What We’re Reading: mercy, religious freedom, and Christ the King

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

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1) First Things’ William Doino Jr. on how mercy is still possible in “a world gone bad”:

Even the Pope and his diplomats, quite reluctant to condone military action of any kind, have acknowledged the necessity of using force to defend and protect innocent lives. The existential threat that ISIS represents is finally beginning to hit home in even the most optimistic diplomatic circles. As Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Vatican’s top ranking ecumenical leader, said after the Paris massacres, the radical Islamic state is a “satanic terrorist organization,” which murders defenseless human beings—including countless Muslims—at will. And who can negotiate with the devil?

2) In America Magazine, Barry Hudock writes of John Courtney Murray’s role in ‘Dignitatis Humanae’:

By the end of Friday the direction the debate was taking was still unclear. It was by no means certain that the schema would be accepted. Msgr. Albert Prignon, who was present as a theological expert, later wrote in his journal of this day, “Chance meetings with bishops and theologians in St. Peter’s showed that minds were wavering. Several bishops said openly that they did not know what they ought to think and how they should cast their votes.”

3) And over at Daily Theology, a “reverie for Christ the King“:

Here stands the Son of man: ecce homo. The power of this king is not what we expect, for it is truly human, and he reveals the truth that we do not live in a human world. This world sees the eternal return of the same beasts: the tired cycle of violence begetting violence; the political ruler ruthlessly guarding and losing power. To take only one of the most striking recent examples: our world sees terrorists murdering people in cold blood–Paris, Beirut, Mali–and our world responds by shutting out those most immediately affected by the violence of these terrorists. We do live in the dark night of the human become bestial.

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What We’re Reading: praying for enemies, Pope Francis, and Syrian refugees

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

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1) In the wake of recent attacks on Paris, an open letter from a young Catholic:

This place is my parish church, my second home, the Lord’s. I go in. There are a lot of people. I sneak in silence to the altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. No room there. The only remaining spot is a kneeler in front of the altar of St. Rita, the saint of lost causes and impossible things.

2) Over at First Things, David Bentley Hart offers an “outsiders” perspective on Pope Francis:

… and Francis is writing for his Church, not for America. Of course, it is possible that one day a Christian view of reality will take root even here, in this the first constitutionally and culturally post-Christian land in Western history.

3) The U.S. Bishops call for Americans to resist the temptation to “scapegoat” Syrian refugees:”

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, R.I., issued a statement Nov. 16 saying that “it would be wrong for our nation and our state to refuse to accept refugees simply because they are Syrian or Muslim. Obviously the background of all those crossing our borders should be carefully reviewed for reasons of security.”

“Too often in the past, however, our nation has erroneously targeted individuals as dangerous simply because of their nationality or religion,” he said. “In these turbulent times, it is important that prudence not be replaced by hysteria.”

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What we’re reading: Mother Theresa, renewal, and sacrificial living

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

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1) With the canonization of Mother Theresa having been announced today, here is a 2007 piece from Fr. James Martin, SJ on Mother Theresa’s dark night:

The feeling of Gods absence is not uncommon in the lives of the saints or in the lives of average believers. The Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross called it the dark night and posited it as a necessary stage for the ascent to mystical union with God. St. Ignatius of Loyola termed it spiritual desolation in his manual for prayer, The Spiritual Exercises. One is completely listless, tepid and unhappy, he wrote, and feels separated from our Creator and Lord. During her final illness, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the French Carmelite nun, experienced a desolation that seemed to reflect doubts over whether or not anything would await her after her death. If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into! she once said to the sisters in her convent.

2) Providence College’s Anthony Esolene writes in Crisis Magazine on the renewal of Catholic schools and parishes:

The point is that true beauty is never old. It never fails us, though we may fail it by neglect. We may forget it, or scorn it, or take it for granted without entering into a contemplative relationship with it.

3) Rev. Porter C. Taylor’s homily on Jean Valjean and sacrificial living:

Valjean goes on to do just that. He becomes the Mayor of a small town and cares for the people, he raises the orphaned daughter of a dead prostitute, and he shows grace and mercy to Inspector Javert, the man who has chased him for years and years. Though he certainly was not perfect, Valjean made good on the words of the Bishop all those years before. He had been presented with a choice: you have been redeemed, now live like it or don’t.

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The Meaning Is In the Waiting

James_CorcoranJim Corcoran

Undergraduate Fellow, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God
To speak; the air a staircase
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great rôle. And the audiences
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.
Prompt me, God;
But not yet. When I speak,
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.
(“Kneeling” by R.S. Thomas)

Waiting is sometimes agonizing. There is no excitement inherent to it. The event has not yet occurred. The gifts have not been given or received. It is a grayness between the blackness and whiteness of sadness and joy, of war and peace. When I am waiting, I often feel marginalized and estranged, as if I am unable to understand some kind of cosmic joke. No poet has ever understood that feeling so acutely as R.S. Thomas.

