The Engineers and the Writers: Different Gifts, Same Spirit

HopeHope Bethany ’15

Theology Undergraduate

Fellow, Center for Liturgy



This past fall, I experienced one of the fearsome nightmares of most college students: my laptop began to die a slow and painful death. computer_crashWhen it came to the point of not saving my work, or moving so slowly that I could not do my work, I started panicking. My life as a student and the tangible witness of what I have do learned, and really all that I’ve managed to do in the last few years is all on this machine. I love to write! And so without my computer, I feel like a carpenter without tools, or a surgeon with no hands.

Enter in the engineers. Most of my extended family has an engineering background, and so this means some funny things for family gatherings. We discuss computer chips and 3D printers at Thanksgiving dinner (3D printers made the conversation three years in a row; I kept track).

(Saturday afternoon toys)
(Saturday afternoon toys)

We take apart old computers and play with circuit boards for fun, and nearly everyone (even those of us who aren’t engineers) generally know what’s going on in the tech world due to the engineers and those who aren’t engineers but still managed to inherit engineering brains. While I’ve long been awed by the things that many of my family members seem to know instinctively, my computer crisis gave me a reason to appreciate their place in the world even more than normal. My laptop was healed, just in time for me to write 50some pages and do all the research I needed to do for finals season.

That was the windup, and here’s the pitch: I will never forget the text my cousin Chris sent in to the family group message, after I sent a celebratory message proclaiming the laptop fully cured.

IMG_0839His quote there had my brain buzzing instantly about the idea of vocations. Chris’ comment- whether he realized it or not- showed an insight that said his role in the world and the gifts that he has- his role of a “fixer,” bound-to-be-a-brilliant-engineer, is somehow intertwined with mine: the cousin who is a student, a writer, and an aspiring catechist.

Now, Chris would not be offended if I said that he was not the most theologically minded high schooler on the planet. Theologian he may not be, but he’s wise about a lot, and his statement made me start thinking about the universal call to holiness, and yet the particularity of the vocations that God gives each one of us. My cousins’ (and dad’s/grandpa’s/uncles’) tech geniuses have helped support my work as a student and writer before; this isn’t an isolated incident. Maybe, in turn, the way that I can support the engineers is to hope that a few of the things I write help the Christophers of the world to understand that this “religion stuff” isn’t just for a class in school or sometimes on a Sunday morning, but rather is about responding to God’s love by the way we live our whole lives. If Chris’ job was to help restore me to my full capacities and functions as a Theology major, maybe part of my work is to help instill in him an understanding of realities and calls outside the tech world and to show that it is just as necessary as the work of the engineers. [Disclaimer: Chris gave me permission to use and twist his words in this piece].

Chris’ statement acknowledged an understanding of the importance of different types of work, but it also made me think about the fact that we have different gifts but the same call and destination ultimately. There has been a lot of discussion about this- what we call the universal call to holiness- especially since Vatican II. By virtue of our Baptism, all Christians are called to respond to the triune God who has out of love created, redeemed, and saved us:

“The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity” (Lumen Gentium, 41).

Maybe my cousins don’t consider helping their technologically deficient cousin a work of charity, but I certainly do, and it is a classic example of a way in which they used the gifts that they have been given and worked to acquire. They use and will continue to use their gifts to do great things. And they can do it and be holy, too. Holiness does not mecome-to-the-dark-side-we-have-cookies-19an boringness. Sometimes we joke at home about the “dark side” being more fun, but what’s more exciting than literally being a part of the side of good to fight and save the whole world? C.S. Lewis once made the comment, “‘How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints” (Mere Christianity).

Sometimes, though, there is such a tendency within many of us- myself included- to delegate holiness to the saints of old, to nuns and monks in garb that seems foreign to our own; at best, sometimes we delegate holiness to the “nice, boring guys” historically. And yet among the canonized communion of saints we find carpenters, doctors, writers, artists, teachers, nurses, priests, soldiers… and that’s just the start. The point is that to be a saint does not mean to become boringly identical; it actually means to be sometimes startlingly unique and yet working for the same goal of glorifying God.


This what I mean by the “particularity” of vocation. The God who has created each of us in His image and likeness has always recognized that we are unique individuals. We all are called to the same thing- holiness, and we are all called to same final destination- heaven, but we aren’t all called to make our way there in the exact same way. We have our own personalities, our own families, our own life stories, our own gifts, and our own messiness. The magnificent thing is the fact that our Lord wants all of us, and can use all in our uniqueness of us for His glory.

As Chris recognized (or at least, like I’ve argued that he recognized) our vocations and our gifts are given by God to support one another and yet can all those different gifts be used together to help sanctify the whole world. I’m going to let St. John Paul II’s papal exhortation Christifideles Laici have the last word here on how to think about the particularity of our own vocations. It’s a lesson for the engineers of the world, the writers of the world, and all of us who fall somewhere in between:

“The “world” thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ… They [the laity] are not called to abandon the position that they have in the world. Baptism does not take them from the world at all, as the apostle Paul points out: “So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Cor 7:24). On the contrary, He entrusts a vocation to them that properly concerns their situation in the world. The lay faithful, in fact, “are called by God so that they, led by the spirit of the Gospel, might contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially in this way of life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they manifest Christ to others.”

