Three Things We’re Reading Today: Illness, Chartres, and Colbert

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) A rather beautiful piece by Victor Lee Austin on illness and the Christian life at First Things:

So illness and incapacity can be used by God and by us for our sanctification. But there’s another angle, as well. Sickness can be a mode of sanctification for others. My wife had a brain tumor diagnosed when she was thirty-eight years old. We had then been married fifteen years. She lived another nineteen years. Looking back, I can see that taking care of her—being dropped into the situation where I had to take care of her—was an instrument of divine grace for my sanctification. I used to think that Victor Austin might just possibly be remembered as a teacher or as the author of this or that work of scholarship. Somewhere along the way, God revealed to me that the most important thing about Victor Austin is that he was the husband of Susan Austin.

2) An intriguing piece by The New York Review of Books (also linked by PrayTell) on the restoration of Chartres Cathedral. Raises a number of concerns about architecture, culture, and the marginalization of liturgical experience from the arts:

Observant Catholics, whose primary interest in the cathedral is religious rather than aesthetic, have been particularly appalled by one aspect of the program: the repainting of Our Lady of the Pillar, the early-seventeenth-century devotional statue of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child familiarly known as the Black Madonna. As Jean Markale argues in Cathedral of the Black Madonna: The Druids and the Mysteries of Chartres (1988)—an intriguing study of the links between the Christian sanctuary and the Druidic shrine it superseded—there was a direct precedent for Our Lady of the Pillar in the Celtic black mother goddess Sulevia, another case of early Christianity co-opting indigenous beliefs to attract pagans. Whenever and however Chartres’s Black Madonna acquired its mysterious patina—through oxidation or smoke from candles and incense—it was familiar as such to centuries of the faithful until its recent multicolored makeover, which has transformed the Mother of God into a simpering kewpie doll.

We know that ancient Greek statues were painted in vivid polychrome and adorned with earrings, spears, and other metal accouterments. But the idea of actually adding such long-lost elements to, say, the Parthenon Marbles would be even more controversial than the longstanding debate over where those sculptures should be housed. Officials in charge at Chartres now are engaged in a pursuit as foolhardy as adding a head to the Winged Victory of Samothrace or arms to the Venus de Milo. One can only pray that by some miracle this scandalous desecration of a cultural holy place can be reversed.

3) Last night was the final episode of the Colbert Report, featuring one of America’s best-known Catholics, Stephen Colbert. This piece from The Washington Post does a nice job of describing why a comedic bit mattered to the United States for over nine years:

The joke caught on and never exhausted itself. What we were seeing was the perfect indictment of the world of political punditry, yes, but also a send-up of our inflexibility when it came to opinions, reason and the truth. “Truthiness,” an early invention of the Colbert shtick, allowed its host to have it both ways, as a buffoon who holds objectionable opinions that he intends his liberal-leaning audience to object to by pretending to bask in his jingo-wingo patriotism. “Anyone can read the news to you,” Colbert said on the show’s first episode. “I promise to feel the news at you.”

This interview, as well, as from NPR (focusing a bit on hospitality):

And so I look at every guest as a guest. They’re a guest in my home and I am grateful that they would come here and I hope people have a good time. And, if they don’t, that’s my fault. Or, rather, it’s my responsibility. Because if I get into an actual aggressive discussion with a guest about something that perhaps we’re disagreeing about — and I’m expressing my disagreement satirically —and if they don’t enjoy that, that’s OK because I have a responsibility for what I’m saying. But I actually do want people to have a good time.


The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Hidden Advent of God

Kollman, KathleenKathleen Kollman 

University of Notre Dame, Class of 2017

Notre Dame Vision, Mentor-in-Faith 2014


I sat next to my grandfather in the pew. He had his songbook open and was singing along in his distinctively loud voice to whatever old-fashioned hymn the choir had chosen for Mass that morning. Their voices did not fall too kindly on my ears, either; they had the kind of old, wobbly voices characteristic of perhaps too many church ensembles. I was distracted, not paying attention to my own hymn book but instead sneaking glances at my grandfather next to me, who was so absorbed in every word, singing each one with confidence and conviction. He looked concentrated, yet peaceful; exhausted, yet glad to be exactly where he was. When the song ended, he turned his full attention back to the priest, who began the opening prayers.

I tried to focus as well, but was unable. Honestly, this church had never been my favorite, with its high, echoey ceilings that made the sounds of the liturgy seem miles away. The old-fashioned music. The dryness of this priest’s homilies. At age fifteen, I was just starting to EmptyPewsappreciate the Mass for its beauty, just beginning to take an interest in the saints and the holy lives they led then and lead now, and just starting to think that I might want to live a life of such holiness as well. But this Mass? This did not seem like holiness, despite my grandpa’s clear love of it. God, in his glory and mystery, felt far from this place.

After Mass, my grandpa and I got in the car and drove to visit my grandmother in her nursing home. It was the first time that I’d seen her since her disease (a rare combination of Alzheimer’s and Dementia) had begun to severely take its toll. Her mind and body were deteriorating quickly, and my grandpa was spending every minute that he could with her. I was nervous to see her. I didn’t know how much she’d remember of me or what this meeting would be like at all.

