Class of 2019: Go to Mass

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Today, the University of Notre Dame holds its opening of the school year Mass. Participating in this Mass since the year 2000, I have noticed a subtle trend among our student body; namely, that they are increasingly absent from this opening school year liturgy. Yet, their absence from this Mass is by no means unique. Declining Mass attendance among millennials is a persistent concern of campus ministry at Notre Dame (and the Church in general). Christian Smith, in his Young Catholic America notes that 83% of 18-23 year olds attend Mass less than once a week. And one does not need sociological data alone to notice the declining attendance of students at the Eucharist. Last year, my wife overhead two first year students, who both noted that they were looking forward to no longer attending Sunday Mass (though, they were open to weekday Masses where food was served).

Thus, if I were given an opportunity to offer a moment of exhortation to the class of 2019 at Notre Dame, it would relatively simple. Go to Mass. Indeed, I recognize there are many reasons students cease going to Mass. They may be exerting independence from their family, an opportunity to make their own way now that they no longer dwell under the roofs of their parents. They may be bristling against some of the teachings of the Church; and college is an occasion to experiment whether one actually wants to remain Catholic. Attending Mass may simply disappear as a practice within one’s life as the workload of a college education becomes too much. Time for prayer gives way to studying for exams or grabbing a quick bite to eat. Soon habits are formed, which leads one away from the Eucharistic assembly.

Yet, it is precisely in the midst of beginning one’s college career that we most need the Eucharist. We need to be present at the altar on a regular basis so that we can offer to the risen Lord the sorrows and joys that accompany the earliest days of college. We need the familiar ritual of the Eucharistic Prayer in the midst of a life in turmoil. We need to practice gratitude for all that we receive each day as a student, all that we are learning.

In the end, the heart of a Catholic education is nothing less than wisdom. The wisdom that we seek is not merely success in life; it is not becoming famous for our business acumen or our research abilities. It is the wisdom of beatitude, of a life oriented toward seeking the God who is love.

Exert your new found independence, then, by eating new foods and switching majors every couple of weeks; not skipping the Eucharist. Bring your questions about the Church to your courses in theology, to your rector or local priest. But let your questions echo inside the Church, in the context of a life of worship. And don’t let study and pursuit of perfection serve as an obstacle to your primary vocation. To become a sacrifice of praise to the living God.

In other words, go to Mass.

The Coronation of Mary: Noblesse oblige

Danielle Peters-cropDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt, Sisters of Mary

Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame

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On August 22, the octave of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, the liturgical calendar calls to mind the Queenship of Mary. Invoking Mary as Queen is one of the many devotional practices attributed to Our Lady “from the earliest ages of the Catholic Church…, whether in time of triumph or more especially in time of crisis” (Pius XII, Encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, 1954, 1). Iconographers have depicted Mary’s royal dignity starting in the twelfth century on when monarchies and therefore kings and queens were rampant. Artists have captured the scene of Mary’s arrival in heaven where Christ, sometimes accompanied by God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, places a crown on her head. Another imaginative rendering shows Christ and Mary enthroned next to each other, wearing matching crowns, an indication of the Queen Mother’s influence in the kingdom of God. Incredible, yet true: a human being, a woman, reigns with Christ, the King! Noblesse oblige!

The French idiom—03a_altarliterally meaning nobility obliges—is a reminder that genuine nobility extends beyond privileges requiring of members of this status to adopt a way of living and acting in conformity with their dignity. Accordingly, Our Lady’s crown points to her solicitude and intercession for her people to the King. The New Testament does not explicitly refer to Mary of Nazareth as queen, although there are some indirect and subtle allusions to her regal rank. In the Gospel of St. Luke Elizabeth calls Mary “blessed among women” (Lk 1:42) and Mary herself prophesied in her Magnificat that “all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:45).

While some may dismiss such self-appraisal as arrogant and deceitful, we may be able to detect in Mary’s Song a fundamental law in God’s kingdom: “He exalts the lowly” (Lk 1:52)! As handmaid of the Lord, God promotes her to royalty. But as queen she remains God’s humble handmaid! We are reminded of Jesus’ instruction: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:26). There we have the heavenly scale of values to determine authentic nobility! Noblesse oblige!

Champaigne_visitationThe concluding invocations of the Litany of Loreto praise Mary as Queen, a title attributed to her as early as the second century by Origen († 253/254) and Ephrem the Syrian († 373). Marian antiphons such as the Salve Regina, Regina coeli and Ave Regina coelorum, as well as the fifth glorious mystery of the rosary underscore Mary’s royal dignity which originates in her creation: Queen, conceived without original sin! Mary’s royal dignity reaches its crowning achievement when at the end of her days God took her to heaven with body and soul: Queen assumed into Heaven! Noblesse oblige!

Usually we consider the crowning achievement of a life to be a onetime event exceeding all expectations! It may be a public award, a successful business transaction, a dream wedding, or the arrival of a longed for baby. What was Mary’s crowning achievement? Answers to this question may vary; however, one valid response certainly would be Mary’s vocation to become the Mother of Christ, the King of heaven and earth! It had to be a royal experience! Just imagine: for nine months “He whom the world cannot contain, shut Himself up within her womb” (Gradual of the Solemnity of the Mother of God, January 1)! During this sublime time of expectation, as the intimacy with the fruit of her womb increased, Mary’s fiat and Magnificat undoubtedly became the solid rock foundation of her life. birth-of-jesusYet, it wasn’t all that regal! At the latest in Bethlehem, Mary learned that the kingdom of this infant King is not from this world. There was no palace or splendid robe; no royal household or carriage; no golden crown or throne! In fact, the crowning achievement of His life consisted in the throne of the cross and a crown of thorns! From crib to cross Mary faithfully followed Him on this royal way. Her receptivity for the Almighty and His wish enabled her to freely renounce whatever contradicted the divine plan, even if her heart was pierced by a sword. Mary’s crowning achievement consisted therefore in her complete self-emptying in solidarity with and conformity to her Son’s surrender to the Father. By offering her dearest possession she was given in return a new motherhood in the salvific economy of grace (cf. John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 23). “In this way Mary became the first of those who, serving Christ also in others, with humility and patience lead their brothers and sisters to that King whom to serve is to reign, and she fully obtained that state of royal freedom proper to Christ’s disciples: to serve means to reign (ibid., 41; cf. LG 33)! Noblesse oblige!