To live out our call to sanctify this world, the Church militant needs the engineers, the doctors, the writers, the teachers, the artists, the lawyers, and everyone in between. All of our collective work can be sanctified and participate in Christ’s work of leading the world to its proper end: that of heaven, if we all remember the source of our gifts and for whose glory we should offer our lives.

What We’re Reading: Prayer and Humanity, Grateful Liturgy, and Shakespeare

A return of our series of what we’re reading this Monday, April 13, 2015:

1) A piece by a Notre Dame undergraduate from China in Notre Dame Magazine, reflecting on her longing in prayer:

Now, a year and a half after my awkward first encounter with the Catholic Mass, I still have no intention to be converted or baptized. But I frequently go to the small chapel in Lyons Hall and simply stand there and watch my friends praying. I still talk with Nina about my life here at Notre Dame and listen carefully to her perfectly logical responses. The reality is that there are irreconcilable conflicts in the world and they are probably going to exist for a long time. The question is: How can we each fight for our deepest belief with whatever we have but without demonizing those who hold equal passions on the other side?

Buddhism has a concept called “absolute see.” It means seeing without judging. Through the “absolute see,” we fully accept the world as it is and give up those useless attempts to change others or ourselves. Finally, we are able to truly face up to those irreconcilable differences in the world and start to appreciate them. The “absolute see” of the world does not ask that we change ourselves and abandon our deepest convictions. But it should humble us, temper our passions, make us realize our excessive self-righteousness, and compel us all to open our hearts and minds to new beliefs.

All of which brings me back to my crush on South Dining Hall Guy. I understand now my crush was not actually on the guy. I realize now that I was not drawn to his words or gestures or even to his subtle, peaceful smile as he finished his prayers. Rather, my crush, my feeling of pure happiness, was on that flashing moment when I accepted the common beauty of human beings shining through our irreconcilable differences. This conflicting world is beautiful, especially when we choose to fully accept it.

2) Learning to practice the radical gratitude of the liturgy with Peter Leithart of First Things (through the help of Paul Griffiths):

We are trained, Griffiths says, in “radical gratitude.” The liturgy trains us as recipients, as “being one who who has received” and received gratefully (234). The liturgy doesn’t leave any corner of life untouched by its habituation. What Griffiths calls “the liturgy’s imperialistic omnivorousness” involves “a complete embrace of those who undertake it.” We die and rise n baptism, having received a “renaming, reclothing, the gift of something radically new” (234-5). Other liturgical acts “depict and endlessly repeat the subsumption of the individual into, first, the community, and then, second, the LORD.”

Griffiths means this quite literally: “The individual’s language is overtaken and framed by the language of the canon of Scripture: he is written into its margins as an ornament to the illustrated capitals of its pages. And the individual’s very physical life is shown to him to be given its meaning by his membership in the communion of saints, a body of people extending far in time and space beyond what he can directly sense.”

The liturgy “constantly signals that there is nothing external to it, nothing belonging to the individual that cannot be taken p into it, and nothing anywhere that will not, finally, be embraced by it.” Even the inner theater “is gradually transformed by participation in the liturgy from a private spectacle into an iteration of a public drama. It becomes an instance of the liturgy that claims it” (235).

3) Terrance W. Klein on Shakespeare and the salvation of the created order:

History isn’t cancelled by heaven. Eternity doesn’t annul the work of earth. The cosmos will have a consummation, the final revelation of a resurrected humanity, one rent yet redeemed. To borrow from the Bard, the winter of our discontent shall yet be made glorious summer.



Practicing Easter: Sabbath Rest

Katie BascomKatie Bascom

University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015

In grade school, asking the question of your friends, “What are you giving up for Lent?” sometimes garnered the response, “Homework!” coupled with a fit of giggling at the cleverness of fasting from work. I usually laughed along, all the while knowing that I could never bear to do such a thing. I was the self- and other-proclaimed “smart kid.” Without homework, who would I even be? Work wasn’t just a matter of duty, it was a matter of identity.

As an adult, this mindset has accumulated a world of implications beyond any teacher’s opinions, and I know that many people (and perhaps students in particular) would agree: work is a part of who we are, a constant drone accompanying the rhythm of our lives, a solid floor to stand on when recreation and relationships are too chaotic, a thing we both control and cling to. When we get stressed, we don’t take a break… we update our to-do lists. When we feel overwhelmed by life, we don’t retreat… we update our Google Calendars. And if we do retreat, we carry the thought if not the action of work with us. Without work, who even are we?

Work has gained a place in our mental scapes that it was never meant to hold. We would not call it our god, but we treat it like one. St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. Left on my own, I ruminate on my work, schedule, and responsibilities without ceasing. The culture of ambition created around and inside us has produced an oblique example of a classic problem: something given to humans by God as a way to serve and enjoy Him has become instead our ultimate end, and a rhythm established for our good has been replaced by a steady hum that drowns out thought.