We arrived at the nursing home and my grandfather led me inside and to my grandmother’s room. He went in and beckoned for me to follow.

I had known that my grandma was in a wheelchair now, and I had heard some of the details of her illness, but I was not prepared for what I saw. The woman who had barely two years ago seemed to be a lively, healthy sixty-five year old woman was now incredibly weak and infirm. She looked sunken in her wheelchair, small and fragile, with tired-looking eyes and a worn countenance. She did not react when I came in, nor when my grandpa gently took her hand and explained to her who it was that had come to see her. My grandpa told me she could understand him, though how he knew, I have no idea. In my shock I did not know what to do, but my grandpa suggested we take grandma out back to the sunny garden, so I blindly followed them out.

GardenBenchesIn the garden we settled down on two little benches across from one another, and my grandfather pulled grandma’s wheelchair up right next to him. He talked to her for a bit, while all the while she remained silent and motionless, then reached into his bag. He took out a copy of the daily scriptures and, settling in, began to read them out loud to us. Again, grandma did not react, though I remembered that in years past she had loved going to church with him. When he finished reading, after a moment’s pause he reached into his bag and pulled out a gold container and opened it.

“The Body of Christ,” he said, and then he gently and patiently helped my grandmother consume the host. She had been having trouble eating on her own as of late, so he made sure she got it down.

He was so absorbed in her that I could just sit in silence and try to fit my heart around what I was witnessing.

My grandmother was so infirm as to be almost unrecognizable from the woman I had known and loved all my life. I almost didn’t know whether to love her – where were the characteristics in her that I loved? Yet my grandfather treated her the same, or even more lovingly than before her illness, even though he received no warmth or affection in return. If he loved her for her personality, for what she could give to him, then that person was gone, and in its place just the shell of a woman he once loved. But this was not so – from the 365050.TIFbeautifully tender way he looked at her, from the way he held her hand, it was perfectly clear that this person was his same “Patsy,” his wife of forty-plus years, and her very existence was precious to him.

In that moment I had a flash of intuition, and I felt a few things that later blossomed into understanding. One conviction was that my grandmother was not lost – she was right there – and that she had an untouchable dignity and holiness. There was no other way of putting it. You could sense it if you saw her through the gaze of one who loved her for her very essence – if you could see her how she deserved to be seen. The second understanding, very much related to the first, was that in that moment I had witnessed divine love right in front of me. My grandfather’s gaze at my grandma was a picture of God’s gaze at me and at anyone and everyone: a picture of lavish, unchanging love that did not expect adequate response. And the third understanding, which encapsulates all and was impressed on me the greatest, was that life itself, the very living of life itself, is undeniably and totally and irrevocably holy. And this was entirely due to the One whose very life had made all other human life holy in itself – Jesus. For some reason, I knew in that moment that my grandmother taking the Body of Christ into her was incredibly significant, and for possibly the first time in my life I felt Jesus had really lived amidst all the brokenness of real life, not some distant sort of “holy” life. He had truly lived, and would continue to live and be present within something as weak and infirm as my grandmother’s body, and perhaps in something as seemingly ordinary and messy as my own life. Did I have to strive to make my very life holy? No. I had seen that life was holy in itself. What I needed to do was recognize that and then live into the holiness – to try and magnify and increase the holiness that had already been given to me by Christ.

Later, when I reflected back on that day, I remembered the feeling I’d had at Mass – or rather, the lack of feeling, which had represented much more than my dislike of the Mass and was likely founded in my idea that holiness was something distant. I remembered that feeling of distance and I truly felt how wrong that was. God in his glory and mystery was fully present in that beautifully inadequate celebration of Him. Like my grandfather, God would keep on smiling and loving even though my response, like my grandmother’s, was often inadequate, because he could see through the weakness that I was the one he loved


Three Things We’re Reading Today: Adoption, Coloring the O Antiphons, and Forgiveness

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) As an adopting parent, this post fully captured my attention. It’s a beautiful gift from the Jesuit Post and Eric Immel, SJ, a model of theological reflection on adoption from the perspective of the adopted:

At some point, she figured out she was pregnant. I can’t ever know the true feeling of what that means, but here’s a reality: I was a mistake, the product of a love that didn’t last. At least, a love that wasn’t ready for me. I wasn’t expected or planned. I wasn’t wanted. There must have been fear, frustration, hurt, anger, and darkness. And yet, for nine months, she carried me, she fed me, she gave me herself and then she gave me away. I trust that the fear made way for faith. The frustration made way for conviction. The hurt made way for healing. The anger made way for love. The darkness made way for light.

When that angel showed up for Mary and told her, I imagine that her breath was taken away. She had been daydreaming about her betrothed, looking forward to a long life with him, raising children, working hard, enjoying his loving arms at night. In an instant, though, everything changed. Jesus was unexpected and, perhaps for a moment, unwanted. As the poet Denise Levertov writes, “This was the moment no one speaks of / when she could still refuse. / A breath unbreathed, Spirit, suspended, waiting.”