Vatican II underscores that in her perfection, Mary as the eschatological icon shines forth “as a sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim People of God” (LG 68)! Hence, Mary was the first of those who “will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12; cf. 1 Pet 5:4; Rev 2:10). The crown in this case reaches beyond a person’s mere achievements: it is an undeserved reward! It is a gift of Love we cannot merit to the extent that it is given to us! Mary’s royal way as “Queen of All Saints” is challenge and call for all of us! Noblesse oblige!

“Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God” (St. Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3: PL 54,192C. Cf. CCC 1691).

The Christmas homily ofmary_crowned St. Leo the Great of course alludes to the unmerited gift of baptism through which we have become “a royal priesthood” (cf. Rev 5:10; 1 Pt. 2:9). By participation in Christ’s royal mission we are summoned, like Mary, to manifest in daily life the dignity imparted on us. This sublime nobility calls for a suitable self-conquest which lends us wings and inspires a royal conduct, even if at times we feel lowly and miserable! Do we wear our spiritual crown mindful of what it represents? Is our thinking, willing and loving influenced by a royal feeling for life? Noblesse oblige!

As we celebrate Mary’s crowning achievement let us remember:

  • God crowned Mary because she mastered all of life’s situations in a regal way!
  • Christians throughout the centuries have crowned her in recognition of her powerful intercession before the throne of God!
  • Even the angels ungrudgingly bow before their Queen!
  • I, too, am called to crown her with a life worthy of such a Mother. Noblesse oblige!

Political Speech, Bull*$!%, and Human Dignity

Jessica Keating

Jessica Keating, M.Div.
Program Director,
Human Dignity and Life Initiatives
University of Notre Dame

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A couple of weeks ago I suggested that decadence is a disease of the eye that trains us to see and un-see reality in a particular way. Decadence forms and distorts our vision, not unlike the way cataracts distort and blur one’s physical capacity to see. At this point, I would like to suggest that the widespread use of ‘bullshit’ in public discourse functions as decadence’s corollary with regard to speech. Indeed, decadence and ‘bullshit’ are one another’s helpmates, each mutually reinforcing and cultivating a profound lack of concern for truth.

What precisely is ‘bullshit?’ In his masterful book, On Bullshit, Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt interrogates the term and finds our current definitions wanting. He concludes that ‘bullshit’ is a programmatic form of speech which is unconcerned with truth. On BullshitFrankfurt explains that the proliferation of ‘bullshit’ is a profoundly problematic aspect in much of modern public discourse, which has largely dismissed the very possibility that one can accurately identify the truth. Such a position could lead to total silence, the refusal to make any assertion about the way things are. Yet, modern public discourse has not fallen silent; in fact, there seems to be more to say than ever. Though we have largely eschewed the possibility of accessing truth beyond the subjective and personal, we continue to make “assertions that purport to describe the way things are” (62).

Herein lies the essence of ‘bullshit.’ It is not simply that the ‘bullshitter’ plays fast and loose with the truth; it is rather that the ‘bullshitter’ refuses to submit “to the constraints which the endeavor to provide an accurate representation of reality imposes” (32). Unlike a liar who must believe he knows the truth in order lie, the ‘bullshitter’ engages in a program that is less deliberative, one that is wholly unconcerned with truth. Indeed, ‘bullshit’ is not the limited insertion of a falsehood the way a lie is; it is a program of discourse in which one “is prepared, so far as required, to fake the context as well” (52). It is a form of speaking that sells a vision of reality which, though it may sometimes be true or sometimes be false, is wholly unconcerned with truth.

As Frankfurt notes, ‘bullshit’ exists in the tension of discipline with regard technique and laxity with regard to correctness (23). In few places do we find more paradigmatic instances of bullshit than in advertising and in politics, insofar as the latter increasingly takes on the form of the former.

Thank you for smokingAdvertising campaigns for tobacco provide one such classic example, so paradigmatic, in fact, they made a movie about it called Thank you for Smoking. In the film we see that tobacco lobbyists never quite lie to the public, but neither do they submit the discipline of accurately representing reality. It isn’t as though the men and women crafting cigarette campaigns fail to get the facts right, it is that they filter them in order to create an attractive aura around smoking. They are prepared to “fake the context.” In short, whether what they say is true or false is irrelevant. What matters is selling cigarettes. According to Frankfurt, it is the ‘bullshitter’s’ disregard for the truth that makes him a greater enemy to truth than the liar.

Political speech often functions in the modality of ‘bullshit’ for two reasons. First, politicians are frequently required to speak about issues that exceed their knowledge. This will, Frankfurt observes, will nearly always produce ‘bullshit’ (63). Secondly, because American politics are irreducibly ideological, politicians can never be too concerned with truth or they won’t be re-elected. They must be more nearly concerned with pandering to voter opinion, power, and money.

Those concerned with issues of human dignity ought to be particularly concerned with the expansion of ‘bullshit’ in political 17trump-web-master675discourse. Like so much political speech on both sides of the aisle, particularly political speech that has to do so intimately with human dignity, both parties demonstrate an utter lack of concern for the truth. Republicans often provide classic instances of ‘bullshit’ when speaking about immigration reform and policies that make it easier to welcome life (see Carly Fiorna’s opposition to government mandated paid parental leave or anytime Donald Trump speaks about immigration reform), while Democrats provide us with equally paradigmatic examples when speaking of abortion.

A particularly timely example of ‘bullshit’ came two weeks ago, when Massachusetts’s Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a rhetorically impassioned defense of Planned Parenthood on the Senate floor. Though the Senate vote was motivated by the recent release of videos showing possible illegal activity on the part of Planned Parenthood executives and doctors, Senator Warren’s speech was more nearly a defense of abortion as such.

The following morning, clips of her speech popped up all over social media with tags branding her a feminist hero. She was touted in Salon as a “badass” for “slamming” the GOP, her two pro-life Democrat colleagues, and by extension anyone who has the temerity to disagree with her.

Recall that unlike lying, ‘bullshit’ is not so much a discrete intervention as it is an overarching program. Yet, concrete examples of ‘bullshit’ are discernable, and Senator Warren’s Planned Parenthood apologia provides us with at least two arcs of ‘bullshit.’

Insofar she is unconcerned with submitting to the kind of
constraints that would provide an accurate representation of reality,
Warren acts in a way similar to the advertiser, the pundit, the lobbyist, and the pollster. She engages in misdirection and deflection, employs information in order to try to sell us a vision of the way things are, a vision that is unconstrained by the demands of truth.

