Three Things We’re Reading: The Jesuit Post, Rick Becker, and the Church of the Nativity


Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Sorry about the lack of links posted this week (thus far). I’m north of Nashville, TN, preparing to speak to a colloquium at Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville, TN. The talk will be on the salvific nature of beauty, delivered primarily to high school students and featured the theological stylings of Simone Weil, Augustine, Romano Guardini, and Marilynne Robinson. Should be an easy feat, right?

1)  A really beautiful piece from Jason Welle, SJ at The Jesuit Post reflecting on his brother’s diagnosis with cancer and his subsequent death:

But his dying was never without dignity. I asked Tony to let us love him through his sufferings, and we were able to love him all the way through to the end. And in letting us do that, he showed us courage and heroism, and embodied real dignity. Tony’s journey through his own illness, suffering and death was nothing short of courageous; but that he did all this and cared for my dad in his illness and death is simply heroic. Courage and heroism aren’t born in complacency or contentment, nor are they the hallmarks of fearlessness and ordinary strength. They are created in response to trials and suffering, and they’re evidence of the triumph of hope over despair. Dignity too is made possible through courage and heroism, but love makes all of these possible; love in time of affliction is the condition that makes dignity a reality.

2) Rick Becker on a Mass he attended in Denver, Colorado recently:

The recessional hymn concluded, and following a brief prayer of thanksgiving, I genuflected and exited my pew with a glance at my watch – just enough time to get back for the start of the next conference presentation. There was a light rain outside, and I made sure to slow down and hold onto the handrail as I descended the slippery stone staircase from the west transept door.

Right behind me was an elderly couple, and the woman was attempting the navigate the stairs with a cane. She was doing alright with her husband’s help, but I stuck around just in case – and I wasn’t the only one. An usher and another man stood at the top of the stairs watching the couple take each step. Once the woman made it to the sidewalk, the two men nodded to me as if we three had all been part of a covert stair-descent safety team, and then they re-entered the church.

Nothing particularly virtuous about our watching out for that woman – pretty much any decent soul would’ve done the same. And that’s the point – we’re all in this together, insiders and outsiders alike.

3) A really fascinating review of the Church of the Nativity (the church that is “rebuilt” in the run away, popular book, Rebuilt, over at PrayTell by Fritz Bauerschmidt:

Clearly liturgy cannot simply reflect culture, but must also create culture. Is the liturgy at Nativity doing this? White and Corcoran speak (to my ear) somewhat dismissively of “churchpeople” who live in “churchland.” These are those who feel comfortable with terms like “homily” rather than “message”, “RCIA” rather than “Vantage Point,” “Sunday obligation” rather than “weekend experience.” They like things like the Easter Vigil and the Stations of the Cross; words like “novena” and “sodality” trip off their tongues; they enjoy architecture and music that reminds them that they are part of a two-thousand year-old tradition. Perhaps, as Rebuilt at times implies, these are simply people for who Catholicism has become a tribal identity, who care nothing about the lost that Christ would have us seek. But perhaps at least some of these “churchpeople” are those who have been inculturated into the rich tradition of Catholicism and want to pass that along to others. Undoubtedly they are still, in some complex way, postmodern suburbanites. But they are also something else, something that creates friction with their postmodern suburban identity.

I believe that the leadership at Nativity welcomes that friction; indeed, they wish to foster it. They want to resist the consumer culture that not only surrounds but also pervades the Church. They want to, as they put it, “make Church matter,” while rejecting a hermetically sealed “churchland.” I wonder, however, if their dismissal of “churchpeople” and “churchland” is too cavalier. Perhaps, rather than rejecting a pathology in Christ’s body—those who think they somehow “own” the Church and who want to keep trespassers off their property—they are instead rejecting a set of valuable resources for forming Christian identity over and against the culture of consumerism.

All of this is, of course, simply a manifestation of an enduring tension within the process of liturgical inculturation. How do you make Church matter to Timonium Tim without pandering to him, so as to turn him into a consumer? To what extent is it desirable, or even possible, to make Christian liturgical celebration look like, sound like, feel like, a culture’s other forms of celebration? Or does the liturgy inevitable mark out its own space—churchland—populated by its own strange citizens—churchpeople?


Three Things We’re Reading Today: Millennials, the Synod, and Paul VI

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) Preston Yancey writes an article that offers four general principles of the ways that Millennials are embracing traditional faith. Although, one could argue here and there with the principles (who are the Millennials, for example, that are interested in doctrine but not faith tradition; is it true of Catholics?), it’s important that he raises the point that the Millennial generation is not simply a group that the Church must study as an alien community inflicting itself upon Church and society alike. Rather, we (I include myself) are already part of Church life.

If I can add anything to what both have already astutely observed, it would be this: Millennials, whether in religious journalism or in faith communities, are consistently spoken of in terms of a thing that has to be dealt with, not a member of a larger body. Articles are written about Millennials and the church, not that Millennials in part comprise the church. This may be a chicken-or-the-egg scenario when it comes to who is more complicit in this division, but as long as it remains the accepted view of church and newspaper, the rich and complicated appreciation Millennials have for orthodox faith will go unnoticed and unappreciated.

2) Another post on the Synod by John L. Allen at Crux. It’s a nice treatment of the “soap opera-esque” events unfolding in Rome (not limited incidentally to questions about marriage, divorce, and homosexuality but including episcopal tension around Russia and the Ukraine). Worth reading as a reminder that the salvation of the human race (the mission of the Church) is being carried out in a profoundly human way. Not always beautiful, not always harmonic. But, I suppose this is the foolishness of God.