God waited and Mary responded in love. She remained in that love despite everything. She made Him possible. It is this that we celebrate, and this that we remember.

I am here because she loved me. She loves me because I am here. Jesus lived because she had faith. Jesus and I — just a couple of unwanted baby boys — born in darkness but adopted in love. If Nancy ever reads this I hope she knows that she is loved too. I hope she knows that she was brave and that I am grateful.

2) A series of coloring pages for the O Antiphons from the Chant Cafe (for those us looking for ways to distract children at restaurants while also teaching them Latin):

3)  A challenging piece on the nature of reflection by Fr. Michael Cummins at Word on Fire:

Forgiveness is not a weak choice.  In a world often  governed by the dynamics of power and retribution we are encouraged in the assumption that there really is no place for forgiveness and if forgiveness is exercised it is easily written off as either quaint (an interesting anomaly) or the choice of the weak.  Yet, a growing body of evidence is demonstrating that forgiveness has a truly transformative power in the lives of societies and individuals (i.e. the truth and reconciliation processes held in different countries, most notably that of post-Apartheid South Africa).


December 17: O Sapientia

Jessica Mannen Kimmet

Master of Divinity Candidate, University of Notre Dame

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Previous post in this series:
Naming the Newborn: A Series on the O Antiphons

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.
Come and show your people the way to salvation.

Many of my friends will be able to tell you that some of my favorite scriptural passages are from the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. As an aspiring feminist, I love the portrayal of the divine in feminine terms. Even more, though, I love the ardent love for Wisdom evident in the writer’s words:

For in her is a spirit
intelligent, holy, unique,
Manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
Never harmful, loving the good, keen,
unhampered, beneficent, kindly,
Firm, secure, tranquil,
all-powerful, all-seeing,
And pervading all spirits,
though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.
For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion,
and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.
For she is a breath of the might of God
and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nothing defiled can enter into her.
For she is the reflection of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of his goodness. (Wisdom 7: 22b-26)

The writer is gushing over this Wisdom with whom he’s fallen in love, and could clearly go on and on about the beauty he’s found in her. She is portrayed as a teacher, a lover, a leader. She brings light where there is darkness; she co-creates with God; she renews and protects the world.

We find many striking similarities between these words and the descriptions of Jesus in the New Testament. He, too, is teacher, lover, leader, light-bringer, co-creator, renewer, protector… and on and on. The love the Old Testament author had for Wisdom is related to the love the New Testament writers have for Christ. This love is expressed in many of the same terms; Paul’s epistles even refer to Christ as the Wisdom of God (see 1 Cor 1:24, 30). This title, as today’s O Antiphon makes clear, is closely connected to the more-familiar name for Christ as the Word of God. In the person of Christ, the feminine figure of Wisdom from the Old Testament is united with a male human nature. The second person of the Trinity, the One for whose coming we pray during this season, holds together the masculine and feminine that we are often too quick to separate. Christ breaks down our stereotypes, reminding us that God is more unlike than like any of the images or names we give God.

We see this in today’s O Antiphon itself—Wisdom, Christ, governs and cares for creation, strong and tender. The language reminds me of Notre Dame’s Alma Mater, when we sing of Mary “tender, strong, and true” (a mantra I adopted sometime around my sophomore year as a reminder of the kind of woman I wanted to become while under the Dome). In Mary, the Mother of Christ, we see human wisdom embodied; we already see tenderness and strength held together and lived out in a single person. Things that are opposites are no longer held in opposition. It is no wonder that her Son, divine Wisdom incarnate, is also a living reconciliation, and is the One to guide us to the light of salvation.


Naming the Newborn: A Series on the O Antiphons

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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The act of naming is extraordinarily important.  Recent parents prepare for months to find a name for their newborn.   In the moments after birth,  when the parents speak this name to the child they can see face-to-face for the first time, more than an act of denomination occurs.   All of the preparation, all of the joys and fears that mark parenthood, are embodied in this first proclamation of the name.   And the child we could only imagine in utero gazes into our eyes (at least after a week or so) and hears his or her name called.  A name that will very soon embody the history that we have with this child.

Today, the Church begins to sing the O Antiphons during Vespers.   The precise origin of these antiphons is unknown, although we are aware that they had entered the Roman liturgy by the eighth century.  Further, when viewed as a reverse acrostic, the titles for the Messiah in these antiphons (listed here on Wikipedia) spell out in Latin E.R.O. C.R.A.S. or “Tomorrow, I will come”.   The Latin-rite Church acknowledges the importance of these antiphons in our final preparations for the Christmas season.

But how does the chanting of short antiphons really prepare one for the birth of Christ celebrated at Christmas?   We must return to our initial reflection on the act of naming.   On Christmas night, we celebrate the nativity of Jesus, the enfleshment of the Word, the wonder of the Logos emptying Himself in the cooing of the infant.  We celebrate the light that shines into the darkness, the possibility that through this light, we ourselves might become pregnant with the Word of God.  We celebrate God’s definitive entrance into history, transforming forever what it means to proclaim peace to people of good will.   We celebrate God’s revelation of a name, a name bestowed once in the burning bush in Exodus and now completed in the gift of the child named Jesus.