From her use of statistics to her underlying, though unstated (and, indeed, unimportant for the ‘bullshitter’) duel claim that it is better Elizabeth Warrenfor some human beings not to exist or that to be a feminist requires embracing the systematic program of killing the unborn, Ms. Warren’s speech provides us with an excellent example of bullshit. Her argument turns entirely on the rhetorical sincerity, sincerity which itself is rendered bullshit by its very presumption to give an account of reality unconstrained by correctness. In fact, Ms. Warren, like many of her colleagues, trades on a kind of antirealism that pervades modernity, insisting that we cannot reliably access objective reality or know how things really are (Frankfurt, 64).

Ms. Warren rehearses the standard Planned Parenthood tropes, citing the 2.7 million Americans served annually at Planned Parenthood facilities, as well as the 3% statistic, which asserts that abortion only comprises a minuscule fraction of the organization’s overall health care services. Senator Warren isn’t lying by citing these statistics, but she also isn’t concerned with the overall context or correctness of these figures. In fact, these pieces of information are carefully chosen, while others left are out in order to sell Planned Parenthood. Ms. Warren fails to account for statistical data which demonstrates that federally recognized Community Health Centers dwarf Planned Parenthood in terms of numbers served. CHCs provide care to over 21 million Americans a year, offer more robust health care services, and yet receive a fraction of the federal funding that Planned Parenthood receives.

She also goes onto assert that Americans, and American women Beyond the Abortion Warsmore specifically, are sick of the attack on women’s health care
(read: abortion rights). Though it is easy enough to imagine that Americans are, indeed, sick of the vitriolic ways abortion is discussed in the public sphere, Ms. Warren’s assertion seems more nearly to imply that Americans favor liberal access to abortion. This is not, however, correct. As Charles Camosy demonstrates in Beyond the Abortion Wars. Americans are trending pro-life, and women are more likely than men to regard abortion as morally wrong (3, 110-129).

Warren further implies that access to cancer screenings and birth control are somehow irrevocably tied to unfettered access to abortion, and claims that any attempt to unlink abortion from other health services constitutes an attack on women. Abortion is simply the collateral damage we must put up with in order to preserve access to pap smears, cancer screenings, and condoms.

She even wonders aloud if her Republican colleagues had fallen on their heads and woken up thinking it was 1950 or 1890. This sound bite has positioned Ms. Warren as a feminist voice, leading the way against the misogynistic backwardness of anyone who dares to question the practices of Planned Parenthood. But hers is a ‘bullshit’ kind of feminism because it operates only according to ideology (albeit, sincerely held) of freedom of choice. Such an adherence to an ideological context actually attenuates one’s ability to see evidence to the contrary. It makes it impossible to change one’s mind.

Like many elite feminists, Warren does not deeply engage questions such as whether abortion actually solves any of the economic, social, or educational problems that are used to legitimate the practice or how free the choice actually is.

Speaker of the House John Boehner addresses the 113th Congress in the Capitol in WashingtonIn fact, as Camosy astutely observes, 64% of women seeking abortions in the United States feel pressured to do so (126). For this, as well as other reasons, there are feminist scholars who propose that because abortion actually functions within a social matrix of consumerism and power, the rhetoric of choice that surrounds abortion is not merely disingenuous, but functions to benefit and sustain the elite and powerful (121-6).

Why, then, did Senator Warren fail to account for this? Precisely because her intervention on the Senate floor was not intended to represent reality accurately or to engage in a careful or nuanced conversation about abortion. Her purpose is to sell an account of reality and a vision of feminism that creates and sustains a perceived need for Planned Parenthood and legitimates its practices.

The practice of ‘bullshitting’ also has long-term effects. It increasingly weakening one’s capacity to attend to things as they actually are (Frankfurt, 60). The habit of ‘bullshitting,’ which is often the mode in which politics functions, actually renders reality more difficult to know because its sustained in political discourse surrounding any number of human dignity issues, from abortion, to paid parental leave, to immigration reform, to euthanasia, actually corrodes our ability to know the truth and therefore the value of the human person.

Another Benedictine Option

Daniella Zsupan-Jerome

Assistant Professor of Liturgy, Catechesis and Evangelization, Loyola Institute for Ministry, Loyola University New Orleans
Oblate of St. Joseph Abbey, Covington, Louisiana

Fra Angelio, St. Benedict (1442)


Have you heard of the Benedict Option? I admit using this as a conversation starter at many recent gatherings where the Church thinks. More often, the answer is no, whereupon I take the pleasure of providing a quick summary and then launching into an animated exposition of my thoughts on the matter. Sometimes, the answer is yes, especially among those who keep an eye on the conversation on First Things, The American Conservative, or Crisis Magazine. In either case, I delight in a chance for a conversation, and God bless those who have been my gracious captive audience.

Benedictine spirituality is close to my heart. I learned my love for the liturgy from the monks at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and came away with an M.A. and a deep impression that I continue to unpack a decade later. I am now an oblate of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Covington, Louisiana, a place that has become a spiritual home since I moved to this part of the country. I read Michael Casey, Esther De Waal, Kathleen Norris. I reflect on the Rule, and let my imagination fly with the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great. In this tradition I have found treasure—deep wisdom for a simple, ordinary way of life that is focused on Christ and is intentional about community. Because of all this, when I became aware of the Benedict Option, I experienced a complex reaction of intrigue, delight, some suspicion, and an urge to be protective of anything that bears the name of Benedict to be authentically Benedictine. My exuberance about the topic at conferences is a sign that I continue to process this reaction with whomever will listen to me (thank you, dear reader).

The Benedict Option is a term coined by Rod Dreher, who, reflecting on the great and worthy question of the relationship between faith and culture, turned to Alasdair MacIntyre’s famous call for another St. Benedict in the conclusion of his classic After Virtue (1981).   In Dreher’s original take on the Benedict Option, he envisions a “communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life.” His two examples to illustrate what this can look like are the lay communities gathering and growing around Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma and the Eagle River Orthodox community near Anchorage. Insisting that they are not separatists and that they are lacking formal structure, Dreher asserts that these families simply live drawn to community inspired by the old monastic way of life.

