Three Things We’re Reading Today: St. Cecilia, First Nations, and Millennials

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) For the feast of St. Cecilia (November 22nd), read Rick Becker’s reflection at Catholic Exchange on St. Cecilia and Paul Simon:

Over the centuries, as these words were picked up and incorporated into liturgical prayers in various ways, they were truncated and misapplied. The old Catholic Encyclopedia speculates that “possibly the cantantibus organis was erroneously interpreted of Cecilia herself as the organist. In this way the saint was brought into closer relation with music.”

In time, artists began depicting Cecilia as seated at an organ and singing her lungs out – still her predominant iconography to this day. And then, in 1584, the clincher: The Roman Academy of Music adopted St. Cecilia as its patroness, and the die was cast. The entire universal Church soon embraced her as the special celestial intercessor for all musicians.

Sure, it’s all due to a misunderstanding and misattribution, but so be it. She has taken to the role quite admirably by all accounts, and, who knows? – maybe she really was an accomplished vocalist and musician. In any case, even if her singular role in heaven doesn’t match up exactly with her earthly journey, the mismatch doesn’t impinge on her ability to be a special friend and advocate for all those musically inclined.

I’d like to suggest we do something similar with Paul Simon’s song, despite its saucy theme. It’s a shame to avoid what is manifestly a buoyant, joyful tune – just the kind of music you’d want to revel in on St. Cecilia’s special day. It’s such a fun song, and hard not to tap your foot to it – the melody bounces along, and the accompanying grungy percussion along with Simon’s xylophone counterpoint give it an upbeat, happy feel. Can we spin it in such a way as to mute its offensive storyline?

2) NPR has a piece by Sylvia Poggioli on a recently restored painting at the Vatican (The Resurrection by Pinturicchio) depicting the first known image of Native Americans:

The fresco, The Resurrection, was painted by the Renaissance master Pinturicchio in 1494 — just two years after Christopher Columbus first set foot in what came to be called the New World.

Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, told the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano that after the soot and grime were removed, in the background, just above the open coffin from where Christ has risen, “we see nude men, decorated with feathered headdresses who appear to be dancing.” One of them seems to sport a Mohican cut.

The image dovetails with Columbus’ description of having been greeted by dancing nude men painted black or red.


Though, Piggioli is quick to analyze the potential power dynamics of the image (the Pope as longing for the spoils of the new world), there is a deep theological meaning behind a piece of artwork depicting not only the Resurrection but early, Native Americans as somehow involved in the scene of Christ’s Resurrection.

3) The Atlantic Monthly does an analysis of why it’s hard for millennials to find a place to live and work. Worth reading, especially for those interested in parish demographic trends:

The Dayton-SF dilemma isn’t about Ohio vs. California. It’s about a broader dilemma for young workers and, in particular, young couples looking to buy a home, raise children, and achieve the American Dream. The cities with the least affordable housing often have the best social mobility. And the cities with the worst social mobility often have the most affordable housing. When good jobs for the middle class and affordable homes are living in different cities, it represents a slow-motion splintering of the American Dream.



Three Things We’re Reading Today: Martin/Douthat, Sacred Literature, and Facebook

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) It’s not often in modern journalism that you get a glimpse into a genuine dialogue between two people, who fundamentally disagree. This recent contribution from America Magazine from Fr. Jim Martin, SJ and Ross Douthat of The New York Times does just that. Excerpts won’t do the piece justice, so read the whole thing.

This piece is one, which does better than anything that I’ve read, in describing the kind of assumptions that went into discussions around the Synod on the Family. It should be studied by all women and men of good will.

2) Ethika Politika has a splendid piece on the role of the sacred in literature. It’s apart of a broader debate on the reinvigoration of Catholic letters as a whole that has unfolded at First Things, Commonweal, and America. But Michelle Tholen sums it up beautifully:

Though this seems a harsh truth, it must be solidly understood in order to correct the current crisis in Catholic fiction. Our belief and faith in Jesus Christ must touch and inform every aspect of life; works of culture cannot be excluded. They are, in fact, a vital part of our humanity, our composition of body and soul. Literature should, as all things should, have the purpose of perfecting us and deepening our relationship with God. If successful, it can then reinvigorate our families, parishes, and the larger “secular” society.

