Full of Grace: Finding Order in Christ

Grace Maginn

Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2014)
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2016

 
With confidence, I can unashamedly say that one of my favorite activities is tidying up. As I am a college student, this might sound a bit outrageous; but vacuuming rugs, putting my clothes away, and picking up after my roommates makes me happy because these things allow me to de-clutter and organize the world around meTidying up allows me to put something in order when everything else is busy, chaotic, and out ofmy control. It brings me a sense of peace, knowing that all of my stuff is organized and right where it should be. Though I do love tidying up, what I don’t always love are those times when there are plenty of actual messes to clean up. More than once, I’ve woken up to find a couple of pizza sauce stains on the white couch, a bottle of purple Gatorade spilled onto the carpet, an overflowing trash can giving off a pungent aroma, and crumbs everywhere (and I mean EVERYWHERE). Often when this happens, I freeze up, panic, and metaphorically (and/or physically) get into the fetal position. Messes that require a bit of tidying and organizing I can pretty well handle. But Stains? Spills? Messes that go beneath the surface? Not so much. One day during my sophomore year, I found myself frantically getting ready for class, running a lot more behind schedule than I wanted to be. Grabbing a bottle of lotion from the top of my dresser, I hurriedly opened the cap, only to watch in horror as the bottle flew from my grasp, tumbled out of my fingers and spilled all over my newly-vacuumed carpet. I’ll confess that the first thing to escape my lips was not a nice word. However, the second thing I uttered, which still surprises me, was Lord, give me patience. After a messy and exhausting first semester, that phrase seemed to connect the dots with many of the difficult and overwhelming things I had been struggling with.
When my brother told my family he was gay a year and a half ago, I spent much of my time avoiding deep conversation with him—or any conversation at all, really—in my effort to maintain the same image I once had of him. When a friend of mine was accused of sexually assaulting another student at Notre Dame, I tried to ignore the problem by shutting him out, because I didn’t want to have to help him deal with the mess he had created.  When I myself experienced a scare with cancer, I tried to put the fears and anxieties I had about my potential sickness-filled future into the back of my head, and instead I pretended like everything was fine. I avoided letting these issues break open into my daily life by simply pretending they weren’t there. I feared that if I did acknowledge them, I wouldn’t be able to handle them. As long as everything was tidy, I was okay. In a lot of ways, I imagine myself to be like Martha, in the Scripture story when Jesus visits her home.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Lk 10:38–40)
Martha spends her time frantically cleaning, cooking, and tidying up her house forJesus’ stay. In her hurried effort to get everything all ready, she forgets what’s right in front of herLove itself, in the person of Jesus, her friend.
The bottle of lotion spilling all over the floor and making me late to class wasn’t only the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it was a mess I couldn’t just tidy up. I had to stop what I was doing, get on my hands and knees, and really work to get it all off the rug. In the same way, I found that trying to put all my problems in neat little boxes and stick lids on them didn’t fix them. Instead, they sat there accumulating dust, itching to be broken open and worked through.Inevitably, all of these situations in my life did eventually break open, and I could no longer ignore them. I had to acknowledge my overwhelming desire to become close to my brother again. I had to reach out to my friend from college who needed someoneto talk to—someone to help him through his rough time. And I had to address my own anxieties about my health, and about what was in store for me in the future. clutter1In removing the lids from my boxes of problems and sorting through the contents, I realized that for a long time, my life had needed a deep cleaning. With my brother, this required having plenty of conversations, gradually getting to know him for who he really was, not for who he had always pretended to be. With my friend, it meant allowing him to share his own worries and anxieties with me, instead of just brushing them off or ignoring them. With my health, it meant taking it all in stride, coming to terms with the reality of the situation, and embracing it for what it was. In all these situations, deep cleaning was the only way I was truly going to work through these problems. Like Martha, I had to realize that deep cleaning came in the attention I paid to Christ. It wasn’t getting on my hands and knees to work a stain out of the rug on my own, it was getting on my hands and knees in prayerful meditation, offering up those stains to Christ.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and itwill not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:41–42)
I found that my worries and struggles were better understood and seen in a new wayafter I had spent time in Mass, meditative reflection and prayer. It was only when I spent time in silence with Christ that I was able to slow down, process all that had happened, and then move forward. Mary, Martha’s sister, understood that the only thing in her life that could remain constant and steady was Christ. I needed to be a little bit more like Mary. Though my room might be clean, the world around me will most likely be pretty messy. Messes are always going to be made, but it’s how I go about handling them that makes all the difference. Taking my messes to Christ and offering up my struggles to him transforms my stresses and anxieties into points of deeper union with him. Despite all the challenging experiences I’ve faced, I’ve found that Jesus is the order I need.

Keeping Patrick in St. Patrick’s Day

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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Unless you spend your time hanging out under the proverbial rock, you’re probably aware that today is the feast day of a certain saint famous for his way with reptiles and for creating theological analogies using local foliage (albeit theologically problematic analogies, as we learn here). Yes, laddies and lassies, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. The day when pretty much everyone claims to have distant relatives from the Emerald Isle whether it’s true or complete blarney, because, as the saying goes, Everyone’s Irish on March 17th.

St. Patrick’s Day, like St. Valentine’s Day, has become more of a cultural phenomenon than a religious celebration here in the United States, so much so for the latter that the “St.” in “St. Valentine’s Day” (that is, the historical figure of St. Valentine) has been all but dropped from the consciousness of popular culture, leaving an almost entirely secularized celebration almost exclusively of romantic love, where chocolates, flowers, and bling express the extent of a person’s affections. With St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve at least retained the awareness that St. Patrick was, in fact, a real person, and that he was, in fact, a saint whose devotion to spreading the Gospel impacted an entire nation, but nowadays—or at least on most college campuses—it seems that the celebration of his feast is simply an excuse to indulge in a celebration of all things stereotypically Irish. . . or perhaps more accurately, just the one thing that many people associate with Ireland. In other words, St. Patrick’s Day has become an excuse to drink. Heavily. And not just on the actual day, either—parades and parties take place on the weekend before St. Patrick’s feast day, providing revelers who believe that “Everyone is Irish March 17th” with plenty of opportunities to drink too much, get in a fight or two, and most certainly wake up the next morning with the world’s worst hangover. It seems strange to me that a feast in honor of someone known for sanctity and courage and virtue has given rise to celebrations that generally cultivate none of these things. Somehow, I think, we’ve missed St. Patrick’s boat.

Having spent two of the happiest years of my life living in Ireland, I learned from the locals that the current shape of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland are largely due to the way it’s been perceived and celebrated here in the United States. It’s only in relatively recent years that St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland have begun to resemble the drunk-fests they’ve become in the States, in part because so many Americans have begun traveling to Ireland to celebrate the holiday there—the streets of Dublin were thronged with my fellow Americans on the St. Patrick’s Day I spent there. Prior to this recent trend, though, St. Patrick’s Day was (and still is) a national holiday and holy day of obligation in Ireland, one that, until recently, was celebrated simply: one would attend Mass at the local parish and take the day off from work or school, and perhaps celebrate with a “session,” an evening of music, poetry recitations, and story-telling.

Indeed, far more enjoyable to me than the parade and the pubs was the incredibly beautiful celebration of the Mass for St. Patrick’s Day that I attended at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin in 2011. The incredibly rich cultural heritage of this small country was represented both linguistically—readings and prayers were proclaimed in both English and Irish, and musically—traditional Irish singing and instrumental music resounded through the church as Irish dancers processed in front of the celebrants.