Ronald Stuart Thomas was born in Wales, and was a Welsh nationalist all his life. His problem was that he was the owner of a very distinct Received Pronunciation accent (the accent of the English upperclass). His R.S. Thomasother problem was that he was a priest of the Church of England. He was a pastor and not very pastoral in a conventional way. He hated the English, yet wrote all his poetry in English. He lived among sheep herders and farmers, idealized them even, yet brought with him a distinct unearthly mien. A classmate from his schooldays when asked about him replied: “Yes, I remember Ron Thomas, I remember him well. He was part of the background.”  He was the background  who would go on to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Many people have never heard of him, and some of his parishioners would just as soon forget him. He sought out silence and alone time, yet even there in Aberdaron, as far west as one can go in Wales, he was surrounded by his flock. He was dark, stark, and laconic. And yet he understood the experience of waiting and the Christian antimony of the nearness and distance of God. He lived it daily.

Thomas believed in God profoundly, but he also doubted nothing more. God tarries and is silent and abandons him in loneliness in his poems. Yet God was the joy of his life, always meandering His way into poems and forcing Thomas’ hand to write of the incomprehensible in short, stunningly gorgeous phrases. The poem that is at the start of the post, “Kneeling” shows that perfectly. The last section strikes me as an echo of Augustine’s plea, “Give me chastity, but not yet.” He wants to be prompted—more than anything—but he recognizes the essential truth of our time on earth: that our language is not sufficient for speaking of God, that his words and graspings at meaning are just feeble attempts at nothing really. Even a prompting of God is not as meaningful for him as sitting and basking in the glow of the silence of a God who is so near yet so impalpable. God, for Thomas, is in that waiting and in that silence more than in any certainty. He doubts and waits for love of the truth, and for the love of God.

St. Hywyn Church, Aberdaron, Wales where Thomas was pastor for eleven years
St. Hywyn Church, Aberdaron, Wales where Thomas was pastor for eleven years

Sitting in the waiting stillness is a privileged position for us. Thomas wants to be prompted; he wants to be shown the face of God. But his love of the waiting is so profound because he speaks to what we really want, deep down. It is a good thing God tarries. It is a blessing that he has not yet returned. I know, and you know, I’m sure, that none of us are ready for that kind of love, for that kind of embrace. This grayness before the brightness of God coming again is radiant itself. We see in it all we must see. We hear in it all we must hear. We feel in it all we must feel. In that seeing and hearing and feeling we soften our hardened hearts, make them malleable and permeable, such that God might burst in and find a home there.

R.S. Thomas has taught me to watch and wait. Unlike the disciples in the Garden, Thomas understood that the greatest honor is to wait for what is to come. Waiting is exciting precisely because of what lies ahead. May Advent be a time of preparation for us all. Thank God that God is in no hurry.

Face to face? Ah, no
God; such language falsifies
the relation. Nor side by side,
nor near you, nor anywhere
in time and space.
Say you were,
when I came, your name
vouching for you, ubiquitous
in its explanations. The
earth bore and they reaped:
God, they said, looking
in your direction. The wind
changed; over the drowned
body it was you
they spat at.
I pronounced you. Older
I still do, but seldomer
now, leaning far out
over an immense depth, letting
your name go and waiting,
somewhere between faith and doubt,
for the echoes of its arrival.
(“Waiting” by R.S. Thomas)

An Interview with Anna Keating of The Catholic Catalogue

AnnaKeatingBAnna Keating

Co-Editor, The Catholic Catalogue

Editor’s Note: This article will appear in the Institute for Church Life’s journal that will be re-launched in January of 2016.   

“Being Catholic means living a life.  The practice precedes the theology.” This is the premise behind the eclectic and ever-engaging collection of multi-media material—articles, reviews, playlists, video—that makes up The Catholic Catalogue website, with a book by the same name forthcoming in 2016 (Image Press). Anna Keating runs the website and is co-author of the book alongside Melissa Musick. She is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in First Things, Salon, America, and The Denver Post, among other publications; and co-owner of Keating Woodworks, a handmade furniture studio.

Keating’s writing has often focused on what it means to be a wife and mother in the Church and the world today. The following written interview for Church Life focuses on several topics that might help to flesh out a pastoral theology of women, in the vein of Wendell Berry’s “logic of vocation.”

