Three Things We’re Reading Today: Feminists for Life, Evil, and the Ugliness of Porn

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) As nearly 700 University of Notre Dame students, faculty, and staff travel to Washington, DC for the March for Life, this piece by Serrin M. Foster, president of Feminists for Life, in America addresses the reasons why one could call oneself a feminist and be pro-life:

For decades, abortion advocates have asked, “What about the woman?” And pro-lifers have answered, “What about the baby?” This does nothing to address the needs of women who are pregnant. We should start by addressing the needs of women—for family housing, child care, maternity coverage, for the ability to telecommute to school or work, to job-share, to make a living wage and to find practical resources.

As pro-life employers and educators, we must examine our own policies and practices in our own communities, workplaces, colleges and universities. With woman-centered problem solving, we can set the example for the nation and the world. We must ramp up efforts to systemically address the unmet needs of struggling parents, birthparents and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

2) On learning to dwell in silence before the problem of evil by Meredith McCann at Dappled Things:

The nexus of this question is found in Gethsemane, or Auschwitz, or Rwanda, or the site of every school shooting. Turn on the news, and you visit Gethsemane. Inside the Basilica of Agony you will find traditional Byzantine Christian art, “the rock” where Jesus wept (according to traditions), and what you would generally expect in a Christian Holy site- except for one motif in the Church that goes to the very heart of Christian Existentialism. Above the beautiful altar and “the rock” where Jesus wept, you will NOT find a giant imposing crucifix like you see in most Catholic Churches and certainly most Christian holy sites. Instead of a crucifix, you see a mosaic of the scene in Gethsemane, and if you sit there at dawn in silence looking at the scene you might ask God about His goodness, and Jesus is asking the same question with you. You see no imposing figure of Jesus above the altar. Instead, you see a small and lonely figure collapsed on a rock surrounded by a moonless void of a sky. Far off to the right you see the apostles asleep, unwilling and unable to help Jesus carry his question. Way up in the top of the sky is an angel, but he is too far away to offer any consolation to Jesus. The angel is only a vague reminder of hope- all but lost in this scene. The Franciscans of the Basilica are right- you will find no explanations here.

3) I’m teaching a course on liturgical aesthetics for undergraduates and graduates alike this semester. This week, we read the following by Roger Scruton in a book entitled Beauty: A Very Short Introduction:

The human form is sacred for us because it bears the stamp of our embodiment. The wilful desecration of the human form, either through the pornography of sex or the pornography of death and violence, has become, for many people, a kind of compulsion. And this desecration, which spoils the experience of freedom is also a denial of love. It is an attempt to remake the world as though love were no longer a part of it. And that, surely, is what is the most important characteristic of the postmodern culture…it is a loveless culture, which is afraid of beauty because it is disturbed by love (148).


Community Makes Us Humble; Humility Makes Us One

Katie BascomKatie Bascom
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015

My grandmother likes to tell the story of a prayer meeting in her Sunday School class, when an elderly woman near her stood up and exclaimed, “Lord, we thank Thee that we are Baptist!” Every time I recall it, part of me chuckles at the mental image of the confirmed-interdenominational figure of the Little Old Church Lady, expressing joy in an institution that she loves. Another part of me is offended at the straightforwardness of the sentiment—is Baptist-ness such a marvel in itself, somehow separate from the miracle of Christianity, that one might thank God for it first?

But mostly this anecdote frightens me. It frightens me because I, too often, see in myself the same pattern of thought. God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers … illogical, impious, biblically illiterate. What is amusing in the prayer of an old woman is barefacedly ugly as it grows on our hearts and our communities like a fungus. It shows itself everywhere: in the conservative worshiper suspicious of the sincerity of charismatic services, in the mother hesitant to welcome a child’s friend because she might be undocumented, in the Russian Orthodox parents disowning their Protestant convert child, in the middle-class family steering artfully past the homeless man in their congregation, in the Evangelical dismissing all Catholics as legalistic Mary-worshippers. I have seen all of these things; I have committed some of them, and I mourn.

But how can we repair the rifts between Christians of different denominations when we are not even unified with those of our own denominations?

Charles-Wesley_796449c I believe that these are not two separate issues to be tackled but one and the same, and the same posture which leads to unity with Christians in the next pew will lead to unity with Christians in the next church building. This posture is well described by Charles Wesley:

Weaned from all my lordly self,
Weaned from all the miser’s pelf,
Weaned from all the scorner’s ways,
Weaned from all the lust of praise.

Make me like a little child,
Of my strength and wisdom spoiled;
Seeing only in Thy light,
Walking only in Thy might.

The posture is that of humility. It is the realization that everyone who exalts himself will be humbled—in seeking honor for myself or my institution I am separating myself from the very God I worship, for salvation and glory and power belong to our God. This is the recognition that, as I do not determine who passes through the gates of heaven, so I do not determine whom I must love as my brother or sister.16church-thelede-blog480

It is, in fact, the objective reality of community that makes the conversation about unity so necessary. I cannot choose my brothers and sisters: they are those whom my Father has adopted. There is no bond between us except that which is accomplished through Christ, but that bond is the essential and ultimate one. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, explains our condition:

One is a brother or sister to another person only through Jesus Christ. I am a brother or sister to another person through what Jesus Christ has done for me and to me; others have become brothers and sisters to me through what Jesus Christ has done for them and to them. The fact that we are brothers and sisters only through Jesus Christ is of immeasurable significance. …My brother Bonhoeffer-1or sister is that other person who has been redeemed by Christ, absolved from sin, and called to faith and eternal life. What persons are in themselves… cannot constitute the basis of our community, which is determined by what those persons are in terms of Christ.