But God does not call gluttons to cease to eat, nor does He call the lustful to cease interactions with any person they might desire. Rather, when we begin to value the gift above its Giver and to seek fulfillment in the finite, we must first deny our dependence on that thing, and then restore it to its proper, proportional place. One way in which we step towards this is by fasting: when the glutton goes a day without food, he declares that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

El Greco, Christ Healing the Blind

Likewise we who worship work must fast from it. We must rest. In doing so, we declare that my salvation is not the result of work, therefore I can not boast. We affirm that our work is insufficient to  add even one hour to the span of our lives, it is not the rock on which we may build our identities, and it is valuable not because it adds value to us but because it is a reflection of God’s work. In short, to fast from work renews its image as a means of worship, not an object of worship.

Fasting from work looks different for everyone. For many people, however, it may follow the rhythm established from the beginning:

“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. … For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Ex 20:9-11)

To fast from work means to take Sabbath rest. This does not mean it must happen on a Sunday, but it does mean it must be part of the regular rhythm of our lives: work, and then cease to work, and then resume work.

In true rest, when one ceases to work, it is an entire cessation. The Sabbath laws were shadows of true Sabbath rest, where not only our bodies but our hearts find repose from the labor of self-definition and self-proof. True rest is what the author of Hebrews is speaking of when asserts that after the “rest” of Joshua “there remains, therefore, a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has rested from his works as God did from His” (Heb 4:9).

God rested from His work with the statement, “It is very good.” We do the same not by asserting the perfection of our completed work, but that of Christ’s. So when my heart asks, “Without work, who even am I?” my rest answers, “I am God’s beloved child, in whom He is well pleased, for His work is very good.”

For further reflection on the necessity and practice of rest, I recommend this sermon by Timothy Keller, delivered at Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

Harry Potter and Easter

Samuel BellafioreScreen Shot 2015-01-23 at 1.43.20 PM

Undergraduate Fellow

B.A. 2015 Philosophy, Vocal Performance

I’m sitting in the theater with my brother watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. As Harry dies and comes back, the light goes off in everyone’s heads around me, “It’s about death and resurrection.” The weirdo light goes off in my head. “Of course it’s about resurrection…they’re playing an 11th century Easter chant!” This, my brother will gladly tell you, is why you don’t bring Sam to the movies.

Hagrid drapes Harry’s limp body in his arms and carries him back to Hogwarts. For 50 seconds the soundtrack’s strings saw away at a haunting melody. A little obsessively on one line from the first verse, then a line from the second, then back to the first. Composer Alexandre Desplat has included the Victimae paschali laudes, sung before the Gospel during the Easter Octave. By including it Desplat heightens Harry’s Christian overtones. It’s right out of the Easter story…

  • Harry dies to rescue Hogwarts,
  • Harry’s friends get scared
  • It looks like evil has won
  • Harry comes back from the dead.

…not so subtle.

(verses 1 and 2)
Christians praise the Paschal Victim
Offer thankful sacrifice.
Christ the Lamb has saved the sheep;
Christ the Just One paid the price,
Reconciling sinners to the Father.

Victimae paschali laudes
immolent Christiani.
Agnus redemit oves:
Christus innocens Patri
reconciliavit peccatores.

It doesn’t hurt the track is rather liturgically entitled “Procession.” It doesn’t hurt Hagrid and Harry look suspiciously familiar.


This isn’t a good-versus-evil tale hastily dubbed as Christian by an admittedly biased moviegoer-chant-geek. Potter’s climactic message is Christ’s: you must love your neighbors as yourself and you must love them so greatly that you’ll lose your own life to preserve theirs.

Harry Potter’s self-emptying love does not start with him but with his mother. Voldemort explains in Goblet of Fire: “Shall I divulge how I truly lost my powers? Yes, shall I? It was love. You see, when dear sweet Lily Potter gave her life for her only son…she provided the ultimate protection. I could not touch him.”

By Deathly Hallows we learn that Dumbledore thought Harry was a Horcrux and Voldemort had put a piece of his soul in him to keep from being killed. Voldemort can die only if all the Horcruxes are destroyed. When it is time for Lily’s only-begotten son to choose, he too dies to save what he loves.

Meanwhile, back at the Victimae:

(verse 3) In a dark mysterious strife
Closed the powers of Death and Life,
And the Lord of Life was slain:
Yet He liveth and doth reign.
(C.S. Calverley)

00Harry_Potter_and_the_deaathly_hallows_-_the_final_battle_sceneWhen Harry returns from death he kills Voldemort. Because Voldemort’s soul is scattered around he is reduced to an eternal in-between state, neither alive nor dead. It’s not far from that confounding aspect of the Paschal victory: We profess evil is defeated forever, yet we see it persist.