3)  With the upcoming beatification of Pope Paul VI, PrayTell has a series of quotes by the then pontiff on liturgical reform. Worth reading this one in particular.

The first achievement of the Council must be treasured as something that will quicken and put its imprint on the life of the Church. The Church is above all a worshipping society, a praying community; it is a people alive with the purity of conscience and devotion to religion that faith and the gifts of grace vitalize. We are now in the process of simplifying the forms of worship so that they will be better understood by the faithful and better adapted to the language of our times. Still, the Council in no way intends thereby to lessen the importance of prayer, nor to subordinate it to other concerns of ministry or activity. Neither is there any intent to deprive liturgical prayer of its expressive power or ancient beauty. The purpose rather is to make the liturgy purer, truer to the marks of its own nature, closer to the sources of its truth and grace, readier to serve as a spiritual treasury for the faithful.

It does strike me that the kind of worship that Millennials most want might proceed as outlined by Paul VI. Beautiful, ancient, yet adaptive to the spiritual needs of the lay woman and man living in the world.


Jess-Rwanda 5

Between Pain and Hope

Jessica KeatingJessica Keating
Program Director,
Human Dignity and Life Initiatives
University of Notre Dame

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This past summer I found myself in a small chapel in Kigali, Rwanda. On the wall behind the altar, in wrought iron lettering was the phrase, Dieu est Amour. Jess-Rwanda 1Sitting with my back against the adjacent wall, tracing with my eyes the strong black letters that proclaimed the central mystery of faith, I listened as the Pallottine priest from Poland recounted the story of chapel. Though it no longer bears the scars of the genocide, this was the place where the Pallottines successfully hid a dozen children for nearly two weeks in the spring of 1994 before they were murdered by the Interhamwe, their tiny bodies burned alive under the words Dieu est Amour.

I was on pilgrimage. In company with 22 other men and women from Uganda, Rwanda, America, and South Africa, I journeyed from Uganda to Rwanda and back again, tracing immense beauty and crushing suffering, the contrasts, the ambiguities, and contradictions. We were on a Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope.

The practice of pilgrimage has a deep and rich history in the Church. In the practice of personal pilgrimage we participate in the eschatological (or final end) orientation of the Church, and are reminded that “we are but travelers on a journey without as yet a fixed abode; we are on our way, not yet in our native land; we are in a state of longing” (St. Augustine, Sermo 103, 1-2, 6: PL 38, 613, 615). The discipline of this pilgrimage, like all religious pilgrimage, is forged in the desire for a particular form of encounter with the other—with our fellow pilgrims, with the men and women we met along the way, with Africa, and with the God who is Love. This encounter with God and neighbor is necessarily dialogical—involving a deep listening, a listening which elicits response—a yes to the dignity inscribed in the very flesh and bones of the other, a yes to the mystery of God.

Between Pain and Hope. genocide must be counted among some of the gravest assaults against human dignity and life in our day. In the final pages of his award-winning book on the 1994 Rwandan genocide, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families, journalist Philip Gourevitch comments, “Hope is a force more easy to name and declare one’s allegiance to than to enact” (352). Hope is not merely an idea; it is a practice, a discipline, and it is expressed in the very flesh of our bodies.

We can configure the relationship between pain and hope in many ways, and this pilgrimage required a deep attentiveness to this relationship. Much depends on how we understand that small, but vitally important conjunction: “and.” Does this indicate an unbridgeable distance, such that there is pain, and—full-stop—hope, and never the two meet? Or does it become a term of conflation, whereby pain becomes somehow necessary for hope?

Jess-Rwanda 4On our journey we were invited to imagine a third function for this “and,” wherein pain and hope intersect, and yet remain distinct; where in this nexus, a new possibility opens, one which allows us to see the way hope might permeate pain. I want to suggest that this new possibility, this new vision, which itself appears to be another juxtaposition, an apparent paradox, is indeed cruciform. I found myself throughout the pilgrimage considering just how deeply the Cross was impressed into our journey, in our listening, our seeing, our touching and eating, our traveling and laughing, our conversations, our rest, our worship.

On our final day in Rwanda we visited a church in the village of Nyange in the western province. Like nearly every village, town, and city in Rwanda, Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Nyange fell victim to the ravages of the genocide. Jess-Rwanda 2It was here that the parish priest gathered upwards of 3,000 terrified Tutsis into the church, promising them refuge and protection. Then he ordered the church to be razed upon its people. Here, amid the ruins of the church, are the skulls of men, women, and children, lined up and stacked with conscious care on wooden shelving; here, a hair brush of one of the victims, rosary beads, twisted and dented chalices, saints’ faces obscured by the red clay earth, lying on the cement floor of a makeshift memorial. Here, we listened to the story of utter abandonment and betrayal.

A short distance away stood a girls’ school, École Secondaire Nyange. Tucked up in the mountains of Rwanda, École Secondaire Nyange’s isolation made it vulnerable to the residual sporadic massacres still being carried out by the Interhamwe in 1997. Jess-Rwanda 3After strangling the school guard, Interhamwe forces enter a senior-level classroom and demanded that the young women separate into Hutu and Tutsi. Mujawamahoro Marie Chantal, stood up and declared, “We are not Hutu and Tutsi; we are Rwandan.” This young woman, whose name means “Maiden of Peace,” was shot in the head, along with the five other young women who refused to separate.

In this remote area, this backwater of Rwanda, the narrative of ethnic identity, distorted and fossilized during colonization, crumbled. Identities of Hutu and Tutsi were decisively interrupted. In the enactment of a solidarity that went all the way down to death, we glimpse a sign of new vision, of the new creation amidst the horror of sin.