What are your thoughts on the oft-discussed issue of whether women today can really “have it all”, and more generally on the attempt to balance work, family, life, and faith? How does a healthy view of marriage fit in?

I’m a little uncomfortable with the expression “having it all.” Who has everything they want all the time? There are ups and down in any kind of life, especially in communal life. And suffering is also part of life. Everyone suffers, and suffering doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve done anything wrong. Sometimes, as in childbirth, it’s just part of the process. Most of my greatest blessings have involved suffering, compromise and sacrifice. I don’t think anyone has it all, all the time, much less the perfect life that the phrase implies.

Still I do think there’s a way in which women can have rich, full, meaningful and well-rounded lives. I’m married, raising two small children, running a website, and working on a book. There are ups and downs, good days and bad days, but I feel extremely grateful to have meaningful work both as a mother and a writer. And yet, it’s an ongoing process of discovering what’s best for me and what works for my family. If you’re open to love and relationship, meaningful work and compromise, I think there’s a way in which you can have all those things.

I married when I was 23, and a year out of college. When I was 22 and feeling called to be married, I worried—more than I now like to admit—about what other people would think about my decision to marry at a relatively young age.

I read and admired writers like Hanna Rosin, who wrote in The Atlantic recently that college girls today see a serious suitor the way they did an unplanned pregnancy in the nineteenth century, “a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.” That squared with my experience of how many of my peers felt at the time.

When I was 22 it bothered me that getting married young made me look less ambitious in other people’s eyes. It was difficult when people I admired, my professors and peers, voiced concern. My grandmother said, “I thought you wanted to be a writer.” I know good people worried that I wouldn’t be able to “have it all,” both rewarding work, and a husband and a family.

But there is nothing unambitious, in my mind, about wanting to be in loving, meaningful relationships, married or single. Those take time and effort too. They don’t just happen, any more than a good job just happens. And the quality of our relationships and friendships, to a great extent, determine the quality of our lives.

Too often I think we assume that a “successful” life for young women needs to follow a script, or that the measure of success is income, or status. According to the current script, the twenties are supposed to be a time of professional achievement as a single person, and then in one’s thirties career-minded people are supposed to suddenly settle down and have one or two kids, while still pursuing their careers with the same intensity. I didn’t want to live my life, holding the person I loved the most at arm’s length, or waiting for the socially acceptable time to make a commitment. There is no good time to get married or have kids.

Right after graduating from Notre Dame, I tried, briefly, to follow the script. I moved 700 hundred miles away from my then boyfriend, to take a job at a magazine in New York, but we were both unhappy with the distance. One day I was walking around Midtown with a co-worker and complaining about having met the right person “too soon” when he set me straight. He said, “So you feel sorry for yourself because you’ve found what most people are looking for, before anyone else has found it.”  The next day I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself. I quit my job and starting making plans to move back to South Bend, knowing that I would need to find a job there and that this would mean getting married sooner rather than later. For me, that was the right decision. It complicated my life, because it introduced a husband, and eventually kids, into the equation, and I had to find work in South Bend, but it also meant being myself instead of trying to be someone else.

The lives of people I admire are often messy and meandering. When I met the right person, I had a lot of dreams, but I didn’t have a plan for my life. Neither one of us had a “career” when we got married, but we promised to help each other, and support each other, as best we could, as we figured out how to be married, how to be parents, and how to pay our bills together. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but it wouldn’t have been smooth sailing if we had been single either. I just dove in and put my relationship first, and then worked out my career as I went along, and eventually things started falling into place on the professional side.

For most people, it’s an ongoing struggle to try to balance all the work that goes into creating a life, especially if you have children. In my case, it helps to have support. For example, I rely a lot on my in-laws who watch my kids, including a seven-month-old, two days a week while I write the book. They have done so much for me. The modern idea of family is so small; it’s usually just the nuclear family, or just the couple. It helps to cast a broader net and to live closer to extended family, or close community, even when that complicates the picture in terms of added responsibilities.

Looking back, I wish I could tell my 22-year-old self not to worry. I’ve been married for seven years and have two children. My kids and my husband are my greatest blessings, but I’m also very grateful for my work, first as a teacher, and now as a writer. I’m finishing a book on Catholic spirituality and practice with my mom, Melissa Musick, which will come out in 2016 from Image (the Catholic imprint of Penguin Random House), and working on this project has been a dream come true.

Instead of “having it all” I think more about taking turns and supporting each other. I was a teacher and supported my husband when he was in graduate school. He now makes and designs furniture and has supported me both financially and emotionally as I’ve been working on The Catholic Catalogue. So, we’ve just had to rely on one another and be patient with the unfolding of our lives. (I say this as an extremely impatient person. It’s something I’m learning.)

