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


Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detroit Mass Mob 3

Mass Mobs: The Ultimate Flash Mob

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Earlier this week, several news sources including the Huffington Post and NPR reported on a growing trend in urban Catholicism, especially Detroit—the Mass Mob. Begun in Buffalo in November 2013, Mass Mobs were inspired by the “flash mob,” where groups of people show up to a certain place at a certain time and either break out into a pre-determined dance routine as in this “Thriller” flash mob or a choral performance as in this “Hallelujah Chorus” flash mob. There has even been an instance of an “Ode to Joy” flash mob orchestra (admittedly this last example was staged for a commercial, but still, awesomeness abounds).

With the Mass Mob, this idea has taken on a sacramental twist: once a month, a group of people attends Mass at a pre-determined place and time. detroit-mass-mobThe locales are often historic churches that are struggling financially, giving people the opportunity to worship in stunningly beautiful spaces and often encouraging them to take action to prevent their closures by contributing money. Apart from the aesthetic benefit for participants, who are opened up to an experience of liturgical architecture and beauty, and parishes, who benefit financially from contributions and receive a morale boost from seeing their often empty church filled to standing room only, there is another obvious benefit to the Mass Mob phenomenon: more people are going to Mass.

When I first heard about this, I worried. I thought, people are making Mass trendy, so what’s going to happen when the trend fades and the media are no longer covering this particular story? Will this kind of flash mob amount to a nothing more than flash in the pan? But the more I read about these events, the more I am all for the Mass Mob: it takes place once per month, so it’s not drawing regular Mass-goers away from their parishes, and it’s in no danger of losing its appeal by becoming routine. By making the Mass Mob an occasional event, the organizers are, in effect, planting seeds. Detroit Mass Mob 2They invite people in to an experience of liturgy in a beautiful space, and (hopefully) those people leave the celebration wanting to enter in to such an experience again before the next month’s gathering. The Mass Mobs are planting seeds within the hearts of those who participate—people who may not attend Sunday Mass under any other circumstances—and these seeds take the shape of a desire for beauty and community. Much has been said in recent posts about the communal aspect of gathering for the Eucharist, and I think that the popularity of the Mass Mobs is a concrete manifestation of these deeply rooted desires for belonging.

Flash mobs bring outsiders in, both directly—inviting strangers to sing and dance and play together, and indirectly—inviting spectators to enter into the joy of the performers, such that the joy of latter becomes the joy of the former. Flash mobs involve normal people who seek to participate in something bigger than themselves. Such people need not be perfect—plenty of wannabe zombies made mistakes in the “Thriller” flash mob. One need not even be part of the original group of flash mob conspirators—see the elderly couple who stood up to join in the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Perhaps they were indeed part of the choir planning the flash mob (one can’t tell from the video who the planners are), perhaps they had simply participated in choirs years earlier and were drawn into the singing by memory and joy. Whatever the reason for their being present, they stood up and joined in the song. Which is exactly what’s happening with the Mass Mobs. detroitmassmobIn their own right, these events are specifically geared toward reaching the people on the peripheries, an act encouraged by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhoration Evangelii Gaudium (§20), an act central to the flourishing of the New Evangelization. People may be participating in the Mass Mobs because it’s trendy, because they always wanted to see some of the architectural gems of their city and this gives them an excuse to finally do so, or because they’re simply curious. The more important point though, is that once those people enter into the church, they are swept up into the ultimate flash mob—the Body of Christ. Because when you think about it, every single celebration of the Mass can be characterized as a flash mob. Members of the assembly come from all over the place, to gather in this one place, at this one time, and somehow, everyone pretty much knows what to do. And if you don’t know or remember what to do, you can pick it up from your neighbor. It’s not always perfect, because we are human beings. The music might be out of tune, people who haven’t been to Mass in some time might still respond with words from the older translation of the Roman Missal, or everyone might be confused on when exactly to stand before the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, but when we as Catholic Christians enter into the Eucharistic liturgy together, we enter into it with and through Christ our Head, as members of his Body, and all of our imperfections are caught up in the perfection of his self-giving love. Now that’s something to get together with a group of friends you’ve never met and celebrate.

