On the Novena to St. Walburga

Today begins the 9-day countdown to the feast of St. Walburga. St. Walburga was a great medieval saint, an abbess of a (ahem) Benedictine Abbey, and patroness of a number of worthy causes:

against coughs
against dog bites
against famine
against hydrophobia
against mad dogs
against plague
against rabies
against storms
Antwerp, Belgium
Eichstätt, Germany, diocese of
Gronigen, Netherlands
Oudenarde, Belgium
Plymouth, England, diocese of
Zutphen, Netherlands

In addition, the rock that seals her relics in Germany weeps an oily liquid that is used as a sacramental as an oil of anointment for bodily ills. It’s called “Walburgis oleum”, and no, I’m not making that up. See the old Catholic Encyclopedia for further details.

If any of those are important to you, or if you just want to take her as a personal patron, then you can join me in a 9-day novena prayer to this great and under-remembered saint.

The Novena to St. Walburga from the Walburga Abbey in Colorado, is kept by prayed thusly:

O God, come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me.
Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Psalm 23
A psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.
You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for endless days.

Holy Walburga, you dwell in the glory of heaven, gazing upon the face of the Triune God in the company of all the saints. I turn to you, full of trust in the words of Jesus Christ, “Amen, amen I say to you, the one who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these” (Jn 14:12). God has granted you the gift of healing; help me in my need, which I bring before you (mention petition). Beg God to grant healing, consolation and strength to me and to all those for whom I pray. Implore Him to let me recognize His love and know His presence, whatever He may have in store for me. Ask this for me through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns in the unity of the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.

St. Walburga, pray for us!

On dining

One of my favorite comments about the high school lunch room was told to me by a high school teacher over two decades ago. Don’t call the school lunch room a dining room. Teenagers don’t dine, they feed.”

Heh. I’ve made the same mildly amusing observation. So then, one of my favorite modern social philosophers John Cuddlebuck writes on the matter today.


Reclaiming Manners at Table
February 1, 2017 By John Cuddeback

“At table let mirth be with thee, let ribaldry be exiled…for at table it becometh not to be sad nor to make others sad. … Nothing should be blirted out at table that might diminish mirth. It is wrong to defame the character of those not present; nor should one’s personal sorrow be unburdened to another on such an occasion. …It is impolite to sit at table rapt in thought.”
Erasmus, On Good Manners for Boys

There is so much at stake in how we eat. Daily.

Table manners are at the heart of every day civility. We are inducted into them almost from our first days. From the start we learn that we are all in this together–having daily needs that we fulfill, always with an eye to the presence and needs of others. At table we are at one with our fellow men–first of all with our own household, but also with any who happen to join us.

In attending to the most pressing of human desires, we are brought through our appetite into relation with others. Yeah, when disciplined, this appetite blossoms into the occasion of communion with others. And so it is with other bodily appetites.

There are so many aspects of good manners at table. Where else are the multiple levels of human life, from lower to higher, from bodily to spiritual, so interwoven?

Erasmus focuses our attention on conversation, on what we say or don’t say. The table is a place to be present to one another, in and through our eating. And if manners are well observed, it is an unparalleled daily context for conversation. As Leon Kass notes, “Without conversation the belly rules the mouth, and the table becomes no different from a trough.”

Here we first learn to listen: others have something to say, to which I must hearken. We also learn that we have something to say, to which others will listen, and we learn how to say it. [Emphasis: mine—W]

It is always about presence. Eating together is the most obvious activity that constitutes who we are as a household, daily. How we do it is the recurring expression and cultivation of our self-understanding, of who we seek to be.

Not just feeding, as a rule we eat together, according to certain forms, gratefully celebrating what it is to be human. [Emphasis: mine—W]

So here’s to the parents and teachers and others who make heroic efforts in instilling and practicing manners. You enhance our mirth, at the table and in all corners of life.

This is the seventh and final piece in the series: Reclaiming Manners.

Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) was one of the great Renaissance humanists. According to Kass his On Good Manners for Boys was an immediate success and was used throughout Europe in the formation of youth.

Image: P.S. Kroyer (1851-1909, Danish)

So put down your water bottle and refrain from the incessant flipping of early adolescence. Actually talk to someone, or at least get the conversation started. “How did your chemistry test go?” “What did you think of that game last night?” “How is your prayer life?” (bonus points for that one).