Wendell Berry once said that the logic of vocation is very different from the logic of career. And I think that’s true. He says, “You must refuse to accept the common delusion that a career is an adequate context for a life. The logic of success insinuates that self-enlargement is your only responsibility, and that any job, any career will be satisfying if you succeed in it. But I can tell you, on the authority of much evidence, that a lot of people highly successful by that logic are painfully dissatisfied. I can tell you further that you cannot live in a career, and that satisfaction can come only from your life. To give satisfaction, your life will have to be lived in a family, a neighborhood, a community . . . to which you belong.”

That has been true for me. We’re called to be faithful to our callings as Christians, and keep at it, not necessarily to be successful. And vocations are not just about the work you get paid to do, they’re about being who you are called to be. Being a mother or father is incredibly important and meaningful work. Many men and women feel called to be parents but they don’t know what to do with that longing because it doesn’t make sense in terms of the logic of career alone. It’s not about making more money or traveling the world. It means living a sort of monk-like existence when your children are small, and it’s not something you can put on your CV. But, there are a lot of amazing things in life that you can’t put on your CV.

Looking back, my twenties were a time of growth and discovery, but it was self-discovery in relationship: with my husband, my students, my children, family, and friends. At the end of the day, for men and women, even if you’re called to be single, I think you often have to make your relationships a priority.

 How has your identity as a Catholic woman (and your understanding of it) developed throughout your own history?

When I was younger I identified as a Catholic feminist. As I’ve grown, I think of myself less in terms of those categories.

I’m just a Catholic, someone in need of God’s mercy and the sacraments. That doesn’t mean there aren’t larger issues that still need to be addressed in terms of the role of women in the Church, because there are, but my identity as “just a Catholic,” has its roots, I think, in the way I was raised. I never felt like a second-class Catholic because I was a girl. My sisters and I were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ just like our brothers were. We were all baptized “priest, prophet, and king.” I was raised to believe that men and women weren’t just equal; they were both of infinite value.

What are the biggest obstacles facing Christian women who seek a robust vocation today, on a larger cultural level?

 The Church is a slow-moving institution. This is good at times, but it can be challenging at other times. The Church needs to continue to work to include women’s voices. Some Catholics don’t know what to do with laywomen, or even women religious, in leadership. And of course, we don’t have enough women in leadership positions in the Church. I would love to see women returned to the diaconate, for example.

But Pope Francis is working on the need for female leadership in the Church. He’s said, “The feminine genius is needed whenever we make important decisions.” And it’s clear that he’s been trying to make changes, for instance, by appointing the first woman, Sr. Luzia Premoli, to a Vatican Congregation. But clearly the work is ongoing.

Still, most of the issues on the day-to-day level in the Church are people problems, not theological problems. There are some people in leadership who don’t know how to relate to women, and perhaps, don’t want to hear their stories.

On the parish level, we need people who are more loving and compassionate to one another, who are willing to listen and learn, and to pass on the faith in all its fullness. If you have a loving community, as a Catholic woman, you feel valued and appreciated. If you have a pastor who treats women like children, of course, you feel undervalued.

What do women need to hear and see more of from their pastors and parish leaders?

Pastors and parish leaders need to be open to women’s gifts. I have a wonderful priest, Fr. Drew Gawrych, CSC, who came up to me at a church picnic and asked me to get involved in a mother’s group at our parish, after some women in the community told him they thought there was a need. He introduced me to a lot of wonderful and holy women that I wouldn’t otherwise have known in my church.

I think the Church needs more pastors like him—men who are comfortable with women in various roles, and who are responsive to the needs of women in their communities. Fr. Drew often has women speak, sharing their conversion stories from RCIA, for example. And I have learned so much from hearing these women’s stories at Mass. It’s been a gift. And I could mention many other priests I’ve known who are like him.

When I was growing up, my home diocese, the diocese of Colorado Springs, had a wonderful bishop, Richard Hanifen. He played a crucial role in my faith formation and decision to remain Catholic. I’ll never forget what a humble and gracious man he was. He welcomed my questions about women priests, for example, and we used to have wonderful, if spirited, discussions. He never made me feel like the Church was afraid of dialogue, and he treated me like I mattered, even though I was all of sixteen at the time.

When I was in high school my mother was the Catholic campus minister at Colorado College. I’ll never forget how Bishop Hanifen would sit in the back of Shove Chapel and listen to her speak. He was a Bishop in the spirit of Pope Francis, truly a servant of the Servants of God, be they male or female. He knew how lead, but he also knew how to listen. The Church needs more women in leadership, but it also needs more priests and bishops like Drew Gawrych and Richard Hanifen.