A Mass rock outside the village of Kildorrery, County Cork, where the Irish would secretly celebrate the Mass during penal times, using the rock as an altar. Many such Mass rocks exist throughout Ireland.

This is Ireland: a country whose resilient people truly are the salt of the earth, whose inimitable language and music and prayer intertwine with all of the intricacies of a Celtic knot. A country where the faith persisted in spite of centuries of oppression. A country where that faith persists still, in spite of a threat more insidious than oppression.

The seeds scattered by St. Patrick blossomed in the rich soil of the land of a thousand shades of green, so much so that Ireland became known as the “Land of Saints and Scholars.” Now, though, with the secularization of recent decades, coupled with the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger, it seems that the Catholic identity of Ireland is more akin to a stereotype or cliché than a reflection of reality. Mass attendance has diminished greatly, and the various sacramental moments of a Christian life are often seen as mere rites of passage. Perhaps the most devastating development of recent years has been the revelation of abuse inflicted on the innocent by members of the clergy in Ireland. Just as the sanctity of one man brought a nation to the faith, so too have the sins of a few rocked that nation’s faith to its core. Thankfully, the light of faith has by no means been extinguished in Ireland; there are still many who live the Gospel each and every day of their lives. However, the reality is that the Catholic Church in Ireland is suffering, as she is suffering in many places throughout the world.

Which is why I think it’s more important than ever for people to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, in Ireland, in the United States, throughout the universal Church—not by using his feast as an excuse to indulge in drunkenness and debauchery, but by giving thanks for his witness, imitating his courageous example, and asking his continued intercession for those who live in the land he helped to evangelize.

The Book of Kells' famous Chi Rho, symbol of Christ
The Book of Kells’ famous Chi Rho, symbol of Christ

Like each and every one of the saints’ feast days, St. Patrick’s Day presents us with a vivid example of a particular life, lived at a particular place and time, in which the Word of God—Jesus Christ—took root, became flesh. By allowing that Word to take root in his heart, and by giving his life over to sharing that Word with others, St. Patrick changed the course of history for the nation of Ireland, and the Irish missionaries inspired by his example in turn helped to bring the Catholic faith to the United States of America. Anyone engaged in the work of the New Evangelization ought to see in St. Patrick not a cultural cliché, but a companion on the journey of discipleship and an ally in the effort to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Ultimately, the story of St. Patrick and the impact he had in Ireland is an incredible example of the way in which Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” (Heb 13:8), continues to take flesh in the hearts of those who are open to encountering him, and he does this within the particularities of their own lives and cultures. By allowing Christ to take flesh in his heart, St. Patrick made his own the words of St. Paul—“I now live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), yet he did so in a uniquely Celtic voice, as we see in the lyricism of the prayer for which he is most famous. Today, or this weekend, or whenever we celebrate all things Irish by raising our voices in prayer and song, kicking up our heels in a jig or a reel, attending parades, eating corned beef and cabbage, donning our favorite green woolen sweater, and yes, even perhaps raising our pints of Guinness (it is a celebration, after all, and everything in moderation), may we honor St. Patrick by looking to this great patron saint of Ireland more than anything else as an example of a life lived in Christ for others, and may we echo the final lines of his prayer with courage and fidelity, wherever our lives may take us:

Christ with me.
Christ before me.
Christ behind me.
Christ within me.
Christ beneath me.
Christ above me.
Christ at my right.
Christ at my left.
Christ in my lying down.
Christ in my sitting.
Christ in my arising.
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me.
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.
Christ in every eye that sees me.
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Practicing Lent: Living as the Beloved

Meredith Holland

Boston College School of Theology & Ministry

The Lenten season invites us to enter into a time of preparation through prayer and ascetic practices that can rid us of our sinful behaviors so that we become more open to God’s presence in our lives. We reform those aspects of our lives that take away from our true humanity so that we may enter into Holy Week, the Paschal Triduum, and Easter Sunday celebration—and the whole of the Christian life—as authentically human creatures, intended for and capable of praising God the Father. Lenten practices are not meant to temper our capacity for joy, but rather to increase it. Through the experience of emptiness and of darkness, we are more able to receive the fullness and light of God’s love. We remind ourselves of our hunger for God.

Yet, it is so easy to let the Lenten season simply pass by; it becomes merely a time to go through the motions of fasting and sacrifice, of prayer, of almsgiving, with a sense of detachment that precludes the authentic repentance and emptying that are not only necessary for the reorientation of our hearts and minds toward God, but also for making possible a participation in the genuine Christian joy that is Easter Sunday.

In his text Life of the Beloved, Henri J.M. Nouwen writes:

Still, I am thoroughly convinced that the origin and goal of our existence have everything to do with the ways we think, talk, and act in our daily lives. When our deepest truth is that we are the Beloved and when our greatest joy and peace come from fully claiming that truth, it follows that this has to become visible and tangible in the ways we eat and drink, talk and love, play and work. When the deepest currents of our live no longer have any influence on the waves at the surface, then our vitality will eventually ebb, and we will end up listless and bored even when we are busy. (40)

Lent is an opportunity to reform the ways we think, talk, and act in our daily lives such that that the deepest truths of our beings become more present in those ordinary actions. We abandon social media not to deprive ourselves of communication, but as a reminder that the vocation of the Christian calls all of one’s being to seek and praise God. We fast in order to remind ourselves of our bodily weakness, such that our physical hunger is a tangible sign of our spiritual hunger.

These practices are meant to be truly transformative, not merely temporary. They ought to make possible this visibility and tangibility of our deepest truth of which Nouwen writes.

I have always found the naming of Lenten practices appealing: it offers a tangibility and practicality to the spiritual life that is often difficult to identify and define. Lenten promises invite us to allow our spiritual lives to infuse the totalities of our lives, creating a space for prayer beyond the traditional pose or our standard practice. These offerings become another way for us to access God, at a time when we need this spiritual renewing most.

I have found recently that my traditional still pose of kneeling in silence, eyes closed, palms open, does not always bring a sense of peace and belovedness, but sometimes anxiety and restlessness. And, because that is the image we often have of prayer—quiet, solitude, serenity—this impatience can become a spiritual obstacle that breeds frustration and dissatisfaction, a sense of disappointment with one’s prayer. Often, it seems as though if we cannot find God in the stillness, we cannot find him at all. Lenten practices—the reorientation of the ordinary to reflect the deepest truths of our lives—remind us that this is not the case. When I do not feel at home in the stillness of a pious pose, I must learn to remind myself that we do not become the beloved only from our knees. We become the beloved in the living of our lives, too.

If we simply go through the motions of Lenten practices, not allowing them to penetrate our thoughts and actions, our preparation becomes merely a dulled anticipation. There is no emptying, no depth. We must remember that in seeking this depth, we will struggle, but we cannot assume that this struggle is an indication of a lack of faith. Pain and weakness are not the products of an uncertain faith, but rather offer witness to the conviction of the joy and love that will come. Lent is an opportunity to both satisfy and renew our hunger for God, continually reorienting the entirety of our lives to focus on God the Father who always recognizes us as his beloved.