Conversation is one of the things that separates man from beast! Go be fully alive, and be the person that God made you to be, in communion with the people around you!

Savor the delicate taste of your Treat America hamburger (or, as much as is possible anyway). Did you order the special today? Take a moment and enjoy the complexity of your salami sandwich—or is there any complexity? Does your food choice reflect your attitude to lunch—that it is simply empty calories? Do you bring a meal, or do you pack fuel?

On life skills and the high school graduate.

What are the skills that everyone 18-year-old needs? As an erstwhile Drivers Ed instructor, #2 is my favorite.

Reprinted from http://www.businessinsider.com/former-stanford-dean-shares-the-8-skills-everyone-should-have-by-age-18-2016-4

1. An 18-year-old must be able to talk to strangers
Faculty, deans, advisers, landlords, store clerks, human resource managers, coworkers, bank tellers, health care providers, bus drivers, mechanics — in the real world.

The crutch: We teach kids not to talk to strangers instead of teaching the more nuanced skill of how to discern the few bad strangers from the mostly good ones. Thus, kids end up not knowing how to approach strangers — respectfully and with eye contact — for the help, guidance, and direction they will need out in the world.

2. An 18-year-old must be able to find his way around
A campus, the town in which her summer internship is located, or the city where he is working or studying abroad.

The crutch: We drive or accompany our children everywhere, even when a bus, their bicycle, or their own feet could get them there; thus, kids don’t know the route for getting from here to there, how to cope with transportation options and snafus, when and how to fill the car with gas, or how to make and execute transportation plans.

3. An 18-year-old must be able to manage his assignments, workload, and deadlines
The crutch: We remind kids when their homework is due and when to do it — sometimes helping them do it, sometimes doing it for them; thus, kids don’t know how to prioritize tasks, manage workload, or meet deadlines, without regular reminders.

4. An 18-year-old must be able to contribute to the running of a household
The crutch: We don’t ask them to help much around the house because the checklisted childhood leaves little time in the day for anything aside from academic and extracurricular work; thus, kids don’t know how to look after their own needs, respect the needs of others, or do their fair share for the good of the whole.

5. An 18-year-old must be able to handle interpersonal problems
The crutch: We step in to solve misunderstandings and soothe hurt feelings for them; thus, kids don’t know how to cope with and resolve conflicts without our intervention.

6. An 18-year-old must be able to cope with ups and downs
Courses and workloads, college- level work, competition, tough teachers, bosses, and others.

The crutch: We step in when things get hard, finish the task, extend the deadline, and talk to the adults; thus, kids don’t know that in the normal course of life things won’t always go their way, and that they’ll be okay regardless.

7. An 18-year-old must be able to earn and manage money
The crutch: They don’t hold part-time jobs; they receive money from us for what ever they want or need; thus, kids don’t develop a sense of responsibility for completing job tasks, accountability to a boss who doesn’t inherently love them, or an appreciation for the cost of things and how to manage money.

8. An 18-year-old must be able to take risks
The crutch: We’ve laid out their entire path for them and have avoided all pitfalls or prevented all stumbles for them; thus, kids don’t develop the wise understanding that success comes only after trying and failing and trying again (a.k.a. “grit”) or the thick skin (a.k.a. “resilience”) that comes from coping when things have gone wrong.

Remember: our kids must be able to do all of these things without resorting to calling a parent on the phone. If they’re calling us to ask how, they do not have the life skill.

So, how do you measure up?

On the Value of the Liberal Arts degree

There’s a lot of pressure on college students to choose a major that will yield a quick return on their college investment. It’s important to pick a course of study that will get you hired and earning money fast enough to pay off your student loans.

I get that.

But I also disagree with it. Somewhat. I have a liberal arts degree– Political Science (B.G.S., University of Kansas, 2004), so be specific– and that makes me specifically qualified to do just about nothing. Most PolySci majors go on to Law School because it’s the logical next step. But despite being collegiately qualified for nothing, I’ve never had a hard time finding career work after college– and I’ve had a few major career changes into totally different industries since then. And my wife has a Fine Arts degree… and she out-earns me.

