tintoretto

Jacopo Tintoretto’s Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes, 1540s.

The introit is the Dominus fortitudo, from Psalm 28 (D-R 27):

Dominus foritudo plebis suae, et protector salutarium Christi sui est: salvum fac populum tuum, Domine, et benedic hereditati tuae, et rege eos usque in saeculum. / Ad te, Domine, clamabo, Deus meus, ne sileas a me: ne quando taceas a me, et assimilabor descendentibus in lacum. Gloria patri…

The Lord is the strength of His people, and the protector of the salvation of His anointed: save, O Lord, Thy people, and bless Thy inheritance, and rule them for ever. / Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou silent to me, lest if Thou be silent to me, I become like them that do down into the pit. Glory be…

Dom Johner writes:

In the first part David praises the Lord as the “strength of His people” and gratefully recalls the armor of divine grace which has been bestowed upon him, the Lord's anointed. It is also a prayer of thanksgiving. The second part is a prayer of petition. But the king's petition is not for himself; it is for his people, or, more correctly, for the people of God. He says to Him: It is Thy people, Thy inheritance, which Thou hast acquired for Thyself. Thus he adduces for it the most forcible recommendation possible. These words of the second part have been incorporated in the Te Deum, except that in saeculum is replaced by in aeternum.

This Introit exhorts us who are assembled for divine service not to think only of ourselves and our own personal needs, but rather of the entire people of God, of that corporate whole to which we are privileged to belong.

Thursday, July 25, is the Feast of St. James the Greater (and some places celebrate a vigil on the 24th). The brother of the Apostle John, this James is distinguished from his fellow apostle, James the Less, likely by his age or his stature, not his importance. Either way, the other James got a raw deal.

St. James is probably best remembered today for the pilgrimage that bears his name: the Camino de Santiago, which terminates at Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. James’s association with Spain, of which he serves as patron, comes from the legend that he brought the Gospel to the Iberian peninsula before returning to the Holy Land, where he was executed at the order of Herod, c. 44. His body was then said to have been miraculously translated back to Spain—specifically the Galician town that now bears his name.

The Catholic Encyclopedia regards these tales skeptically, but whether St. James is in Compostela (or even ever touched Iberian soil) is irrelevant to the spiritual fruitfulness of the Camino, which has drawn pilgrims for centuries.

Image result for santiago de compostela

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, terminus of the Camino.

Those Seven Days…

Philip has a beautiful and harrowing thread about the pressure placed on couples to abort babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome. You can follow their story of raising little Cleo on Instagram.

Matthew Walther has a tremendous little column on the romantic aesthetic of the Moon landing:

The greatest historical analogue to the manned lunar mission is probably the early years of English polar exploration — those heady days when, as Francis Spufford argues, hard men put their will in the service of a literary mania for feelings of remoteness, hugeness, and brooding oceanic emptiness. What a shame that we have been able to produce no great lunar literature to succeed the writings by Byron, the Shelleys, Tennyson, and Melville that both immortalized and inspired the great hypothermic pioneers. (I'm still holding out hope for science fiction.) Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were were like Coleridge's ancient mariner, "alone, alone, all, all alone" on a sea of stars. It is only by an accident of chronology — like the 12 years that prevented us from hearing Lincoln's voice — that their achievement did not become the subject of a tone poem by Strauss.

Continence is a virtue for everyone!

Two pieces of spiritual writing from Catholic Exchange this week: Constance Hull on the power of the Precious Blood (in this month dedicated to this devotion) and Fr. John R. P. Russell on praying with the confidence that God knows our heart:

But if we could pause for a moment in faith and trust, like the centurion did, knowing that the Lord already knows, that he already cares, that he is already inside the situation, perhaps we will hear the Lord say, as the centurion did, “I will come and heal.” Perhaps this kind of prayer can teach us something of trust and humility.

Jeremy has a good cheat sheet on when to start the 33-day Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary to end on key Marian feasts. More information on the Total Consecration can be found here.

David Mills writes on his changing views of church architecture, from being a “fussy Anglican” to embracing aesthetic subjectivity as a counterpart to Catholicism’s objectivity to, now, a more complete appreciation for the design of sacred spaces:

I still love the objective reality of the Church, and especially the reality that Jesus is here—and here no matter with what kind of church we surround him. Life can be hard. Faith can be hard. What I really need is for a church that says not only “Jesus is here,” but here is the history and here are the stories and here are Our Lady and the saints, this is where a taste of heaven can be found.

Lol (for real tho)

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