A word about sin. As our group of pilgrims struggled to make sense of the genocide, to understand the complex historical, social, political, economic, religious, and cultural web capable producing such methodical killing, I found myself reflecting again and again on Book II of St. Augustine’s Confessions—the theft of pears. The entire structure of the Book II is such that it demonstrates the utter meaninglessness of sin, its chaos, its irrationality. Indeed, Augustine finds that his efforts to explain sin are doomed to failure precisely because of its incoherence. What could Augustine’s little story of thieving have to do with Rwanda? Jess-Rwanda 6Nearly a million bodies piled along the roadside and dumped in the river is a far cry from a small cache of pears. Yet I was struck and continue to be struck by logic, or rather I should say, the illogic of the genocide. All our efforts to explain it were only partial, and ultimately each one of us fell back into the irreducible muteness of incomprehension. This is not to say that there aren’t historical, social, political, economic, religious, and cultural factors that produced the genocide; it is only to say that these became caught up in the chaos of sin.

And, yet in the young women at Nyange, we see something of logic of the Cross; indeed, the hope of the Cross which never makes evil good. Evil remains evil and our silence in the face of it remains just as deafening. Rather, from the Cross, we are offered a hope that interrupts and defeats evil.

Jess-Rwanda 7Our pilgrimage was full of interruptions, and we encountered these in many ways. Some were more obvious, like solidarity witnessed to at Nyange School or Our Lady’s appearance at Kibeho and the pilgrims who had walked four days over the mountains of Rwanda to fill the jerrycans with water from the spring. Some were more hidden: academics reduced to silence, the quiet work of formation at seminaries, of education, of prayer. But each of them bespeaks of a new horizon, of a decisive orientation that is born from our mysterious participation in the Cross which is our only hope.


Memories Need To Be Shared: The Giver and Liturgical Life

profileTRANS (1)Jon R. Jordan

Dean of Students

Coram Deo Academy, Dallas, TX

After finishing Seminary I have found myself reading fiction that I willfully ignored when I was younger and did not have time for during my years of study. While I am sure that this ignorance has caused me to miss out on a more literarily-robust childhood, a part of me thinks that reading children’s fiction this late in life means that I get far more out of each story than I would have if I had read them at the appropriate age.

TheGiverCase in point: I only recently finished reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I could not help but read the novel in light of many of my own life journeys. One journey in particular that The Giver continually brought to mind was my own journey into a liturgical tradition.

As Jonas slowly discovered his gift of “seeing beyond” the black and white world of “sameness,” I found myself thinking back to my earliest experience of being moved by a prayer written in a century long before my own. It was so different from what I knew, yet it had a familiar quality. It was new, but not alien to my experience as a human. As Jonas experienced his first “longings” I was reminded of the feeling I could not shake after leaving my first ever Ash Wednesday service. I had attended the service by myself but did not leave alone; I was visibly marked as a member of a community I did not create. This was a new experience, one that left me wanting more.

Neither of these experiences would have amounted to much by themselves. Without an embodied guide along the way, my longing for our colorful past and a sense of belonging to the whole church would have remained just that—a longing and a sense.

Jonas was twelve when it was revealed to him that he would be given one such guide. He had been chosen to bear the memories of human history on behalf of his community, and he would be guided along the way by an older, wiser Giver of memories. The memory of his community’s past were incredibly painful to bear at times. The sterilized environment of his youth was free of war and an understanding of death. He had no framework for understanding the horrors or level of loss he experienced through the memories. Other memories brought him pleasure beyond what he could have ever imagined. He received memories of basking in sunlight, sledding down a hill, and familial love that he had previously never experienced.

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” The Giver

These memories did not appear all at once. They were transmitted to him by an older, wiser Giver. I was an adult when I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church by the Bishop of Dallas. My wife and I had taken the Canterbury Trail confirmation class together, and I decided that though I had much to learn, I was ready to commit to worshiping as a Christian in the Anglican tradition. Thomas Howard’s opening lines of his (quite helpful) book The Liturgy Explained described my feelings well:

“We are all beginners at the liturgy, really. All of us—from the first-time visitor who finds himself paging helplessly through the Prayer Book wondering what is happening, to the aged priest who has known it all by heart for half a century—are really only on the lower slopes of worship.”

I suspect that I felt this sense of being a beginner more than most. But I take great comfort in knowing that I too have been given guides along the way of exploring a liturgical life.

Reading the Church Fathers has shown me that while so many of these liturgical experiences are new to me, they are not new to Christ’s church. The Book of Common Prayer reminds me that I am not the only one fumbling through the Daily Office, confused at times about what I should be reading and when. The Eucharist—perhaps the greatest of all guides—serves as a memory that is more BookofCommonPrayerthan a memory.

But like all disciples of Jesus, I find that while I myself am being guided by Givers of all varieties, I am also called to be a Giver myself. My wife, who faithfully followed me into this tradition, and our daughter, who was baptized on the day before the first Sunday of Advent 2013, both need me to guide them along this path of discipleship, just as I need them.

So as I think about my role in the liturgy in light of Jonas’ journey in The Giver, I am reminded of St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1,

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

This path of discipleship is one that calls us all to be both givers and receivers of the Good News of God in Christ.


Of Wisdom Teeth and Hope

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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When I told people last week of my pending appointment to have my wisdom teeth removed, they couldn’t help but share their stories and experiences.  I listened glumly to horrible stories of gruesome and painful operations that left the patient in a near-catatonic state for days, during which they could barely even sip water. And it didn’t help that my mom kept threatening to film me post-procedure (see here and here).

dentalchair_000Yet other stories left me feeling more optimistic, as they testified to relatively painless operations that perhaps left one tired and a little sore for an afternoon, but lasted no longer than a day.