Here is the understanding that develops us from the state of community, accomplished once and for all by Christ, to the state of unity, accomplished continually through humility. When I believe that “what persons are in themselves cannot constitute the basis of our community,” I can no longer say, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” Knowing the work of Christ in establishing the Body of Christ excludes such pride. My worthiness, righteousness, and correctness, even if they could be presumed, are not critical in determining how I interact with my brothers and sisters.

The great thing, the important and relevant thing, is Jesus and the work he has done. Giving preference and glory to him is right and fitting, and from that position, I can’t do anything but love those whom he has given me to love. Aligned with him, I can’t do anything but desire and promote his will, that we may be one as Christ and the Father are one.

In this posture let me live,
And hosannas daily give;
In this temper let me die,
And hosannas ever cry.


Three Things We’re Reading Today: MLK, Charlie Hebdo, and the Week

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) Archbishop Joseph Kurtz’ MLK day message is worth a read this day:

As our nation celebrates the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today, I am reminded of the timeless plea found in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that we move “from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.” I am grateful for Dr. King’s words and actions and those of so many who worked for justice and helped to advance our country’s recognition of the dignity and equality of each person.

Continuing tensions and violence in our communities remind us that although significant progress has been made in erasing the stain of racism and the cycle of related violence, we still have much work to do. As we consider the gains of the past and the challenges before us, I urge each of us to pray for healing and peace as we work for ever greater communion. Every human life has profound dignity, rooted in our creation in the image of God. We are one family. Our communities will only reflect this dignity if we first turn to prayer to guide our actions toward ending years of isolation, disregard and conflict between neighbors. That which seems impossible can only be brought about through God and his powerful intervention in our hearts.

2) A nice summary of why there are those who will not say Je suis Charlie by The Jesuit Post’s Niall Leahy, SJ:

  • The British newspaper The Guardian asserted in an editorial that the right to offend is implicit in the right to freedom of expression. Satire has been present in European and French culture for centuries and even played a key role in the ousting of monarchical power during the French Revolution. The argument goes that curbing the right to offend weakens a democracy and paves the way for tyranny and the abuse of political power.

  • Even if we retain the right to offend, what constitutes a legitimate target for satire? It has become clear that the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo have caused major offense to a French Muslim community that was already feeling marginalized. A Jesuit friend who for decades has worked with marginalized communities on both sides of the Irish border noted that satire is most effective when it takes aim at the powerful — and most destructive when it ridicules the weak. Or as another liberal Muslim commentator has put it, satire should “punch up.

3) Pope Francis and the Republican party was treated by The Week “this week”:

Looks like the honeymoon is finally over.

The question is why now — and why over the environment of all things?

The answer, I think, is that the environment, in itself, has very little to do with it. The problem is simply that Francis has broken from too many elements in the Republican Party platform. First there were affirming statements about homosexuality. Then harsh words for capitalism and trickle-down economics. And now climate change. That, it seems, is a bridge too far. Francis has put conservative American Catholics in the position of having to choose between the pope and the GOP. It should surprise no one that they’re siding with the Republicans.

Joseph: a life hidden in God

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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For almost as far back as I can remember (and stretching far into my foreseeable future) the conclusion of the Christmas season has inevitably meant the beginning of a new academic semester. For the past five years, as my family has taken down the Christmas tree and put away the ornaments and decorations, I have packed up my dad’s old Dodge Caravan and made my way back down to South Bend to start the spring semester at Notre Dame. This year, as I reflected on this sequence, I was struck by a kind of paradox in it all. On the one hand, throughout Advent and Christmas I found myself noticing the elements of secrecy or ‘hiddenness’ that characterized the Incarnation. The birth of the Creator into His world was not some global or explosive phenomenon.  It was not so much like a shout as it was more of a whisper. Very few people noticed when Christ was born.

On the other hand, I have spent the past eight semesters at the University of Notre Dame, which aims not to go hidden or unnoticed in the world, but instead strives for prestige and recognition. At a place full of highly achieving, highly motivated individuals, it is tough to imagine a provost’s speech at the opening of the academic year or a commencement speaker’s address ever touting the virtues of being “hidden.” Students are reminded of their successes and achievements, and are charged with forging their own unique paths and changing the world around them. We champion individuality, boldness, and creativity, and would likely find it odd if at the beginning of the new academic year the president or provost stood before all of our students and urged them to live interiorly, or to blend in, to hide themselves. Part of Notre Dame’s mission is to breed success, and to stand out in the world as a prestigious  institution. This is certainly not the only part of our institutional identity (and neither am I attempting to label such an aspiration as a negative thing). But this is all simply to say that Notre Dame is a bold and ambitious institution, full of bold and ambitious people pursuing bold and ambitious projects: this can be seen all across campus, from the accomplishments of the students, faculty, and alumni to the expansion of campus and recent construction and renovation initiatives.