The O Antiphons thus prepare us to say this name properly on Christmas night; to form our vision so that we can gaze at the Child swaddled in a manger and see the depths of divine love manifested in the humility of the infant.   The Child is Wisdom itself, the Child is our Lord, the Child is the root of Jesse, the key of David, the Dayspring from on high, the King of the nations, Emmanuel–God with us.

In the coming days here at Oblation, we will be providing a small reflection on each of the O Antiphons so that at Christmas, we can see in the infant the Savior of the world; so that on Christmas, Christ comes to be born not simply in the creche, not only in the readings proclaimed, but in the heart of each Christian who sings out:   Hodie Christus natus est.  Today is born Christ, our Savior.  So happy Advent, dear friends.   Keep faithfully the Os in these final days of preparation that we may name Jesus anew on Christmas.

Singing the Season: Advent Introits (part 3)

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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This past Sunday marked the Third Sunday of the Advent season, often referred to as “Gaudete Sunday,” which is perfect for this series, because the word “Gaudete” comes from, you guessed it, the Introit:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: modestia a vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominos prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oration petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti, Domine, terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious over anything, but in all manner of prayer, let your requests be made known unto God. O Lord, you have favored your land, and brought back the captives of Jacob. (Solesmes translation)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near. (Roman Missal translation)

We rejoice because we’ve passed the halfway point of the Advent season. From now until Christmas, the joyous anticipation of Jesus’ birth begins to rise exponentially. Like if excitement levels were plotted on an Advent graph, it would probably look something like this:

A very technical (and accurate) representation of all of the Advent feels building up over time.

A very technical (and accurate) representation of all of the Advent feels building up over time.

We can probably recall experiencing this as children, and parents and/or teachers can attest to the reality that kids’ crazy levels definitely start to amp up right around this time of year. Some might attribute this phenomenon to secular facets of the Christmas season: the time off from school (and the end of final exams!), the anticipation of presents, the seemingly endless supply of sugar-laden sweets, the arrival of family and friends, the beautiful decorations, the possibility of snow—this time of year captures the collective imagination, often sweeping young and old alike into a wistful reverie.

Unfortunately, the word “excitement” on our handy graph above can also be replaced with words like “anxiety” or “stress” or even “sadness.” Many people find this time of year unbearably difficult for a variety of reasons. So, at this point in the season, what does it mean for the Church to exhort us through St. Paul to “Rejoice in the Lord always”? What does this rejoicing look like?

I want to suggest that in the rejoicing of Gaudete Sunday, the Church offers us the first taste of the heightened awareness that Christmas is indeed coming. Yet the Church also reminds us that Christian rejoicing is not equivalent to the delight that comes from decorating gingerbread houses, or watching Elf for the 4000th time, or even from seeing long-absent loved ones. Such experiences can and often do cause us to rejoice, but Christian rejoicing runs deeper than all of these things—deeper than anything we can imagine. Christian rejoicing is rooted in a promise, a promise which holds firm even in the midst of stress, anxiety, and sadness: The Lord is near. The Lord is coming. Soon. And he comes to “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev 21:4); he comes that “[we] may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10); he comes to “take away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29).

Realistically, though, it can be easy to lose sight of this promise in the midst of worldly concerns. That’s why St. Paul has to tell us to rejoice  not once, but twice. Why? Because when he proclaims to us for the first time, “Rejoice!” the exhortation might fall on deaf ears, or it might go in one ear or out the other, or worse still, we might think to ourselves, “Yeah, right, Paul. Okay. Rejoice. What do I have to rejoice about? I have no [fill in the blank with applicable lack], so excuse me if I excuse myself from rejoicing.” But Paul is adamant. He insists, “Again I say, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). This repetition pulls us up short. It stops the descent into the spiral of shame or self-pity or despair, and causes us to open up our ears, our eyes, and our hearts to him “whose coming is certain, whose day draws near.” Paul tells us to rejoice twice because we can never be reminded enough that we have a reason to rejoice, and that that reason—the only reason we will ever need—will never go away, will never be taken away, for “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38–39). Rejoice. No, really. Rejoice.

In last week’s post, I described how a composer’s treatment of a certain text can serve as a theological commentary to the text itself. This week’s Introit anthem by Texas-based composer Joel Martinson, Rejoice in the Lord Always (1998), demonstrates a similar reality. In this piece, the composer utilizes musical structure to reiterate the meaning of the text. Rejoice in the Lord Always is composed in rondo form. This musical term comes from the Italian word for “round,” and it simply means that the piece is composed in sections, and that one of those sections—the “A” section—comes back around again throughout. It’s not quite the same thing as a song written with a verse-refrain structure, because the music that occurs between repetitions of the “A” sections differs, and these sections are usually labeled B, C, etc, and they serve as distinct contrasts to the “A” section.