Practicing Lent: The Formation of the Heart

Danielle PetersSr. Danielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt, Sisters of Mary

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

Alarmed by the “globalization of indifference” which also “presents a real temptation for us Christians,” Pope Francis entitled his Lenten Message 2015 with an imperative from the Letter of James: Make your hearts firm (5:8)! In this letter of a little less than 2000 words and signed already on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Holy Father contrasts the love God has for each one of us with our all too often utilitarian, indifferent feelings. This is never more evident than in times “when we are healthy and comfortable;” then we easily can be unconcerned with the suffering of others and gradually “our heart grows cold.” The Pope’s Lenten reflection highlights indifference and egocentrism as the main characteristics of a cold heart which permeate our world to such a degree that “we can speak of a globalization of indifference.”

How can we protect our hearts from this contagion? The Holy Father proposes three biblical texts for our Lenten renewal. He begins with the First Letter to the Corinthians (12:26) and directs it to the church as the Body of Christ: If one member suffers, all suffer together. Being interwoven as members of Christ’s Body, indifference seems inconceivable. The truth of this interdependence we have all experienced in our own families, the smallest entity of the church’s communion. How quickly plans can be frustrated due to the sickness of a parent or sibling? On the other hand, family love and joy have a motivating impact on the individual’s heart formation. The same applies to the church; whatever we do and omit in some way affects the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ; we either contribute to their misfortune and/or increase their happiness! For our Lenten practice the Holy Father suggests that we first allow Christ to serve and feed us by washing our feet and by nourishing us at the Eucharistic Table. Then, touched by this unconditional love our hearts will eventually be conformed to Christ’s and like him we will be urged to share ourselves with others.

The second pericope of the Pope’s Lenten message is taken from Genesis 4:9 where God asks Cain “Where is your brother?”  The Holy Father directs this question mainly to parishes and communities where Christ’s spirit prevails. He is concerned that ecclesial structures do not prevent us from being Christ’s body “which acknowledges and cares for its weakest, poorest and most insignificant members.” There is a real danger that we appease our conscience by writing a check for the weekly offertory collection but fail “to see the Lazarus sitting before our closed doors (Lk 16:19-31).”  By making an effort to practice the corporeal works of mercy we show responsibility for our brother and sister whereby “our parishes and our communities may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference.”  

With the third scriptural reference Pope Francis challenges each one of us personally: Make your hearts firm!” (James 5:8). The Holy Father admits that the flood of the media can paralyze us to the extent that “we often feel our complete inability to help.”  In order to escape “this Just like last year he wishes to commemorate the day of his election as pope, March 13, with the initiative “24 Hours for the Lord.” The pope requests that his anniversary will be celebrated “throughout the Church, also at the diocesan level” as a day of prayer and the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. The US Catholic Bishops’ Conference has included the 24 Hours for the Lord Initiative in their Lenten calendar and several bishops have responded to it in their Lenten reflections.

Whether as church, parish or individuals, we all need to find “a way of overcoming indifference and our pretensions to self-sufficiency.” The Pope suggests using “this Lent as an opportunity for engaging in what Benedict XVI called a formation of the heart (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 31).” A formed heart, writes Pope Francis, is a “strong and steadfast heart, closed to the tempter but open to God.” Such a heart “lets itself be pierced by the Spirit” and in recognizing “its own poverty … gives itself freely for others.” The formation of the heart presupposes on the one hand receptivity towards the transforming work of grace and on the other hand-and perhaps before everything else-an encounter with God’s love. At stake is a personal experience of God, who knows me by my name, who loves me unconditionally, who searches for me even when I turn my back on him. This is the question we need to reckon with: Do I really believe this? Can I believe this when there are so many puzzles in my life? Can I surrender to God when my prayers or needs are not met in a way I had requested? Where is this loving God when I am treated unjustly or when my hopes are compromised?
RendYourHeartsPope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us that the formation of the heart aims at a purified heart which can confidently perceive God’s solicitude even behind  what seems incomprehensible in life. And he proposes that “it may just be the task of Marian piety to awaken the heart and purify it in faith” (  “Thoughts on the Place of Marian Doctrine,” Communio 30 (Spring 2003), 160). Many saints and spiritual writers have elected Mary as mother and guide in forming their hearts.  They confirm that divine initiative and human cooperation merge creatively insofar as we choose the Marian way, a way with and like Mary towards God. It is a way marked by the obedience of faith and fiat surrender. Saint John Paul II reminds us that “Mary’s motherhood… is a gift: a gift which Christ himself makes personally to every individual” (Redemptoris Mater, 45). Do we need such a gift? As with every gift, we are free to accept it. I have come to realize that the more I unwrap this gift, the more I am fascinated by the thought that this gift is most fitting for our fickle hearts. Jesus entrusts the gift of his mother to us because he knows and loves us more than we can fathom. He knows our innate need of a mother.

Indeed, Mary’s personal integrity, her receptivity for God and her motherly disposition are natural and supernatural points of relationship. Is it not the sensitivity of a mother that takes seriously the subjective needs of each of her children?  Her love is the key which unlocks hearts even when the religious organ seems to have died. Patiently she tends the wounds of lethargic hearts, helping them to recuperate from their various disappointments and losses.  She knows that unless the soil of the emotional and irrational life is lovingly nourished and tilted, spiritual and religious values cannot take root. Hers is a spiritual force which reaches beyond doctrine and commandments; laws and prohibitions; moral pressure or the mere avoidance of sin. At issue is a relationship where the uniting and assimilating effect of love can transform hearts unlike anything else.

The large stain glass window of Our Lady of Mercy Chapel in Geddes Hall at the University of Notre Dame depicts Mary’s children, young and old, seeking refuge under her wide spread mantle. Some look up to her with outstretched arms or folded hands; one covers his face; one is bent low due to his weighty backpack, perhaps indicative of a heavy burden life has placed upon his shoulders. Whether dressed scantily or wrapped in several layers; whether they kneel before her or are still at a distance in the two side panels, Mary’s eyes rest on them all. By her maternal charity, she offers her heart to us no matter how close or distant we are to her Son. As the “Mother of Fair Love” she longs to receive our hearts so as to teach them genuine love of God and neighbor.

Lent is a time to become more aware of what it means to be an authentic disciple of our Lord by hearing and practicing his word. Pope Francis’ Lenten Message challenges us to engage in a formation of our heart. Following in Christ’s footsteps of self-denial, service, and prayer our hearts will be purified and renewed for the victory of Easter. Let us invite Mary, to form our hearts unto Christ’s and to shelter us in her heart especially when we are tempted by indifference. In company with Mary let’s make March 13/14 a deep encounter with the loving and merciful Heart of Jesus!

Practicing Lent: Illness and the Frailty of the Human Condition

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Several weeks ago, I received (as a dear gift from my undergraduates) a flu-like illness. The sickness started out as what seemed like a mere cold with the arrival of congestion in the middle of the night. Yet immediately after teaching an 8:00 AM class, my body began to rebel against my plan for a full day of work. Chills overtook me. Fever increased. I felt like someone had smacked each of my joints with a hammer. I traversed home, quarantining myself in the bedroom. For three days, as I let the illness unfold, I was cut off from seeing my toddler son and my wife (except for the briefest moments). My self-inflicted quarantine ended only after going to the doctor, where I received the news that my illness was not the flu but some other virus (which incidentally leaves open the possibility of getting the flu in the future).

Suffering through this rather marginal illness was an invitation to reflect upon the frailty of human nature in the early days of the season of Lent. An academic, fall and spring semesters are (in my own imagination) meant to function devoid of any interruption to my well-laid plans. Courses must be taught. Emails must be sent. Meetings must be had. Writing must be done.  Any interruption to my very rigid and important schedule must be avoided at all costs.