Also on this grander scale, what unique, positive aspects about being a Catholic woman are worth acknowledging and fleshing out?

One of the things I love most about being a Catholic woman are the ways in which the Church honors and remembers the holy women who have gone before us. Of course, Catholics have a special devotion to Mary the Mother of God, and Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles, but all the women saints play a crucial role and are honored by the Church.

When I was a kid I chose Teresa of Avila to be my confirmation saint. I liked that she had a big personality and said funny things like, “May God protect me from gloomy saints.”

Teresa of Avila demonstrated to me that the Church valued strong and intelligent women. She founded seventeen convents, wrote four books, is considered one of the masters of Christian prayer, and is a Doctor of the Church.

As a kid, I liked that she was feminine and joyful, that she was known to dance while playing the castanets.

As an adult, my relationship with Teresa changed and deepened. I became more inspired by her recognition of her own sinfulness and the need for continual conversion. The idea that God is calling each of us to holiness and that for each of us that will look like becoming more fully ourselves. Also, Teresa’s life bears witness to the fact that we can experience some measure of God’s love in prayer.

Your online project, The Catholic Catalogue, is described as “a field guide to the daily acts that make up a Catholic life.” Can you tell us more about it—i.e. its scope, its future, and what makes it an important contribution to the current conversation?

Sure. The Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up A Catholic Life, will be released by Image Press in 2016. It’s an illustrated field guide, designed to help the reader identify and celebrate both the seasons of life—from birth to death, baptism to funeral—and the seasons of the Church year.

When I was growing up my parents brought the feasts and fasts of the liturgical year into our home. It was strange and lovely to grow up in a home in which the passage of time was imbued with such meaning and significance. It wasn’t just one thing after another. Life was a journey, onward to meet Jesus. We were, as St. John Paul II said, “Wayfarers, pilgrims of the Absolute.”

I went to public school for K–12, so I knew other kids weren’t being forced to pray around the Advent wreath or fast on Good Friday, but when I went to college, I discovered that other Catholics hadn’t grown up with some of these traditions either. I didn’t know many students at Notre Dame who had chanted night prayer, or visited monasteries, or protested nuclear weapons with Catholic Workers, or kept St. Lucy’s day with breakfast in bed.

And yet, despite the absence of tradition in their lives, the people around me had a deep longing for spirituality and tradition—especially as friends began to start families, in their thirties. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone on Facebook ask, “We’re looking to start some family traditions. Any ideas?” Most people, who were nominally Catholic or seeking, had no idea where to begin. The traditions of their Polish, Vietnamese, German or Irish great-grandparents had been lost. That question: “How do I begin?” was the germ of the idea for The Catalogue, both the website and the book.

Because of the way I was brought up, my experience of being Catholic has always meant living a life. Being Catholic was and is more than just a serious of intellectual assents or political talking points. The practice preceded the theology (and the politics).

But it’s clear that many of the ancient customs of the Church—eating together, going on pilgrimage, keeping watch with the sick, attending births and deaths and keeping days and seasons—have been overshadowed by the demands of contemporary life. We’ve lost some of the richness of what it means to live a Catholic life. There are literally thousands of practices that can help us transform our hearts and give us some measure of wonder and peace.

I’ve spent the last couple of years learning about these practices for the book and I feel more connected to my faith as a result of incorporating many of them into my life.

Why do we make Confessions? What is a Byzantine Fast? How do I pray with icons? How does someone discover a vocation? What’s the deal with abbey ale or Catholic tattoos or consecrated virgins? In trying to answer these questions, and others, for the website and the book, I’ve also been answering them for myself. The goal of The Catholic Catalogue, both the website and the book project, was to help people make room in their busy lives for mystery and awe, meaning and joy, whether they’re encountering Catholic spirituality and culture for the first time or have been steeped in it.

I’ve been fortunate to work with other Catholic women on the project. My co-author, Melissa Musick, is a columnist for National Catholic Reporter, and our illustrator, Chau Nguyen, is a friend who also graduated from Notre Dame in 2006. So it’s been a collaborative process. We’ve also been very fortunate to work with our editor, Gary Jansen, on the manuscript. And our readers online (we have about 60,000 followers on Facebook) have been wonderful, offering support, asking questions, sharing posts, even giving interviews about their experiences with some of these faith traditions, many of which will be included in the book. It seems like there’s a hunger for something positive that moves beyond left/right categories.

I think The Catalogue is an important contribution to the ongoing conversation, because it emphasizes diverse practices and the ”way” of faith, and de-emphasizes the divisions, which often receive too much attention, especially online.

