The Courtier Recommends: Help The Spirit Of The Season Take Root In West Africa

As we approach Christmastide, people’s thoughts always turn to helping others. I’ve been fortunate over the last several years to see how a spirit of generosity in this country can directly impact for good the lives of people far away, and change the world for the better. So I’m taking a step back from the usual art world chatter to ask you to consider a group of people who really need your help, where you be able to actually see the good that you do as it quite literally takes root.

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Over the past dozen years, Father Bill Ryan has done unbelievable work on behalf of the people in a remote part of Togo in West Africa, both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet him several times, when he comes to my parish of St. Stephen’s in DC to ask for our support. In addition to providing for their spiritual needs, Father Bill and those helping at the mission have created the area’s first primary health care clinic; dug eleven fresh water wells in the local villages (where previously only muddy and bacteria-ridden river water was available); opened six primary schools and one middle school; obtained farming equipment for the local subsistence farmers to process their own flour and oil; and much more.

You can read all about this on the mission’s website, which includes written reports, photos, video, and links showing the remarkable changes that have been wrought for these very poor people. I mean, these grade school kids who had never been able to attend school before are really, really cute. And when is the last time that you were filled with such joy because you had clean water to drink?

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I hope you’ll join me this Christmas in supporting a new project that the mission is undertaking to provide a sustainable source of income for the local people. They’re seeking to plant a teak tree farm, which will provide renewable resources in the form of teak lumber: that super-hard, durable wood used to build quality outdoor furniture or that you see covering the floors and walls of high-end homes and hotels. A single teak tree seedling costs only $1, but a farm full of teak trees – which regrow from their roots after the trunks are harvested – should help to sustain these people for generations, whatever may happen to their other crops.

For more information and to donate, please visit this site.  If you aren’t in a position to help out financially yourself, please do me a favor and share this post via social media and email with anyone whom you think may be interested in lending a hand. And above all, please keep the mission in your prayers. Thank You!

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An Urgent Call: Helping The Hermit

I have something of a pressing need for your help, gentle reader:

Regular readers know that I’m part of a non-profit group trying to raise funds to establish a permanent hermitage up in Maine, where Brother Rex Anthony Norris is serving his vocation as a Franciscan hermit.  You can read more about what we’re trying to do over on the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage site, and you can also follow Brother Rex’s daily postings on the FLPH Twitter account and Facebook page. We recently received 501(c)(3) status, so any donations you make are tax-deductible.

However we have a more immediate concern, which is that Brother Rex is about to lose his home.  He has been renting an apartment in a house which is going up for sale very soon.  He hasn’t received an eviction notice yet, but it could come any day now, and he is having difficulty finding new rental accommodation that he can afford in the Portland area, where he must stay because he is under the canonical jurisdiction of that Diocese.  Of course, if any of my readers are in so fortunate a position as to have a small fortune sitting around in search of a worthy project such as this, please let me know.  For most of us average folk however, meeting Brother Rex’ immediate need is a better way to go.

If any of you are in the Portland area and in a position to rent an apartment, little house, or chicken coop to Brother Rex and his kitty Clare, please get in touch with me using the Contact form on this site.  If you can’t help but know someone who might be able to, or who might know someone who could, please share this blog post with them and let them know that I would be glad to put them in touch with Brother Rex.  Time is really of the essence in this situation, and since Brother Rex spends most of his day in prayer, those of us who care about him are left to try to help with many of the mundane things which we lay people can often do much more easily, given our resources.

Thank you for your charity, and God bless!

Detail of St. Clare and St. Francis from a processional banner from Assisi by Niccolo Alunno (c. 1470) Der Priesterhaus, Kevelaer, Germany

Detail of St. Clare and St. Francis from a processional banner from Assisi by Niccolo Alunno (c. 1470)
Der Priesterhaus, Kevelaer, Germany

 

>Thoughts After Going to the Dogs

>As I was leaving the Spring Gala at the Dominican House of Studies on Saturday I was rather surprised, as I descended the steps of the priory, to suddenly hear the remark, “Hey, that’s a blogger!” Turning round, the interlocutor turned out to be one of the Dogs of the Lord (“Dominicanes”), who was speaking with an older lady and donor to the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception. After introductions were made, it emerged that the priest in question is Father Benedict Croell, O.P., Director of Vocations for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, and that he is not only a fellow blogger, over at Order of Preachers Vocations, but has perused these virtual pages as well as having re-posted them to the Province’s Facebook group. In addition to being deeply flattered that these scribblings would be considered worthy of dissemination to a wider audience – an occurrence which never ceases to amaze – it was also the first time that The Courtier was recognized as a writer “on the street”, as it were, by someone whom he did not already know.