But there’s something rotten beyond Platform 9 ¾. As Tim O’Malley pointed out to me, Harry Potter’s resurrected life disappoints in comparison to the Christian one. Harry’s life after he wakes up is no different from the one he had before: no restored body, no new virtue, no heaven.

While his self-offering and death is prominently Christian, it turns out his death isn’t really needed to save Hogwarts. He was acting on Dumbledore’s mistaken belief Harry was a Horcrux and needed to die. Is this a Christian allegory or a depressed parody?

Harry wins the battle against Voldemort, but there isn’t much more to it. While there’s victory at Hogwarts, death isn’t vanquished forever. Nothing transcendent, no new life.

The book’s Epilogue follows immediately on Voldemort’s defeat and explains the characters’ later lives. Nineteen years after the battle, Harry and Ginny lead entirely normal, domesticated lives — boring compared to their action-packed school years.

Harry isn’t any more resurrected than the ethereal images from the Resurrection Stone. Harry Potter has resurrection for the contemporary reader. Harry is resurrected unto the ’burbs, a day job and 2.1 children. The post-resurrection universe is nothing but the real world.

I’m not dismissing Harry Potter as un-Christian. As John O’Callaghan has marvelously explained, there are gobs of Christianity delicately placed in plain sight. Allegory isn’t analogy; not everything needs to line up. The fact Harry Potter isn’t a Christian copycat can strengthen its Christianity. But Harry Potter is missing a real resurrection.

That said, our lives after the Resurrection maybe aren’t so different from Harry’s after his. We’re at desks, not on rooftops. Stuck in traffic to school, not the road to Emmaus. Is this God’s victory? Actually, yes.

Harry’s boring post-victory life has something to say about the mundane ChristianResurrectionIcon life we lead even in Easter. Christ has not rescued the world from being boring. He has rescued it from evil and all death, framing the universe anew: “I will draw all things to myself” (Jn 12:32); “I will make all things new” (Rv 21:5). God is restoring all things, but not restoring them to exciting and interesting. Restoring them to lost goodness.

Laboring to become good, as Harry learns over seven books, is an arduous task. Earthly life trudges on through long papers, irritating projects and boring prayers. But as Albus Dumbledore has taught us, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

Christ is risen. It is too late to put our fingers into what is easy. Something has changed.

And whatever slowness we may feel, faith gives us something to know, something solid to stand on. Under the dryness, our heart’s orchestra rumbles out a tune:

(verse 8) We know that Christ indeed
has risen from the grave:
Hail, thou King of Victory!
Have mercy, Lord, and save.
Amen. Alleluia.



The Liturgical Theologian: A New Blog

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

The Center for Liturgy is happy to welcome to the liturgical world of blogging Porter Taylor, an Anglican priest who has begun publishing his blog The Liturgical TheologianHere is a sample for those considering how to celebrate Eastertide:

When Mary Magdalene encountered the Risen Lord in John 20 she was told to not hold onto him. Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father,” (John 20:17). We however are on the other side of the Ascension and can cling to Jesus. In fact, I think we should see the season of Eastertide as an invitation to cling to the Risen Lord! The post-resurrection accounts of Jesus show him teaching his disciples and followers the meaning of the Scriptures, how the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms had been fulfilled, and how he was leaving them with peace.

As we await the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, may we cling to Jesus with joy and gratitude for all he has done.

May we observe a holy Eastertide with feasting and celebration.

May we tell time according to God’s righteous acts.

May we proclaim with our lips and lives, “Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!”

Seven Last Words: Into Your Hands, I Commit My Spirit

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision

Contact Author





“I like to know in advance precisely what I’ve got to pay.  I like to work to a tariff.  What I found attractive in mercenary love was, probably, that it had a fixed price.”

These are not the words of Jesus Christ; these are the words of Louis, the central character and dominant voice of Francois Mauriac’s novel, Vipers’ Tangle.  Louis is a master interpreter.  The psychological profile that Mauriac creates shows a man who, over the course of a lifetime, has learned how to reinterpret nearly every event or action on the part of others according to his own predetermined narrative.  In a passing thought he admits how he despises interactions with waiters and cab drivers because, as is the custom, customers respond to their services with tips, which, ostensibly, exceed the stated price of the service.  Louis hates tipping.  He hates what he can’t calculate in advance because it thwarts his control of the narrative.

PitViperMany of us are accustomed to tipping, but I imagine rather than standing apart from Louis here, we rather tend to hide what Louis makes bear: we, too, hate tipping.  We create certain rubrics in our minds as to what the service rendered should be like, calculating the cost of that quality of service—measured according to our expectations—at the end of a meal or the end of a ride, or throughout either with an internalized ledger, so as to calculate what we owe in the context of this commercial exchange.  In this way, tipping ordinarily becomes a form of compensation within a modulated but still quite fixed schema for determining the meaning of things, which here happens to concern the transaction of fee for services.  Louis didn’t want to be bothered with adjusting his scale while many of us are practiced in doing so.  In the end, though, most of us really do hate tipping… real tipping, which confounds calculation.