Yet, this virus was not particularly interested in assisting me with Virusstaying on schedule. The idol of routine was interrupted by the sickness, forcing me to recognize (once again) that despite my ambition to master human existence, I cannot do so. That I am not a disembodied will, capable of carrying out whatever I hope to achieve. Rather, as an embodied creature, existing in time and space, I am subject to atrophy. It is not just my schedule or routine that is falling apart. With the passing of each day, I move closer to the reality of my own final act of dying.

Modern life has (thankfully to a certain extent) isolated us from the fact of our own death. Most illness is generally treatable. Fever and joint pain can be lowered and alleviated through the taking of  Advil. Congestion can be cleared through cold medicine. We experience such illness as a momentary interruption to our schedule, rather than the shadow of death. Suffering can be eased.

Yet, there is something about such illness (even when marginal) that serves as a salutary sign of that final illness of which there will be no healing. That sickness in which pain and suffering will pass not through the instruments of medicine but only because we have taken our final breath. Sickness, in such moments, forces us to examine the purpose of our existence. Is my life full of meaning? Have I loved well? Have I conformed myself to the Eucharistic gift of love revealed in Christ? Have I given all away in love?

Of course, there is a further foretaste of death that often takes place in such illness. The communion with one another that we practice on a daily basis (conversation with co-workers, intimacy with family members) is at least momentarily snuffed out. After two days of being at home, my son finally realized that I was in fact in our house, hiding from him. He broke into my room of convalescence, seeking a hug. Denied this hug, he left the room, aware that for some reason I was avoiding physical contact with him. Indeed, is this cutting off of communion, of contact, not that which is most terrifying in sickness and death alike? As Joseph Ratzinger writes:

Sickness is described within the epithets that belong to death. It pushes man [and woman] into a realm of noncommunication, apparently destroying the relationships that make life what it is. For the sick person, the social fabric falls apart just as much as the inner structure of the body. The invalid is excluded from the circle of his [her] friends, and from the community of those who worship God. He [she] labors in the clutches of death, cut off from the land of the living. So sickness belongs in death’s sphere; or better, death is conceived as a sphere whose circumference is dereliction, isolation, loneliness, and thus abandonment to nothingness (Eschatology, 81).

Sickness and death are so terrifying, not simply because we are Aloneafraid to deal with physical suffering. Rather, sickness and death alike function as temptations to perceive in the world nothing but meaningless. To see all love as nothing but a fading light, the sunset of meaning itself.

In coming face-to-face with the frailty of the human condition in the midst of sickness, we are not like those who gaze into the darkness devoid of hope. Rather, the isolation that we experience while immersed in the totalizing worldview of sickness and death is an invitation to thrust ourselves upon the mercy of God, who binds every wound and heals the malaise of meaninglessness. As the celebration of Easter itself will demonstrate, we do not worship a God, who spurned sickness and death but offered himself in love. Jesus Christ, who did not let the meaninglessness of death win out but instead loved even into the creeping darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday alike.

Being sick in the midst of Lent is therefore, in some small way, a gift. It invites the believer to acknowledge the poverty of his or her own existence. And to thrust oneself, if we dare, upon the prodigal love of the God-person, Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead. Whose conquering of sickness and death did not erase illness from the human condition. But, through the resurrected light of the cross, has made it possible for all illness to be understood anew in light of the resurrection.

 

Remembering Our Spiritual Authority

Tim PTimothy Pisacich

Assistant Director, Echo

Institute for Church Life

 

 

 

This past December I turned thirty. So perhaps because I just entered yet another decade in life, I’m self-conscious of the things that I cannot remember. The consequences of what feels like a fading memory bring about unnecessary trips to Whole Foods (although honestly, my love for their Prepared Foods is most influential here), to-do lists that I misplace (misplaced lists bring greater freedom!), and a poor ability to remember friends’ birthdays (no excuse here). I wish that I could tell you that my memory of God’s healing presence in my life remained strong as I turned thirty, but in reality, there are things to re-remember.

MosesandtheMasksRemembering how God has acted and does act in our lives and our Church can be difficult. Even the Israelites, while under the spiritual leadership of Moses, chronically forgot about God’s interventions for their well-being.  Again and again, God acted through Moses to show signs of God’s presence with this people. The Israelites miraculously survived the attack of a well-equipped army; God enabled Moses to purify spoiled water and lead the people to twelve springs when they were without water; manna appeared in the morning as food when there was no other nourishment. Shortly following each situation in which God provided with aplomb, the people grumbled about the challenges they encountered while progressing to God’s Promised Land.

The people’s forgetfulness is perhaps best illustrated when the Israelites demanded that Aaron forge a god out of gold just after God was visible at Mount Sinai for six days and the Israelites accepted God’s covenant. “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him’” (32.1). Moses was away for forty days, and that was enough time for the Israelites to debase their covenant with God; that was enough time to forget God’s presence in the cloud, the purified water, the twelve springs, perseverance during attack, and freedom from slavery. Particularly while they traveled through unfamiliar land, God’s chosen people forgot God’s miraculous works and visible presence.

I used to read this narrative from a distance and with judgment. How could the Israelites be so forgetful and disobedient, particularly when they had the advantage of Moses’s leadership? My disappointment in the desert Israelites remains, but it is now coupled with empathy for a forgetful people in an unfamiliar land. Within my own journey of what I believe to be toward greater freedom, I have also found myself dangerously forgetful in an unfamiliar landscape marked with loneliness, rejection, failure, and anxiety. Because I was transfixed on what was not, I lost sight of what remained: the daily grace of God. I continued to recite our Creed, but proved incapable of trusting these foundational and radical Christian beliefs. Distinct and memorable people, who gave meaning to the words, “faith, hope, and love”, were no longer visible in my foreign, forgetful, land. I did not remember that God became Incarnate, Word made Flesh, to win our salvation.

Moses helped the Israelites remember that God intervened to win their salvation. God empowered Moses to preform miracles, which reminded the Israelites that they are God’s chosen people. While leading the Israelites to the Promised Land, Moses prepared the people and future generations to remember the ways God intervened and provided. He instructed the people to celebrate the Passover sacrifice of the Lord and explain the meaning when children ask, ‘what do you mean by this rite?’ (Ex.12.26). Moses instructed that one omer of manna be kept throughout the ages as reminder of God’s miraculous sustenance in the desert (Ex. 16.32). Moses’s leadership involved moving the people forward to a new land while continually pointing back to the miracles that revealed God’s presence in their history.

Eventually, Moses’s leadership brought the Israelites to the MosesIconPromised Land. What’s more, the Judeo-Christian people remember how forgetful and stiff-necked the Israelites were as they progressed toward freedom. The Torah includes a comprehensive account of their exodus, which, when we reflect honestly, resonates with our own exodus from slavery toward reconfiguration to Jesus Christ. The record of the Israelite’s forgetfulness in-between slavery and the Promised Land assures us that God pursues our salvation. Our journeys to the Promised Land also include stiff-necked dispositions and unfocused cries to see God. Whatever landscape we find ourselves in, our destiny is to accept and remember that God has intervened in a most miraculous way to win our salvation.

When we remember God’s activity in our lives, we exude a spiritual authority that encourages others pursuing the Promised Land. Moses’s lengthiest period at Mount Sinai changed his physical appearance. “Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant, since he had spoken with Him” (Ex 34.29). Our lives can and will look different when we let our personal and ecclesial memories nourish our faith. Remembering God’s activity affects the memories of those around us. We help the world remember that Jesus has already won our salvation.