I went into the dentist’s office last week with these two different possibilities bouncing around in my mind, not knowing which category I would fall under. Would this be one of the worst experiences of my life or just a short, passing operation with a relatively quick and painless recovery? All I could do was pray and hope for the latter.  There could be small indications: how many teeth would need to be removed, how much each has grown in at the time of operation (and the fact that my dentist was a Michigan alumnus – a reality that did not bode well in my favor). But ultimately, I had no guarantee of one or the other. Uncertainty still reigned, lingering over me as I sat in the dentist chair awaiting my fate. I envisioned the two possible outcomes, but all I could do was pray and hope for the more desirable one.

As I sat waiting for my dentist, I realized that maybe there was some kind of analogy here. To explain, various scenarios could await human beings at the end of life. History has given us many stories of hell, fire and an eternity of torment; but also of heaven and eternimagesal bliss. Poets, writers, theologians and philosophers, from Dante to Thomas Aquinas, have presented to our imaginations different versions and interpretations of what the human being could face at the end of life. Our minds receive these images, not knowing for certain which is true (if any). Sure, perhaps we can have some small indications, such as the amount of sin or virtue present in one’s life, but can we really know? All one can do in the face of such dire uncertainty is pray and hope that heaven is for real, and that we’ll wind up there.

The hope of the Christian

But this analogy is flawed. The kind of hope I experienced in those days leading up to the removal of my wisdom teeth is not the same as the hope of the Christian. The Christian virtue of hope is not an abstract kind of wishing or willing for one out of many potential outcomes to come true. The kind of hope I experienced at the dentist office denies the rootedness that characterizes Christian hope.

For hope, according to German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper, has Christ as its foundation. (Faith, Hope, and Love, 106) Pieper notes that the letter to the Hebrews calls hope “a sure and firm anchor of the soul, reaching even behind the veil, where our forerunner Jesus has entered for us.” (6:19) Or according to Thomas Aquinas: “Christ has entered for us into the inner sanctuary of the tent and has there made firm [fixit] our hope.” (In Hebr. 6, 4) Augustine, too, interpreting Romans 8:24 (“Spe salvi facti sumus”: In hope were we saved), writes:

But Paul did not say, ‘we shall be saved’, but ‘we have already been saved’; yet not in fact [re], but in hope; he says, ‘in hope were we saved.’ This hope we have in Christ, for in him is fulfilled all that we hope for by his promise. (Contra Faustum II, 7)

And elsewhere Augustine writes:

As yet we do not see that for which we hope. But we are the body of that Head in whom that for which we hope is brought to fulfillment. (Sermones I 57, 3)

These passages serve to remind us of the fact that hope is not simply an abstract and uncertain ‘willing’ or ‘wishing,’ but something much more firm, like an anchor.  For “Christ is held by the hand of hope. We hold him and are held.” (Paschasius Radbertus, De fide, spe et caritate 2, I.)

The Status Viatoris

Yet if hope does seem abstract or uncertain, it is because the Christian stands as on a bridge between “already” and “not yet.” For, on the one hand, we have beheld that for which we hope in the Incarnation, in Christ. But, on the other hand, the Christian nevertheless remains a “viator,” or “one on the way.” (See Pieper, 91-93) St. Paul expresses this pilgrimage nature of the viator in his letter to the Philippians: “Brethren, I do not consider that I have laid hold [comprehendisse] of [the goal] already.” (3:13)

The virtue of hope is “preeminently the virtue of the status viatoris; it is the propeimgres-1r virtue of the “not yet.” (Pieper, 98) It reminds us both of our pilgrim character but also of our somewhat “justifiable “claim” to the happy outcome of [this] pilgrimage.” (Pieper, 93) This claim is made possible by Christ – the ultimate fulfillment of all we hope for, and is communicated to us through the tradition, Scripture, and liturgy of the Church. Unlike the “hope” for a quick recovery after the dentist, the hope of a Christian is rooted (pun not intended). Since hope is something we can grasp, then, we can truly be people “with hope to bring.” (Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Constitution 8)

And, for what it’s worth, I was on my feet the next day – playing Superman with my niece and nephew.



Three Things We’re Reading Today

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) If you wanted to read blogs on the recent relatio on the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family, then you could dedicate the rest of your day to this task. Since many of us have jobs, this is probably impossible. One of the better introductions to the document as a whole that we’ve read is from Michael Bayer (University of Iowa) over at Daily Theology.

But before getting into the specific, hot-button issues, the Synod participants pause to iterate that this new pastoral approach must be grounded in evangelism, specifically with an eye toward missionary-conversion (Paragraphs 24-33). Recognizing the positive elements in, for example, cohabitation, is not an end in itself, but a first step toward helping a couple who is cohabitating come to the realization that fullness of relational love is found only in sacramental marriage. That is, the underlying goal of the accompaniment and dialogue must necessarily be the hope of ongoing conversion and eventual participation in the full life of the Church.