3) A really splendid piece on the kind of dispositions social media forms in us, dispositions that actually make it more difficult to pray. At least, so says Mark Bauerlein at First Things (Prayer in the Facebook Age):

We are in danger of losing these replenishing, corrective moments of solitary faith. Silence and seclusion are harder to find, and fewer people seek them out. You find a lone bench in the park on a fall afternoon, gaze up at the sky through the branches, and begin the Rosary only to have a power walker march by barking into an invisible mic. It’s not just the noise, it’s his connection to absent persons, as if to say that being in one place alone with the Lord is insufficient.


In Praise of Adoption

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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The following piece is written in honor of Adoption Awareness Month (November).

Recently, I found myself reading a book on Thanksgiving, a text that my wife was considering using for a parents’ gathering at our parish. The authors of the children’s book were concerned with presenting a wide swath of humanity, all assembling together to celebrate the American meal par excellence. One page, specifically, grabbed my attention. One of the aunts arrived at the meal, a child in tow (along with pumpkin pies). The text made sure to point out that the infant, who the aunt was bringing along, was her “adopted child.”

At first, I admired the move made by the author of said book. It is normative for adopting parents today to reveal to their son or daughter (at the right time) his or her status as adopted. Undoubtedly, this is healthier for the psychological development of the child, who grows up aware of the particularity of his or her narrative. This book publicly recognized that there are children in the world, who are also adopted. If literature functions as a kind of mirror, the adopted child encountered in this Thanksgiving narrative a recognized status. There are other adopted children in the world. I am not alone.

Yet, since my initial reading, I have grew concerned about the function of the adopted infant in this children’s book. When I introduce my son to other people, I generally don’t say, “The toddler who is presently trying to throw himself into a mound of snow–he is my adopted child.” No, he is my son. Although my wife and I did not conceive him through sex reproduction, he is the sacramental embodiment of our love extended into the world (along with the gift of his birth mother and father). Although we don’t share genetic material with one another, we share biological matter all the time with our toddler. SleepingBabyI hold him when sickness takes over his body, no longer thinking twice about wiping snot from his nose or cleaning vomit off the floor. When I eat yogurt in the morning, there is no doubt that this food is also his, as he toddles toward me–his mouth agape to receive a food that he normally rejects (except when dad is eating it). My heartbeat is recognizable to him, enough so that he calms down as soon as I hold him in the midst of a restless sleep. He is mine, and I am his.

Nonetheless, whether adopted or not, Kara and I will experience the reality that all parents come to know so well. Our son, the one who drastically changed our lives, re-oriented every facet of our existence (like a dictator), will one day make it clear to the world that he is not ours. That he is an independent being, capable of thought and action, apart from his beloved (and adopting) parents. In reality, every child born into the world is an “adopted” child insofar as that creature is never really “ours” to begin with. And from the perspective of the child, he or she is born into a family GiftoftheSon(whether adopted or not) that was not chosen by the child. All that we receive in our earliest days upon earth is given to us without anyone seeking out our particular interest in receiving it. Born into the world, each of us are adopted into a language, a culture, a religious tradition, an ethos. Our facial gestures, our style of speaking, our interests–these are bestowed to us as gift. As I’ve written elsewhere:

Every human being, in fact, is adopted (or at least should be) into an ecology of…love. Adoption is a sign for all Christians that a person’s fundamental identity is as one who has received love: the love of God generously and precariously poured out upon creation, the love of God manifested in Christ, who reveals to us that our humanity was made for total self-gift. Those relationships with teachers, friends and parents, which immerse us into the logic of this sort of love, reveal to us that we are indeed beloved.

Adoption, as a form of family life, serves a prophetic function in the Christian life. It reminds us of the “giftedness” of life itself. Life is not “gift” because it is an extension of our own biological productivity. Life is gift because…it is. Everything that we receive is inscribed in an act of generosity that is divine love itself. From a Christian perspective, a marriage is fruitful (and thus Trinitarian and Eucharistic), not simply when it introduces new biological children into the world, but when it forms a space in which we come to recognize the concrete gift of love itself.

My child is thus “adopted,” but in a very really way, his adoption is not entirely distinct from all of us who enter into a world that we did not choose to abide within in the first place. My son has not chosen his parents; but nor did I, a product of a biological marriage. Adoption is a particular form of family life, consonant with the Christian narrative as a whole, that inscribes us primordially in the gift first received. Much theological work still needs to be done relative to a number of these themes.

