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Kay Winchester

Kay Winchester

Kay Winchester lives and works in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York. Website URL:

Jesus, Mary and the rosary

There’s an old jewelry box at my house; it’s tucked away in the bottom drawer of my dresser, and it’s full of rosaries. Almost all of them have some sort of story attached to them, which is one of the reasons they are still with me – that and the fact that just about all of them have been blessed. They form a kind of spiritual anchor for me, and every once in a while I take them out and look at them, running my fingers over the different styles of beads and crucifixes, remembering who they came from or in what circumstances they came my way.
 
One of my earliest encounters with the rosary happened when I was four years old, and I’m sorry to say that it was less than devout. My mother, and many of the other women in the parish, belonged to the Legion of Mary; among other things, they used to do a “block rosary” once a week.  This meant that each member took a turn hosting the prayer at her house. I’m sure that coffee and dessert were also involved, but what sticks in my memory isn’t the food but rather that circle of women, all kneeling on someone’s living room rug, reciting the rosary together.
 
One of the weeks when the gathering was at our house, I was allowed to stay up way past my bedtime and pray with the ladies. This may have been a lapse of judgment on my mother’s part, because before the first decade was concluded, I decided it would be great fun to fall over sideways on the carpet. It was, in fact, so amusing that I did it a few more times before I finally stayed down for the count and fell sound asleep. Needless to say, I was tucked into bed long before the coffeecake was served.
 
Thankfully, as I grew older, my appreciation and respect for the rosary also grew.  When my CCD classmates and I made our First Communion, for instance, one of the gifts each of us received was a rosary, and one of the things that made it special was what it was made of. Rather than crystal or wood or something like that, these beads were white and glowed in the dark. That might not seem like a very big thing, except when you are seven and monsters have visited you in your dreams; then you could always find your rosary, glowing gently on the nightstand next to the bed. Many nights Mary lulled me back to peaceful sleep as I clutched the beads that protected me from things that went bump in the night.
 
I went through the rosary box recently, and it was like a visit with old friends. But mostly it was a reminder of how protected and loved I am. Life, on occasion, presents different “monsters” to me now, but praying the rosary reminds me that, no matter what happens, Jesus and Mary are never far away.
 
 Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

November saint: Albert the Great

Albertus Magnus, or St. Albert the Great, is the patron saint of scientists and philosophers. However, it might also be appropriate to dub him the “patron saint of the curious,” for he was known to pursue truth and wisdom wherever it could be found, even in places that might have appeared unconventional at the time in which he lived.
 
Albert was born in southern Germany about the year 1200, the son of a powerful and wealthy military nobleman. He came of age at a time when the Catholic Church had reached the zenith of its power and influence in the Middle Ages; not only was the papacy firmly in control of things both spiritual and temporal, but literature had produced such master works of Christian allegorical poetry as Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” The renewal of the Church (following the previous century’s controversy surrounding lay investiture) also inspired the founding of mendicant religious orders such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans.
 
Albert was an extremely well educated young man; at the University of Padua, he first encountered the writings of Aristotle, the study of which would greatly influence the intellectual trajectory of the rest of his life. About the year 1223, Albert apparently had an encounter with the Blessed Virgin, which inspired him, much against the wishes of his family, to enter the novitiate of the Dominican Order. From that point on, he took up the study of theology, first in Cologne and later in Paris.
 
As he had at Padua, Albert proved himself an excellent student. He soon became a lecturer for the order, and by 1245 became a master of theology. He taught at the University of Paris and was appointed chair of yheology at the College of St. James.  As famous as Albert was becoming, he would also become known for one of his more brilliant students – Thomas Aquinas, who, like his teacher, would go on to become both a saint and a Doctor of the Church.
 
Albert’s familiarity with the philosophy of Aristotle would pave the way for his protégé’s own studies. In 1248, the two of them returned to the city of Cologne, where they created a Dominican course of study that would include a curriculum for philosophy. So successful and influential was their work that it would survive to the present day as the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also known as the “Angelicum” in Rome.
 
Albert’s intellectual interests did not stop there, however. He would become known for his extensive study of natural science, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, ethics, economics, politics and metaphysics. It took him 20 years and eight volumes of writing to complete his explanation of his learning; so great was his erudition that, in his time, his work was considered to be on a par with that of Aristotle.  
 
Albert’s health began to fail in 1278, and he died on Nov. 15, 1280.  Beatified in 1622, he was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius IX.  His feast day is Nov. 15.
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
catholiconline.com
“Saint Albert the Great“. CatholicSaints.Info. 13 January 2017.
Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z”.  Michigan:  Servant Publications, 2002.
Schreck, Alan.  “The Compact History of the Catholic Church”.  Ohio:  Servant Books, 1995.
 
 

Blessed John Henry Newman

Known in later years as the “absent Father of Vatican II,” Cardinal John Henry Newman was one of the most profound thinkers and writers of Catholic theology in the 19th century.  His long life – he lived to be nearly 90 – was almost exactly divided between his early years as an Anglican and his final ones as a Roman Catholic.
 
John Henry Newman was born in London in 1801, the eldest of six children. Even as a youth, he was absorbed in a quest for religious truth and, following years of study at Oriel College at Oxford University, he was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church in 1824.  From 1828 until 1841 he was vicar of the university church, St. Mary the Virgin, and his writing, published in eight volumes as “Parochial and Plain Sermons,” was a great influence on the religious life both there and throughout the country.
 