Also, a nice contextualization of the entire process of the Extraordinary Synod (and its coverage by the Press) by Fr. Robert Barron over at Word on Fire:

Until Vatican II, these preliminary arguments and conversations were known only to the participants themselves and to certain specialist historians who eventually sifted through the records. The great teachings of the Councils became widely known and celebrated, but the process that produced them was, happily enough, consigned to the shadows. If I might quote the great Newman, who had a rather unsatisfying experience of official ecclesial life in Rome:  “those who love the barque of Peter ought to stay out of the engine room!” This is a somewhat more refined version of “those who enjoy sausage ought never to watch how it is made.” The interim report on the Synod represents a very early stage of the sausage-making process and, unsurprisingly, it isn’t pretty. Two more weeks of discussion will follow; then a full year during which the findings of the Synod will be further refined, argued about, and clarified; then the Ordinary Synod on the Family will take place (the one going on now is the Extraordinary Synod), and many more arguments and counter-arguments will be made; finally, some months, perhaps even a year or so, after that, the Pope will write a post-Synodal exhortation summing up the entire process and offering a definitive take on the matter. At that point, I would suggest, something resembling edible sausage will be available for our consumption; until then, we should all be patient and refrain from bloviating.

Lastly, in case you have begun to think that the Synod has no other focus than divorce and homosexuality and co-habitation, here’s a video on the gift of natural family planning from The Catholic Catalogue. 

2) Mass Mobs. Not a scene from the Godfather IV. But rather large groups of people showing up to empty churches, suddenly filling them for one Sunday. The Associated Press has covered it. NPR has covered it.  The New York Times has covered it.

On the afternoon of the Mass mob at Holy Ghost, much of the city was watching a Cleveland Browns football game, which was blaring on the TV sets in the bars of the church’s gentrifying Tremont neighborhood.

But the worshipers fixed their eyes instead on an older kind of screen: a 24-foot-high, hand-carved Hungarian iconostasis, made of wood and gold, displaying recently restored icons. Behind the screen, and at times in front of them, priests in Eastern European vestments, including an eye-catching red and gold robe called a phelonion and a cylindrical black hat called a kalimavkion, celebrated a special Mass partly in sung Slavonic — a liturgical language used by some Eastern Catholic churches.

“It’s like walking back in history,” said Steven Kalas, 55, of Cleveland. “They’re so much more beautiful than the recent ones,” said Ms. Koch, 50, of nearby Medina, Ohio. And Marguerite Tetkowski, 56, of Cleveland, said with relief, “I was afraid it was going to be sold and converted into a bar.”

I wonder if these Mass mobs might lead to a new (and thoughtful) consideration about the role of architecture and liturgical space within the public imagination. Such considerations will be reserved for a future post.

3) A piece on Crux (the Boston Globe coverage on all things Catholic) on the popularity of spiritual direction:

The world has caught up with [Thomas] Merton. From a sprinkling of religious communities and nascent training programs that sustained the practice of spiritual direction into the 1980s, a movement has burgeoned. Today, some 6,000 spiritual directors across six continents are members of Spiritual Direction International, an organization launched in 1990 to coordinate a network of training and ethical standards programs and a base of referrals. These days, training programs are cropping up at retreat centers throughout the country, and thousands of individuals have taken up spiritual directors, seeking to live in a deeper personal relationship with God than seems possible by simply participating in the sacraments and unguided private prayer.

4) A blog post from Carolyn Pirtle (that’s us) on Theresa of Avila…from last year.

Good works are born of interior communion with God. The external is a reflection of the internal. In this spirit, then, one can read anew the meditation for which Teresa is perhaps most famous, bearing in mind the vivid image of Christ dwelling within the interior castle of every human soul in an intimate friendship of communion:

Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

It is only in cultivating an inner communion with Christ through prayer and conversion of heart that one is truly able to be his hands, his feet, his eyes, his body for the rest of the world.



The Sacrifice of Blame

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Last night, while pursuing one last trip through the newsfeed of Facebook friends before bed, I found a rather disturbing piece written by Saint Mary’s College student Ms. Hannah Drinkall. The post describes a cab ride gone awry, one in which two young women from the University of Notre Dame verbally assaulted undergraduates from Saint Mary’s College (the all women’s college with close ties to Notre Dame):

Upon entering our cab, two girls and one guy piled in in front of us. They shouted, “main circle” to the cab driver, and we politely told them that we were going to Saint Mary’s first. The young women turned, rolled their eyes, and said, “Oh of course Saint Mary’s.” And from there, it escalated.  I refuse to repeat the profanities these girls used and the foul language they shouted at us. One of the girls “apologized” to my 3 friends and I, telling us she was sorry she was smart and that she was accepted to Notre Dame and we weren’t. When my friend informed her that none of us had even applied to Notre Dame, she came back at us with, “right because there’s no way you could have gotten in.” We just turned around and tried to ignore the comments that included, “wow we’re actually surprised you guys are going home right now and not staying with some boy…” and other stereotypical phrases I had never heard before. I’ll admit; it was difficult to keep my cool.

SaintMarysCollegeWhat is so  disturbing about the account is the ease in which violent words escaped the mouths of these young women from Notre Dame. For these Notre Dame undergraduates, it seemed automatic to presume that students who matriculate at Saint Mary’s College are intellectually inferior and sexually promiscuous. Of course, one can undoubtedly assume that the young women from Notre Dame were inebriated. But, in fact, this is what is most disturbing. The words that surfaced in this moment are part of an unspoken narrative, a cultural script, that surfaces only through the loosening effects of alcohol. The rest of the year, these students would interact with one another, ignoring the specter of violence that simmers just underneath the surface.