At the risk of making this rather too crass, I can’t help but think that with his last breath, Jesus leaves a tip.  A real tip.  An uncalculated, incalculable tip that is not only in excess of what is earned and what is owed, but which also relinquishes him of the very power to interpret.  Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Lk 23:46, RSV).

This man Jesus, who returned again and again to prayer—as was his custom (Luke 22:39, RSV)—drew in the words of the Psalter as his living breath so that when he exhaled that last time those words came out as his own.  (They were, after all, His words to begin with: the Word.)  What he received is what he gave, without sluggishness or guile.  And so when the words of the 31st Psalm accompany the handing over of his spirit, he makes himself into that definitive act of trust of which the Psalmist mused: You will not abandon me into enemy hands, but will set my feet in a free and open space (Psalm 31:9, NAB).

What are these enemies but scheming men (31:21), those who construct tiny worlds in which to control meaning?  Scheming men set up ledgers to preserve themselves from loss, the ones who “know in advance what I’ve got to pay” and obstinately refuse to give an iota more than what is justly required, according to one’s own reckoning.  The true enemy, then, is not any man himself or even the whole lot of men, but rather the scheming in which men become entangled, in which they allow themselves to become twisted and turned so that giving something freely, without interpretation, is no longer possible.  It is their custom.

The untangling of this mess of calculations and gaming, these knots of measurements that wrap around often unannounced but nevertheless operative scales of value and compensation is not—as we might expect—to try to find someway to justify giving more.  The grip of the enemy is the urge to control meaning; this is what must be cut.

IntoYourHandsTo be and to create and to give and to live… and then to let go of the meaning of it all, to give that power over to another—this is the peculiar genius of the Christ, the logic of God.  His life is his work of art and his work of love and, as Hans Urs von Balthasar comments, “he is not so tasteless as to interpret himself,” (Life Out of Death, 39).  In short, Jesus leaves a tip: he deposits his power of interpretation into the hands of his Father—the hands of the one who does not scheme—as the absolute act of trust, of radical gratitude that does not say thank you for some thing but just says thank you, pure and simple, no strings attached, without consulting a ledger, absolved of calculation and measurement.

Jesus’ tip is the move outside the framework of fixed prices, beyond the tit for tat and furtive quid pro quo of a scheming world.  He hands over the interpretation of himself to his Father, his own ‘freedom of interpretation’, that power to make any claim as to what he himself means or what he himself meant or what he himself will mean.  All at once he releases all of it in this final act, the only act of his entire life: I give myself to You.

Seven Last Words: It is Finished

Shepherd HeadshotMegan Shepherd

Associate Director, Notre Dame Vision 

It is finished.

I have had the privilege of standing both with my father and grandpa as they each took their final breath.  Two years and one day after my grandpa breathed his last, I stood again beside a hospital bed holding the hand and stroking the forehead of one whom I loved, watching intently for the next rise of the chest, an indication that life still lingered.

For both of them the end came suddenly, but not unexpectedly:  my grandpa after a week long struggle to recover from a heart attack, and my father after an extended period of time in and out of the hospital for a variety of cardiac and pulmonary issues.  But knowing the end is coming did nothing to prepare me for standing there as it happens, gazing upon one beloved in the midst of the complexity of human relationships.

Saying goodbye to my grandpa was difficult, as was witnessing the pain and grief carried by my grandma, my mother and her siblings along with my brother, sister and my cousins. Yet there was satisfaction in a life well lived, a man well loved. Listening to the stories and memories shared by my family as I began to plan his funeral, one message shone forth so strongly that I insisted on using it as the first reading.

I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right that I should think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, you who are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:3-11).

My family – my mom, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings – continue the good work begun in my grandpa by God.  For my grandpa, “it is finished” meant not the end of the work of God in him, but the drawing to a close of his role here on earth.

Standing beside my father as he died was a very different experience.  The years before had been filled with anger, pain, estrangement and isolation.  Yet over the previous year grace had broken through bringing about a measure of reconciliation, healing and hope.

Yet there was so much still unresolved.

Questions yet unasked.

Answers yet unspoken.

It can’t be finished.

I have so much more to say . . .

to apologize for

to understand

to forgive.

Yet as his lungs continued to fail, we knew it was time to let go. To cling to him would only prolong his suffering.  As the medical equipment was cleared away, his entire body relaxed and upon his face came a look of peace at odds with the churning in my heart.

With each raspy breath, we wondered if it was his last. As the time between each gasp lengthened, my brother, sister and I sat together in the tension between clinging to our dad and letting him go. At some point we realized – it had been silent for some time.

It is finished.

Our father is dead.

Jesus Dixit Consummatum EstFor the disciples at the foot of the cross, how broken must they have felt?

For Mary, who just watched her son die, would she ever feel whole again?

The days leading up to the cross were filled with joy, feasting and celebration until suddenly – but not unexpectedly – things changed.

Their world was upended and their Savior

Their Christ

Their friend

lay dying on the cross.