As wonderfully organized by The Wondrous Pilgrim and aptly described last evening by The American Papist, the event was a tremendous success. It was a great opportunity to see old acquaintances and make new ones, and all involved worked very hard to make what one hopes will become an annual event thoroughly enjoyable. If you did not have the opportunity to attend, rest assured that it will be brought to your attention again this time next year, and that plenty of advance notice for scheduling purposes will be provided.

On the way to an after-party The Courtier and a professor friend who specializes in European history and political theory at an area Catholic college got into a discussion about the historic role of the gentleman – or lady – of means in supporting religious communities like the Dominicans. This was partly due to the atmosphere itself, since it is not often that one has the opportunity to attend an event within a structure that would have been easily comprehensible and recognizable to people living in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. However the situs of the Dominican Priory in particular was significant for this writer, having always been drawn to St. Dominic and chosen him as his confirmation saint – partially due to his being a Spaniard and partially because of his very courtly devotion to Our Lady.

Those of us who are not called to the religious life – and we of course constitute the significant majority in the Church – are asked to support our parish and diocese as best we can with donations of money, time and talents. Yet the desire to support one of the religious houses is something beyond our obligation to help our local parish and which may not occur to those of us who have seen a monastery, convent, and the like but never gotten to know any of the men and women who live there. Becoming a benefactor of one of these foundations connects us not only to the apostolate of the order which we support, be they contemplative, preaching, teaching, and so on, but also to the history and culture of the Church. Our Western civilization, whether in the preservation of ancient wisdom or in the development of the arts and sciences, would arguably not have been possible, or at the very least would certainly have been less robust, but for the connection between the religious houses and the laity which supported them.

This blog’s model and patron Baldassare Castiglione, Count of Novilara, tells us that the the courtier must act justly in the support of others when he is possessed of means to do so, since the gentleman is called to show the love of Christ at all times

but much more when they are in prosperity, so that afterwards they may the more reasonably have confidence to ask Him for mercy when they are in some adversity. For it is impossible to govern rightly either one’s self or others without the help of God; who to the good sometimes sends good fortune as His minister to relieve them from grievous perils; sometimes adverse fortune, to prevent their being so lulled by prosperity as to forget Him.

The Book of the Courtier, Part IV.

Patronage of a religious house does not mean that you have to commission an altarpiece, or build a beautiful new carmel, on behalf of the religious community you are drawn to support. Of course, if you are in a position to do such things, then you certainly ought to consider doing so. [N.B. I have already promised one of the friars that I will pay for the repair of the marble floor in the cloister if I win Powerball.] What it does mean however, is that you adopt a willingness to go beyond what is expected of you as a Catholic-in-the-pew to making a sacrifice in support of something larger than yourself, as did the widow in the Temple. It is something that I challenge you to consider, gentle reader, in your own life.

This does not necessarily mean that you have to support the Dominicans and the Little Sisters of the Poor here in D.C., or the Poor Clares in Barcelona, as I do. Worthy as these groups are, wherever you may find yourself in the world as you are reading this, you can be certain that there is a religious community near you which would be deeply grateful for your support, however large or small. It is through their lives of prayer, sacrifice, hard work and devotion that we are all given a model to follow in our own lives. And because they are dependent upon charity, a true courtier has the obligation to consider whether he can do something to help in the promotion of the good works of these, our brothers and sisters who have chosen to accept God’s Grace and direction in their lives in an unique way.

Altarpiece of St. Dominic
Unknown Aragonese Master (c. 1300-1320)
National Art Museum of Catalonia, Barcelona