So what I’m saying is that you don’t need to go Business-Administration-or-nothing during college. It’s ok to study something that you enjoy or that will push you beyond yourself or that is simply awesome and/or beautiful. You probably won’t starve to death while clutching your ragged copy of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and begging to work for food (and if you do, you’d probably starve with a Business Administration degree anyway).

The magazine Inside Higher Education had an article up this week on how Historians are in demand, but the number of History majors is declining. They write:

History is hot right now. In the midst of a traumatic and turmoil-filled year — weekly violence, racial tensions, political upheaval, a shifting world order and wars with no ends in sight — we are crying out for historical perspective. Publications from The Wall Street Journal to Foreign Affairs are asking historians to tell their readers if (a) yes, it’s really as bad as it seems or if (b) it has, at times, been worse and humanity has survived. Historians are the dispassionate voice amid the din that gets us to calmly sit down in our chairs and reflect.

A recent piece in Patheos asks what exactly historians think we contribute in these trying times. Do we have special insights? Do we know lessons from the past that others don’t? Are we the true conscience of the nation? After all, self-examination about the role of the historian is a time-honored custom in our profession.

The world needs people who have learned to think in centuries, not in soundbytes. That person could be you.

On being kind and loving

There is a rule in my classroom. It’s called the “kind and loving” rule. I implemented it 4 or 5 years ago because of a boy that didn’t realize how hurtful his jokes were. We’re not going to go into that here (or ever, really). I’m not sure whatever happened to that boy, but I hope he figured out how better to show his humor with the world.

But it is in the spirit of being kind and loving that I share this letter from a mother to her son, Chase. I’ve excerpted part below.


I think that God puts people in our lives as gifts to us. The children in your class this year, they are some of God’s gifts to you.

So please treat each one like a gift from God. Every single one.

Baby, if you see a child being left out, or hurt, or teased, a little part of your heart will hurt a little. Your daddy and I want you to trust that heart- ache. Your whole life, we want you to notice and trust your heart-ache. That heart ache is called compassion, and it is God’s signal to you to do something. It is God saying, Chase! Wake up! One of my babies is hurting! Do something to help! Whenever you feel compassion – be thrilled! It means God is speaking to you, and that is magic. It means He trusts you and needs you.

And later:

When God speaks to you by making your heart hurt for another, by giving you compassion, just do something. Please do not ignore God whispering to you. I so wish I had not ignored God when He spoke to me about Adam. I remember Him trying, I remember feeling compassion, but I chose fear over compassion. I wish I hadn’t. Adam could have used a friend and I could have, too.

Great words. Remember, God has made you for this exact moment in the history of the world. He could have made you for any moment in any age. Be His instrument of kindness and love in the world right now. There is no other plan for you.

On Dutch Schultz and 11th Hour Salvation

Today would be the 114th birthday of Dutch Schultz, a hugely violent NYC gangster of the 1920s and 30s before he was killed by a rival gang. At the height of his mob control, Schultz was bringing in $20,000,000 (in 1931 dollars!). It was said that he left behind a fortune– several million of which was buried in a secret safe in the New York Catskills Mountains which has never been found.

I normally don’t have much interest in either “so-and-so was born today” history or crime history, but this news today reminded me of one of the most stirring sermons that I’ve ever heard about Dutch Schultz and his conversion to Catholicism near the end of his life. The occasion for the sermon was the gospel that Sunday was the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, which if you need a refresher on that parable, go read over it.

Go ahead. We’ll wait.

Refreshed your memory now? Ah, good.

I had the great privilege of hearing the 2009 sermon live. I later learned that some members of the parish had been recording this priest’s sermons, but at the priest’s request, that his name not be connected to the recordings so that he could continue to serve Jesus without creating any celebrity for himself. A worthy goal!

The sermon is 0:11:24 and may actually change your life. I’ve thought about it for years. http://walbergschool.com/randoms/20090208-11th-Hour-Salvation-A-Reason-for-Supernatural-Hope.mp3

“Of course he didn’t deserve it. He didn’t deserve it at all. But neither do we!”

On Shepherds in Scripture

Two teacher friends of mine, Mr. D’Amico and Mr. Pick, introduced me to a podcast the other day called “Catholic Stuff You Should Know”. Each episode is 35-45 minutes long and contain a fair amount of rambling (it’s a very casual podcast), but each one is loosely structured around a theme. Two people cohost each podcast. I think they’re all priests, but one may be a seminarian– I’ve just started listening and haven’t figured out all the details yet.