Schoenstatt chapel Marian image

Schoenstatt: A Creative Response to World War I

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

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt
Sisters of Mary
Post-Doctoral Fellow,
Institute for Church Life,
University of Notre Dame

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July 28, 2014 marked the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. Many events—from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to Germany’s secret treaty alliance with Turkey—led to this fateful day. Like many Europeans at that time, a young German priest by the name of Joseph Kentenich observed the horrific tragedy unfold. Fr. Joseph KentenichFor him, nothing happened by chance. God was speaking and he sought to hear His voice by deciphering the signs of the time. Fr. Kentenich was the spiritual director for approximately 85 young men of a high school seminary aspiring to be missionaries to Africa. He wrestled with the customary institutional Prussian education of the outgoing nineteenth century which stressed discipline above all and was little concerned with the individual’s needs and gifts. Reflecting on the formalism, drill and lack of freedom he concluded, “I could not stand the way I was educated and I told myself: No, one must not educate in such a way.” Thus he endeavored to design a pedagogical program for the young men between the ages of fifteen and eighteen founded on a clear cultural analysis of Europe’s historical situation. At the heart of this analysis was the observation that Christian culture was threatened by industrialism which considered the human person as a replaceable piece of a huge machine. In this context he perceived that education without a definite ethical and religious foundation is prone to substitute God and his values with technological progress. Observing the inner restlessness and idealism of his charges, Fr. Kentenich considered his main educational goal to promote and challenge self-education and free initiative among the adolescents. To the surprise of the students, he told them: “We want to learn—not only you, but also I. We want to learn from each other. For we are never done learning, especially not in the art of self-education, which represents the work, the activity which will indeed take our whole lifetime.”

The initial emphasis on self-education was well received among the young men. It challenged them to prove to their superiors that they were mature young men who could be reliable and responsible in their studies and conduct. Yet, before long they came to the realization that they cannot rely solely on themselves. Hence, on April 19, 1914 with 28 students as charter members, they founded a Marian Sodality committed to a voluntary and resolute striving for holiness in the school of Our Lady’s education. Schoenstatt chapelUnder the guidance of their spiritual director the young sodalists repaired an old chapel, dating from the twelfth century and located on the school’s campus, to be used for their communal prayer. Soon thereafter, while they were on their summer break, the war broke out. T­he earth shaking event posed extraordinary difficulties on the young men since most expected to be drafted into the military, and thus be removed from the favorable setting of their environment.

Around the same time, on July 18, 1914, Fr. Kentenich read an article in a daily newspaper, Die Allgemeine Rundschau, by the Capuchin Cyprian Fröhlich about the origin of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Italy. It told how an Italian lawyer, Bartolo Longo, had begun this famous shrine in 1871. No apparitions or extra­ordinary miracles were involved. Undoubtedly, thousands of people read this article. Yet, Fr. Kentenich struggled to perceive what God was telling him through this story. After several weeks of prayer and meditation he arrived at the conclusion—though not without a leap of faith—that God was calling him to invite Mary to take up her abode in the sodality chapel. When the students returned from the summer leave, he welcomed them in his inaugural talk for the new school year with the somewhat challenging message that “according to the plan of Divine Provi­dence, the great European War is meant to be an extraordinary help for you in the work of your self-sanctification… [which] is the armor that you shall put on, the sword, with which you shall free your country from its overpowering enemies…” Fr. Kentenich shared his conviction that a new epoch was approaching “with great strides.” Appealing to the high-mindedness of the youth, he contended, “Do not think that in times like these, when momentous decisions are being made, it is something extraordinary, to increase your striving to the highest degree.”