In this anthem, which you can listen to here, I would argue that the composer intentionally chose a rondo form in order to further emphasize the fact that the Scripture passage itself is repetitive, thereby reiterating the central message of Gaudete Sunday. The text of the “A” section is “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice!” The composer doubles Paul’s double exhortation to rejoice, with the result that we can’t help but hear that one word as the musical focal point. Not only that, but this quadruple exhortation occurs in every repetition of the “A” section, so we hear St. Paul’s words a total of six times, meaning that the word “rejoice” is sung twelve times throughout the piece—far more than any other word. What’s more, “A” section is the only time the full chorus sings for the entirety of a section; the “B” and “C” sections, while having moments of full choral writing, generally comprise the men’s and women’s voices echoing one another in varying patterns. This is also deliberate: the full chorus, singing at a jubilant forte, strengthens the emphasis of the call to rejoice.

The “A” section is written in the lively, vibrant key of G-major, and in 6/8 time (for those familiar with music), a rhythmic meter commonly used in classical music evoking pastoral imagery (as in sheep frolicking on hills, not the “pastoral” associated with ministry; the stunning finale of Beethoven’s famed 6th Symphony “Pastoral” is one such piece, written in a slower 6/8 meter AND a variant of the rondo form). In contrast, the “B” and “C” sections venture into minor harmonies for a darker color, and the rhythmic patterns are more subdued, making the return to the “A” section the musical equivalent to the sun’s rays piercing through passing clouds: when we remember the promise of salvation brought about in Christ, we can continue to return to a posture of rejoicing, even in the midst of darkness.

As we move into the final days of Advent, without a doubt, anxiety will arise—whether it’s dreading final exams, or traveling to visit an estranged family member, or facing a holiday season alone, or trying to figure out how to put presents under the tree, or feeling overwhelmed by memories of happier Christmases past spent with loved ones no longer living. This season, beautiful and joy-filled though it is, is also fraught with the emotional perils that are part and parcel of human life. And yet, in the midst of whatever perils we face, we are reminded that there is always a reason to hope and a cause to rejoice, for indeed, “The Lord is near.”


Advent, Divine Providence, and You: Part II

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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Author’s Note: This post is the second of a two-part series, in which I explore another pillar of Holy Cross’ charism: trust in Divine Providence. In Part I of this series, I offered a reflection on the life of Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, whose life invites a profound contemplation of a hope that is grounded in reality and a personal encounter with the Cross. Part II is concerned with the deeper source of his hope, the Cross of Christ, and the connection between Moreau’s trust in Divine Providence, Liturgy, and the season of Advent.


A radical, almost insurmountable trust in Divine Providence emanates from the writings and anecdotes of Basil Moreau, CSC: a trust that has never ceased to animate the community he founded, from its humble origins in Sainte-Croix, France, to the present. imgres-2This Advent, as I have reflected on some of the writings and literature surrounding the zealous Father Moreau (who, at my age, would have already have been almost two years into his priesthood!), I began to wonder: where does this hope come from? Sometimes it seems like very little went right” in his life: his once skyrocketing career as a brilliant professor and theologian was halted due to ecclesial politics, the community that he truly believed had a divine charter kept running into countless (sometimes even downright petty) obstacles on the road to papal approval, and after his congregation was finally approved, it seemed that the poor superior general could hardly make it one week without facing some kind of financial or spiritual crisis. These problems would occupy him until his death in 1873.

Fr. Moreau’s hope, his trust in Divine Providence, is heroic, yes – he is one of my personal heroes. But I want to posit here that Moreau’s hope was grounded not just in a personal virtue (which he no doubt had), but was drawn from a font out of which we are all invited to drink: the font of baptism.Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre DameThe baptismal font is where narratives converge: when we are baptized, the individual stories of our lives are taken up into the narrative of the Church, the narrative of salvation history – making the Church a symphony of narratives. And each time we dip our hands into the baptismal font, we are reminded of this sacramental reality, this converging of narratives. We sign ourselves with the cross of Christ: the ultimate love story, calling to mind our own redemption. And a strange and wonderful thing happens: we are invited to read, interpret and live our lives in the light of the mystery of salvation. In participating in Christ’s narrative, we allow our own personal stories to become  transfigured as well.

One way the Church invites us into this participation is through the liturgical season of Advent. Each year during these four short weeks, we participate in the longing of the entire cosmos as it endured what we might call the Great Advent, or the period during which all of creation groaned, awaiting its savior.

This period between the Fall and the Incarnation is a time of longing indeed. The Church Fathers were acutely aware of this, who often describe humanity during this time as a creature who had lost the wings of its prototype. For example, Gregory of Nyssa writes of the “wings” of our prototype, which refer allegorically to “God’s power, his happiness, his incorruptibility, and so on.” (From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings, ed., Jean Danielou, S.J., 284) According to Gregory, these attributes were in primal man insofar as he was still like God. But then “it was the inclination towards sin that robbed us of these wings. Once outside the shelter of God’s wing, we were also stripped of our wings.” (ibid) In this state, mankind is an “eagle trudging, a falcon shuffling along, a person stripped of his wings,” as David W. Fagerberg writes. I am reminded of Christopher Nolan’s new film Interstellar, whose protagonist, at one point, sighs: “We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

The Fathers also describe fallen humanity as a body without a head. Adam was intended to be this head. He was meant to persist in perfect obedience, heading up the one body of mankind and modeling for us what it means to be human, to sacrifice and to love rightly. The Creator’s original intent was for the Church to be built up (aedificatur) on a firm foundation: a showing of love and sacrifice displayed in the Garden of Eden (John Cavadini works out this idea at length, using Augustine’s City of God in his “Spousal Vision: Text and History in the Theology of Augustine” (Augustinian Studies 43:1/2 (2012), 127-148)). imgresBut Adam failed in his vocation, and creation was plunged into the Great Advent.
We longed for someone to give us back our wings, to teach us to stand aright and to love rightly: in short, to teach us how to be human.