To them, to us, Jesus speaks.

He uses his last breath to utter words confounding to our hearts.

It is finished.

Jesus’ time on earth was done. For us to cling to him would trap us in this place, in this moment, in death. But to allow ourselves to relinquish our grasp on who we thought he should be, how we thought this should end makes space for the Spirit to move in us, continuing the good work begun in our creation out of love and brought to perfection on the cross.

The past is finished.

We hold the memories in our hearts

and turn our faces to the sun, for salvation has begun.

Seven Last Words: “I Thirst”

HopeHope Bethany ’15

Theology Undergraduate

Fellow, Center for Liturgy

I do not know what it is to be truly, desperately, physically thirsty. I know what it is to feel parched, perhaps–  in the way anyone who has ever spent too much time working outside on a hot day does, or those who can recall craving water after working out do. But as everyone who knows me can testify, my water bottle and I are perpetually attached at the hip; I am a spoiled member of a tiny percentage of humanity who has access to clean, safe, refreshing water at every moment, every day.  My water bottle is next size_550x415_haitito my bed while I sleep at night; it is often in my hand during the day; it is on my desk while in class; it is in the cupholder on the dorm treadmill each time I work out. Indeed, it is on the Starbucks table next to me as I write this. I do not know what it means to desperately thirst in the way that Jesus does in this moment of His passion.

We recognize that when Jesus hung from the Cross dying and said, “I thirst,” he was truly physically thirsting in a way that many of us probably have not experienced. Nothing had passed His lips since He drank from the chalice of His last supper the night before, and in the meantime He had suffered through His agony in the garden and all of the horrors leading up to His crucifixion. If we are ever tempted to forget how real Jesus’ humanity is and was, the descriptions of the passion and His acknowledgement, ‘I thirst,’ ought to shake us out of our nonchalance. Jesus hungered; He thirsted; He sweated; He bled; He fell and tripped; He wept.

But the meaning of “I thirst,” while important to help us understand the struggle that Jesus experienced in the fullness of suffering what it means to be a genuine (in all ways but sin) thirsting flesh-and-bone human being, is not the only way to think about this saying of Jesus’. St. Alphonsus Liguori (and a long string of Tradition in the Church) thinks about Jesus’ saying “I thirst” while hanging from the Cross in both a physical and a spiritual sense. He says in his Meditation on the Seven Last Words:

“Severe was this bodily thirst, which Jesus Christ endured on the Cross through His loss of Blood, first in the garden, and afterwards in the hall of judgment, at His scourging and crowning with thorns; and, lastly, upon the Cross, where four streams of blood gushed forth from the Wounds of His pierced hands and feet as from four fountains. But far more terrible was His spiritual thirst, that is, His ardent desire to save all mankind, and to suffer still more for us, as Blosius says, in order to show us His love. On this St. Laurence Justinian writes: “This thirst came from the fount of love.”

St. Alphonsus takes Jesus’ spiritual thirst to mean His desire to save mankind—a kind of thirst for the fulfillment of His mission, rooted in His love for us as He suffered. Knowing Jesus’ zeal for His Father’s will and the fact that He has not turned back is important; it makes sense that up to the last Jesus would have been ‘thirsting’ for His victory over death that would lead us into eternal life. I think there’s another layer to it, though. We sometimes use the term “spiritual dryness” to talk about struggling times in our lives of faith. Or we mention when we feel alone, wandering and unsure where life will lead, that we feel as if we are “in the desert.” In those times we feel as if we are in a lifeless place. There is sand and toil and maybe it looks like there is no end to the present struggle.

That united physical and spiritual understanding of thirst was never more truly realized as it is when Jesus suffered on the Cross and sorrowfully, desperately said, “I thirst.”

Gethsemane4-004Jesus is absolutely longing– spiritually thirsting— for God His Father. He has already demonstrated that He feels abandoned and alone. To say it is poignant or powerful is a gross understatement. He who was to be the water who would make us never thirst again, in the most sorrowful and suffering moments of His passion realizes and lives the words of all those who have suffered horrifically at the hands of the human condition. This Jesus knows what it is to feel utterly alone, thirsting physically but also desperately thirsting for companionship, for hope, for relief, for kindness from somewhere— and we might imagine for an end to the thirst and the pain. How tempting must it have been to at this time to give in to those who mocked and scorned Him, jeering at Him to come down from the Cross and save Himself.

When Jesus says, “I thirst,” the Word who was, who is, and who will always be—the Word who was there at the very creation of water and who Himself is the life giving water of eternal life–  is in this moment denied water in every single sense that we ever use it. Water as quenching physical thirst, water as cleansing, water as healing, water as life-giving, water as connected with baptism— in every single sense that we can think of it, Jesus longs for water and for His thirst to be quenched and is abjectly denied it.

There is a lot more we could say or should say. But I think that in Psalm 42, the psalmist expresses it far more eloquently, truthfully, and painfully than I ever could hope to. As we reflect on Jesus’ saying, “I thirst,” may we keep the psalmist’s words in mind, and be reminded that the psalmist who mourns, feeling abandoned, and suffers longingly for God also ends by saying, “Hope in God; I will praise Him still; my savior and my God.”