What took place that night in the cab was a verbal, yet nonetheless, violent form of sacrifice. Saint Mary’s women ironically functioned as scapegoats against all those who inflict violence upon women. They were blamed for the way that women are reduced to sexual creatures alone, made to satisfy the desires of men. To insult the intellects of these young women was not, in this case, simply another example of entitled Notre Dame students participating in the kind of self-praise they’re known for (hence the chant common among our students at football games, you’ll work for us one day). Rather, in this instance, it is entirely possible that these Notre Dame women were sacrificing these Belles of Saint Mary’s to distinguish themselves from the primary cultural script that women are often forced to adopt. You are not smart. You are not beautiful enough. You are not attractive to men. You are not.

Of course, Saint Mary’s women are not responsible for this narrative. Advertisers, popular culture, film and television: these are the carriers of this script. Yet, it is hard to blame a nameless advertising firm for depicting every woman as a consumable object for our gaze. It’s hard to blame a media production company that continually depicts women as sexually promiscuous, prone to jump into bed with every man. It’s hard to defeat that cultural script, which lauds men for their sexual prowess, yet refers to women who date too much as “whores and sluts.” It’s much easier to direct our vitriol against those who we have access to. In this case, the women of Saint Mary’s College.

LewisHallWhat to do? It is atrocious to continue this sacrifice of violence, to blame other women for the ongoing telling of this script. Saint Mary’s women are not responsible for violence against women. Every time a Notre Dame woman repeats well worn phrases regarding Saint Mary’s students’ intellect, every time that she views these women as “competitors” in a game of attracting the attention of men (often not worth much time in the first first), she continues to perpetuate the very cycle of violence that she seeks to escape. Violence begets violence begets violence.

Instead, it is only the unbloody, Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church that can release us from this violence. In the Eucharistic rites, we encounter the supreme victim, Jesus Christ, who redeems us from this violence. We encounter a way of being human defined not by our sexual prowess or intellectual gifts but by the way of self-giving love. We cease using language of blame, violent words that pierce the soul, and take up instead the language of praise and adoration directed to God.

The piece by Ms. Drinkall shined a dark light upon relationships between women at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College. This outbreak of hidden violence will not be healed unless exposed as the falsehood it is. It is a form of violence that reduces the other person to less than human in order to raise oneself up. The cure for this is to recognize that in Christ’s unbloody sacrifice in the Eucharist, another narrative of human flourishing is available. A narrative in which each of us recognizes our own responsibility for violence in the world, throwing ourselves upon God’s own mercy. And through the peace of this sacrifice of praise, we find ourselves no longer divided by those divisions that we created ourselves in order to feel better about our own self in the first place. Instead, we become one body, one city of Eucharistic peace, meant to sacrifice our very lives for the salvation of the world. As Aidan Kavanagh writes:

The Christian assembly is equipped for such a frightful ministry with no more nor less power than that with which Jesus the Christ came to the same ministry in the days of his flesh. It is what his Body corporate is here for. In him, and according to his example and no other, the Christian assembly is obliged to do its best. It was in the doing of his own best that he laid down his life for the life of the world–not in cynical disgust or in limp passivity before the Human Problem, but for love of those who caused the Problem in the first place. His Church can do no less. The Church doing the world as God means it to be done in Christ is the greatest prophecy, the most powerful exorcism, of all (On Liturgical Theology, 176).

Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students must work together to doDorm Mass in Lyons Hall the world right. Perhaps, the first step, is to join together regularly not to head out to the bars or to assemble in the football stadium. But to pray around the Eucharistic altar, practicing not a sacrifice of blame, but a self-offering of a wounded heart that seeks to participate in the redemption of the world.





Christ’s Love Gathers Us: A Series on Dorm Masses (Badin Hall)



Abby Blanchard

Undergraduate ’15, English and Theology


It’s 9:55 on a Sunday night, and the sound of sock covered feet rushes down the stairs.  Shouts of hello echo through the stairwell, and continue down the hallway into the simple, homey chapel of Badin Hall. The hellos continue as the chapel fills with Badin women in their pjs and a smattering of brave young men, all with eyes a bit glazed over from studying, but faces still smiling as they greet their dorm friends.  The chatter continues until the sacristan rings the bell and calls for a moment of silence to prepare for the upcoming celebration of the Eucharist. Finally all is quiet. And perhaps for the first time the entire day, students are invited to just take a moment to breathe, reflect, pray, and be thankful.

Though I firmly believe in treating Sunday as a day of rest, the simple fact of the matter is that in college, Sunday is study day.  I always tell myself I’m going to get so much done on Saturday, and then all of a sudden it’s Saturday night and I’ve spent the whole day talking to friends on the quad or going to a random event on campus or binge watching three movies.

Sunday night Mass, then, is the perfect time for students to stop studying, come together as a community, and completely dedicate an hour to God.  To hold such a Mass in our own dorm reflects Notre Dame’s tradition that the heart of community life takes place in the residence halls. Our dorms become our home while we live and study at this university; we share our joys, sorrows, frustrations, and shortcomings, and accomplishments. And like any home, there is imperfection. During dorm Mass, for example, something inevitably goes wrong: all of Badin suddenly becomes tone deaf, or the sacristan forgets to make sure there will be enough Eucharistic Ministers, or the sign of peace turns into an eruption of laughter as one Badin resident sneezes into the face of another when she reaches to hug her. Yet even in this imperfection, there remains a deep sense of community that grows out of celebrating the mystery of God’s sacrificial love together.

When we celebrate the Eucharist as a community, we are transformed from just a group of women who live in a building together, to a group of sisters in Christ, fully participating in the mystery of the Eucharist, united with the entire Church both on earth and in heaven who worship and praise with us. Celebrating the Mass together makes our community distinctly catholic—universal in scope, for all women in Badin are welcome, and many who are not Catholic, or even Christian, come to Mass in order to be part of the community—and Christian—for the Mass reminds us to follow Christ’s calls to love God and neighbor. Dorm Mass, as a result, sets the tone for the dorm, calling us to be Christ to each other and to dedicate time to God during our busy college lives.