Since late 2013 when Dreher published his vision, the Benedict Option (BenOp) has generated much discussion, debate and elaboration. Dreher is working on a book, and there is a conference on the topic scheduled for the fall of 2015 at Georgetown University. Inspired by the BenOp, creative thinkers have pointed to the Jeremiah Option, the Escriva Option, the Elder Zosima Option, and the Francis Option, just to name a few. To withdraw or not to withdraw from culture can be the appropriate subtitle to a large part of the debate and discussion (maybe even to Dreher’s forthcoming book?), and this too is certainly a worthwhile question. But I wonder if so much focus on this aspect of Benedict’s narrative conceals some of the other, profound and life-giving wisdom we can gather from this spiritual tradition for living in the world today.   Withdrawal from the world does not make the BenOp Benedictine. It simply makes it a form of homage to the fourth century stirrings of Christian monasticism in the Egyptian desert, and to abbas and ammas who withdrew to the wilderness to live their faith. When it comes to the question of faith and culture, far more salient for me is exploring the dynamics of the alternative community, the coenobium, created by Benedict and numerous others before him (here we have room for the Pachomian Option, the Basilian Option, the Augustinian Option, and the Option of the Master for anyone interested in developing these!). By looking to why and how monastic communities manage to live together as an evangelical witness bears wisdom far beyond the walls of the monastery. At the most elementary level, in their witness we encounter a group of people who have committed to being a Christ centered community, come what may. In our age we experience divisions like gashes on the flesh of society, whether about race, sexual orientation, immigration, religious freedom, or a variety of political allegiances. Discussion around these cut and slice the other, whoever that is. It seems that in this cultural context, commitment to community is something we ought to listen to, especially when thinking about the question of faith and culture.

In his response to Dreher’s initial presentation of the BenOp, John Goerke rightly pointed to the difference between the lay and monastic vocations, and warned against confusing the two at the expense of the lay person’s authentic call to be active in the world. As a Benedictine oblate, clarity around this distinction is especially important. The role of the oblate, elaborated here, is “to live in the world, to become holy in the world, to do what they can to bring the world to God by being witnesses of Christ by word and example to those around them.” The oblate is one who takes the joy and inspiration found in Benedictine spirituality and shares it in and through the myriad of ways lay people are active in the world. When it comes to finding the line between lay and monastic, the experience of the oblate can be a helpful practical example. In the experience of the oblate finding the balance is not only possible but also intended.

Il Sodoma, The Life of St Benedict Scene 12: Benedict Receives Pladicus and Maurus, detail (1505)

Oblation simply means offering. In the Benedictine tradition, oblates originated from families offering their children to the monastery for their education; the oblate was the child offered by the parents to the community for this purpose. In more recent history, adult oblates interpret offering in terms of self-gift. These are the words recited as part of the oblation ritual at St. Joseph Abbey:

I offer myself to Almighty God, I commit myself to Stability of Heart, Fidelity to the Spirit of the Monastic Life and Obedience to the Will of God according to the Rule of Our Holy Father Benedict.

To become an oblate is an act of self-gift: it is a fundamentally outward movement of oneself and a relational act that makes room (offers hospitality, if you will) to the will of God. In this outward movement the oblate practices stability of heart, fidelity to the spirit of the monastic life, and obedience as ongoing spiritual dispositions to maintain this hospitality. Specific disciplines to achieve these dispositions include regular prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, lectio divina, going on retreat, and remaining otherwise connected with one’s monastic community, and throughout it all being intimately familiar with the Rule. The oblate life is lived in the world and with order and structure built around these disciplines.

In looking at the dynamics of the Benedictine community as a source of wisdom for our time, I bring the perspective of the oblate, which is lay spirituality speaking specifically to the question at the heart of the BenOp’s puzzle: monastic tradition experienced in the midst of culture. I am not sure if any of my family or friends has considered my oblation a withdrawal from culture or shying away from my vocation as a lay married person; more so they see and celebrate it as a way I have come to deepen my spirituality. As part of this deepening there are definite, countercultural elements: avoiding self-indulgence and an excess of anything, embracing humility and obedience instead of self-promotion and pride, and practicing stability of heart expressed as perseverance and commitment in a culture where it is so much easier to walk away from or vilify those who are other. Just signs of being a Christian, really, whether in our time or 1500 years ago, and whether one is living at the heart of the secular empire or in the vicinity of a monastery.

I am grateful to the BenOp for all the conversation it has generated around what it means to live faithfully and virtuously in our world today. I recognize that as an oblate, my approach to the theme is coming from lay spirituality as opposed to socio-political or moral-philosophical critique. To add my own “option” to the BenOp conversation, I first propose calling it the Benedictine Option, an approach based more broadly on the wealth of the whole spiritual tradition instead of the decisive move of the young Benedict away from Rome to Affile and then to Subiaco (and let us also allow him the room to later arrive at Monte Cassino, become abbot, and to finish composing his Rule!) The broader spiritual tradition brings with it not only decisive moments but wisdom literature, liturgical practices, a commitment to service, and a radical, prophetic, and utterly realistic communal way of life. When looking at any aspect of the Benedictine tradition as a response to culture today, let’s not miss this, because if we do, we miss the point.

Much more can be said here about what are the non-negotiables for an authentically Benedictine option. For example, liturgy and the regular, prayerful observance of time has much to offer any conversation around faith and culture and is worth exploring further. In fact, any proposal that bears Benedict’s name that is not rooted in the regular and communal experience of liturgical prayer is concerning to me. In addition to this, the practice of hospitality can and should balance the overall conversation’s heavy focus on withdrawal. Authority and obedience in the Benedictine context is also an evocative topic in a culture that shrinks away from these concepts in general. There is a lot more to say, and as the BenOp buzz continues, perhaps more will be said.

Fifteen hundred years ago a young boy became disillusioned with his life at school, walked away from it and into a cave to sort it all out. When he emerged he found himself in the role of a holy man, a miracle maker, a teacher and leader of a mountain top community. He was pricked by thorns, was twice the intended victim of attempted poisoning, and was schooled by his sister about the meaning of real love. Still, he became the father of a movement that continues today to guide men and women to Christ through its little Rule for beginners. So much to learn here, but not without the wealth of the tradition we call Benedictine, which is rooted in prayer, and expressed in communal living, in humility, service, and mutual obedience.

Liturgical Formation: Three Thoughts from Societas Liturgica

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Last week, I participated in a week long ecumenical gathering of international liturgical scholars. The theme of this year’s Societas Liturgica biennial meeting was liturgical formation. In the midst of plenary lectures and research papers, three thoughts surfaced for me about the nature of liturgical formation in the late modern or postmodern world.