Nonetheless, it is inadequate to articulate a sacramental theology of marriage, which perceives adoption as a benign aberration vis-a-vis biological Christian family life. Adoption, for both child and parent, introduces a particular form of life that is radically sacramental in its particularity. It reveals to us God’s plan for humanity, for creation itself, as adopted into a love that we can only imagine. Adoption, biological childbirth, and spiritual paternity or maternity together reveal a full image of what constitutes entrance into the family of God.


Adoption is worthy of such praise, not simply in the month of November, but all the days of the calendar year.



finding the other side

Renee RodenRenée Roden

AmeriCorps Volunteer



That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. (Mark 4: 35-36)

TimesSquareIn a city that never sleeps, spaces of silence are rare luxuries. Obviously, interior silence is always available to those who seek it; and there are few things more refreshing than popping into a church off a busy avenue, and finding that the Eucharist is exposed on the altar, just like it was waiting for you to arrive. Surprise Eucharistic Adoration is a great delight to the heart, it’s true. But it becomes exhausting to keep constant vigilance over the interior silence.

So it becomes necessary to find spaces where the interior silence inside of us is not fighting the noisy world around us, but can bask in the peace of the exterior world.

One Saturday, I found such a place, a little oasis of peace and quiet in the desert of New York’s constant soundscape. I traveled up to the The CloistersCloisters, which is the magical little mock-monastery in upper Manhattan. That morning, armed with my journal (to take notes on the artwork. Pro-tip: going to a museum with a journal makes you feel more intellectual. Even if you never open it once.), a cupcake, and a book for the train (currently reading: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Trying to read up on my new home.)

I stepped off the second-to-the-last-stop on the A train, and found myself on a street corner that looked similar to any other corner on any other block in upper Manhattan. But then, I looked slightly south down the road, and saw a wall of trees rising out of the park, like a thicket surrounding a fairy-tale castle. So I set off into the woods; and, already, my feet felt lighter as I found myself surrounded in brilliant fall colors, the particular sort of sunlight that is made out of sun shining through trees, blue sky, and the sweet smell of mulch and fallen leaves decomposing. I followed the winding paths  and stone stairs up to the top of the hill, and sitting in radiant splendor was this recreation of a beautiful Benedictine Monastery.

As I wandered through the different cloisters, courtyards that had been constructed out of fragments of  medieval French monasteries, I was awed by the stillness that suffused the hallways. I felt refreshed, renewed in my mind, heart, and body. As I was wandering through the museum, and basking in the autumn sun over the Hudson river, I kept thinking of how “like Europe” this was.

But, what I think I was feeling was a similar feeling that many Notre Dame undergraduates first experience while studying abroad: finding the other side.

Studying abroad is the first time that many students spend their time actively seeking beauty. Although this is far too often warped into a competition to see who can get the most notches on their “I Saw All the Seven Hundred Wonders of Europe According to Rick Steves” belts, the driving force behind many students’ study-abroad careers is an active pursuit of the beautiful. Time that would have been spent maybe playing video games is now spent wandering through small Catalan villages or time that may have been wasted at a kegger or a day party is spent wandering Paris side-streets. Even time that is well-spent in studying is often put aside in favor of pursuing the beauty in the students’ new environment.  The understanding that travel is part of their education, and an explicit time limit lead the students to sense that their time ought not to be wasted, that every moment is precious, and that every day one should see a sight worthy of note. A lack of routine and a set friend group or community lead students to explore. Exploration of new territory generally tends toward a search for the beautiful: Find the most charming café, the most awe-inspiring painting, the most beautiful sunset, the quaintest bridge, the most authentic pub, the sweetest cannoli.

And one does this, for the most part, alone. Although there are many friendships made, nourished, and sustained while studying abroad through Notre Dame, there is necessarily a certain amount of loneliness that comes with a search for beauty.  You are in a new country, without the creature comforts of home, family, and friends, which leads to a sense of solitude. Perhaps the words of the psalmist: “My one companion is darkness” have new meaning to a globe-trotting student stuck alone in the Zurich airport for the night. And even in our lighter moments, there is a new sense of loneliness. Beauty, especially the visual arts, but all beauty, demands our attention. In order to see it, we have to stop seeing everything else around us. We have to stop focusing on a multiplicity of things, and focus on the one thing right in front of us. The processing of beauty is necessarily an interior process. We find that it is just us and the Cathedral around us, or the mountain scene, or the Pieta. We encounter all this beauty not just with our eyes, but with our selves, in an interior way.