What we’re reading: beauty at the end of the world, Sagrada Familia, and Gotham

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

Managing Editor

 Contact Author


1) National Catholic Register‘s Tom Hoopes on Christ’s words from yesterday’s Gospel:

… But make no mistake: Everything else will die away. There are 33 years in Jesus’ life and 33 weeks in Ordinary Time in the Church. After that comes the feast of Christ the King, and then the cycle starts over with the hope of Advent. But first comes the 33rd Sunday, the dramatic end of the liturgical year. The Gospel for the day is dire, insisting that the end is really coming, and we should be ready for it. If Jesus’ words in the Gospel came from almost anyone else, we would consider them unhinged.

2) A time-lapse video of the restoration of Barcelona’s famous cathedral, Sagrada Familia. The cathedral, which will be completed in ten more years, has been under construction for more than 133 years.

This time-lapse video shows the how the final stage will go and what the famous cathedral, designed by Antoni Gaudi, will look like when it’s done. Thirty percent of the church still needs to be constructed, including a 564-foot central tower, which will make the Sagrada Familia the tallest religious structure in Europe.

3) If Nietzsche wrote Batman, it would look like Gotham, according to Brian Boyd:

As thirty-second Hollywood elevator pitches go, the one for the Gotham TV series must have been a compelling one: “It’s a Batman show without ever showing Batman—the whole story is about the city’s descent and the boy’s growth.” But Batman has always been a stand-in for our culture’s efforts to understand human nature. If Gotham has a thesis about human nature, it is that we are all just a few steps away from depravity.

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What We’re Reading: suffering, General Assembly, and sacred beauty

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

Managing Editor

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1) Meryl Kaleida over at Ignatius Press wonders if writers are at their best when in periods of suffering:

I believe that the anguish and hardship that these great authors endure aids in inspiring more meaningful stories, whereby suffering becomes a means to redemption. Because this is what every human heart knows: There simply must be a happy ending after this life of pain. Where would Middle Earth be, if Frodo had not trekked the long road to Mordor? Or Narnia, if Aslan had not been slain on the Stone Table? Or would David Copperfield have learned how to grow into a better man without a life of loss?

2) Crux’s Michael O’Loughlin on next week’s gathering of American bishops at the General Assembly in Baltimore, where they will elect new committee chairmen, weigh minor changes to their Catholic voting guide, and consider taking action against pornography:

The Church teaches that pornography is a form of spiritual adultery that harms human dignity and immerses users in a perverse fantasy world that can hurt their relationships. Given Pope Francis’ focus on the family through two international bishops’ summits, the US Church could employ priests and bishops in their traditional role as pastoral counselors.

3) Over at the New Liturgical Movement, David Clayton introduces the fifth in a series of videos by Denis McNamara on beauty and architecture:

As we will see, one would not be surprised to see similar decoration on the two buildings, but we would expect to see different ornament. That is because ornament is an enrichment that tells you the purpose of the building, such as a cross on a steeple, an ornament which reveals the building’s theological purpose. The cross of St George (the patron saint of England) on the York building tells Englishmen that this is a civic building, although ironically, this is also the Resurrection flag. (Even though I am an Englishman myself, I didn’t know this until I converted!)

Follow Tony on Twitter: @tonyoleck

Make of Our Hands A Throne

unnamedMegan Shepherd

Associate Director, Notre Dame Vision 




Make of our hands a throne
to hold the Bread of heaven,
make of our hearts a home
to hold the very wine of life.
In this myst’ry, Lord, make us one with you.

I glanced up as the young man approached, next in line for communion. He lifted his face, his eyes brimming with pent-up emotion as I held up the host and said the words “the Body of Christ.” Looking into his eyes as I placed the host on his outstretched hand, he held my gaze with an intensity that took my breath away. He breathed out a soft “Amen” as he closed his hand around the host and lifted his clenched fist up to his chest. Grasping the Bread of Life, clinging to the source of love, he took a deep breath and with every fiber of his being uttered “Thank you!” as tears filled his eyes and flowed freely down his face. His response evoked something deep within me and I could only watch in awe as he consumed the host, a smile breaking across his face as he turned to make his way back to his seat. An encounter of no more than a few seconds, yet one in which God’s abundant mercy and love touched both his heart and mine.

I have served as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist for over twenty years, a ministry which allows me to share with the community the gift of the Eucharist that also nourishes me in my journey of discipleship. My path to following Christ has lead me to full time ministry in the Church, serving over the years as a parish youth minister, high school campus minister and now Associate Director with the Notre Dame Vision program. In these various roles, I have encountered an occupational hazard that may be familiar to many in ministry – the risk that through familiarity and proficiency we can become desensitized to the power of grace with which we are privileged to encounter each day.