SL2015

The Separation of Liturgical Studies From The Study of the Scriptures, Theology, and Spirituality

It was a common motif among the keynote addresses, along with many of the short research papers, to bemoan the separation of liturgical scholarship from its roots in Scripture, theology, and spirituality. Liturgical studies, insofar as it has become a separate discipline, has at times become myopic in its treatment of formation. That is, as liturgical studies elevates participation in the liturgical rites of the Church to the privileged location of formation, the rest of Christian life is marginalized. As Patrick Pretot wrote in his major essay:

…the dream of a type of liturgical formation that would be able to find its principal support within the celebration itself is today confronted with many difficulties…liturgical formation needs to find new routes for our post- or ultra-modern era….these new ways must seek to draw together Scripture, theology and spirituality in such a way that formation must not be subordinated to the sole end of ritual performance…

The goal of the liturgical life is glorification of God and the sanctification of humankind. There is a danger that following the Second Vatican Council, the telos of liturgical prayer was nothing short of liturgical prayer itself. The next frontier of liturgical studies within the academic discipline of theology will be discerning an approach to liturgical formation that opens up the imagination to a “liturgical approach to life” that was itself pivotal to Romano Guardini, to name but one example. Liturgical studies, if it remains an insular discipline concerned about performance of rites alone, will lose its place in theology as that discipline, which unites academic rigor with pastoral practice.

Within Catholicism, perhaps, I would gather that we are entering the era of “lay liturgical scholarship,” which will facilitate this movement. In previous generations, it was the priest who studied liturgy. Yet, among the younger Roman Catholics present in Quebec, I encountered lay student after lay student after lay student, intrigued by connecting liturgical prayer with a form of life. The project of renewing liturgical studies will be a lay project in particular.

Not Liberal, Not Conservative But Identity Forming

CassocksIn her opening address to the conference, President Lizette Larson-Miller described a change in liturgical practice, especially among the young. She noted a group of Anglican seminarians, who would celebrate Vespers every Friday, concluding with the Latin Marian antiphon of the day. They did all this dressed in cassocks. Larson-Miller described this approach to liturgical prayer (not as conservative) but as related to the manner in which identity is formed in late modern life. To put on a cassock, to pray in this way, is to “write” one’s identity in Christ upon the body. Implicit in Larson-Miller’s analysis is the claim that one should not treat such young adults under the rubrics of conservative or liberal. Rather, they are seeking to perform Christian identity in a bodily way, one that perhaps was lost to a previous generation.

In conversations with many others throughout the conference, I came to see that this concern with “forming one’s identity” through “traditional” practice is in fact the way forward for many of our Christian traditions. I spoke to Anglicans, who noted the growth of their assemblies when they let the angels fly (as Walter Knowles described it). I spoke to Catholics and Anglicans also, who acknowledge the benefit of praying ad orientem not as a way of returning to some golden age but as the proper eschatological and liturgical posture before God. The desire to try on these “traditional” postures is not being performed as some conservative reaction to secularity. Rather, it is a way of marking oneself as Catholic, as Christian, as a liturgical pray-er.  I listened to an essay describing the music of Hillsong as moving toward a “traditional” articulation of what constitutes Christian salvation in their taking up the music of the Creed (for example).

In an era in which Christianity is increasingly marginalized (especially among those in Europe, Australia, and the United States), the taking up of traditional practice is a way of shaping an identity apart from alternative constructions of identity available to the postmodern person. It should be cultivated, not bemoaned.

The Spectre of the Secular: A Liturgical Evangelization

Although it was not always mentioned, the spectre of the secular was omni-present at our gathering in Quebec. At the literal level, we walked around a city in which church after church, convent after convent, has been converted into condo, library, or is in the midst of being sold. Further, in paper after paper, one encountered exasperation that the liturgy was not quite as formative of identity as we would hope. That the numbers of those attending our weekly liturgical rites were not as high as we would hope. That baptism or confirmation or Eucharist functioned as a kind of rite of passage, not transforming the life of the believer.

Here, what is required is not further academic research per se but a renewed approach to evangelization as a whole. What we study and preach is not a liturgical rite, a sacrament per se but Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Liturgical studies would benefit from greater contact with a Christo-centric missiology. As Josef Jungmann wrote in his Pastoral Liturgy:

…through worship the Christian shape of our picture of the universe can and should be made effective–our Christian consciousness. We might say too: awareness of Christ must be formed through worship. We must not underestimate the danger in which we stand in the free West. People do not want to be Godless, they even want to be Christians; but Christ–the personal Christ, the God-man scarcely counts. That God has come down to us in Him, has spoken to us through Him, that His coming was the turning point in the world’s history and that since then He has continued to be a decisive factor in the course of the world and its order, is more or less overlooked. We have only to think of how Christmas is celebrated publicly; to look at the average Christmas card (Easter cards are no better) to detect how unreal Christ has become, how little He is taken in earnest…That He is the keystone and remains in the structure of our very existence, that He alone is the bridge linking us with God, is no longer a living thought. Only this makes sense of faith, sacraments, grace, and the Church (338).

Liturgical prayer is not simply an object of study, an interesting footnote to historical theology. But is itself an encounter with the living Christ mediated through rites, making sense of history. The spectre of secularization is such that we forget this, seeing in the liturgy only book, only ritual action. Forgetting that what we do is itself an encounter with reality.

Leaving this conference, what I found was not a need for additional study of rites. But a renewed commitment to liturgical evangelization. Perhaps, the way that we will move forward ecumenically is through retrieving this approach to liturgical evangelization within each of our traditions. In this context, dialogue will take on a shared perspective that we seek to encounter the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, who has transformed the very meaning of history.

 

 

The Perfume of Possibility: The Feast of the Assumption as the Olympiad of Christian Hope

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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Glorious things are spoken of you, O Mary, who today were exalted above the choirs of Angels into eternal triumph with Christ (Entrance Antiphon, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

Elite athletes exist at the edge of the possible and the physically absurd.  Consider for a moment the 30th Olympiad, recently concluded in London.