Last December, back in Connecticut, my dad and I worked on a project together. As we all know, projects with family members bring opportunities for disagreement and strife, which can lead to resentment and misunderstanding. But this Friday evening, as the sun set, I helped my father as he finished one of his long “thought about” and “talked about” hopes: to build a shed in the woods next to our family’s home. Our work together was marked with common understanding, unspoken appreciation of the other, and a sense of excitement upon reaching a goal that some family members literally bet would never happen. As we worked, we helped one another. This is a scene that I am called to remember today because it reminds me how God’s grace is active and at work in our lives.

Fridays Are For Fasting

The Rev. Porter C. Taylor
Canon to the Ordinary
The Diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others (C4SO), Kansas
@porterctaylor

The call in Lent is the call to discipleship. That is, in this penitential season of self-reflection and intentional spiritual awareness we look down the slopes of the Mountain of Transfiguration straight to the Cross on Golgotha and journey with Jesus, the disciples, and one another as we follow the One who has called us. Jesus’ 40-day temptation retreat in the wilderness provides the framework for our introspection and spiritual regimen.  Why?

Because we know that we need the Cross daily.
Because we know the areas of our hearts and lives that are not aligned with God.
Because we know that we are but ashes and dust; we are creature not Creator. 

I think that we need to unmask Lent for those who are unsure about this penitential season. I think that we need to see Lent for what it is, and certainly for what it is not. Lent is not a time to earn forgiveness for your sins. It is not a time to begrudgingly give something up temporarily only to greedily pick it back up after Easter. It is not a time for false humility or personal piety. Lent is not only a tradition for the liturgically minded.

I believe that Lent is for the priesthood of all believers.
I believe that Lent is hope-filled.
I believe we must journey to the foot of the Cross before we discover the Empty Tomb.

In this Lenten Season we are athletes in intense training rather than sinners in the hands of an angry God. There are ancient disciplines and biblical practices that help locate and combat the spiritual flab on our souls. Much like a marathon runner needs to practice for weeks and months on end, stretching before each run, we are stretched through our continual workouts as we practice for the kingdom. N.T. Wright challenges us to begin practicing in the present for the full reality of Jesus’ kingdom in the future.

Our call is not to become spiritual superstars or to take on disciplines to the notice and laud of others. christ-fastingOur call, as Christ-followers and as the Church, is to sacrifice our entire person as our spiritual act of worship (Rom 12); to be formed spiritually as “new creation” (2 Cor 5); to “decrease” so that Christ might “increase” (Jn 3); and to grow in maturity in the faith together (Eph 4). As you can see, this is the call for all believers. In fact, historically, the local Church took on disciplines throughout Lent—particularly prayer and fasting—while her newest converts went through the catechumenate to prepare for Baptism during the Easter Vigil. Lent was a Church-wide tradition. I think it still is Church-wide, or at least still can be.

Lent teaches us to live in the shadow of the Cross and the radiant light of the empty tomb. We learn to die to self and rise in Christ. Taking on of spiritual disciplines, coupled with “giving things up” helps form us more fully as members of God’s Story rather than our own. Our desperate need for grace and the radical reversal of our realities plant us firmly in the tradition of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church which teaches us to rely on God absolutely.

Fridays are for Fasting
As stated previously, prayer and fasting are two of the oldest spiritual disciplines in Christian spirituality and Lenten preparation. The faithful would fast alongside and on behalf of those new believers in Jesus who were readying for Baptism. Fasting has become a regular fixture in my weekly schedule as I set Friday aside for the abstinence of food. Why? I am fasting because I want to draw closer to God through lack of food—I want to encounter him in my hunger—and I have found that prayer and meditation are actually much easier when I am not interrupted by the need to feed.

Recently the majority of the 32 postulants for ordination in my (Anglican) Diocese have agreed to join up with tradition and spend Fridays in fasting and prayer for one another. Fasting has become a sort of spiritual solidarity that they can offer up in the midst of any circumstance or trial. We are not earning or winning anything through this spiritual practice, in fact I have personally found myself desperately hungry well before the time is up. If I can meet our Lord in the bread and wine of the Eucharist then why can I not meet him in the words that “flow from the mouth of God” because “man does not live by bread alone”?

In his book On Liturgical Asceticism, David Fagerberg relates a poignant story about fasting from the Desert Fathers, “No fast should be held inhospitably rigid that it cannot be broken.” He goes on to share a story in which a monk breaks his fast and his dining companion asks why. The monk replies, “Because I can always fast but I will not always be able to dine with you. We can eat now and I can resume my fast later.” The point is not to become self-righteous or Pharisaical but to approach the Father through our own oblations and sacrifices in the knowledge that he has already wooed us to himself and that he desires our praises, both verbal and physical.

Will you join us and set Fridays in Lent aside for fasting? This is not a “misery-loves-company” type invitation but rather an opportunity to train our bodies, hearts, and minds in the contemplation and adoration of He Who is Greater than we can ever comprehend; it is a request for you to participate in the spiritual life of the Church in a meaningful way; it is a chance for you to remove every hindrance and encumbrance while we run the race set before us. The goal is not weight loss or personal holiness (per se): the goal is always God. It is the God whom we meet in the absence of a few meals and it is He whom we meet in the presence of physical hunger.

Perhaps our physical hunger can serve as a mirror or catalyst for spiritual hunger. What if I longed for God the way I longed for food after a 24-hour fast? What if I pursued God with zeal as I do the meal ravenously consumed once my fast has broken? What if? Perhaps this is an opportunity to the glory of God . . . will you join me?

Pass this along to friends and family as a challenge to live life in Lent together. Join with those who have gone before and set the example for those who will come after. Lent is a launching pad for the life of the disciple to be continued daily after Easter.  May we journey together as one voice, one Body. May we all observe a holy Lent.

Our Brothers and Sisters in Iraq

BrianPierceOPBrian Pierce OP 

Province of St Martin de Porres, United States. Former Promoter of the Nuns.

 

TimothyRadcliffeOPTimothy Radcliffe OP

Province of England. Former Master of the Order of Preacher

Editorial Note: The following piece was received from Fr. Brian and Fr. Timothy last week, seeking to raise awareness about the plight of Christians in Iraq. Please spread this piece far and wide, noting that Fr. Brian Pierce and Fr. Timothy Radcliffe are authors of this piece. 

At the invitation of Fr. Amir Jaje OP, the Vicar of the Arabic Vicariate of the Province of France, we made a visit to Iraq, from January 8th to 16th. We are very aware of how superficial our understanding of this complex and beautiful country and its suffering, but even so we would like to share what we have heard and seen, the hope that our brethren and sisters keep alive, and what we can do to support them. Please forgive any inaccuracies.

Our brothers and sisters belong to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, dating almost from the time of Christ. They are our elders and so we must be with them in this terrible time. Also the suffering of Iraq is symptomatic of the crisis of our whole world. ISIS, or Da’esh as it is more usually called in Iraq, is a child of our times. Its violence derives, at least in part from the violence of Western culture, with its love of guns. The jihadists love to watch our films with all their endless killing. We are complicit with what is happening here. Our invasions triggered the crisis that the Iraqi people now endure.

We started in Baghdad. A travel website advised us not to go at all, but if we did, to remain within the fortified Green Zone, where nearly all foreigners are sheltered. If one travels outside that fortress, the advised means of transport are either helicopter or armoured car. Neither the brethren nor the sisters had either of these! As we drove around Baghdad with our brother, Amir, at no time did we experience any tension or feel any threat. Everywhere we were welcomed with a generosity which is astonishing, given how our countries have played a part in the explosion that is ripping apart this country.