Yet the Incarnation teaches us that the perfect Christian life is not one of prestige or recognition. Rather, the true Christian life is irreducibly hidden, or as Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C. writes: “The perfect life will be an interior life, elevated to God by the habitual practice of acts of faith, hope, and charity after the example of Jesus Christ, who is to be the particular model of our conduct. It is absolutely essential for us to lead with our Lord a life hidden in God.”

Origen of Alexandria, too, draws attention to this inherently hidden life of a Christian. Citing Lamentations, he writes: “The breath of our countenance is Christ the Lord, of whom we said that we shall live under his shadow among the nations” (cf. Lam 4:20).

“For the nations which imitate that soul through faith and so reach salvation,” Origen goes on to write, “live in the mystery of this assumption” (On First Principles, II.VI.7). That notions of the irreducible “hiddenness” of the Christian life is essential to Origen’s thought can be gleaned from the passages he chooses to draw on from Scripture, such as Colossians 3:3 (“Our life is hid with Christ in God”), Ephesians 3:9 (“Christ is ‘hid in God'”), Luke 1:35 (“The Spirit of the Lord shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee”), and Job 8:9 (“Is not our life on the earth a shadow?”). This theme also emerges in Origen’s Homilies on Luke, in which he writes that Elizabeth, when she had conceived, “kept herself hidden for five months” (Homilies on Luke, trans. Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., 23). Even the Incarnation, for Origen, is a “hidden” event, as “it was Christ’s will that the devil should be ignorant of the coming of God’s Son … and thus the mystery of the Savior was hidden from the rulers of this age” (Homilies on Luke, 25). Origen is certainly not lacking in scriptural evidence for the assertion that the Christian life, lived in “the mystery” of Christ’s shadow, is turned into something “hidden.”

What, though, might such a “hidden” life look like, in practice? There are countless examples that we could look to in the vast treasury of saints and figures the Church gives us. Who better to turn to, however, than the preeminent disciple of Christian hiddenness: St. Joseph?

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre DameAs Scripture attests, Joseph plays an indispensable role in the Incarnation. In the infancy narratives of both Luke and Matthew, Joseph is presented as a crucial link between the coming of Christ and the Davidic covenant of the Old Testament.   Matthew, for example, tracing Jesus’ genealogy from Abraham, shows that it is through Joseph—and not Mary—that the Davidic lineage is passed to Jesus. What is more, when the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in Matthew 1:20, he refers to Joseph as “son of David.” Luke, too, in relating the story of the Annunciation, simply calls Mary “a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Lk 1:27), later commenting again that Joseph was “descended from the house and family of David” (Lk 2:4). It is evident, then, that the Gospel writers wished to show that Jesus is a descendent of King David, which they accomplish by tracing the genealogy through his father, Joseph. This gives a special kind of weight to Joseph’s own fiat to become husband to Mary and father to Jesus.

Joseph’s relation to David is not merely accidental, and it is also clear that Joseph’s connection to David is not only historical but typological as well, as it is through Joseph that God fulfills the covenant established with David. To explain, the second book of Samuel records: “David was afraid of the LORD that day; he said, ‘How can the ark of the Lord come into my care?’ So David was unwilling to take the ark of the LORD into his care in the city of David” (2 Sam 6:9–10). Yet later we are told that David finally, at the command of the Lord, “brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing” (2 Sam 6:12). This event prefigures Joseph, who, when commanded by the angel of the Lord to “not be afraid to take Mary” as his wife, brought the ark of the New Covenant “into his home” and “to the city of David called Bethlehem” (see especially Mt 1:20 and Lk 2:4). It is also through Joseph that God’s promise to David is fulfilled:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. (2 Sam 7:12-14)

Compare this promise with the following passage from Luke concerning Jesus:

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Lk 1:32-33).

imagesThese two passages make clear not only Joseph’s centrality in the mystery of the Incarnation, but also his imitation—through faith and obedience—of that soul, the shadow of Christ contemplated by Origen. Joseph, called a “law-abiding” or “righteous” man by Scripture (Mt 1:19), accomplished what David initially could not in taking Mary, the ark of the New Covenant, into his home (consider also the angel’s commands to Joseph to not only take Mary as his wife, but to also take her to Egypt [Mt 2:13-14] and eventually out of Egypt to the land of Israel [Mt 2:19-21], which call to mind the Lord’s commands to David [cf. 2 Sam]).  Additionally, none, save Joseph, could have recited the prayer of David so truly and familiarly:

Who am I, O lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? … And now, O Lord God, as for the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, confirm it forever; do as you have promised. …for you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever. (2 Sam 7:18–29)

Therefore it is clear that Joseph is presented in Scripture as not only a descendent of David, but in many ways can be read as a kind of New David.