On the cross, Christ ‘recapitulated’ mankind, to borrow a term from Irenaeus of Lyons. In Christ, the body that had been decapitated in Eden received a new head. The life of a Christian, then, is a struggle to imitate this, which is what we see in the liturgy: namely, “a human being in filial communion with God the Father.”(Fagerberg, On Liturgical Asceticism, 27)  Man and woman are now free to fulfill their vocation: to stand as cosmic priests at the center of creation, receiving the “creating Agape” and returning the “created eucharistia,” (Louis Bouyer, The Meaning of the Monastic Life: 28-29) and to be the tongue of an otherwise mute creation, as Fagerberg writes. This only begins to skim the surface of the mysteries we are invited to contemplate this Advent.

Baptismal life is a life lived into the mystery of this narrative. It is the mingling of our own stories with the story of the Cross of Christ, to which we lift our eyes, finding ourselves able to now “stand aright, that we may offer the Holy Oblation in peace.” (from the opening of the anaphora in the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom)imgres Might we say, then, that Basil Moreau lived into this mystery, grasping it so profoundly that he could say with utmost confidence: “Divine providence has given us too many motives for encouragement and consolation for me to refrain from asking you to join with me in thanksgiving, and to leave your whole future in God’s hands without anxiety…”? Moreau’s trust is drawn from the wellspring of baptism, which allows him to interpret his own life in light of the mystery of the cross. Moreau recognizes that God did not abandon the body of Christ – his Church – in her darkest hour, the Great Advent, and neither will he abandon his members who are “to be completed in their own time.” And therein lies our hope.

 “[...] do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”(Matthew 6:25-34)


Three Things We’re Reading Today: John the Baptist, Bonhoeffer, and Rejoicing

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) A timely piece by Michael Rubbelke at Daily Theology on the Third Sunday of Advent:

This Advent has brought us close to the depths of our self-deception. This violence, distress, and suffering can be seen in the injustices surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and others; the Senate’s report on torture; the continuing warfare and persecution of Christians in the Middle East. There are innumerable situations closer to home—our pride, our infidelities in relation to others, our own snubbing of the poor in our communities—that cry out for our attention. Both the Baptist and Delp show that Advent calls us to be shaken awake to ourselves, our personal and structural sin, and the reality of a world crying for God’s action.

In this painful awakening, we must rejoice, not despair. Shaken awake, confronted with the sinful reality around us, our eyes can be opened to God working in this desert, in and through those whom we have hurt by our sin, our privilege, our negligence. The Incarnate Word is the One sent “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1), but He is also the One Whom we serve in the poor, the hungry, the victims of injustice. Christ is both the One acting and the One acted upon: the Savior of the world who destroys evil and the One Whom we serve in being anointed with the Spirit and following His example.

2) Bonhoeffer in the season of Advent at First Things (by Timothy George):

here was a tender side to Bonhoeffer, but he was no sentimentalist, and he did not romanticize life inside prison. In letters to his family, he put up a brave front so as not to increase their worries about him. But he confided to his close friend Eberhard Bethge, “Despite everything I have written, it is horrible here. The dreadful impressions often pursue me well into the night, and I can cope with them only by reciting countless hymn verses, and then my awakening sometimes begins with a sigh instead of a praise of God.” To Bethge alone, he confessed the shadows and self-doubts later reflected in his prayer-poem, “Who Am I?” “I often wonder who I really am: The one always cringing in disgust, going to pieces at these hideous experiences here, or the one who whips himself into shape?” God does not fill the emptiness, Bonhoeffer said. Rather, God keeps it empty, and in this way he preserves—even in pain—our authentic communion.

3) A beautiful piece by Michael Jordan Laskey on the kind of rejoicing that is possible in the midst of sorrow at the National Catholic Reporter:

This coming Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, is all about joy in the midst of darkness. As we wait for the coming of Christ, we light a cheerful rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath as a reminder that our waiting will not be in vain. The Sunday gets its name — “gaudete,” which means “rejoice” — from the introit to the day’s liturgy: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”

These words come from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, which he wrote from prison. Paul was no naïve optimist, and he obviously knew real suffering. Despite the intense unhappiness of imprisonment, Paul was joyful anyway — the word appears 17 times in various forms throughout the short letter.

“Gaudete” is the word’s imperative form. We are commanded to rejoice. Against the backdrop of heartbreaking news out of cities like Ferguson, Mo., and New York this Advent, I don’t really feel like rejoicing. I probably need that sort of urgency from Paul. Of course, there are sad headlines every Gaudete Sunday, and every other day. Our celebration this week (and at Christmas) is a countercultural declaration that even in sadness, we rejoice because our hope is in the one who is stronger than death.