Of course it is not entirely safe: there were suicide bombers and kidnappings even while we were there. But the most potent weapon of terrorism is terror. If we let terror prevent us from visiting this city, or if it keeps us imprisoned behind the high walls of an impregnable fortress, the terrorists have won. Iraqis feel forgotten and betrayed, but if one visits our brothers and sisters in Iraq, the welcome is beyond words. After Baghdad, we flew to Erbil where we joined a delegation of three Dominican sisters, Dusty Farnan, Marcelline Koch, and Arlene Flaherty, who were visiting the refugee camps in Kurdistan. We enjoyed the unforgettable hospitality of Sister Maria Hanna, Prioress General, and her community of marvelous and beautiful sisters.

What We Saw

MosulChurchesThe numbers and statistics are numbing.  500,000 Christians and Yazidis, together with a number of Muslims, fled the ancient city of Mosul as Da’esh (ISIS) swept through the Nineveh Plain in early August 2014.  A few days later the predominantly Christian villages of Qaraqosh and Bartola were emptied of Christians in a matter of hours, as the ISIS forces marched towards these two predominantly Christian communities.  With no time to prepare for their tragic exodus, the local people left taking with them only what they could gather in their arms, as they fled in cars or by foot towards the Kurdish region of Iraq.

We met a couple in one of the refugee camps whose baby daughter was snatched from the mother’s arms by an ISIS militant as they were leaving Qaraqosh on a bus.  There is no word of the baby’s whereabouts.  A Catholic pastor, who now directs one of the refugee camps in Ankawa (the ‘camp’ being nothing but the dark, damp concrete shell of an unfinished shopping mall) told us that of the four churches that he served in Mosul, one has been turned into a weapons’ warehouse, while the other three are being used as prisons and places of torture.

We heard heart-breaking stories of betrayal by long time Muslim neighbours and friends as ISIS swept through these predominantly Christian towns and neighbourhoods.  Some of the Muslim neighbours have even phoned their former Christian neighbours, taunting them, saying, “We have your homes now and are selling the merchandise that you left behind in your shops.”  Though we met many people who still hold onto the hope of returning, others have said that the betrayal by former friends and neighbours has created a wound that can never be healed.

One of the bishops in Kurdistan told us that due to the violence and the absence of any substantial help from the Iraqi government, approximately 1800 Christians are leaving Iraq each month.  Some are resettling, at least temporarily, in surrounding countries (Lebanon and Jordan principally), while the others go to Europe, Australia or North America.  It is often the more educated who flee.  For many, this is the beginning of a life in exile, resigned to the possibility that they may never see their homeland again.  Some Christians say that they must leave for the sake of their children.  Those who stay are the poorest, although some Christians and Muslims who have the means to leave have chosen to remain, committed to the difficult task of helping to build a new Iraq.  Our Dominican sisters’ and brothers’ courage in staying to build the future with their people is a powerful witness of their faith in God’s steadfast love and mercy.

We were told that the local Kurdish authorities have now begun to close the borders to new waves of refugees, leaving them with no place to seek asylum and safety.  There are approximately 120,000 refugees in Ankawa (a Christian suburb of Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan) who are now living in one-room cubicles (called caravans) about the size of a camper-trailer.  In many shelters two caravans are joined by a common bathroom, while in other shelters there are only public bathrooms and showers.  Many people are sick with colds and other ailments, due to the unusually cold winter this year and the precarious living situations.  Some family trailers house 8-12 family members, and in one we were told that 26 people from a single extended family are living in a single caravan, an almost unbearable situation.

The largest camp – the Ankawa Mall – is home to 400 families, AnkawaMallapproximately 1700 persons.  Creatively they have set aside a space that serves as a kind of coffee house where people can rest and enjoy a game of dominoes. Both of us were soundly beaten! The Dominican sisters of St. Catherine are working with two priests and a brother of another congregation in a new neighbourhood on the outskirts of Erbil where 200 newly built houses are being rented to accommodate refugee families.

Unfortunately they are not completely free from the danger of violence in their new environment.  A suicide bomber, a fundamentalist Kurdish Muslim, blew himself up inside Erbil some weeks ago, stoking the fear that even within the boundaries of their ‘new home’ as refugees, they cannot be totally safe.  It is estimated that about 18% of Kurdish Muslims are members of a fundamentalist sect.

The psychological and mental toll on these refugees is worrisome, given that the future is so uncertain.  In one camp we watched as thirty to forty desperate refugees protested before one of the priests working in the camps, begging for answers and relief.  The priest stood before them patiently, gently listening to their desperate cries for help, with few answers to give to their anguished demands.  The harshest pain is the stripping of their human dignity.   Their needs are simply overwhelming.  The heroism of aid workers, volunteer doctors, nurses and pharmacists, priests and sisters, many of whom are refugees themselves, is incredibly moving in such circumstances.

The Yazidi refugees, many of whom are being cared for by Church aid agencies, suffer an added burden, of being considered by many of their neighbours as devil-worshippers.  The Church has called on Muslim leaders to be more forthright in denouncing the use of religion as a pretext for violence.  While some claim that Islam is a religion of peace, others say that it is a religion born in violence and that it will not stop until all ‘unbelievers’ are converted or destroyed.  Moderate Muslims, however, have bravely stood alongside their Christian and Yazidi neighbours, sharing in their struggles and offering aid to the refugees.

Few Iraqis trust the Western nations, demanding that they must assume their responsibility for this crisis, even as the war games for control of the region’s vast oil reserves continue.  Muslim fundamentalism, backed by money from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, uses the greed and economic voraciousness of the West as a pretext for their own self-serving and violent aims.

We happened to be in Iraq at the time of the brutal massacre at the Charlie Hebdo studio in Paris.  The “I am Charlie” campaign has reverberated throughout Iraq and surrounding countries. This will only lead to more violence.  One Iraqi Dominican sister commented to us: ‘As they march in Paris for freedom of expression, we are the ones being killed in retaliation for the cartoons.’  The Dominican friars in Ankawa held a two hour prayer vigil in solidarity with the victims of the Paris massacre, while echoing Pope Francis’ plea for prudent restraint.  Freedom of expression is not a ‘right’ disconnected from social justice, non-violence and ethical responsibility.  Meeting offense with more offense will lead to more violence.  We Christians must show that non-violence has the power to change the world and issue in a new era of peace.

Many talked of Westerners who are joining ISIS and other international jihadist groups. Though we cannot always stop the radicalised young from setting off to the Middle East, it does not seem constructive to punish or arrest those who return to the West, disillusioned by the violent and extremist expressions of Islam. We must welcome the young home and help them to be healed of the wounds of war. Only education and the pursuit of justice will defeat fundamentalism.  In the end, those who return home disillusioned by the violence of ISIS may be the best preachers to other young who are tempted to join these violent groups.

IraqiUniversitiesAccess to schools and universities is seen as one of the important and urgent steps needed in order to stem the rise of violent fundamentalism.  One bishop in Iraqi Kurdistan said that thirty to forty universities and a number of hospitals are desperately needed if they are to stem the flight of all persecuted Iraqis to other countries.

What Hope?

The question that constantly haunted us during this visit was: How can our brothers and sisters in Iraq keep hope alive? We were often told that in Arabic there are two words for hope. ‘Amal’ is the everyday optimism that things will go well. ‘Raja’ is a deeper hope, based on our trust in someone, above all God. Most of these Christians have lost all ‘amal.’ They see no future at all except sad exile in foreign lands. A bishop told us that even the babies in the womb were longing to go.