Once we have given our attention to the piece of art, once we receive something, it necessarily draws a response from us. It is a conversation that occurs in private, even when we are in a crowd. Although we may be surrounded by a great crowd of people snapping photos on their phones, and we are all perceiving the same object, we are alone in our perceptions.  There is a raw honesty inTheDavid this sort of solitary encounter with beauty, which occurs, even in a loud, crowded physical geography, in silence. One does not walk through an art museum, talking on the cell phone the entire time.  Anyone who encounters the David will necessarily stop talking with whoever is next to them (at least for a moment or two): and actually behold at the beauty that is in front of them. Even in that split second, there will be a moment of silence, of solitude in beholding the beauty in front of us.

Timothy Husband, the curator of the Cloisters, spoke to Richard Preston of The New Yorker, about his experience with the Unicorn tapestries. The Unicorn tapestries are astounding. They line the walls of a small gallery on the Cloisters’ main floor. Their presence on the unassuming gallery walls transforms the small room into a forest of color. One could spend weeks looking at these mysterious tapestries, and find eternities of beauty in their depths. Mr. Husband, as On Mondays, when the  the museum is closed, he will dedicate spent looking at the Unicorn tapestries:

“Sometimes I come in here and try to pretend I have never read anything about them, never heard anything about them, and I just try to look at them, . . . then there is a solace in their beauty, and one can stare at them in pure amazement.” (“Capturing the Unicorn” The New Yorker, April 11, 2005)

As I walked through the stillness of the Cloisters, stared at the Unicorn tapestries, and basked in the beauty of the fall day, I felt the interior wells of stillness inside of me replenished.

The pursuit of beauty teaches us to cultivate silence in a positive, constructive way. Solitude is no longer just an escape from the overload of activity all around us, but an activity worth pursuing for its own sake.

As we seek what is beautiful, spending our time searching for the beauty in our environment, we find ourselves drawn at the same time inward and outward. We are drawn out of ourselves, out of the hamster wheel of daily concerns that we constantly run over and over in our minds. And we are drawn inward, into the still, small space inside of ourselves, where we can find that silence that Christ sought on the other side of the lake.


Three Things We’re Reading Today: Limits of Liturgy, Busyness (Part 2), and Ancient Humanity

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

1) PrayTell has posted a column from Msgr. Francis Mannion on the limitations of liturgy within the life of the Church:

The third implication is that the liturgy cannot be the only place within which Christian education takes place. In many parishes, there is no adult education apart from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which reaches only a very small percentage of people. Formation in the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church often does not take place apart from the homily, but the homily is not able to proclaim by itself the whole of Christian faith.

The fundamental problem here is that too much is being asked of the liturgy. The Church is expected to yield up all its riches on Sunday morning, and disappointment occurs when this does not occur and the liturgy collapses under the weight.

2) A follow-up (actually technically a prequel) to the wonderful piece on busyness by Omid Safi:

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.

Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

3) A piece (from the Jesuit Post) that links the “oldness” of human life on earth with a sense of the newness of what has taken place in Christ:

Christ may have come “late in time”, but he came at a time when knowledge of him could be reliably remembered through the written word, transmitted through the continual contact of mobile peoples and shared among the billions of people that have come after him. It may be useful to remind ourselves of this from time to time. Unlike many of the other religious movements of the time, early Christianity was not tribal or regional. Christians consciously proclaimed a gospel for all times and all peoples, and indeed for the whole cosmos. The Paschal Mystery is not an interesting historical event; it is the event in the 200,000-year history of our species. Today, just as much as 2,000 years ago, it is our exciting job to let the world know just exactly what has happened to the human race in its recent history, and invite them to plunge into its new current.

Three Things We’re Reading Today: Pornography, Busyness, and Marilynne Robinson

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

1) Ethika Politika features an article discussing the effects of internet pornography by Morgan Bennett:

This observation is crucial, as it exposes a characteristic of pornography that has vast, long-lasting implications for our society as a whole. The impact of pornography is not limited to problems of compulsive behavior or erectile dysfunction, or even to increases in violence, decreases in productivity, or the fueling of human trafficking. Internet pornography’s impact is even more pervasive than these social harms because it affects broad cultural ideas and influences human choices, which, in the aggregate, shape our social environment. Still, the most critical point about pornography’s impact on society is that the cultural ideas and choices that pornography influence are related to the most basic and crucial elements of society: human relationships and sexual choices. The social institutions of marriage and the family unit are the prime targets of a sexual narcotic, and the destabilization of these essential units of community results in a deep social poverty.