Once Mass is over, we all spend a few more minutes catching up, causing roadblocks in the hallways. Then all trudge back up the stairs to our papers and books and problem sets. All of the complications that come with living in community and being a college student remain, yet we as a community leave Mass with our gaze refocused on what is truly important: how well we love our God and our neighbor.


The Synod on the Family: A Perspective from Ireland

Oblation Pic LTLaura Taylor 

House of Brigid

Wexford, Ireland

For six long years I was closely involved in the liturgical life of a Catholic university, as a chorister and cantor, sacristan and accompanist, lector, and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. The majority of faces I gazed upon at Mass were similar to my own: students in their early 20s, bags under their eyes from late nights studying, and possibly wearing pajamas and slippers if it was an evening dorm Mass. Any exceptions to this occurred during the more formal Sunday morning liturgies in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart—I can still picture the shocked, gleeful expressions on my fellow choristers’ faces when we gazed down from the choir loft to see a particularly large, adorable family enter the church and fill an entire pew! These novel experiences grew more familiar during graduate school, as an increasing number of my friends started to navigate the waters of balancing academics, marriage, and budding families. Yet, it was not until I moved to Ireland to serve full-time in a Catholic parish that I began to truly understand the incredible significance of young adults and the family in the life of the Church around the world.

My own reflections on the international Church, family life, and the liturgy happen to coincide with the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, which is currently in full swing at the Vatican. It is a massive undertaking in preparation for the larger Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod in 2015, one that seeks to facilitate open and frank discussion of the pastoral challenges facing families today. Pope Francis, deeply aware of the profundity of the occasion and of the importance of liturgical prayer to the family and to the Church, led a candlelight prayer vigil in an overflowing St. Peter’s Square on the eve of the Synod’s opening. Drawing from his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Francis stressed the profound role of marriage and family life in society:

“the communion of life assumed by spouses, their openness to the gift of life, the mutual protection, the encounter and the memory of generations, educational support, the transmission of the Christian faith to their children…With all this, the family continues to be a school without parallel of humanity, an indispensable contribution to a just and united society” (EG, §66-68).

At its core, the family offers a crucial stability that much in this world cannot provide; and yet, families young and old draw their strength from somewhere.

This wellspring of strength for families, Francis advocates, is the Church—by fixing our gaze on Christ, and by embodying and living out the love Christ shares with us daily. His words on the subject of the synod, therefore, may also apply to the family itself: “If we truly intend to walk among contemporary challenges, the decisive condition is to maintain a fixed gaze on Jesus Christ–Lumen Gentium–to pause in contemplation and in adoration of His Face.” Such contemplation and adoration naturally flows forth from the “fully conscious and active participation” in the liturgy that Sacrosanctum Concilium advocated in 1963. In pastoral practice, I have come to realize just how essential the family is in contributing to the liturgical life of my parish, and thus to the Church at large.

According to the 2011 report published by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, “Practice and Belief among Catholics in the Republic of Ireland,” only 18.6% of 18-24 year-olds attend Mass weekly in Ireland–compared to 67.7% of primary school children and 79.1% in the 65+ age demographic. These statistics play out every day in my parish in a myriad of ways; grandparents often take the lead in bringing their young grandchildren to Mass, and yet our weekly children’s liturgy is packed with entire families. Teenagers are a sight few and far between, but those who make the effort to be involved in the parish provide an inspiring witness to the faith. Sacramental preparation for First Communion and Confirmation allows dedicated parents to take charge of passing on the faith to our little ones. When families come to Mass in full force, their effect is simply awe-inspiring. Pope Francis’ words spill forth faster than I can think:

“The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children (EG, §63).

Francis recognizes that pastoral activity “needs to bring out more clearly the fact that our relationship with the Father demands and encourages a communion which heals, promotes and reinforces interpersonal bonds” (EG, §67). And so, popular piety itself “can be the starting point for healing and liberation” from the breakdown of the family today (EG, §69).Through renewed active participation in the Mass, devotionals, and other forms of liturgical prayer, the family can begin to reverse the breakdown in the way Catholics pass down the Christian faith to our youth. Gradually, we may be able to keep teenagers and young adults interested in the liturgy, and bring an almost entirely lost generation back into the fold.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger recalled the words of St. Irenaeus (cf. Adv. Haer. 4, 20, 7) in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “The glory of God is the living man, but the life of man is the vision of God.” I propose, for the purposes of this article, that ‘man’ be replaced with ‘family.’ The glory of God is thus the living family, and the life of the family is the vision of God, reflecting the most Holy Family in the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and Jesus Christ. Through participating in the liturgy, we immerse ourselves in the Church that gives us strength to overcome our sorrows and challenges. Families grow closer, and become stalwart foundations of our parish communities; they become the place where parents pass on the faith to their children in such a way that the very Church itself may be renewed.


Moral Community and the Saints

SamuelBellafioreSamuel Bellafiore

Music, Philosophy ’15

Undergraduate Fellow

New visions of moral community have arisen in recent years. These views, which often include a troubling redefinition of the person, identify moral community as the collection of thinking, reasoning, problem solving and independently acting persons. At the heart of these views lies a curious assertion: If you are not currently a person and thus a community member, the moral community has no responsibility for you. [1] Many problems, not worth enumerating here, immediately ensue.