But there are signs of that deeper hope, ‘raja’, even if it is not clear how it may come to fruition. Staying in Iraq is already a sign of hope. A chemistry teacher said to one of our sisters: ‘Why are you still here? France will accept you.’ When many of the disciples fled, Jesus said to Peter: ‘Will you also go?’ (John 6.67). Peter remained. Jesus abides with us, and remaining is a powerful sign of hope when so many are leaving. Who knows what we would do in this situation? If we had children, would we dare to stay and risk their future? It was not for us to urge members of this most ancient Christian community to stay and keep alive their unique tradition. But we hoped that some would. Our brother Atisha is a wonderful example of this witness.

It is a source of hope that some Muslims say that if the Christians go, the Iraq which they love will be finished. The relationship between believers of different faiths has been the core of Iraqi identity. In a Muslim restaurant in Baghdad, offering ‘impregnating chicken’, ‘sheep full of rice’ and ‘upside down chicken’, there was an image of the Last Supper of Christ with his disciples, and a light burnt before an icon of the Virgin and her child. We gave a public lecture to almost three hundred people in Baghdad, seventy percent of whom were Muslim. They begged the Christians to stay. One young man said: ‘‘Why do we debate whether the Christians should stay or go? They were here before we Muslims arrived.’

It is hopeful that Christianity is sometimes recognised by Muslims as a religion of peace. When soldiers came searching for weapons in Baghdad they entered a Christian home, but when they saw the Christmas crèche they said: ‘You are Jesus. There are no weapons here’ and left immediately. It seems to be above all the Christians who welcomed and collaborated with the Yazidis. Christians have something essential to offer if Iraqi society is to find a new unity.

IraqCreche

We were told that this year many Muslims bought Christmas trees. Of course this may in part be due to the dominance of the Western world in the media and its image of Christmas. But for many Muslims, especially the Shia, this was an expression of shared devotion: Muslims and Christians standing together before the tree to make a wish, honouring the prophet Jesus.

This hope peeps through in the simple determination to get up each morning and do what must done today. One of our brethren, Nouiran, said: ‘Hope means that I live now, whatever may happen tomorrow.’

This hope shines through in the Christian commitment to go on caring for others even when our own future is so uncertain. In a clinic in a squalid camp we met a woman who had owned three pharmacies until the dreadful night when ISIS came. Now she works as a volunteer, dispensing what few medicines they have. She said: ‘I have lost everything, but I have learnt gratitude for the little that remains. This is why I come.’

In Baghdad we were bowled over by our visits to two homes. Mother Theresa’s sisters run a home for children of all faiths who have been abandoned because of their disabilities. Who could forget the intelligent, gentle face of Nora, born without arms or legs, who feeds the younger children with a spoon held between her teeth? Two consecrated virgins welcome 60 older women of all faiths who have no home, with whom we laughed and prayed. The joy in these places is sacramental of a hope for a new world.

We visited two centres for refugees built by the brethren, called ‘the Vine’ and ‘Hope.’ Our brothers Najeeb and Sarmad explained that it is important that every family have a home with a window and a door. One needs to look out but also human dignity requires a space for privacy. Here the refugees themselves are involved in building emergency caravans and homes, an employment which gives them some income but, even more important, dignity.

Memory shores up hope. One can hardly imagine the hope given to the people staying in one of these camps when the phone rang on Christmas Eve, and Pope Francis was there to tell them that they were not forgotten. Let us remember them too and be a sign of our God who never forgets anyone: ‘Can a woman forget our suckling child, that she should not have compassion of the child of her womb? Yes, these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are always before me.’ (Isaiah 49.15f)

When we visited these and other centres, we were impressed by how our brothers and sisters remembered the names and stories of so many of the refugees. There is a hunger for recognition. So many NGOs treat people as just numbers, units with material needs rather than the dignified children of the People of God, each of whose name is known to God.

Memory of the past can be a sign of hope in the future. Things need not necessarily be as they are today. Our brother, Najeeb, just managed to snatch the Vicariate’s centuries’ old archives form under the noses of ISIS and carry them into exile, keeping alive the memory of the past. These help us to remember that we have survived crises in the past.

The most intriguing sign of hope was the commitment to education. If ISIS is just defeated militarily, then it will be reborn in another form. The true enemy is the blind fundamentalism that fuels its violence. In 2012, the Dominican Father Yousif Tomas Mirkis, now the Archbishop of Kirkuk, founded the Baghdad Academy of Human Sciences. It has 500 students, mainly Muslim. They study philosophy, sociology, anthropology, as well as English and French. They earn certificates granted by DOMUNI, our Internet University. Is it crazy to attend lectures on Wittgenstein when ISIS is decapitating people? But in this violent storm, the Church must cling to its belief in reason. The logo of the Academy is the Dominican shield, with a pencil in the centre, supporting a big question mark. Archbishop LogoMirkis told us: ‘We need places where people can breathe the oxygen of debate.’ Here they discuss whether it is true that ‘Je suis Charlie’ rather than just chant a slogan. The Church keeps alive a belief in reason when many others look only to force. Intelligence can break through the walls of prejudice and stupidity.

Our magazine ‘Christian Thought’, edited by Fr. Philippe, is widely bought by Muslims who wish to think and dialogue with us. It is not for spreading Christian ideas, but so that the Christian tradition of reflection can open a space for dialogue. 800 hundred years ago, in ancient Baghdad, Christian, Muslim and Jewish scholars studied together. Fr. Amir’s commitment to dialogue with the Shia scholars in the south of Iraq, in Najef, is a witness to hope. One of us attended a summit of Christian and Muslim leaders in Rome in December, where many Shia spoke with affection and respect for his work.

In Ankawa in the north, we visited Babel College, where many of our sisters and brothers teach. Two of our sisters have doctorates in scripture, from Oxford and Notre Dame. What a wonderful and long-sighted expression of hope to form scholars in such terrible circumstances. Three of the professors in this Christian college are Muslim. There are 120 lay people in the lay programme.

Beauty too makes hope visible in the face of the ugliness of violence. We had a very moving afternoon in Baghdad when we visited the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance, where on October 31, 2010 forty-seven lay people and two priests were massacred, along with the five suicide bombers who blew themselves up after entering the church during the celebration of the Eucharist. During our visit to the church we met a woman who was shot during the attack, losing the baby in her womb.  The new church, beautifully reconstructed with fine wood work, with the names of the dead carved on the walls, is a sign of the victory of the resurrection, when the dead barren wood of the cross blossoms as it will in Iraq. We believe that the blood of the martyrs will be fruitful.

Finally, in the camps, there are many children whose playful laughter gave us hope. We visited two hospitals in Baghdad founded and run by the Dominicans sisters of the Presentation and of St Catherine, each of which has a maternity ward. Here the future citizens of Iraq are being born, Muslims and Christians side by side. One sister, a midwife, was described to us as ‘the mother of Iraq.’

When we visited the camps in the north children came bounding up to meet these strangers in white habits. They had been dragged out of their homes, fled for their lives, and live in squalor, but they had a confident, trusting spontaneity which is not always evident in Western children. Just before communion in the Chaldean Catholic rite, two children come up to the altar to receive the sign of peace from the priest which they transmit to the congregation. Perhaps these children are the messengers of hope for the future, even if now we cannot imagine what form this might take.

What Can We Do?