2) On Being (with Krista Tippett) has a beautiful article on how “busyness” is a thief within our lives. The piece is by Omid Safi, and tugs at the heartstrings of those of us often too busy to spend time with our children:

My little girl, a real love of my life, came into the room in that beautiful way she does. She doesn’t so much walk as she skips, she glides, she dances. She walks on her tippy toes, because she is, as she says, a “for real life” princess. As she came dancing into the room, she started to say in her own sing-songy way, “Baba, would you like to…”

At that very moment she saw me, laptop in lap, locked into my jihad against email. The smallest jihad. The struggle I always lose.

She cut herself off. Her dancing came to a halt. Her sing-songy voice changed to something else, something not even resembling disappointment. It was resignation, more like surrender to the rhythm of her Baba’s life, knowing the scene she had seen countless times before.

3) Commonweal has an on-going discussion of the work of Marilynne Robinson, an author who I’ve spent a wonderful weekend chatting to (when she was receiving an honorary doctorate at Notre Dame in 2013). Here is an excerpt from Scott D. Moringiello:

There is also a tinge of Christian realism in this passage. Ames wants his son to know that he should be courageous so that he can be generous. And being generous is the same thing as being useful. But, in an important sense, our individual appreciation of beauty and our individual courage and usefulness and generosity might appear to be completely useless. This is a trap, I fear, that most of us worry about. (And this is something that I’ll return to in the discussion of Home.) We want to be generous, even if that utility and generosity remain somehow inchoate in our own minds. Here’s where the realism comes in. Ames views his advice to his son not as a living flame but as an ember, and he can only hope that God will breathe into that ember. The prophets knew they could try to persuade the Israelites, but they could not force them to mend their relationship with the Lord. This is why Ames prays that his son will “grow up a brave man in a brave country” (247). That is, Ames wants his son to recognize the remarkable beauty in the world, he wants him to know that “there are a thousands thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient” (243). He wants his son to be the generous son of a generous God.



St. Frances Xavier Cabrini: An American Tale of Evangelization

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M. Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy Contact Author On this day in 1938, Frances Xavier Cabrini was canonized by Pope Pius XI, the first naturalized citizen of the United States to be officially named a saint. Born in Italy to a family of farmers, Frances was the tenth of eleven children, but only three of her siblings lived to adulthood; the others died of sickness as children and adolescents, and Frances herself suffered from weak health her entire life. Despite this sorrow, or perhaps rather precisely because of this, Frances and her family sought refuge in God. Frances’ parents took great pains to educate their children in the faith, reading stories of the great missionary saints at bedtime. These stories captured Frances’ imagination, and she so earnestly desired to become a missionary to the East that, when she grew up, she petitioned to join several religious orders; however, she was refused because of her poor health. Instead, inspired by the mother superior of one such order, Frances decided to establish a new religious community. cabriniOn November 14, 1880, she and five other women formed the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the diocese of Lombardy, Italy, and she took the name Frances Xavier, after the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, who had traveled to China in order to spread the Gospel. Mother Cabrini worked tirelessly as leader of her newly founded order. Within eight years she had received permission to establish two mission houses in Rome, and while there, she learned of the great need for missionaries to minister to Italian immigrants in the United States. And so Frances and her companions journeyed, “Not to the East, but to the West,” arriving in New York City on March 31, 1889. By 1890, Frances and her fellow sisters had established an orphanage in New York City, followed soon after by a school that offered a free education to the poor immigrants. Within the next two years, she traveled to New Orleans, where she established a school and an orphanage. Upon returning to New York, she established a hospital to provide care for the poor, and soon afterward, traveled to Chicago and Seattle to do the same in those cities. Despite her continuously poor health, Frances persevered in her work, expanding the reach of her order even beyond North America, establishing missions in Nicaragua and Argentina, as well as Paris and Madrid. By the time of her death in 1917, Mother Cabrini had established 67 different institutions on three different continents. In the summer of 2004, I had the opportunity to visit the Mother Cabrini Shrine in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. One of the exhibits contained various articles of clothing that she had worn throughout her life: her habit, her veil, even her shoes. Cabrini2I remember being surprised at how small her shoes were—they looked like they belonged to a child. I imagined this tiny woman as an absolute tour de force in her life as a missionary, traveling into unknown places with an unflappable tenacity and a contagious energy, reaching out to the poorest of the poor in the slums and factories of nineteenth-century New York City, helping people to discover the beauty of the Gospel even as they faced the trials of the Cross as strangers in a strange land. In her ministry to those on the margins, especially to immigrants, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini embodies the ideals of evangelization put forth by Pope Francis, whose native Argentina welcomed her centuries ago as she shared the light and joyof the Gospel. In her tireless work of evangelization, Mother Cabrini shows us what it means to be part of “a Church which is poor and for the poor” (Evangelii Gaudium, §198). She shows us how to venture beyond what is comfortable and familiar into unknown terrain, where one must rely on the grace and providence of God, trusting that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1, NRSV). She shows us how to see the face of Christ in the other; how to love God by loving our neighbor. Most importantly, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini is a saint for the Church of the United States as we face the many complexities surrounding the issue of immigration. As an immigrant herself, Mother Cabrini faced the difficulties of becoming acclimated to a new country, a new language, a new culture. St. Francis CabriniYet even in the midst of her own difficulties, she sought to help others first, setting her own needs and even her own health aside for the good of her fellow immigrants. She is a vivid reminder of our own call to bear the Gospel in all places, in all times, to all peoples, or, as Pope Francis states, “to go forth and give, to go out from ourselves, to keep pressing forward in our sowing of the good seed” (Evangelii Gaudium, §21). This going out from ourselves takes the form of radical hospitality towards all people, and finds concrete expression in the words of Jesus:

‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I as sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Mt 25:35–36, 40)

As we approach the time of year when the disparity between the haves and the have-nots grows all the more apparent, let us remember the life of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini as an example of radiant charity and radical hospitality, and let us strive to extend that same charity and hospitality to all whom we encounter, seeing in the faces of the poor, the immigrant, and the marginalized, the face of Christ himself.


Peace Be With You

Tim KenneyTimothy J. Kenney ’14 MTS Candidate, 

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

Catholics do a lot of weird things at Mass. We sit, we stand, we sit again, we stand again, we sit again, we stand again, we kneel, we stand again, we shake hands with people, we kneel again, we walk up to the front, we walk back to our seats, we sit again, we stand again, and we leave. Seems like a lot of work. But, maybe we’re just over-achievers, because we always insist upon making an already demanding task that much harder by throwing in added challenges. Where are we going to sit? Front? Don’t want to seem too eager. Back? Don’t want to be stuck with the crying babies. We settle into a pew and then squeeze as much conversation out of the next 5 minutes as we possibly can, assuming we’re not late as usual. We sit and silently criticize the music, the readers, the altar servers. The homily is either too long or too bland or too preachy. We all add in a multitude of additional challenges throughout the Mass—everyone’s got their own specialties.

Once we get to the start of the Eucharistic Prayer, a cold sweat spreads throughout the congregation like a plague. Slowly, one by one, everyone realizes we’re getting close to the big one, the one you spend days beforehand worrying over and weeks afterward reliving (at least some of us do). The sign of peace is nearly upon us. While everything leading up to that moment is centered upon the celebration of Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist, almost inevitably, even if it’s just for a moment, sometime between the Sanctus and the Great Amen, the thought crosses your mind of who is around you and where you’ll go first for the sign of peace.

At first glace it seems completely disconnected from the other Mass parts surrounding it. We’re praying, singing, praying the Our Father (sometimes holding hands), then suddenly shaking hands and hugging, and back to singing. I want to look experientially at how we do the sign of peace as a way of showing how we often miss the beautiful liturgical significance iSignofPeacen this moment. I’ll start with the basic structure of events for anyone unfamiliar with the Catholic liturgy and then highlight two major variations that are the most revelatory.

The Standard Model for the sign of peace: shake hands with/hug family and those in the rest of your pew, and if there’s time the pews in front and behind. Crushing handshakes are reserved for siblings. Moving more than a step from your spot is excessive, unless Grandma is there. Always move down the pew to hug Grandma.