Psalm 42:

Like the deer that yearns
for running streams,
so my soul is yearning
for you, my God.


My soul is thirsting for God,
the God of my life;
when can I enter and see
the face of God?

My tears have become my bread,
by night, by day,
as I hear it said all the day long:
“Where is your God?”

These things will I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I would lead the rejoicing crowd
into the house of God,
amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving,
the throng wild with joy.

Why are you cast down, my soul,
why groan within me?
Hope in God; I will praise him still,
my savior and my God.

My soul is cast down within me
as I think of you,
from the country of Jordan and Mount Hermon,
from the Hill of Mizar.

Deep is calling on deep,
in the roar of the waters;
your torrents and all your waves
swept over me.

By day the Lord will send
his loving kindness;
by night I will sing to him,
praise the God of my life.

I will say to God, my rock:
“Why have your forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
oppressed by the foe?”

With cries that pierce me to my heart,
my enemies revile me,
saying to me all day long:
“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, my soul,
why groan within me?
Hope in God; I will praise him still,
my savior and my God.

Seven Last Words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jessica Keating, M.Div.
Program Director,
Human Dignity and Life Initiatives
University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46)

Ordinary people and extraordinary intellectuals alike have long pondered need for Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. Surely, the Son of God does not need baptism for the remission of sins. Yet, there he stood in the waters of the Jordan and instructed his cousin John, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15). In his act of submitting to baptism and descending into the waters of the Jordan, Jesus accepts without exception the will of the Father as his will. This act discloses not the necessity (as we in modernity construe necessity) of Jesus’ baptism; rather, it discloses the love of the triune God. This love reveals itself perfectly in the person of Christ whose submission to baptism is an act of prayer, in which he proleptically accepts all that it means to be human, “even death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

In his masterpiece, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes the baptism of Christ as his “Yes to the entire will of God,” a Yes which at one and the same time “expresses solidarity with men, who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness” (vol. 1, 17). Jesus’ baptism anticipates his Cross.

I have the very bad habit of establishing boundaries around the stages in Jesus’ life. First, there is Christ’s infancy. Next, his public ministry. Finally, his death and resurrection. While these distinctions can be incredibly helpful, I find that when these boundaries become impenetrable, it is all too easy to forget the unity of the person of Christ. The child who lies wrapped in swaddling bands in the manger is the same person who plunges into the depths of the Jordan, who teaches in parables, and who announces the Kingdom of God. And it is this same one hangs broken on the Cross, praying the Psalms, the same Psalms the people of Israel prayed for centuries, the same Psalms Jews and Christians alike continue to pray daily. From infancy to death, Jesus’ life is “the perfect prayer the Psalms are meant to form” (Hauerwas, Cross-Shattered Christ, 61). His entire life presses toward the event of the Cross. Here, the inner meaning of the Incarnation, that is, the event of God’s love, is revealed. Here, the parables are explicated. Here, the depth of God’s solidarity with humanity is enacted, and perhaps none of the seven final words of Christ make this more evident than his cry of abandonment. In the words of Simone Weil, Christ’s lament expresses “infinite distance between God and God,” the “supreme tearing apart,” the “agony beyond all others,” the “marvel of love” which penetrates the crucifixion (Waiting for God, 123–4).

The words of Psalm 22, which find explicit expression in the final hour, are inscribed in the entire Passion narrative. “The public humiliation,” writes Benedict XVI, “the mockery and shaking of heads by the scoffers, the pain, the terrible thirst, the piercing of Jesus’ hands and feet, the casting of lots for his garments—the whole Passion is . . . anticipated in the Psalm” (vol. 2, 214). At the ninth hour, the Word of God made flesh cries out in a loud voice, the words of Psalm 22 in his mouth. The Son of God dies speaking not a word of his own, but the word of Scripture, the words that become the event of love nailed to the Cross. He dies misunderstood and reviled. Misinterpreting his cry of lament, bystanders in the crowd call out, “This one is calling for Elijah” (Mt 27:47).

Christ dies in prayer. Even in his hour of affliction when God withdraws, his cry of abandonment already contains within it “the gift of an answer to prayer, the gift of transformation” for his is no ordinary cry of abandonment (vol. 2, 215). Benedict XVI explains the uniqueness of Christ’s lament. Jesus is praying the great psalm of suffering Israel, and so he is taking upon himself all the tribulation, not just of Israel, but of all those in this world who suffer from God’s concealment. He brings the anguished cry at God’s absence before the heart of God himself. He identifies himself with suffering Israel, with all who suffer under “God’s darkness”; he takes their cry, their anguish, all their helplessness upon himself—and in doing so he transforms it. (214)

The Passion and Crucifixion is the event of Psalm 22, wherein Christ takes to himself the depths of human affliction and separation from God. Yet, as the enactment of the Word of God, even as these most profound words of despair pierce the darkened sky, they anticipate the glory of God revealed in the resurrection. Psalm 22 begins in the depths of lament, in a grief that cannot be glossed over, but neither can we ignore its conclusion which consists of the psalmist’s praise and profound joy of life in God:

“You who fear the LORD, give praise!
All descendants of Jacob, give honor;
show reverence, all descendants of Israel!
For he has not spurned or disdained

the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away* from me,

but heard me when I cried out.
I will offer praise in the great assembly;

my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.
The poor will eat their fill;
those who seek the LORD will offer praise.
May your hearts enjoy life forever!” (Ps 22:24–27)

Christ’s suffering, his supreme expression of God’s love and solidarity with us, already contains within it the inner reality of redemption.