This is a question which we often put to the brethren and sisters. Frequently the response was: ‘Tell people the truth of what is happening here.’ This is our motto: Veritas.

  • The truth is that this is a vast humanitarian catastrophe, which is crushing millions of lives.
  • The truth is that this disaster has largely been triggered by the West’s bungling intervention in the region, mainly in pursuit of its own interests.
  • The truth is that the confrontation with ISIS is symptomatic of a crisis which afflicts the whole of humanity at the beginning of the twenty first century, as traditional cultures confront modernity.
  • The truth is that the violence of ISIS is in part a sour fruit of the violence of a global economic system which is creating ever greater inequalities between nations and within nations. We should inform our politicians, invite them to visit Iraq and to work for a solution to this catastrophe.

Secondly, the Dominicans of Iraq ask for our prayers. Many of them pray every day: ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’  (Psalm 15.1) We should besiege the heavens with our prayers, like the importunate widow beating on the door of the judge until he gives her what she wants (Luke 18.2ff). We must pray frequently and insistently for peace in Iraq, and for its Christians, in our communities, our parishes, our various ministries.

Thirdly, it would be wonderful if some of the wider Dominican Family were to visit our brothers and sisters in Iraq, and meet the people whom they serve. The bumper stickers distributed by the Order during the last Iraqi war read: ‘We have family in Iraq’. We still do. Come, especially if you have some skill that could help the refugees, if you are a nurse or a doctor or an expert in the care of people with trauma. Maybe small groups of young people could come for a couple of weeks to be with the young in these camps, to share their experience. This would be transformative, both of those who come and those who are visited. Of course it is a little risky, but we should not be governed by fear: ‘Perfect love casts out fear’ ( I John 4.18).

Finally, we can raise money to help these refugees, so that they can live with dignity and hope. Funds to support the work of the brethren and sisters should be sent, marked ‘For Iraq’ to:

PROVINCE DOMINICAINE DE FRANCE
DOMICILIATION : HSBC FR AGENCE CENTRALE
IBAN : FR 76 3005 6001 4801 4854 2857 016
Code B.I.C. : CCFRFRPP

J.R.R. Tolkien and the Season of Lent

Jon JordanJon R. Jordan

Dean of Students

Coram Deo Academy, Dallas, TX

One of my favorite bits of dialogue in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring confronts us with an age-old debate about spiritual disciplines in general, and the Christian season of Lent in particular. Before embarking on their Journey to Mordor, Elrond—the Lord of Rivendale—shares a final message with the Company that is to join Frodo on his quest: Frodo himself is bound to complete the journey, while the members of the Company are “free companions” that may “come back, or turn aside into other paths, as chance allows.” Gimli—the renowned Dwarf warrior—gives a response that begins the dialogue in question.
‘‘Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,’’ said Gimli.
‘‘Maybe,’’ said Elrond, ‘‘but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.’’
‘‘Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart,’’ said Gimli.
‘‘Or break it,’’ said Elrond.
Gimli argues that a vow made on the front-end of a journey may serve as a sustaining force for when difficulty is faced. Elrond counters that, at times, the weight of such a vow might actually break one’s will along the way. Both positions are worthy of considering further, but what light can this conversation shed on the ancient Christian practice of Lent?

The Church calendar has historically served as a way to center our lives around the life of Christ, and the season of Lent serves (1) as an opportunity to re-live Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness and as (2) a period of preparation for our celebration of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. It has traditionally been celebrated as a season for (1) fasting, (2) the adoption of a new spiritual practice, and (3) giving of time and money to the poor. These practices are not particular to Lent, but are in fact some of the most central practices of the Christian faith, commanded repeatedly throughout the New Testament (see Mt 6:1-18). An important side-point here is that Lent, as a season that simply asks Christians to act as Christians, is a gift from God and should be received by all Christians as such.

So how then should we approach Lent? With Gimli’s determination and rigidity, or with Elrond’s patience and grace?

The Church’s answer to this questions, as is so often the case, is “yes” to both. Be like Gimli as you fight against sin in your own life and injustice in the world. Use this period of 40 days (plus 6 Sundays) to re-center your spiritual life. Don’t let the calendar of culture dictate your devotion to Christ. Put forth effort to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). On Ash Wednesday, the Church is somberly called to “the observance of a Holy Lent.”

But also remember that we are far more like the first Adam, who failed his temptation in the garden, than we are like the second Adam, who triumphed over temptation in the wilderness.

Be like Elrond as you let your failure during this season serve as another reminder of your need for a savior. Don’t let your adoption of new disciplines “puff up” your ego, but instead recognize them for what they are: gifts from God given to a sinner who does not deserve them. This is why the Ash Wednesday service has also traditionally included the imposition of ashes on the forehead while the phrase “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” is spoken as a reminder of our frail, fallen nature.

May this Lenten season be for us one more way “that we may remember that it is only by [God’s] gracious gift that we are given everlasting life” (Book of Common Prayer, 265).

Fr. Ted and the Eucharist

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Obituaries often reveal more about what matters to a specific society than the meaning of the life of the person who has recently passed. In the case of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC the most prominent obituaries have tended to emphasize that here was a figure not afraid to follow his principles even if it meant conflict with the Vatican or the President of the United States (especially President Nixon). Such obituaries of Fr. Ted offer the portrait of a disciplined maverick, whose creative vision transcended all forms of authority. His life is not simply that of the ideal priest but the portrait of an American leader.

Of course, there are exceptions to such communal obituaries, exceptions that often originate from those who knew him best. Not as the leader who took on  heads of state and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Rather, it was the obituary of a man, who loved the Eucharist:

“When he said Mass, he really meant it,” [Fr. Ernie Bartell, CSC] said. ‘He wasn’t doing it for show or to impress the trustees or anything like that…He became a very real role model in that respect.’

Because of its brevity, one may tempted to pass over this line as an example of a fond remembrance by a fellow religious. But in the contemporary university, where every event is analyzed for its fundraising potential, Fr. Bartell’s claim is worth holding onto. The celebration of the Eucharist for Fr. Ted was not something in his arsenal for impressing trustees or holding court in the homes of donors. The sacrifice of the Mass for Fr. Hesburgh was that sacred action he performed daily in his status as priest.

HesburghMassHesburgh’s wisdom here is not something easy for present day Notre Dame to hold onto. For us, the omnipresence of Eucharistic liturgies on campus is often less about the vision that should suffuse our scholarship and teaching and more a talking point to convince others, including our donors, that we remain deeply Catholic. The heart of the university is the Eucharist, not because it sells, but because it is a constant, prophetic reminder that our intellectual life is but part of a larger economy of gift that we participate in.

The University that forgets this truth risks treating the Eucharist as an idol, a form of self-worship. As Jean-Luc Marion writes:

Hence the imposture of an idolatry that imagines itself to honor ‘God’ when it heaps praises on his pathetic ‘canned’ substitute…exhibited as an attraction…brandished like a banner…and so on. In this sense, profanation would increase with the bustle of a too obviously ‘political’ worship: political in the sense that the community would seek to place ‘God’ at its disposition like a thing, its thing, to reassure its identity and strengthen its determination in that thing (God Without Being, 164).

The gift of the Eucharist becomes a “thing” that we use to get what we desire instead of re-shaping what it means to desire in the first place. Fr. Ted understood the danger of this Eucharistic idolatry. And perhaps, this remains one of his many great gifts to Notre Dame. A sense that the Eucharist transcends the specific mission of the place, moving us toward the offering of our whole lives to the God who gives and gives and gives.

 

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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