Variation #1, a favorite of the older crowds (see any daily Mass): quickly turn, nod to everyone around you, maybe wave or throw up a couple peace signs. If it takes more than 30 seconds you’re doing it wrong. In general, speed tends to be the name of the game for daily Mass, which isn’t terrible. Those who attend daily Mass are often people on a tight schedule or lunch break. However, the sign of peace is not something than can be reduced to near non-existence without somehow changing our participation in the Eucharist. Contrary to what I said above about the sign of peace as a random event in the Mass, we don’t change gears in the sign of peace, but rather are literally enacting our prayer. We’re proclaiming our love of God through love of neighbor, extending to them the same blessing and hope for peace the newly risen Christ offered the 11 gathered in the locked, upper room. Even more directly, we just asked God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are asking God to forgive us using the same standard by which we forgive others. Personally, I hope God is far more forgiving than I have been with those who have injured me. Still, upon making this prayer to God, we then immediately get a chance to put our prayer into action by extending peace to our JesusPeaceparents, siblings, friends, and all of those around us who have almost certainly trespassed against us. Peace. Not just forgiveness, not just a clean slate, but peace in our community. If we don’t actively extend this before receiving the Eucharist, how can we make it manifest in our world as the Body of Christ when we leave the church?

Variation #2 tends to be a favorite of young crowds (college dorm Masses are special offenders): empty the pews, form an inner and outer circle rotating in opposite directions, and proceed to bro hug everyone in the congregation. The reality of this situation is that, while it is an impressive display of love and community, we have to ask why this is really happening. In offering us peace, the priest is standing in the place of Christ in His sacrifice and extending love to us. By encouraging us to offer one another the sign of Christ’s peace, we’re sharing the love we have received from Him with one another. It is an expression of an immense filial love that shows we’re coming as a community to the feast. The problem arises when this love, brotherly love, is celebrated for its own sake and takes away our focus from the Eucharist, which is sitting consecrated on the altar waiting for the hugs and inevitable conversation to stop.

It’s as if an astronaut, after devoting so much energy and focus to training and preparation, climbed out of the cockpit with 30 seconds left on the countdown and said, “Wow, that was really something!” We’d say, but with all the effort you’ve put in, you’re supposed to go to the moon! Meanwhile, we have been prepared by the entire liturgy for so much more than the sign of peace! We have been called to the feast, to receive Christ in the Eucharist, and yet suddenly we decide we’re satisfied with just being part of the community. Yes, the sign of peace is an expression of love, but it’s not perfect or complete. It has to remain a means to the end that is communion in Christ. This in no way diminishes filial love, but rather elevates it. The best part of all this is that, by expressing our desire for peace and then participating in God’s agapic love, we’re equipped with the filial love we need to actually make this peace manifest in the world. We don’t merely leave the sign of peace behind because the Eucharist is better, the Eucharist completes the sign of peace by so uniting us with Christ and filling us with love that we are now able to live peace.

We’re talking about real peace, peace that is intimately tied to love. SwordsPlowsharesIt isn’t peace for its own sake, it’s peace as the by-product of divine love. This is the peace we’re called to offer one another at Mass and receive in the Eucharist. It’s a strong and firm peace, not something wishy-washy. It’s beating your swords into plowshares not because we have collectively agreed to stop fighting, but rather because we love one another so completely that we no longer even recognize their previous purpose. It is easy to simply say the Eucharist is important and that we should more fully incorporate love and peace into our relationships. The thing that is hard and that is so absolutely fundamental is that we celebrate the liturgy and receive the Eucharist, not for a functional end, but out of love for God and a desire for relationship with Him and with each other in this unity. A life of love and a life of peace, a complete embodiment of the liturgy in our daily life, is the shared vocation of all humanity. Call it altruistic, call it unrealistic, call it whatever you like, because that’s exactly what God’s calling you to.


Where then is the glory of this world?: Priestly Celibacy and Lay Fidelity

SamuelBellafioreSamuel Bellafiore

Undergraduate Fellow

Philosophy, Music ’15

Sir John Tavener (1944–2013) will almost certainly be remembered as one of the twentieth century’s great choral composers. On All Souls’ Day I had the privilege of singing his Funeral Ikos, remarkable music with an even more remarkable text. Before you do anything else, please read it. It’s astounding. The ikos is a changeable part of the Orthodox Eucharistic prayer; this one is from an Orthodox liturgy for the burial of a priest.

It treats death and eternity with awe foreign to modern Westerners. “I am parted from my brethren. All my friends do I abandon, and go hence. But whither I go, that understand I not, neither what shall become of me yonder.” He wonders how the heavenly souls interact with each other and with the Church living on earth. To the earthly Church he addresses these stinging words:

Where then is comeliness?
Where then is wealth?
Where then is the glory of this world?