In 1833, he became very ill and, while spending time in the Mediterranean for his health, he composed what became one of his most famous poems, “Lead, Kindly Light.” He had also begun reading the Fathers of the early Church; their influence led to him becoming a prominent leader in the Oxford Movement, whose members questioned certain aspects of Anglicanism, both political and theological.  As he became more and more concerned about the orthodoxy of the Anglican faith, he found himself moving in the direction of Roman Catholicism. By 1841, he felt he could no longer function as vicar of St. Mary’s; he resigned his position and spent the next four years in prayer and seclusion. In 1845, he was received into full communion with the Catholic Church, and in 1847 he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest.
 
These moves did not come without personal cost. Many of his former friends, colleagues and even family members ostracized him. In spite of this, he joined the Congregation of the Oratory, which was begun by St. Philip Neri in 1575; Father Newman went on to found two more oratories and eventually became the rector of the Catholic University of Ireland. A prolific writer, he was the author of 40 books, and nearly 21,000 of his letters still survive.
 
Pope Leo XIII named John Newman a cardinal in 1879; he died 11 years later in 1890.  n 1893, three years after his death, the first Newman Center was founded on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania and, to this day, his name is linked to Catholic student centers at colleges and universities throughout the United States.
 
Perhaps one of his greatest contributions to an understanding of Catholic theology concerned the primacy of conscience and the role of the laity in the Church. Though viewed with some suspicion in his own time, his teaching had a profound influence on the shaping of the documents of Vatican II. Beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, Cardinal Newman’s feast day is celebrated on Oct. 9.
 
 
Sources for this article include:
americancatholic.org
Barry, William. "John Henry Newman." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
“Blessed John Henry Newman". CatholicSaints.Info. 12 January 2017.
Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z”.  Michigan:  Servant Publications, 2002.

 

Book Review: 'The 15-Minute Prayer Solution'

"The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life.” By Gary Jansen. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2015. 195 pages. Paperback:  $12.95; Kindle: $9.62; Nook: $10.99.
 
St. Philip Neri, who died in 1595, was known for two important things – his holiness and his humor. In contrast to what St. Teresa of Avila quipped about “sour-faced saints,” Philip Neri often won hearts and converts with his both pleasing personality and a good joke. So it was this particular saint that I thought of when I read Gary Jansen’s book, “The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life,” because he too, has the gift of combining solid spirituality with great good humor.
 
He is also a gifted storyteller, and one of the most honest stories he relates is his own. It begins in his childhood when, as he says, “There was God talk all around me – at home, at school, at church and even in dreams. … Everyone else seemed to know God. He was well liked. … Still, for whatever reason, I just didn’t feel a connection to God, who was supposedly so important in our lives.” Interestingly, it was an encounter with a white rabbit in the woods when he was 12 (yes, God does work in mysterious ways) that got him seriously involved in prayer and ultimately changed his life.
 
What he discovered is that even 15 minutes a day of true prayer – not, he says, “the half-hearted, going through the motions” type of prayer or the “jabbering, making-deals-with-the-Almighty kind of praying” but “serious, formal prayer,” led him to finally “glimpse the eyes of God. … What I realize now was that I had been suffering from a form of spiritual anorexia,” he explains. “Even though I had grown up with religion all around me— and it was just about everywhere I went— I hadn’t let it enter into me.”
 
Hoping that his book will be like “a good pair of walking shoes” on the journey toward authentic prayer, Jansen begins by explaining what a spiritual exercise is:  “any practice that draws you closer to an experience of union with the divine.” Such practices can take the form of prayer, meditation or contemplation, but all of them share one surprising characteristic not normally associated with our relationship with God. “In many ways spiritual exercises are like courting a beloved,” Jansen says.  “You have this desire, this yearning for another, and you suffer this gravitational pull to do something…doing a spiritual exercise is like going on a date with God.”
 
In subsequent chapters he discusses souls and how they need to be nurtured, what he discovered about the real meaning of faith and mustard seeds, and why so many well-meaning Christians have ended up being lukewarm instead of alive with the Spirit (something, by the way, that Pope Francis has spoken about repeatedly.)  He explains the difference between prayer, mediation and contemplation and that the object of it all is to move us into a place of being perpetually present to God.
 
The balance of the book might be termed the “how to” part – how to enter into prayer, meditation and contemplation and what to expect and not expect from each.  He speaks about using one’s imagination, especially when reading Scripture, so that “conversion, a movement toward God, happens when the words become flesh to us.”  He guides the reader through such traditional practices as Lectio Divina and the Examen as well as praying with the parables, the Jesus Prayer and Centering Prayer.
 
But as rich as the entire book is, it is the Coda at the end that I found to be the best and most moving part of all and the most profound explanation of what God always intended prayer to be.
 
Short but powerful, this book is highly recommended.
 
Gary Jansen is senior editor of religion and spirituality at the Crown Publishing Group at Penguin Random House. Author of “The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved,” his work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and USA Today.  He has also appeared on A& E, the Travel Channel, CNN.com and NPR. Jansen, who lives in New York with his wife and two sons, is currently working on a new book, “A Supernatural History of the World.”
 
 
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