He then proceeded by introducing them in the form of a modest “wish” to one of his “favorite ideas” upon which he had reflected again and again in the past months. Taking as his starting point the scene on Mount Tabor, where Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, Fr. Kentenich made a comparison and asked, “Would it not be possible for our sodality chapel to become at the same time our Tabor where Mary’s glories are revealed?” And he continued, “Without doubt we could not achieve a greater apostolic deed, nor leave a more precious legacy to our successors, than if we were to prevail upon our Queen and Mother to set up her throne here in a special way, to distribute her treasures and work miracles of grace. You can guess what I am aiming at; I want to make this place into a place of pilgrimage, a place of grace.” The realization of this wish according to Fr. Kentenich would be possible under the condition that “each one of us must achieve the highest conceivable degree of perfection and sanctity according to his state of life. Not simply the great and the greater, but the greatest heights ought to be the object of our increased efforts.” Schoenstatt chapel interiorTowards the end of this foundational talk, Fr. Kentenich made clear that his idea is not based on a vision or any other extraordinary experience, but solely on his trying to decipher God’s will. He concluded by saying: “To me it is as if at this moment…Our Lady were speaking to us…: ‘Do not worry about the fulfillment of your desire. Ego diligentes me diligo. I love those who love me (Prv 8:17). Prove to me first that you really love me, that you take your resolution seriously. … This sanctification I demand of you.’”

Indubitably, none of the young men grasped the transcendent nature of that hour. Fr. Kentenich, however, who had dared to take the tremendous leap of faith in the silence of his own heart, was convinced: “How often in world history has not the small and insignificant been the source of the great and greatest? Why should this not also be true in our case?” He later acknowledged that this was the most difficult time of his life, because his faith could only discover a fine ray of light in the darkness. As time went by he would have to endure more painful situations, like imprisonment in the concentration camp at Dachau during World War II from 1942–45, or fourteen years of exile from 1951–65, but by then he was able to base himself on repeated experiences of God’s working in his life.

In retrospect, this talk of October 18, 1914 in the chapel in Schoenstatt was perceived as the Founding Document of a new initiative in the Church: the Schoenstatt Movement. Its source is a unique form of Marian consecration, a covenant between Our Lady and Fr. Kentenich as representative of the young seminarians. Since this covenant was based on the free cooperation of both covenant partners it is called a covenant of love. Patterned after the covenants in salvation history it has a personal character—the covenant of love is sealed between the Mother of God and Schoenstatt’s founder together with his followers—and a local dimension—the shrine, as “our cradle of sanctity” and the educational workshop of Our Lady. Fr. Kentenich’s understanding of the Marian consecration as covenant of love actualizes the mutual giving of self to the covenant partner and thus Mary’s educational task.

From this inconspicuous beginning developed a place of grace, the Schoenstatt Shrine, forming the heart and spiritual headquarters of the International Schoenstatt Movement. During the past one hundred years, this chapel, now called Original Shrine, has been replicated in over two hundred “daughter” shrines around the globe, each built in connection with a retreat center of some kind for education, spiritual formation, and hospitality. These shrines—eleven of which are in the Unites States—have inspired the erection of countless home shrines, Schoenstatt’s unique contribution to the domestic church, and the circulation of thousands of “pilgrim shrines,”all bearing the image of the Mother Thrice Admirable of Schoenstatt, carrying the child Jesus in her arms.

Fr. Joseph Kentenich  with Pope Paul VI

Fr. Joseph Kentenich with Pope Paul VI

Fr. Kentenich is the first German in the history of the Church and internationally among the pioneers who founded an ecclesial movement. Its charism has since spread to 87 countries on all inhabited continents. Schoenstatt’s covenant culture has inspired multiple initiatives within and outside the Church. To name but one: recently São Paulo, Brazil, instituted October 18 as “Covenant of Love Day.” São Paulo’s governor attributes to this decision the fact that Schoenstatt’s covenant of love and the Schoenstatt Shrine in Atibaia/SP have become part of the culture of the more than 43.6 million people living and working in this territory.

We began by noting that Schoenstatt arose in the context of World War I. Its history proves once again that God can write straight on crooked lines. Amidst indescribable destruction and suffering, God found in Fr. Kentenich and the sodalists willing instruments who cooperated in bringing about a movement of Christian renewal in the Church and world. The obstacles which could have been their destruction proved instead to be stepping stones leading them closer to God. A lesson that can be learned by all of us!