Seven Last Words: Behold Your Son, Behold Your Mother

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

My son loves his mother. The depths of this love, this total trust of his mother, is often revealed in those moments in which he encounters a source of pain or discomfort. At these times, he looks upon my wife with pure hope, aware that it is only her tender embrace that could rescue him from the terrible pain or fear that is undertaking him. Of course, as he grows up, he will learn that his mother is not always able to save him from such terror-stricken moments. And his mother, in the midst of such moments, will be equally terror stricken, her heart pierced with the recognition of her own powerlessness in shaping her son’s entire future.

Something of this maternal and filial relationship is captured in the intimate encounter shared by Christ with his mother upon the cross in the Gospel of John:

…standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag’dalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home (Jn. 19:25-27).

SorrowsThe God-man gazes with love upon his mother, who is herself looking with total pathos upon the suffering of her son.

  • Mary, who held her infant son that night in Bethlehem, when there was nothing but a cave for shelter.
  • Mary who went with her son into Egypt, encountering the terror of a world in which violence reigns.
  • Mary who lost and found her beloved son, her only son, the son she loved, while on pilgrimage back from the Temple.
  • Mary, who held her dying husband, Joseph, soothed by the presence of her child, Jesus.
  • Mary, who let go of her son as he was manifested to the world not merely as the son of Mary but the beloved Son of the Father.
  • Mary, who must have known the threats faced by her son, by the Son, as he loved the world unto the end, a world not used to such love.

What must Mary have been thinking as she gazed upon the cross, seeing the lonely suffering of her son, the rest of the disciples absent (except for the beloved disciple). Romanos the Melodist, thinking through this moment of encounter, writes:

‘You are on your way, my child, to unjust slaughter,

and no one suffers with you. Peter is not going with you, he who said,

‘I will never deny you, even though I die.’

Thomas has left you, he who cried out, ‘Let us all die with him!’

The rest too, your own and your companions

who are to judge the tribes of Israel; where are they now?

Not one of all of them, but you alone, my child,

one on behalf of all, are dying. Instead of them you have saved all.

Instead of them you have made satisfaction for all, my Son and my God (“Lament of the Mother of God,” 3).

IsenheimMaryHow much the mother of God wanted to interrupt her Son’s suffering, to take it upon herself just as thousands upon thousands of times she soothed the infant and toddler Jesus, who ran into her arms for protection. And now, his arms are nailed to the cross, unable to run to his mother for protection.

Yet now, it is the Son who offers his mother a healing balm. She will not be alone but will be the mother of the beloved disciple. That beloved disciple, who is not simply another character in the Gospel, but is all of us who are “lying close to the breast of Jesus” (13:24). Upon the cross, Mary becomes not simply the mother of Jesus but the suffering and tender mother of all of us.

Charles Peguy in his Portal of the Mystery of Hope takes up this theme. Describing a father, who gives his three children in sickness over to the Blessed Virgin, writes:

And yet She, who had taken them, she was never short on children.

She had had others before these three, she will have others, she had others afterwards.

She had had others, she will have others through centuries of centuries.

And She, who had taken them, he knew for sure that she would take them.

She wouldn’t have had the heart to leave them orphans…

She couldn’t have just left them by the gate…

She had been forced to take them,

She who had taken them (28-29).

Because she is the mother, who knows the suffering of her son, she gazes with the same pathos upon all of humanity, who are destined to belong to her Son’s Body, the Church. All of us are part of her brood.

And we contemplate (this week above all), with our dearest mother Mary, the suffering of our brother, Jesus:

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.

Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified:

Let me share with thee His pain,
who for all my sins was slain,
who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live:

By the Cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
is all I ask of thee to give.

Virgin of all virgins blest!,
Listen to my fond request:
let me share thy grief divine (Stabat Mater);

We contemplate the suffering of the Son with Mary, our mother, not simply upon the cross but as we gaze at a humanity still undergoing the torment of sin and death. We see his face in the child aborted, in the immigrant spat upon, in those who seem to have no one to love them at all. And together with Mary, our hearts are filled with the pathos of love, desiring that the mercy of her Son might be experienced by all.

Let me, to my latest breath,
in my body bear the death
of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
steep my soul till it hath swooned,
in His very Blood away (Stabat Mater)…







Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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