Yet it must be noted that, aside from the infancy narratives, Scripture is mysteriously and notably silent when it comes to Joseph, whose fiat held such significance in the economy of salvation history. We can conclude from what the evangelists chose to include among the Gospel narratives regarding Joseph that what they found most important was his obedience, righteousness, and ties to the Davidic lineage. The Joseph of Scripture, then, is the ‘hidden’ Christian par excellence because he is a soul that so imitated the obedience and righteousness achieved by Christ’s soul, living entirely “under his shadow,” that he was taken up, as it were, into the “mystery of this assumption” (Origen, On First Principles II.VI.7). Joseph, whose identity is so completely wrapped up in the mystery of divine revelation to the point that he almost has no identity of his own apart from his role in the Incarnation, points to what it means to become “hid with Christ in God.”imgres-1 This virtue of “hiddenness,” however, gave Joseph an individuality, influence, and boldness that changed history. Perhaps this may even provide clues as to why the Congregation of Holy Cross’ own “hidden disciple”—St. André Bessette, C.S.C., whose feast day is celebrated on January 6—found such a friend and patron in St. Joseph. What might our own lives and institutions look like if we more readily accepted this invitation to “lead with our Lord a life hidden with God”?

Three Things We’re Reading Today: Pope Francis, Joy of the Gospel, and the Communion of Reading.

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) Though we generally try to link to articles that we’re reading throughout the web, today, we happen to be reading a book relevant to themes on this blog. It is Austen Ivereigh’s recent book, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope. Immersed in the first chapter, it’s a brilliant read of what makes Francis who he is as pastor and reformer alike. Here’s a small excerpt of the first chapter:

When he was elected pope, Bergoglio’s love of tango was cited by Argentina’s media as proof–along with his devotion to San Lorenzo, and his attachment to the ubiquitous smoky green Argentine tea called mate–of his guy-next-door qualities. But in the 1950s tango was still edgy; it still, if dimly, suggested lipstick-smudged hookers fleeing pinstriped hoodlums down dark alleys. For a teenager thinking of the priesthood, the attraction to it was unusual, and a sign that even then, in the confusion of adolescence, the margins beckoned.

More from this book next week.

2) Speaking of Pope Francis, the fine editors at Millennial invited me to write a piece introducing some of the themes from our issue on Pope Francis. Here is a selection for your reading pleasure (but really read the whole journal, because that will be more fun):

Perhaps what makes Pope Francis so attractive to the contemporary world is that he is actually pointing beyond himself toward Jesus Christ. This relatively unknown (among those of us in the United States) Argentinian and Jesuit archbishop has pointed the Church beyond its own political bickering, its own arguments, its own myopic focus upon survival toward the transformation of the world made possible through the Word made flesh. As Evangelii Gaudium makes clear, we are not forced to decide between the love of Jesus Christ and a commitment to a transformed social order.

3) Lastly, a really beautiful essay on the spirituality of reading at Commonweal by Dominic Preziosi:

Which doesn’t sound all that different from something Karr writes in the essay whose title was mentioned above, and which also appeared as an introduction to the 2002 Modern Library edition of The Waste Land and Other Writings: “The mere exercise of attention—eyes wide, ears pricked, heart open—is not a bad way to move through the world.” Though she presents it as an approach specifically for navigating “The Waste Land” without succumbing to “the despair and the angst rendered,” the imperative to read it with the “alertness the poem demands” strikes me as akin to McDermott’s more general admonition. Reading Eliot, Karr says, “can work like the miracle of communion—you take the Eucharist of the writer’s words into the rough meat of your body in order to be transformed by someone else’s mysterious passion. It brings you into a community of like sufferers.”



And the Nominees Are. . .

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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This morning in Hollywood, the nominations for the 2015 Academy Awards were announced. If you’re a film-lover like me, this time of year is basically the post-season, where the hundreds of films released over the past year have been culled to a short list of the elite, and soon, there will be only one—the Best Picture of the Year. The problem with the post-season comparison, of course, is that athletes only compete within their sport, whereas films of completely different genres are all lumped together and pitted against one another for Best Picture. This is essentially like comparing apples to Ferraris. Their only commonalities are: they are both things, and they are both red. And the latter isn’t even true all of the time.

As a result of the apples and Ferraris conundrum, the Academy increased the number of possible Best Picture nominees from five to ten for the 2010 awards ceremony in order to allow a wider variety of films to be represented. Turns out, 2010 and 2011 have been the only years that all ten nominations spots have been filled; 2012–2014 each saw nine films nominated; this year, there are only eight. While I initially bristled at the increase in nominated films, this year I am bristling at the fact that the Academy didn’t just go ahead and fill all ten slots (I was especially disappointed to see Into the Woods get snubbed).

Then I remembered that the Oscar nominations represent the culmination of often politically charged marketing campaigns spearheaded by studios intent upon garnering awards (much like a sports team shelling out big bucks for a key player in order to win championships), and this reality means that good films—even excellent films—are sometimes reduced to collateral damage. Despite these and other flaws in the system, I still love the Oscars because they provide people a way in to discovering, thinking about, and talking about movies, and movies in turn provide people a way in to discovering, thinking about, and talking about those things that are part and parcel of human life: identity and the search for it, relationships and all their glorious and heartbreaking complexities, the presence of evil and the struggle for good. And when films tell these human narratives in an authentic and compelling way, I would argue that they have the capacity to open audiences up to encountering a deeper narrative, indeed, the narrative—the narrative that insists that humanity has its source and its summit in something other than itself, the narrative that reassures us that death and evil will ultimately falter and life and love will triumph, the narrative that points, in the end, to God.