A recent podcast titled “Shepherds in Pastorland” was inspired by a coffee barista’s question to one of the hosts when he went in for his morning cup of coffee. “Why are there so many shepherds in the Bible?”

It’s about 40 minutes long, so put it on when you’re out for a long run or have lawn-mowing duty.

On Beats by Wilhelm, Kaiser

After the invention of airplanes, but before the invention of Radar, there were a lot of interesting ways to detect incoming aircraft.

It is generally known as “Acoustic Location”, and it’s fascinating. One enthusiast has made an interesting photo compilation of early attempts at the practice.

German sound location: 1917.
This fascinating photograph shows a junior officer and an NCO from an unidentified Feldartillerie regiment wearing combined acoustic/optical locating apparatus. This is puzzling because in Germany the anti-aircraft role was performed by the Air Service, not the artillery. The small-aperture goggles were apparently set so that when the sound was located by turning the head, the aircraft would be visible.

Whether it was usual for officers and NCOs to stand arm-in arm I do not know, but it seems unlikely.

I wonder what would happen if people wearing these sound-magnifiers encountered a really loud event. Probably serious hearing damage, I bet.

On the surprises of history

This summer, I ran across an interesting article asking historians about how studying history has caused them to change their minds on important things. Some of the reflections are more… worthy… than others. But I found a couple particularly interesting.

Read the whole thing at http://www.historytoday.com/history-today/shifting-sands-historians-change-their-minds

I’ve excerpted a couple of my favorites below (please excuse the British spelling).

The Victorians, the Edwardians and the people of the early 20th century who experienced the two catastrophic world wars were all markedly different generations, affected by varied, rapid changes in society and the trauma of war. Since writing a new book, on the history of humanity’s relationship with opium, I have come to believe that the people who exist in each frame of history are completely different. The experiences of love, war, family, ageing or for instance, as with opium, addiction, are common threads, but the people are ultimately unique and individual.

How we see the world, and accomplish change within it, has been changing constantly for millennia and the pace of that change will only accelerate in the future. In the next century, technology will deepen the gulf between us and those who follow to a degree previously unimaginable. And in a world where everything is ‘smart-wired’ to your subjective preference, from the cradle onwards, how does society nurture objectivity?

I like this because it challenges the traditional trope of being doomed to repeat the history we don’t remember. We’ll never repeat it. It’s a different world now.

I find this both comforting and disquieting. We will never go back. There probably isn’t even a back to go to.

Another historian writes:

Sometimes, the change comes simply by realising you were looking in the wrong direction. Discussing when women began to buy ready-made clothing, for example, I soon became aware that everything I had been reading (and, embarrassingly, everything I had been writing) about ‘women’ had, in reality, been about middle-class women. The situation for working-class women was entirely different. But by focusing on print culture – newspapers, magazines, books – I had mentally translated their more narrow reading audience into ‘all women’.

So finding new material, finding new arguments that make you read events differently is key. I can think of half a dozen moments when I have sat in the library (quietly) bouncing in my seat as a new path is opened up to me by another historian hacking through the wilderness of sources.

This is a familiar feeling for anyone who has done extensive research on a topic. I’ve done it myself– I think that I’m developing a good picture of the work, when suddenly I realize that my picture is totally narrow. I’ve been looking at trees and didn’t realize that I’m in the middle of a forest.

Studying history has really built up the way I think about the world. It is easy to study history like the way a canoe glides across a pond– smoothly and quietly without barely causing a ripple. It is quite another to study history like digging a tunnel, all in and caked with dirt, never knowing when the whole thing will collapse. There’s a time for the first, but there’s real reward in the second. :)

On Life and the things I wish I knew back then

I’m putting off #5, and I’d beg to differ with #19, but I’m all in on #1.

25 Things About Life I Wish I Had Known 10 Years Ago
by Darius Foroux

Socrates, considered as one of the founders of Western philosophy, was once named the wisest man on earth by the Oracle of Delphi. When Socrates heard that the oracle had made such a comment, he believed that the statement was wrong.

Socrates said: “I know one thing: that I know nothing.”

How can the smartest man on earth know nothing?

Go read the whole thing.