Advent, Divine Providence and You: Part I

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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Author’s Note: This post is the first of a two-part series, in which I will explore another pillar of Holy Cross’ charism: trust in Divine Providence. I turn first to Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, whose own life invites a profound contemplation of a trust and a hope that is grounded in reality and a personal encounter with the Cross. I will then turn to the source of his hope, the Cross of Christ, in the hopes of drawing attention to the connection between Moreau’s trust in Divine Providence, Liturgy, and the season of Advent.

“Divine providence has given us too many motives for encouragement and consolation for me to refrain from asking you to join with me in thanksgiving, and to leave your whole future in God’s hands without anxiety over the things which take up the time of those who are of the world.” —Bl. Basil Moreau, CSC, Founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross (emphasis mine)

Easier said than done, Moreau! I often find these words from the recently-beatified priest difficult to accept, especially while in the midst of serious discernment of marriage. As10441306_649286925140614_5487315018964049613_n my girlfriend of two years and I have moved through the various stages of courtship, we have slowly been introduced to some of the anxieties that we will one day, God-willing, face together in marriage: things like planning, saving, budgeting, and having what can be (at times) stressful or uncomfortable conversations about our future. This is not to say that these conversations have not been exciting, fruitful or grace-filled, but I must admit that as I prepare for future life as a husband and father, thinking about the many ways I will be called to provide and care for my family (not only materially, but spiritually and emotionally as well) scares terrifies me a little bit a lot. As the prospect of marriage creeps ever-closer, grasping at my freedom (and bank account), I sometimes find it difficult to take Moreau’s words to heart, or to reconcile the looming responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood with what Christ says in Matthew:

“… do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear [...] Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? [...] Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all [...] Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” (Matthew 6:25-34)

To what extent are these words even relevant to those of us called to marriage, or, for that matter, anyone emerging out of youth and into adulthood? Surely Christ meant for this radical trust in God’s providence to be understood as more of an ideal – possibly even intended just for priests and religious – since this is quite simply an unrealistic and impractical attitude for anyone who has to work for a living. “I can trust God here and there,” we might think, “but how could I possibly leave my whole future in God’s hands without anxiety? That is just not a feasible lifestyle for an adult facing very real and very significant demands: career decisions, bills, student and housing loans, providing for spouses or children, etc.”

the office animated GIF

One might also be tempted to dismiss Moreau as an exception: not only is he an almost-canonized saint, but even in life he was a priest! He was supposed to offer words of encouragement
like “give thanks” and “trust in God.” And, furthermore, what would he know about the realities and hardships facing lay Christians in today’s world – wouldn’t he have taken a vow of poverty, with any needs he might have had being provided for by the Church? Again - easier said than done, Moreau.

Yet one need look no further than Moreau’s own life to see that his were not empty words, as this was a man who knew suffering, a man who knew the cross.images-1  One would be hard-pressed to find a more confident trust in Divine Providence, a trust more firmly rooted in reality and personal experience.

All accounts of Moreau’s life bear witness to this. During his lifetime (1799-1873), Moreau experienced the immense political, economic, religious, educational and social upheaval wrought by the French Revolution and its aftermath; the deaths of three of his thirteen brothers and sisters; the effects of Gallicanism and a church torn in two between those who swore an oath to the state and those who were forced into hiding for refusing; the seizing of church property at the hands of the state; and violent anti-clericalism (for an excellent treatment of the political, social and religious context of the times, see the introduction to Kevin Grove, C.S.C. and Andrew Gawrych, C.S.C.’s Basil Moreau: Essential Writings).

The French priest, scholar, pastor and educator suffered countless disagreements, disappointments and setbacks, both as a professor and during the many years he spent trying to organize, educate and establish a religious society (see Basil Moreau: Essential Writings and Gary MacEoin, Basil Moreau: Founder of Holy Cross). safe_imageHe endured attacks on his fledgling community, both externally and from within the community itself. He faced public humiliation (having not been allowed to attend the consecration of the church that he built in Le Mans), bankruptcy, scandal and betrayal, and at points all had seem lost – his congregation very nearly fell apart. It was around this time, as Eleonore Villarrubia writes, that he experienced a personal “dark night of the soul”:

“[...]  there were so many ongoing difficulties [in Holy Cross] that, in August of 1855, he suffered a terrible dryness — all the anguish of despair without actually despairing. The devil taunted him that he and all his religious were going to Hell. He prayed, but felt abandoned by God. In retrospect, experts in mystical theology agree that he was undergoing a “dark night of the soul” — a mystical experience intended by God to purify a chosen soul and purge it from attachments to anything that is not God.” (“Venerable Father Basil Moreau – A Man Against His Times“)

Anxiety and concern for the future overtakes people in all states of life – the monk, the laic, the cleric, or religious – does it not? In the midst of such burdens, the life of Father Moreau reminds us that we can take comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone: this road has been walked before. In fact, a great band of both men and women have passed this way. (cf. Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Const. 1.5)