Granted, this capacity varies from film to film. Some (like last year’s nominee The Wolf of Wall Street) only possess it in a negative form as a cautionary tale. But others, like Best Picture winners A Man for All Seasons, Ghandi, Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, and 12 Years a Slave, have the capacity to inspire us to be better human beings by presenting us with a picture of humanity’s own capacity to transcend itself precisely through entry into that deeper narrative. All good art does this for those who take the time to look closely and listen carefully.

And so, over the next several weeks, we here at Oblation will once again be taking a closer look at this year’s Best Picture nominees—American SniperBirdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everythingand Whiplash—in the hopes of discovering within their individual narratives seeds of the narrative. As we learned last year, this task will be easier for some films than others, but this series will afford us the opportunity to engage with “popular culture” and “secular media” in ways that are intriguing and challenging for us and, hopefully, uplifting and life-giving for you (or at the very least, entertaining). As Siskel and Ebert used to say, “See you at the movies.”


Ramsey, CarolineCaroline Ramsey

University of Notre Dame, Class of 2014

Notre Dame Vision Mentor-In-Faith, 2014

If my friends were asked to describe me, I doubt that any of them would first use the word competitive. My competitive nature is usually pitted against myself, creating an inward battle in which I put pressure on myself to succeed. Unfortunately, in the midst of my senior year, the battle that was a civil war within myself has spread to comparisons between my closest friends and myself.

The spread of this less than civil war was brought on by the approaching graduation date that loomed ahead of me. I struggled to discern what I wanted to do, causing me to envy those around me who seemed to effortlessly know what their calling. Once I finally did decide “generally” what I wanted to pursue post-graduation, there was that oh-so-tricky part of getting a job. Unlike classes, in DarkCornerwhich I could tell myself to work just a bit harder, once I applied and interviewed, the process was out of my hands. My lack of control and helplessness was frustrating and repeated rejection from employers was an ongoing challenge that I struggled with throughout the year. The rejections made me feel unqualified, as if my education and skills were without value; as though I was not enough. I observed as one by one, each of my closest friends determined their future plans.

As time progressed and my rejected applications started to accumulate, my own stress grew. As friends shared with me their plans, I still felt joy for them and hope for their success. Yet, that joy was accompanied by a voice that slowly grew louder within myself asking, “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you have that? What do they have what you don’t have? Why aren’t you enough?” I began to envy many things: my friends’ fulfilled dreams, the travel they would do next year, the prestige of the school they would be attending, or the large salary they would make. The crazy thing is that I didn’t want any of their jobs; I just wanted to share in that certainty and to fulfill my own dream.

My increasing tendency to envy my friends horrified me. When that voice was directed at myself, it drove and pushed me to do more. But when it turned to address the ones closest to me, the ones whom I most deeply care about and who have been nothing but supportive to me in all that I do, I felt ashamed. So this voice remained hidden in the darkness of my own heart, creating a subtle yet toxic background music that played beneath many of my conversations.

This internal voice was dramatically interrupted by my experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It was Tuesday of Holy Week and I found myself in the Basilica singing with my choir during the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we started singing, I decided that I would not go to confession. I didn’t have time and, after all, confession scared me. As I sang, however, I felt incredibly burdened by anxiety. Among other things, my feelings of envy and inadequacy were seen as the burden that they were. I had never voiced these feelings out loud, yet they pressed on me, and I realized the stressNotreDameBasilicaFloor these feelings were putting on my relationships with my favorite people at Notre Dame. As I moved down to the basilica floor, I resolved to go to confession.

I sat in the dimly lit basilica, trembling. I pressed my hands together in a desperate prayer for courage. Somehow, I managed to walk to over to the priest and sit down face to face with him. I hurriedly blurted out that it had been two years since my last confession. I struggled to articulate my sins. After sharing other sins, I felt compelled to speak aloud for the first time the competitiveness that had plagued my year and that threatened to damage that which I valued most, friendship. The whole time I stared at my hands, unable to look up and into his eyes.


My previous experiences of Confession had involved confessing my sins, saying the act of contrition, the priest telling me my penance of Hail Mary’s or Our Fathers, and being absolved of said sins. While this experience always left me feeling relieved, I was utterly unprepared for what happened next in the Basilica that night.

The priest’s first words after I mumbled my dark internal battle in the general direction of his legs were: “that was a beautiful confession.” I was awe struck. I had poured out my most twisted and hated emotions and, in return, I was told that my confession was beautiful? I looked up for the first time, into his kind eyes. He went on to have a conversation with me about my sins, talking with me about the importance of letting go of envy to promote healthy relationships. He spoke about not objectifying people or myself. What we do next year is not all of who we are. He urged me to see the beauty in God’s creation and to focus on that. Particularly, he exhorted me to see the beauty in myself and that God’s grace is present in my life. Although I may not have a set career lined up, he told me to remember that I am qualified, I am enough, and I should strive to be open to God’s call. As he talked to me, I felt unburdened.

He handed me a sheet with the Act of Contrition written on it after I indicated that I did not have it memorized. Relief mixed with renewed embarrassment swept over me. The priest provided me with the words I was ashamed of not knowing myself, just as he provided me with absolution from my sins. I was overcome by the radical nature of God’s grace, grace that I had done nothing to deserve.