  • The marathon runner, who pushes his or her body beyond human limitations to complete the 26.2 miles in the same time that it takes to drive a car from South Bend to Chicago.
  • The swimmer, whose powerful legs and lungs, enables her to move through the water in record time, all the while performing with grace.
  • The sprinter, who runs so swiftly, with such ease, that we re-imagine what the human being can do when formed according to such perfection.
  • The gymnast, who defies all laws of gravity, in the vault, the parallel bars, the floor routine.

And as the Olympics end, do not all of us (no matter the lack of our own athletic prowess) in some way expand our imaginations to what we ourselves can do.   While I may not run a two hour marathon, I could train to run a single marathon in under six hours.   I’ll never be Michael Phelps, but I could push myself to my own physical and mental limit.  I’m not Gabby Douglas, but I can at least do a somersault that entertains small children.

The feast of the Assumption is to Christian hope what the Olympics are to the routine of exercise.  Mary, falling asleep in the Lord, is received body and soul into heaven.  She becomes for us the perfume of possibility, an icon of the destiny of the Church herself.  The Preface of the Feast of the Assumption declares:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.  For today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven as the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people; rightly you would not allow her to see the corruption of the tomb since from her own body she marvelously brought forth your incarnate Son, the Author of all life.

Mary receives the grace of transfigured life because she bore the Incarnate Son into the world.  From her own body.  For Mary, the Incarnation was not an idea or a theological principle.  It was an event that took place through the particularities of her body, her own narrative, her own history.

  • The Incarnation, for Mary, was the angel’s greeting piercing through the silence of her contemplation of the Word of God.
  • It was the moment in which her cousin Elizabeth proclaimed, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk. 1:43-44).
  • It was the stretch marks, imprinted upon her pregnant body–a permanent, bodily sign of her fiat.  A sign that still remains, even in her bodily assumption.  
  • The Incarnation was the birth of her child in poverty, yet greeted by angels–all the while the Word of God made flesh soaked in the words of love addressed from his mother.  Love itself knew the possibilities of human love through his mother.
  • The Incarnation was the promise of the sword that would pierce her heart, the sorrows of a life lived with God.
  • It was learning that her son was not “hers” alone but the Son of the Father, come to make all of humanity brothers and sisters in Christ.  Do whatever he tells you (Jn. 2:5).
  • For Mary, the Incarnation was standing beneath the cross, as the faithless world rejected the light that had come into the world through her yes, through her faithfulness.  Woman, behold your son…Behold your mother (Jn. 19:27).
  • It was the realization on Easter day that the promises uttered so long ago in Nazareth had come now to fulfillment, that death itself had been conquered, the kingdom of God made manifest.
  • The Incarnation was the ascension of her Son into heaven, and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in the upper room, leading to the preaching of the Good News through all the world.  He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree (Lk. 1:52)

So it is only right that the Church sees Mary’s own falling asleep, her dormition, as taken up into the mystery of the Word made flesh.  All her life, Mary had allowed the Word of God to dwell deeply inside of her:  in her contemplation of the Old Testament prophecies, in the angel’s greeting, in the cooing of her infant Son, in his preaching throughout Nazareth, in her stance beneath the cross, in the infant Church, and now at her death.

And this, dear friends, is the hope of all Christians, of all humans (isn’t as Henri de Lubac notes, Catholicism a promise addressed to all human beings?).  Not simply that we will one day be taken body and soul into heaven.  No, that our whole lives will be lived as a mystery infused by the Word of God, echoing it in our words and deeds through all ages.

The feast of the Assumption is thus the Olympiad of Christian hope itself.  It expands our imaginations to what is possible, if we allow ourselves to be taken up into the mystery of Christ.  We come to sniff the perfume of possibility, of what our humanity can become in Christ Jesus (himself the privileged icon of human transformation).  That we are indeed elevated above the angels, not because of any remarkable effort on our own behalf.  Instead, through our humanity, the Word continues to take flesh if only we would let it be done.  If we give ourselves over to the mystery of God’s love, unfolding in time and space, through the life of the Church.  And Mary, as the queen of the saints, prays that her destiny might be ours.  That all the joys and sorrows that are imprinted upon our bodies, our cities, our nations, may not be erased or forgotten but transfigured through the gift of the Holy Spirit in her Son, Jesus.  For in contemplating the grace of life bestowed to the Virgin, we learn to long for that very same fire of love that she received.  May the scent of resurrected light inflame our hearts on this arch-feast of Christian hope.

 

The Eucharist: Food for Us Wild Things

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Like many American children, I was well familiar with Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are. The story of a land populated with strangely horrifying yet even more strangely appealing creatures and the darkly thrilling image of Max as their boy-king became firmly lodged in my imagination from an early age; however, there was one facet of the story that I could never quite wrap my head around, even as I grew up and began sharing the story with younger siblings and eventually nephews and nieces. After the “wild rumpus” (quite possibly one of the greatest phrases in children’s literature), something surprising happens:

And Max, the king of all the wild things, was lonely, and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all. . . . So he gave up being king of where the wild things are. But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go—we’ll eat you up—we love you so!”

Dear Wild Things: Saying you're going to eat me up because you love me is not making me want to hang around longer. Love, Max
Dear Wild Things: Saying you’re going to eat me up because you love me is not making me want to hang around longer. Love, Max

Initially, it was surprising to me that Max would give up being king of where the wild things are, but more than that, it was the response of the wild things that utterly bewildered me. Last time I checked, in the world of kid-dom, “We’ll eat you up” was a death threat! And yet it’s followed up with “We love you so”? How could eating Max possibly be an expression of the wild things’ love for him? In the child’s imagination (or at least in my own), the prospect of being eaten by a monster with terrible roars and terrible teeth and terrible eyes and terrible claws is something, well, utterly terrifying. Yet here, in Sendak’s world of wild things, eating is somehow an expression of their love.

Turning from the wild things of Sendak’s world to the adorably wild things of my own world, I began thinking about something my younger brother said once of his two small children (now 5 and 3), who are inseparable besties. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for these kiddos to give each other hugs that more accurately resemble full-body tackles in their joyous exuberance. As my bemused brother described these endearing expressions of sibling love, “It’s almost like they’re trying to eat each other.”   “We’ll eat you up—we love you so!”