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

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

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



This Really Happened Once

Meredith HollandMeredith Holland

Master of Theological Studies Candidate

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry


“Jesus had a body like yours and mine, which means that he 024233ate, drank, and slept. He experienced sexual longings and urges. The adult Jesus felt joy and sadness, laughing at things that struck him as funny and weeping during times of loss. As a fully human being with fully human emotions, he felt both frustration and enthusiasm. He grew weary at the end of a long day and fell ill from time to time. He pulled muscles, felt sick to his stomach, and maybe sprained an ankle or two. Like all of us, he sweated and sneezed and scratched.” – Fr. James Martin, S.J., Jesus: A Pilgrimage (12)

The humanity of Jesus is easy to overlook. We remember the wisdom of the parables and the power of the miracles, the mystery of incarnation and the newness of the resurrection. We forget that the humility of God in becoming man is also an entering into the history of humanity, for this is the language and experience through which humanity could come to know Him.

I recently heard Fr. James Martin, S.J. speak at Boston College; his startling account of the humanity of Jesus, along with the historical theology of Karl Rahner, has been swirling in my head ever since. To put it quite simply, this really happened once.

Rahner understands his Christian existence as a rational participation in the transcendent mystery of God and thus necessarily attached to the narrative of Jesus and the Church through which humanity comes to know Christ.

“My Christianity however means not only radical frankness in adoration, devotion, and love for the ineffable mystery of God; it is not only what we might call a transcendental, ‘pneumatological’ character. My Christianity has also and essentially a historical dimension.” – Karl Rahner, Courage for an Ecclesial Christianity (7)

Jesus was not superhuman, but rather the perfect fulfillment of human nature made possible by the inseparable coexistence of the divine nature of Christ. The narrative of Jesus Christ, who lived in a particular time and place, is a tale of victory, one that embraces all of history and humanity. An encounter between the transcendent God and the earthly humanity occurs in the reality of history, through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and the sacramental Church that is the human response to this divine gift. The historical origin of the Christian faith and the humanity of Jesus necessitate participation in the community that is the body of Christ and an attempt to live into the fullness of this humanity.

Our desire to establish an individual identity makes us reluctant to allow ourselves to be taken into the one narrative of Jesus Christ that is the Christian faith. The spiritual demands are much easier to observe than the very essential ecclesial attachment of the faith. How could it be that the whole of humanity is wound up in this one narrative?

The beauty of the narrative of Jesus Christ and the Church is that it has the incredible capacity for this participation and existence; all of humanity is invited into this mystery. As Rahner finds in his vision of an ecclesial Christianity, “in ‘our Father’s house’ there are many rooms among which we can and indeed must choose, if we want to justify our own life before God” (11). The story of Jesus may be that of one person, but one that can be encountered in an infinite number of ways and through the narrative of every other human being.

As creatures, our humanity must necessarily be oriented toward the Creator; our origin and the origin of the Christian faith is outside of oneself. Often, this outward direction is a deep struggle against a 8blonging for a personal self-sufficiency and freedom. And, yet, there’s something romantic about this participation, something that satisfies a deeply human desire to be a part of something greater than oneself. The narrative of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one story in which all of our narratives are collected, such that they unified without being uniform. This participation does not confine, but rather frees the Christian to a more human existence.

This attachment to the Church is not a laying down of oneself, but a taking up of a great responsibility to participate in the transformation of the world; the Church calls us into the messiness of the world. The Christian faith is a historical one, grounded in the fully human and fully divine Jesus who lived in a particular time and place and came to enter into that very messiness and offer himself for its salvation.

Jess-Rwanda 5

Between Pain and Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Memories Need To Be Shared: The Giver and Liturgical Life

profileTRANS (1)Jon R. Jordan

Dean of Students

Coram Deo Academy, Dallas, TX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Of Wisdom Teeth and Hope

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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

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

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

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

The hope of the Christian

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

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

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

And elsewhere Augustine writes:

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

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

The Status Viatoris

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

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

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



Three Things We’re Reading Today

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Sacrifice of Blame

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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