The black type on the page began to swim across the page as my eyes filled with tears. When I got to the line, “I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.” I broke down. Unable to speak, I cried tears of sadness and yet, joy. I was overcome with the realization of how sorry I truly was and also how full of joy I was to have found acceptance and forgiveness for what I most despised about myself. In that moment, I let myself be overcome by God’s love. I accepted that my confession was beautiful and I surrendered my competitive instincts to a force much greater than my own drive for success: to God’s love.  As the priest placed his hands on my head and absolved me of my sins, I marveled in God’s sacramental grace. Feeling light, I walked back into my room and hugged my beautifully successful roommates, for the first time in months, without bitterness and envy.


Three Things We’re Reading Today: Undergraduate-Robots, Friendship, and St. Joseph Vaz

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) Katharine Harmon of PrayTell provides a reflection on the vice-presidential address at the North American Academy of Liturgy this year by Fr. Don LaSalle. She addresses her worry that undergraduates are becoming robots (not the cool kind). And what this means for liturgical prayer:

As you may suppose, the liturgical encounter, and liturgical time, is described by none of the attributes which serve to fragment society, to accelerate experiences, or to dish out information. Encountering the “other” in the liturgical context is, sometimes painfully, personal. Nor does the Liturgy “give” us that end product immediately. Growth in Christ, and growth in the Christian life, is a lifetime process of development, practice, and discipleship. Every liturgical experience teaches this discipleship, through the proclaiming of the word, the experience of the sacraments, and participation in the body of Christ at prayer: all together, at once, in the same room.

Would love to hear what undergraduates think about the piece.

2) Drew Brown at Relevant discusses the danger of thin friendships in a world of social media:

Before the invention of the air conditioner, families would spend hot summer nights sitting out on their porches and talking with the neighbors. Before the Internet, there was a sharing of communication through printed books and interviews (R.I.P. Borders). Before cell phones, there were landlines that only talked and didn’t text. Before GPS, there were maps and gas stations. And before Netflix, there was Blockbuster (R.I.P. again).

The modern world is becoming more and more efficient with work and less and less meaningful with human interactions.

No friendship is based on efficiency. Friendship is spending time with someone, intentionally setting aside time to look someone in the eye, to hear their voice and to watch their eyebrows furrow or cheeks get red.

3) With Pope Francis visiting Sri Lanka, an excellent article by John Allen of Crux on the first Sri Lankan saint, St. Joseph Vaz (pray for us!):

Known as the “Apostle of Sri Lanka,” Vaz was born in Goa, India, into a Portuguese family. As a young priest, he heard stories of the persecution that Catholics on the nearby island of Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka, were suffering during a period of occupation by Dutch Calvinists.

Fearing that the Portuguese might try to win back their former colony under the guise of protecting the Church, the Dutch had launched a fierce campaign to wipe out every trace of the faith. They expelled all priests from Sri Lanka under pain of death, shuttered churches, and sometimes killed laity who tried to resist.





A Conversation About Masculinity

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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I was a bit flummoxed by Cardinal Burke’s recent interview at The New Emangelization. By now, most of us are aware of the interview’s highlights (or perhaps lowlights). Asked about how the crisis in masculinity has affected men in the Church, Cardinal Burke states:

The Church becomes very feminized. Women are wonderful, of course. They respond very naturally to the invitation to be active in the Church. Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women. The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved.

Men are often reluctant to become active in the Church. The feminized environment and the lack of the Church’s effort to engage men has led many men to simply opt out.

As an example, it became politically incorrect to talk about the Knights of the Altar, an idea that is highly appealing to young men. The Knights of the Altar emphasize the idea that young men offer their chivalrous service at the altar to defend Christ in the sacred realities of the Church. This idea is not welcome in many places today.

The remedy to this crisis, as Burke offers, is a serious reconsideration of allowing female altar servers, of cultivating a robust devotional life among men, together with directed catechesis on the sacrifice of the Mass to men (not, of course, to the exclusion of women it should be said).

mass-mob-churchThe opposition to Cardinal Burke’s interview has been stout. Many have argued against the idea that the Church has been “feminized,” since men continue to hold the major offices of power within the Church. Others have pointed out that it seems that Cardinal Burke is blaming women for the problems that the Church has faced, including the vocations crisis. Critics of the interview have a point. That is, it is certainly the case that the decline of priestly and religious vocations in American Catholicism in the late 20th century is far more complicated than a “feminization” of the Church (whatever this means). Renewing a sense of “masculine” vigor could lead to an increase in vocations to the priesthood (it could also lead to highly clerical priests). It strikes me that the root of the vocation crisis is a strange elevation of sex to the very apotheosis of human flourishing, together with an abject fear of committing oneself to anything for life (hence a similar decline in marriage). But I digress.

At times, Cardinal Burke does seem to be promoting a somewhat thin notion of masculinity. That is, speaking about men as “Knights of the Altar,” who defend the Church against the secular world may be attractive to a particular group of men (and indeed it was in medieval, Eucharistic texts such as The Quest for the Holy Grail, which is actually an interesting literary work on the spiritual formation of the knights). Yet, as a married, male, lay theologian with a child who engages culture and the world on a daily basis (because I live in it), I find such language to be unnecessarily hostile, incorporating visions of masculinity founded in warfare and defense. In this case, a specific account of masculinity (one not shared by all men)  is employed to interpret the nature of the Church as a fortress in need of defense against the encroaching, hostile world. This vision of the Church does not quite capture the Eucharistic ecclesiology offered by figures like Joseph Ratzinger, Yves Congar, or Pope Francis.