One problem that is worth mentioning: no one would dare implement this consistently. For instance, when we talk about environmental policy, we talk about conserving the earth not only because it is valuable in itself but because we have a responsibility to leave future generations a healthy environment. We’re aware that if we don’t care for the earth, we perpetrate a grave crime on our descendants. Our descendants can’t be persons now. They don’t even exist. Yet we intuitively recognize our responsibility to them.

The communion of saints even better belies the modern pretend about what makes moral community. The saints provide a framework for considering what the scholar of the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” For whom am I responsible? The saints’ lives and our relationship to the saints show us how responsibility stretches throughout time.the-forerunners-of-christ-with-saints-and-martyrs-fra-angelico

The saints strove for holiness out of love for Christ, not to inspire us, but in following after Christ they passed Him on to those who came after them. Intentionally or not, they left a witness that time and distance cannot efface. They were doing what Christ did first and did in the highest degree: “leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

Some saints, like Francis of Assisi and Mother Theodore Guerin, lived lives of obvious service. They manifested their life’s goal of loving Christ and handing on what they had received. This often took the form of service to and solidarity with the poor. Others like St. Bruno of Cologne left less apparent examples. St. Bruno founded the Carthusians, one of the strictest monastic orders. He spent much of his life in silence and solitude and generally is remembered for, well, very little.

The Church recently celebrated all these saints’ feasts. Whatever these saints did, the Church receives their fruits. Their charity, sacrifice, prayer and tending the deposit of faith enable our Christian life today. We’re told the blood the martyrs is the seed of Christians. Plants cannot grow without seeds, so the saying suggests that without the martyrs’ blood, you and I might not be Christians. There might not be Christians. If the martyrs didn’t die but we still became Christians, we wouldn’t be the same Christians. This goes for all the saints. Over time their charity became charity toward us. Their prayer didn’t benefit only those around them but us too. Their sacrifices likely bear small, unnoticed fruits even today. By living and dying well, the saints cared for us.

We might even say if these saints had not lived their lives of holiness, they would have been derelict not only to their contemporaries but to anyone who came after them. Living their vocation, while foremost an act of loving God, also turns out to be a kind of responsibility to their present and future neighbors. In his Meditations on Christian Doctrine, Blessed John Henry Newman hints at this:

I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes…if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another…Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

In God’s providence He can raise another, but it is awfully difficult to replace a link in a chain that’s already taut.

By fulfilling their vocations, the saints were kind to us. We shouldn’t give our descendants any less. But the people we call “saints” were humans first, people with loves, frustrations and faults. They became saints. The only way to give the future Church what the saints gave us is to become saints. They show on an ecclesial level what is true globally, that community is not confined to our lifetimes. The saints show that when I act my action does not pertain to me alone. Nor do I influence only the person next to me. What I do, the way I live, may bear a fruit I never see or could never know.

The saints gave something to us. We must give something to our descendants. Then can we ask if we must do something for the saints? What is the relationship between our generation and the ones that preceded us?

Philosophy's favorite mustache.

Philosophy’s favorite mustache.

None other than Friedrich Nietzsche, whose time in a Rome hotel once overlapped with Thérèse of Lisieux’s, provides helpful thoughts on this topic. His second essay in On the Genealogy of Morals calls the relationship between the present generation and its forefathers one “where we modern men have perhaps have the greatest difficulty in grasping its relevance.” (trans. Douglas Smith) He posits the present generation always sees its relationship to ancestors as that of debtor to creditor, except that the debtor can never fully repay the debt. He dislikes this. “A debt is recognized,” he says, “which gnaws incessantly by virtue of the fact that these forefathers, in their continued existence as powerful spirits, never cease to grant the race new advantages and advances in strength.”

It’s an idea you could take too far. Seeing the saints this way would mean seeing them as dominating, menacing forces but there’s a relatio180px-Teresa13anninship between Nietzsche’s point and the saints. The saints’ lives did not end at their deaths. By their heavenly intercession with
God, their lives continue now with even greater efficacy. Their power is the kind Nietzsche despises most — the power of the God who becomes weak and dies on a tree — but he is still right that we have to reckon with our relationship to them, what they have done and still do for us. We might wonder, Should we be trying to repay the saints? Do we have an obligation to them?

 We might as well ask if we should try to repay God. Indeed, that is what we should do. Our relationship to the saints is more like our relationship to God than to our descendants: What we do now may can be an act of kindness to our descendants. But our responsibility, if any, to the saints and to God can be one only of responding in thanksgiving. We’re not the first to ask whether we should try to repay God. The Psalmist did when he inquired, “How can I make a return to the Lord for his goodness to me?” (Psalm 116:12) The question is in part rhetorical. Making this return is impossible, for what God has given is infinite and infinitely more than we could ever give.adorationofthelamb-jvaneyck1

But the Psalmist continues. “I will raise high the cup of salvation and call on the Lord’s name.” Of ourselves, there is no adequate repayment we can give to God. His gifts of love are not loans requiring repayment. But we can render Him the thanksgiving He Himself enables. The Roman Missal says, “although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift” (Common Preface IV). We can offer Him the Eucharist, the bread of life and cup of salvation, but this gift we offer is not ours at all. What we can give Him only what is His already.

So with the saints. If there is any payment we can render them, it is our small participation in the liturgy of heaven, where contemplation and charity are entirely one. “Repaying” the saints, if such a thing is real, is this: living our vocations, receiving and giving life as members of Christ’s Church. If we do this we serve the entire Church, the Bride who is universal over the earth, across time and in heaven. For we are in communion, Christ the Son of the living God.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee.


[1] see, for instance, Mary Ann Warren, On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion or Peter Singer, Practical Ethics

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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