In the Order for the Commissioning of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (Book of Blessings, Chapter 63) the priest asks two questions of the candidates:

“Are you resolved to undertake the office of giving the body and blood of the Lord to your brothers and sisters, and so serve to build up the Church? Are you resolved to administer the Holy Eucharist with utmost care and reverence?”

Those who are to be entrusted with administering the Eucharist respond to both questions with the affirmation “I am.”

When I am serving as an Extraordinary Minister I strive to honor this sacred task entrusted to me.Yet when serving in the context of ministry (while overseeing school masses, liturgies on retreat, during the Vision Conference weeks) often in the back of my mind I am also aware of the overall logistics of the distribution of communion: “Do we have enough stations? Is anyone running low on hosts? How is the overall flow of the communion lines?” While fully attending to those coming before me to receive the body of Christ, I admit that there have been moments when I am in danger of reducing the sacred mystery to a process to organize and execute.

The moment described above occurred at the closing mass of the final week of Vision this past summer. This young man had just spent the week exploring God’s call in his life in the company of over three hundred high school students lead by undergraduate Mentors-in-Faith from the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross Colleges. His small group Mentor was in line behind him, and conveyed with one look the authenticity of this young man’s response, that these simple words of “Amen” and “Thank you” echoed from the depths of his gratitude in response to the experience of God’s mercy that week.

I don’t know the specifics of his story, but that didn’t matter as I recognized in him the story of God’s merciful love acting in his life, as in all of salvation history. This encounter was not just an opportunity to witness God’s grace at work in this young man, but a moment of renewal in my call to serve as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist and in my life of discipleship.

As ministers we are called to nourish ourselves for the sake of our service to the people of God, to ask ourselves “Where did God seek to renew me today? How have I been surprised by grace in the daily work of ministry?”

In the months since this encounter I have asked myself, “Does my life express the depth of my gratitude for all that I have received from God? What is God asking me to offer in love to the world? How is God working within me to “make of [my] hands a throne to hold the Bread of heaven?”

As the answers unfold in God’s time, I return to the closing prayer of the Order of Commissioning:

Lord our God,
Teach us to cherish in our hearts
The paschal mystery of your son,
By which you redeemed the world.
Watch over the gifts of grace your love has given us
and bring them to fulfillment in the glory of heaven.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Sermons in the Cemetery

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

Contact Author



I like to spend time in cemeteries where the dead preach to me, where the sermon is always the same: “Yield”.

When the wind has not been too punishing in late October,
the trees that line the graves still hold their leaves
in early November,
here in Northern Indiana.

The sighing breeze
passing from some place to some other place
flatters the trees and speaks to their leaves,
persuading them to release their grip
and flutter to the ground,
sometimes alone and sometimes not.

These leaves come to rest upon the grass resting upon the soil that rests upon the precious remains of lives once lived and now at rest.

There these leaves thus wait upon
the force of breeze or wind or rake
to tell them what’s next.

Otherwise they wait for frost.

And all the while below the soil the precious remains of lives once lived and now at rest uphold in silence the tiny drama unfolding above, where trees sprout new leaves for the breeze to persuade to flutter down to meet the grass in early November, provided the winds of October mind their manners.

And all the while in the passing of time, each thing below says to each thing above: “Be it done unto me according to your word.”

Follow Leonard DeLorenzo @leodelo2.

“Let Our Mouth Be Filled with Your Praise”

Rob De La Noval

2nd Year Doctoral Candidate, History of Christianity

University of Notre Dame

In its whirlwind of genuflections, full-body crossings, language-shifts, censing of icons, and seemingly endless congregational chanting, it’s not difficult to recognize a Byzantine rite liturgy when you stumble upon it. For years this liturgy has been available to believers in the areas surrounding Notre Dame (either at St. Andrews Greek Orthodox Church in South Bend or at Mishawaka’s St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church), but this past Sunday marked the second celebration of such a liturgy on Notre Dame’s own campus. Students, faculty, friends of the theological community in South Bend crammed into Malloy Hall for a service of what can only be called a “holy disorientation,”—or, perhaps better, a holy orientation, for this celebration of Melkite Greek Catholic worship transformed the normally sparse “Seat of Wisdom” chapel into an icon of the more densely outfitted Eastern churches where the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is typically performed.

static1.squarespaceThe worship space, cramped though it was due to full attendance (standing room only), appeared nonetheless spacious in the way an empty room can suddenly encompass multitudes once it has been thoughtfully furnished. Indeed, the chapel seemed to emanate from the altar outwards in concentric circles: two wooden portable iconostases, bearing images of Christ and of the Theotokos, framed the altar; gorgeously vested altar servers flanked Fr. Khaled Anatolios, newly appointed Professor of History of Christianity at ND and recently ordained Melkite priest, and Fr. Michael Magree, a Latin rite priest who served as deacon in the service; and the wood of the room itself, lining the ceiling and boarding its floors, received the gold of the icons, priests, and servers with a warm familiarity that redounded upon the worshipers embraced by the Seat of Wisdom.