There is often a strong connection between an intense love for something and the desire to consume it—to break down any barriers of separation so that there is nothing between us and the object of our affections, and this desire is often understood from an alimentary point of view, a desire which has deep resonances with the Eucharist. Love—in its myriad forms—is, ultimately, a desire for knowledge of and union with the beloved, as Philippe Rouillard points out in his essay “From Human Meal to Christian Eucharist”: “The words ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst’ are often employed in a figurative sense to express the desires of all human beings” (see Living Bread, Saving Cup, ed. Seasoltz, 127). Indeed, there is often an intense longing to have the object of our affections become a part of us, and here we can establish a connection to eating and drinking. When we eat and drink, we interact with various substances and take them into our bodies, and in so doing, we reach a new level of experiential knowledge of those substances, even as we transform them into ourselves. Angel F. Méndez-Montoya points out this relationship in his book The Theology of Food: Eating and the Eucharist:

In tasting through eating and drinking, the world enters us, but we also enter the world. We are made by that which we eat and drink, but we also “make” the world. We are what we eat, but we also eat what we are. To know is, then, to savor, and thus enter into an intimate relationship with another that shapes us while it is being shaped by us. . . . Knowledge is active collaboration and participation. (64)

This desire for such deep, participatory knowledge is why we sometimes look at a baby and think, “She’s so cute! I just want to eat those chubby cheeks!” It’s why effusive young sibling affection often looks more like toddlers trying to hurt each other. Or why the wild things want to show their love for Max by eating him up. And yet it is the realization that knowledge is not only participatory but also collaborative that prevents authentic love from becoming a relationship in which one being utterly subsumes the other, thereby destroying the other in the process (as would happen if the wild things had actually eaten Max out of love, and as ultimately happens with the food that we eat).

The wild things and Max, my niece and nephew—these memories and images have resurfaced in my mind as I’ve listened to sixth chapter of John’s Gospel proclaimed during the Sunday Mass these past few weeks. Christ_feedingIn this passage known as the Bread of Life discourse, we learn anew that in his love for us, Jesus comes to us—his beautiful creatures who have become wild things, rebellious in our sinfulness yet hungering for we know not what—and in him, we recognize our King, the One whom we love. Moreover, Jesus doesn’t come to us only to leave us again; he comes to us as the One who ‘loves us best of all,’ the One who desires to be with us forever, who demonstrates his love by laying down his life on the Cross and offering us the gift of himself in the Eucharist: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:51, 54–55). Or, to put it in Sendak-ian terms, “Please eat me up, I love you so!”

Unlike the food we wild things consume and transform into ourselves, the Eucharist is the food by which we are transformed. As we savor Christ in the Eucharist, we become Christ (as St. Augustine reminds us in Sermon 272), and through Christ, we participate in the life of God. It is in the Eucharist that loving and eating are one and the same thing: in his love for us, Jesus Christ gives himself to be eaten under the forms of bread and wine, and in our love for Jesus, we eat of his flesh and drink of his blood not only so that we might come to know him more fully, even as we are fully known (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), but also so that we might become the One whom we receive.

"Christ Feeding the People" by Fyffe Christie (Iona) Photo: Eleanor Christie (2012); CC BY-SA 3.0
“Christ Feeding the People” by Fyffe Christie (Iona)
Photo: Eleanor Christie (2012); CC BY-SA 3.0

This relationship of transforming love is not one in which we are subsumed into Christ; rather, it brings us more fully unto ourselves, as Benedict XVI affirms: “This union is no mere fusion, a sinking in the nameless ocean of the Divine; it is a unity which creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one” (Deus Caritas Est, §10).

For the next two Sundays, we will continue to receive nourishment from the Bread of Life discourse, where Jesus insists, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (Jn 6:56–57), and yet we are also invited to receive nourishment by not merely by listening to the words of the Bread of Life, but by eating the Bread of Life. It is out of sheer love for us that Jesus gives himself as food and drink for our souls, inviting us to eat and drink of his flesh and blood so that we might share in the divine life. Let us love wildly, responding to the one who says, “Take and eat” by exclaiming, “We’ll eat you up—we love you so!”

 

Marshall McLuhan and Liturgical Change

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Working on a manuscript I’m writing (On Praise), I’m reading for the first time, Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. The book is an at times rambling analysis of how media (in the broadest sense) has shaped the world. He writes, about the introduction of phonetic writing:

The full-blown city coincides with the development of writing–especially of phonetic writing, the specialist form of writing that makes a division between sight and sound. It was with this instrument that Rome was able to reduce the tribal areas to some visual order. The effects of phonetic literacy do not depend upon persuasion or cajolery for their acceptance. This technology for translating the resonating tribal world into Euclidean lineality and visuality is automatic. Roman roads and Roman streets were uniform and repeatable wherever they occurred (138).

MarshallMcLuhanThe advent of uniform writing, the capacity to move words across space and time, led to the development of roads, which were as uniform as text itself. While McLuhan may be over-estimating the uniformity of Latin in the ancient world, his broader point that written texts create uniformity that extends to the rest of society is intriguing (and seems true). For McLuhan, developments in media are not simply about the production of new content but have an effect upon the rest of social life (and ultimately what it means to be human).

Drawing on McLuhan’s insight, one may need to look anew at liturgical change in the Church. Liturgical evolution, one might say, is always the result of the introduction of new forms of media. When the liturgy is “translated” into the fourth century Basilica, liturgical prayer will necessarily change. When the monastery becomes the center of civilization in medieval Catholicism, liturgical prayer will take on a distinct approach related to monastic approaches to reading. When the book of Common Prayer is introduced in England, the nature of liturgy itself changes (such uniformity of text, perhaps, leading to the early iconoclasm of this period).

This raises the possibility that the Second Vatican Council was not simply a response to the results of liturgical research into the development of rites. McLuhan himself argues this in The Medium and the Light: Reflection on Religion:

Latin wasn’t the victim of Vatican II; it was done in by introducing the microphone. A lot of people, the Church hierarchy included, have been lamenting the disappearance of Latin without understanding that it was the result of introducing a piece of technology that they accepted so enthusiastically. Latin is a very ‘cool’ language, in which whispers and murmurs play an important role. A microphone, however, makes an indistinct mumble intolerable; it accentuates and intensifies the sounds of Latin to the point where it loses all of its power. But Latin wasn’t the mike’s only victim. It also made vehement preaching unbearable. For a public that finds itself immersed in a completely acoustic situation thanks to electric amplification, hi-fi speakers bring the preacher’s voice from several directions at once. So the structure of our churches were obsolesced by multi-directional amplification. The multiple speakers simply bypassed the traditional distance between preacher and audience. The two were suddenly in immediate relation with each other, which compelled the priest to face the congregation (143-44).