It’s not that I am naive, believing that the Church’s preaching is always welcomed with open arms by the polis. But, I perceive my own vocation as preaching  the foolishness of the cross to the world; the reality that God is love and that the fullness of human flourishing may be found in the pilgrim, unworthiness of a  Church that is so human and yet still divine:

…the paradoxical figure of the Church, in which the divine so often presents itself in such unworthy hands, in which the divine is only ever present in the form of a ‘nevertheless,’ is to the faithful the sign of the ‘nevertheless’ of the ever greater love shown by God. The thrilling interplay of God’s loyalty and man’s disloyalty that characterizes the structure of the Church is the dramatic form of grace…through which the reality of grace as the pardoning of those who are in themselves unworthy continually becomes visibly present in history (Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, 341-42).

For my money, this image of the Church is far more attractive to modern humanity than a sacred battlefield. The Church is not a place for defensive maneuvers but formation into the Eucharistic love of Christ. An entree into a beloved community that is on the way, whose leaders are fallible, whose members are a mixed bag, all of us on the way to becoming love itself.

Beyond these criticisms (and I think they’re significant), Cardinal Burke has a point that the Church needs to consider. Attending to another section of the interview (widely not reported upon), Cardinal Burke describes a crisis of masculinity within the domestic sphere:

The culture has become very materialistic and consumer-focused, the pursuit of which has led father, and often the mother, to work long hours. The consumer mentality has also led to the idea that children’s lives had to be filled with activity: school, sports and music and all kinds of activities every night of the week.

All those things are good in themselves, but there has been a loss of balance. The home life in which children spend adequate time with parents has been lost for many families. Families have stopped enjoying meals together. I remember how my father gave us lessons and taught us manners at the dinner table. To spend time talking with my parents was very important to my growing up. When I was a young priest, I was saddened that parents and children told me that fathers and children rarely talked and, when they did, it was only briefly.

GuylandThe broader point of Cardinal Burke’s interview is that men (as a whole) are malformed to live a Christian life within the home and world alike; to assume their vocations as husbands and fathers to children. The problem of “masculinity” (and what it means to live as a male within the world) is not one unique to Cardinal Burke or “conservative figures” seeking to dial back the advances made by women in the 20th century. In his book, Guyland, Michael Kimmel writes:

 Today…many young men, poised between adolescence and adulthood, are more likely to feel anxious and uncertain. In college, they party hard but are soft on studying. They slip through the academic cracks, another face in a large lecture hall, getting by with little effort and less commitment. After graduation, they drift aimlessly from one dead-end job to another, spend more time playing video games and gambling than they do on dates (and probably spend more money too), ‘hook up’ occasionally with a ‘friend with benefits,’ go out with their buddies, drink too much, and save too little. After college, they perpetuate that experience and move home or live in group apartments in major cities, with several other guys from their dorm or fraternity. They watch a lot of sports. They have grandiose visions for their futures and not a clue how to get from here to there. When they do try and articulate this amorphous uncertainty, they’re likely to paper over it with a simple ‘it’s all good.’ (Michael Kimmel, Guyland, 3).

Such concerns about masculinity are just as likely to appear in the pages of The Atlantic as they are in First Things. And one need not be a professional sociologist to notice the “crisis” among men. I overhear male students on campus at Notre Dame speaking about their weekend plans of “getting wasted” and convincing women to sleep with them by agreeing to watch Les Miserables. These same men seem incapable of asking anyone out on a date, partially because they spend hours at a time immersed in video games or watching sports. When not engaged in these pursuits, they may NaturalLightspend hours in front of a computer screen, trapped by pornographic images of beautiful bodies that do not exist in time and space. They are told  in film after film that as men they are supposed to be locked in delayed adolescence; that it is perfectly possible to find romance while smoking pot and drinking a lot and postponing emotional maturity until some later time in life. They don’t go on retreats in the same numbers as women, and when they do express their spiritual lives (at Sunday Mass), it is often in the presence of other men–the very same men with whom they participated with in a case race the evening before.

One can disagree with Cardinal Burke’s rhetoric, his genealogy of the problem of the “crisis in masculinity” within Catholicism, and his proposed solutions while recognizing that there is a very real problem among men facing the Church (and society alike). While it’s well enough to point out that men are in positions of power in the Church, it’s equally the case that most men baptized in the Church are not ordained and thus not in these positions of power (though I would say anyone baptized has far more power than they realize to exercise the universal priesthood, which can transfigure the created order…but again, I digress). They’re lawyers and doctors and accountants and barbers and salesmen and factory workers and the unemployed and the imprisoned. They’re husbands and brothers and boyfriends and fathers. They’re subjected to the same average preaching, the same average liturgical music, the same average that women must suffer with. It is just culturally acceptable for such men to not show up, leaving the work of religious formation to women. At least, until it becomes socially acceptable for women too to avoid such work.