These ‘circles of worship’ also manifested themselves in the circuitous nature of the liturgy itself. If the Roman Rite is known for the straightforward solemnity of its progression to the Eucharistic feast, the Byzantine rite reaches the same climax as its Western counterpart only after various cycles of prayers which cumulatively create sacred meaning for the worshipers and instruct them in the mystery of Christ the Church receives in her liturgy.

Before the Divine Liturgy even properly begins, the congregation has already been led by the cantor through various doxologies and hymns to Christ, culminating in the priest’s opening prayer culled from Psalm 51:

“O Lord, You Shall open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

This prayer receives its conclusive echo at the end of the liturgy, immediately after the faithful have received the holy Body and Blood of the Lord, when the congregation sings,

“Let our mouth be filled with Your praise, O Lord, for You have counted us worthy to share Your holy, immortal and spotless Mysteries.”

The celebrant’s opening prayer is finally answered when the mouths of the celebrant and all the faithful are filled with the flesh and blood of the Son, the eternal Praise of the Father.

So the Byzantine rite, in these reverend reverberations, teaches us as we sing that we must not only verbally praise the Lord, but we must become the Lord if He is to be rightly praised. This is why, when the priest elevates the elements and cries, “Holy things for the Holy!,” the people respond, “One is holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ to the Glory of God the Father.” Lest we approach the sacrament presumptively, we are warned that holy things are only for the holy; lest we not approach due to ungodly fear, we are reminded (in words evoking Jesus’ own in the Gospels) that “only One is holy”, the Lord Christ, and that He intends to make us holy by joining us to Himself in the sacrament.

The litanies recurring throughout the liturgy represent another significant series of cycles peculiar to the Byzantine rite. The congregation’s first act in the liturgy is to pray the “Litany of Peace.” In these prayers we supplicate the Lord for His Church and for His world, using that most ancient Christian prayer, “Lord, have mercy.” Following the homily the people embark on a second litany, the “Ecumenic Litany,” in which we pray once again for the Lord’s mercy on the Church, world, and—after a brief interlude—for the gifts offered for consecration. In the third litany, right before Communion, the people pray again (“Lord, have mercy”), but this time, puzzlingly, for the gifts which have already been sanctified.

In this prayer over the sanctified elements we find that the litanies have assumed a new character, one not focused solely on the needs of sinners. We pray the Lord’s mercy even over the good He has done for us by making the gifts we bring Him into the very Body of the Lord. This subtle transformation of prayer for mercy finds its climax in the post-Communion thanksgiving, in which the priest asks us:

“Now that we have received the divine, holy, spotless, immortal, heavenly, life-giving, awesome mysteries of Christ, let us give worthy thanks to the Lord.”

We respond, once again, with “Lord, have mercy.” In the course of this divine liturgy, prayer and supplication become praise and thanksgiving. This is what is means to thank the Lord: to invoke Him without end. And this should not surprise us: after all, the Lord whom we invoke is the One named again and again throughout the liturgy “the lover of mankind.”

What is more, this dual act of petition and praise becomes the model of our life beyond the liturgy, for immediately after the priest us calls us to “go forth in peace,” he unexpectedly continues the liturgy by calling, “Let us pray to the Lord,” to which we reply, once again, “Lord have mercy.” This twice repeated call for prayer extends the dismissal, inviting us to consider that the liturgy’s effect on us is preparation for a life of ceaseless invocation of the Lord’s mercy—which invocation is, in fact, nothing other than His praise.

jp-2-with-orthodox-clergyStanding at worship last Sunday in the Seat of Wisdom, I regularly took in during our corporate prayer the oceans of Byzantine gold, but at times another vision demanded my attention. I speak of the giant Latin crucifix of Christ jutting out of the chapel’s south wall. The charred, suffering Jesus there looked down at his crucified Byzantine counterpart depicted on the small cross set on the altar. Throughout the liturgy, the celebrant, his back to the people, would face the altar, lift his hands, and turn his eyes upwards to heaven and, inescapably, also to the crucifix hanging there before him.

Two images of Jesus met there: East and West. With the addition of this Eastern Catholic liturgy to Notre Dame’s campus, we can now add to this another union, one beloved of Pope John Paul II: two lungs.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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