The introduction of new media, whether we are aware of it or not, fundamentally changes the liturgy. We can’t throw up screens in our churches, without changing what the liturgy is about (the medium is the message). We can’t use Twitter in homilies, without changing the function of liturgical preaching. We can’t introduce the folk hymn into liturgical prayer, without shaping what liturgical singing consists of.

Although not entirely conscious of it, perhaps the desire for “more AdOrientemtraditional” liturgical rites is in fact a response to the rise of the internet, social media, and the IPhone alike. In a world that involves constant engagement with media, perpetual encounter with image, the use of Latin in the liturgy is a return to a kind of “coolness” where whispers rather than total clarity of speech are available. Ironically, in this age, the priest turning away from the assembly, toward the cross, may be an invitation toward deeper participation by the assembly rather than exclusion.

Liturgical change, therefore, must be understood not simply through theological categories. But, the evolution of liturgical rites (and the arguments about these rites in the present) must attend to the introduction of new forms of media that fundamentally change what it means for us to worship God. The struggles that we have in maintaining ecclesial membership today, of Mass attendance, may have a lot to do (perhaps) with the way that the “new media” has formed us for a type of liturgical participation that is not available in the rites that we celebrate.

Liturgical celebration where full, conscious, and active participation is understood as listening to the words, speaking and singing your part, and doing your gestures may demand a kind of participation that only the really engaged can perform. Yet, the internet forms us in a kind of participation where we click upon hyperlink, that leads to hyperlink, that leads to hyperlink. We move from thought to thought, image to image, not like reading across a page but more like in a spiral of reflection. Perhaps, this is why something like Eucharistic adoration has seen new interest in the Church because its free-form approach to participation is more attuned to the way that we engage media in the postmodern world.

Such questions must be attended to by liturgical theologians and pastoral liturgists alike. Liturgical prayer will always exist, until the beatific vision, in a world of changing media. If we focus only the message, and not the media, then we can’t understand the developments that are happening among those in our churches today.

Timothy P. O’Malley in OSV: “Retreat toward engagement”

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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Yesterday, Our Sunday Visitor ran a piece by Center for Liturgy Director Timothy P. O’Malley, in which he addressed the posture the Church ought to take toward culture in the Third Millennium. Noting the growing sense among some Catholics that the “public sphere is becoming increasingly unfriendly toward a Catholic worldview,” Dr. O’Malley asks:  “Should the Church retreat for a time in order to form an alternative way of life outside of the present culture?

There is historical precedent for this option, to be sure. O’Malley cites the establishment of Catholic primary and secondary schools as an alternative to the religious education mandated by American public education in the mid-1900s. One might also think of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which was in itself the kind of ‘retreat into particularity’ that O’Malley discusses. Largely (though not entirely) in response to the Protestant Reformation, Trent can be in part interpreted as a withdrawal, that the Church could reassess the fruits it offers to the world, and how best to form Catholics in its distinct worldview.

An argument: Retreat toward engagementAs O’Malley points out, this kind of retreat is at times necessary for the sake of deeper engagement in the world. Yet at the same time, he reminds us that this retreat can never become sectarian. “The ecclesial vision of the Second Vatican Council is not a Church radically against the world,” O’Malley writes. “[…] Rather, the Church must retreat into particularity precisely because it is only in the particularity of our vision of human life taken up into Christ that we have anything to offer the world to begin with.”

Below are several paragraphs from O’Malley’s article. The article can be read in its entirety here:

An argument: Retreat toward engagement

Timothy P. O’Malley

Among some committed Catholics in the United States, there is a sense that the public sphere is becoming increasingly unfriendly toward a Catholic worldview. In the last two years, Catholic schools and institutions have been affected by a variety of legal challenges over same-sex marriage, funding for contraception and laws that make it increasingly difficult to care for the most vulnerable among the human family, whether the unborn child or the immigrant.

In this context, questions have arisen about the viability of the Church’s involvement in public life in the present age. Should the Church retreat for a time in order to form an alternative way of life outside of the present culture?

Fruits of the Faith

It is not the first time that the American Church has been faced with the option of creating alternative institutions that form Catholics in a distinctive way of life. Catholic primary and secondary education within this country came about because of the American bishops’ wariness over the kind of religious education required by compulsory, public education instituted in the mid-1900s. Likewise, Catholic colleges and universities served both immigrant Catholics and non-Catholics alike who could not find a place in the firmly established Protestant colleges and universities. In both cases, retreat from public life resulted in the creation of institutions that have been beneficial for public life as a whole.

Finish Reading at Our Sunday Visitor.

What We’re Reading Today: Transfiguration, Ignatius and Residential Ministry, and Faramir’s Rangers

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) This sermon from ‘The Liturgical Theologian’ on the Feast of the Transfiguration:

Tonight I want to suggest that our gospel passage is shaped by the increasing closeness of the cross. It might sound as if I am saying that Jesus lived like he was dying. I only ask you to hold the tension between life and death tightly until we arrive at our end tonight. Jesus is shaped by something greater than the cross.Transfiguration-Icon-1-300x197

2) Does residential campus ministry take on an Ignatian character? Andrew Staron over at ‘Daily Theology’ maintains that it does:

Living among the students is nothing new. Well before the separate incorporation of our nation’s oldest Catholic university, Georgetown, from its Jesuit Community in 1969, it was customary for Jesuit prefects to reside in the dormitories with students, living as resident authority figures, facilitating nightly “room checks,” and establishing what one Jesuit referred to as “outposts of civilization” amidst a community of “part-time adults.” However, more than the force of discipline, the Jesuit-in-residence was first and foremost available for chance encounters that might be a first step towards deeper spiritual engagement. In recent years, this role has shed its disciplinary component and has expanded to professionally trained and well formed men and women not in the Society of Jesus: both lay and religious, both single and married.

3. Continuing our Lord of the Rings theme, here’s a piece from the ‘Catholic World Report’ comparing Faramir’s Rangers to the 21st-century Church:

Faramir has a demanding life, with few consolations. He’s realistic about the dire threats he faces but he doesn’t let them break his spirit, a mark of humility. His father Denethor’s pride stokes the despair that comes from gazing into a Palantir, while Faramir’s humility ameliorates the darkness that comes from his impossible mission, and even from the Ringwraith’s attack on him on the Pelennor fields.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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