Rather than propose a series of solutions to this problem, I suggest that we think of Cardinal Burke’s interview as an invitation toward a dialogue in the Church about the vocation(s) of the layman in the world. This dialogue must occur in such a way that it is infused with love, that it refuses to blame women for this “crisis of masculinity” (and I’m not quite sure that every moment of Burke’s interview blames women). It must be a dialogue that occurs by asking men (the fervent and the apathetic alike) what role religious practice has in their lives if any. And if there are men who refuse to darken the door of a church (and there are many), we should ask them why. And what would bring them to participate in the Church’s life. And we might have to be willing to take up new approaches to ministering to these men, which may lead us to a new emphasis on Catholic devotional life, theological education, single sex formation, etc.

Indeed, to me, this is one of several unfinished items of business from the Synod on the family. While extreme cases were dealt with thoroughly by the bishops present in Rome (and will be again this October), I felt that insufficient attention was given to those happily married husbands and fathers, those happily married wives and mothers, who are trying to figure out how to live out their identities within the modern world. Saints

The reality is that women and men throughout the life cycle continue to suffer a good deal under cultural assumptions about what it means to be female or male. Women and men must be in this conversation together, because in the end (that is the final end), it will be all of humanity that is gathered together in Christ. All of humanity, with none of our particularities erased, but elevated and transfigured through the generous love of the triune God. My identity as husband and father will not be erased into generic humanness but is precisely that which will capacitate (or hinder me) to gaze upon the face of God with love.

That’s a conversation that’s worth having.


Three Things We’re Reading Today: Altar Girls, Confirmation, and a Beautiful Education

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) Kerry Weber of America Magazine has the best response to Cardinal Burke’s recent interview at the New Emangelization that we’ve read thus far. Rather than respond with insults, she provides a rationale why female altar servers should not be excluded (it’s a rare gift for an author to expand the imagination in the midst of disagreement rather than simply respond with insult):

We are accountable to one another. The elderly ladies commended me or corrected me on my serving skills after Mass. My parents beamed each time I served with my two siblings on the altar. In short, I learned that our actions as servers affected how others experienced the Mass. And so I strove for flawless execution of the book-holding or cross-carrying. But I also made mistakes. One Holy Thursday I spilled the entirety of the foot-washing water across the altar. The sacristan pitched in to help clean up and her smile let me know that I was not the only person ever to make a mistake at Mass. On her knees beside me, she saw my mistake as an opportunity to demonstrate the spirit of service we prayed about that day, to pitch in and to teach me a lesson: Don’t place large bowls of water too close to the edge of the altar steps. And God’s grace is not easily thwarted by our own imperfections.

2) Another piece by Richard Becker at Crisis on the problematic age of confirmation (and why moving it back is a wise pastoral decision).

Yes, it’s a tricky business, raising teenagers—a balancing act of oversight and latitude—but then confirmation rolls around, and what do we do? We compel teens to undergo intense religious instruction—even if they’ve been away from CCD since second grade—and in effect force them to receive a sacrament they themselves might otherwise forego. Plus, many parents of confirmation candidates aren’t exactly living a sacramental life themselves, and so their teens might assimilate the message that faith primarily involves going through the motions. Besides, as the Catechism teaches, “one must be in a state of grace” to receive Confirmation—which includes conscientiously honoring the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays. If confirmation candidates and their families haven’t been getting to Mass on a regular basis, and they have no intention of doing so once the sacrament is administered, then what’s the point?

I’m hoping that some of this rings true for you, and that it accords with observations you yourself have made. If so, then what I’d like to propose won’t sound so crazy.

It’s actually a bifurcated proposal that involves a radical shift of the sacrament either backwards or forwards. The preferable direction, at least according to tradition, is to move confirmation back to the age of reason, and to administer it prior to first communion. This would restore the ancient and proper order of the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, then communion), and would accentuate the Eucharist as the most important of the three. As Pope Benedict pointed out, there are sound historical reasons for how the order (at least in the West) got mixed up, but “it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation.”

Current practice puts the accent on confirmation as a sacramental goal line, and so it is incorrectly perceived as the “source and summit of the Christian life” instead of theEucharist. And not only does confirmation come last in line, but it also generally involves a great deal of preparation—a full year or more of instruction and formation, for example, along with any number of obligatory service projects. All those mandates can give the misleading impression that confirmation is not only the most important sacrament, but also one that must be earned.

3) The Jesuit Post is constantly offering us the richness of narrative grounded in a theological vision. Here’s another to start your day off on the right to beautiful things:

Sister Patricia McLaughlin is an Irish Sister of Loreto. In 2001, when the community of Jicamarca applied to the Fe y Alegría Network, they needed a religious order to sponsor the new school. Sr. Patricia was running an all-girls prep school at the time and didn’t speak a word of Spanish. She said “yes” and became the founding principal of the school.

Her vision for the school has been simple since the beginning. “We need to believe one hundred percent in education as a means of transformation. It is the only thing that will give these children a fighting chance.”

But environmental factors can make this transformation difficult, if not impossible. Jicamarca is a place of extreme poverty where many people live in houses constructed of straw, wood or very basic brick. There is no running water or sewage facilities, and many people living near the school have no electricity. The men often work in the local brickyards or as drivers or conductors of the small local transport vans. Others go to Lima looking for work.

Sr. Patricia refuses to see this context as an impediment to offering an excellent education. She writes, “Our children may lack resources but they do not lack intelligence, talent, creativity and dreams. I would like each child to know that they too have a right to all things good and beautiful and that this isn’t only for the chosen few.”

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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