Their footsteps may have left “deep prints,” as though they were carrying heavy burdens, but they “did not trudge; they strode. For they had the hope.” (Constitution 8.122)

No, Father Moreau’s are no hollow words. They are the words of someone who constantly had the cross of Christ before his eyes. (Constitution 8.113) Through the many crosses Moreau was asked to carry during his life, he found the “motives for encouragement and consolation” that he alludes to when he asks us to join him in thanksgiving, leaving our whole future in God’s hands without anxiety. But as I will show in Part II of this piece,  Moreau is trying to point us to the deeper source of his hope. His font is the entire Christian narrative – the history of our salvation, the Great Advent - fulfilled in Jesus Christ and mediated to us today in a special way in the Liturgy.


“The Divine Child”– A Sermon by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

HopeHope Bethany ’15

Theology Undergraduate

Fellow, Center for Liturgy

Fr. Alexander Schmemann was an orthodox priest whose liturgical vision of truly integrating liturgy and life (and history, and theology, and everything else!) is one that we remember and try to cultivate on Oblation. He passed away on December 13, 1983. This weekend, in honor of his memory, the St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary linked to a post from 2011 where they shared this sermon of his. Yesterday was Gaudete Sunday, and although Notre Dame students are in the midst of finals, we hope that this sermon serves as a reminder of the joy of Christmas. We look forward to the coming of Christmas and preparing our hearts for Christ, with this sermon on what it means that our Savior came to the world as a little child. May we trust in the mercy and love of the Christ child as we draw closer to Christmas.

And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

“The eternal God was born as a little child.” One of the main hymns of Christmas ends with these words, identifying the child born in a Bethlehem cave as “the eternal God.” This hymn was composed in the sixth century by the famous Byzantine hymnographer Roman the Melodist:

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels, with shepherds, glorify him!
The wise men journey with the star!
Since for our sake the eternal God was born as a little child!
(Kontakion of Christmas)

The Child as God, God as Child…Why does joyful excitement build over the Christmas season as people, even those of lukewarm faith and unbelievers, behold that unique, incomparable sight of the young mother holding the child in her arms, and around them the “wise men from the East,” the shepherds fresh from night-watch in their fields, the animals, the open sky, the star? Why are we so certain, and discover again and again, that on this sorrowful planet of ours there is nothing more beautiful and joyful than this sight, which the passage of centuries has proven incapable of uprooting from our memory? We return to this sight whenever we have nowhere else to go, whenever we have been tormented by life and are in search of something that might deliver us…

It is the words “child” and “God” which give us the most striking revelation about the Christmas mystery. In a certain profound way, this is a mystery directed toward the child who continues to secretly live within every adult, to the child who continues to hear what the adult no longer hears, and who responds with a joy which the adult, in his mundane, grown-up, tired and cynical world, is no longer capable of feeling. Yes, Christmas is a feast for children, not just because of the tree that we decorate and light, but in the much deeper sense that children alone are unsurprised that when God comes to us on earth, he comes as a child.

This image of God as child continues to shine on us through icons and through innumerable works of art, revealing that what is most essential and joyful in Christianity is found precisely here, in this eternal childhood of God. Adults, even the most sympathetic to “religious themes,” desire and expect religion to give explanations and analysis; they want it to be intelligent and serious. Its opponents are just as serious, and in the end, just as boring, as they confront religion with a hail of “rational” bullets. In our society, nothing better conveys our contempt than to say “it’s childish.” In other words, it’s not for adults, for the intelligent and serious. So children grow up and become equally serious and boring. Yet Christ said “become like children” (Mt 18:3). What does this mean? What are adults missing, or better, what has been choked, drowned or deafened by a thick layer of adulthood? Above all, is it not that capacity, so characteristic of children, to wonder, to rejoice and, most importantly, to be whole both in joy and sorrow? Adulthood chokes as well the ability to trust, to let go and give one’s self completely to love and to believe with all one’s being. And finally, children take seriously what adults are no longer capable of accepting: dreams, that which breaks through our everyday experience and our cynical mistrust, that deep mystery of the world and everything within it revealed to saints, children, and poets.

Thus, only when we break through to the child living hidden within us, can we inherit as our own the joyful mystery of God coming to us as a child. The child has neither authority nor power, yet the very absence of authority reveals him to be a king; his defenselessness and vulnerability are precisely the source of his profound power. The child in that distant Bethlehem cave has no desire that we fear him; He enters our hearts not by frightening us, by proving his power and authority, but by love alone. He is given to us as a child, and only as children can we in turn love him and give ourselves to him. The world is ruled by authority and power, by fear and domination. The child God liberates us from that. All He desires from us is our love, freely given and joyful; all He desires is that we give him our heart. And we give it to a defenseless, endlessly trusting child.

Through the feast of Christmas, the Church reveals to us a joyful mystery: the mystery of freely given love imposing itself on no one. A love capable of seeing, recognizing and loving God in the Divine Child, and becoming the gift of a new life.

Excerpt from Celebration of Faith, Vol. 2: The Church Year by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994.



Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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