They aren’t. They are gone. The Church, if she is honest, must confront the fact that everything is passing away.10

These lines reminded me of comments by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI from June 2010. Responding to a Russian priest’s inquiry about why society reviles clerical celibacy, Pope Benedict said renouncing marriage scandalizes the world by pointing toward the resurrection. By giving up marriage and family life, priests and other consecrated people live the knowledge that there is something besides the goods attainable on earth. In a world increasingly incapable of looking far into the future, celibacy points beyond our moment to a time beyond this time.

It doesn’t point to the next generation or the next century. The new time it manifests is outside time. It manifests eternity, a reality as inescapable as death. Pope Benedict said that by the practice of celibacy “we ‘pull’ ourselves and our time toward the world of the resurrection, toward the newness of Christ, toward the new and true life.”

The practice of celibacy proclaims there is more to life than this life. It asks the world—asks us—to ponder whether there is something more. For what or for whom would a person surrender the treasures of earthly life? Celibacy can expand the world’s vision and bring God from the periphery to the center of its sight. “The meaning of celibacy as an anticipation of the future is precisely to open these doors, to make the world bigger, to show the reality of the future that must be lived by us as already present.”

As Pope Benedict clarified, celibacy is not just for celibates. If it were, it would be a failure. Perhaps even people who support celibacy can miss this point. pascha-01Current positive discussion of celibacy rightly focuses on how celibacy frees a person to give himself or herself more fully to God’s work. Understandably, the focus is on the celibate person as the actor, the subject of the practice of celibacy. But God’s work is His people. We are the work for which celibacy exists. Perhaps discussions of celibacy haven’t noticed that the lay faithful are the ultimate recipients of the gift. It is given to some for the sanctification of all. If we see that others’ celibacy is a gift to us, we might see a blessing. We might also see the scandal. The practice of celibacy won’t stop posing some aggravating, impertinent questions.

Where then is comeliness?
Where then is wealth?
Where then is the glory of this world?

Where will they be when the last breath quickly passes? They will be gone. Then is there anything worth holding onto? There is only one
thing. He alone is unchanging. He is God.

If we are receptive to the sign of celibacy, it will point not only toward death and what follows death. By pointing toward the end, it can incite us once more to our present mission for our life is a preparation for death. It must be aimed toward the resurrected life. Though I may not like it, “time is running out” (1 Cor 7:29). St. Paul writes, “From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away” (vs 30–31). The Christian future drives the Christian present.

The world’s transience necessitates a different life from the one society asks us to live. There is coming a time when we will see, “The beauty of the eyes is quenched then,  the comeliness of the face all altered, the shapeliness of the neck destroyed.” The nature of the material worldParadiso_Canto_31 should shape our attitudes toward it. If we know it is already passing away, we cannot love the world as the world loves it. We must cling to what endures. In no way does this perspective detract from created beauty. It sets our view of creation aright. This position might feel stodgy or frustrating. Most “rightly ordered” things do. But this view draws out the shapeliness of creation. It urges us to love the world not as something to love forever but as something we must love now because it and we are both going away.

Nature itself begs us consider mortality even if society won’t. It’s November. Leaves are dying and falling. They are getting soggy. Snow will fall over them and they will rot. The leaves will lie until the snow dies away. We are beautiful and we are dying.

Where then is the glory of this world? It is not to be found here. The glory of this world is the glory of the approaching world of restored and resurrected life, that life toward which our lives are even now directed. What then is the glory of this life? It is the glory of the Lord.


The Powerlessness and the Glory

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.
Director, Notre Dame Vision

Contact Author

Editorial Note: This post was first delivered as a homily for Vespers on Tuesday, November 4, 2014. We are grateful for the author’s permission to repost it here.

This I declare, brothers [and sisters]:
flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,
nor does corruption inherit incorruption.
Behold, I tell you a mystery.
We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed,
in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet.
For the trumpet will sound,
the dead will be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.
For that which is corruptible
must clothe itself with incorruptibility,
and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality.
And when this which is corruptible
clothes itself with incorruptibility
and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality,
then the word that is written shall come about:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:50–57)

At first blush, it seems that those who would be suspicious of the body—of bodiliness— have found a friend in Saint Paul. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, and so the gift of salvation, it seems, must happen without these human bodies, outside the body, ‘after’ the body.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons knew this argument well. He knew that many declared the body insignificant and claimed St. Paul as their authority. So Irenaeus sought to read Paul more patiently than his adversaries and pinned their distrust of the body on a failure to see. What they fail to see is that, far from disappearing, the body appears in glory.

“Vain are those who allege that [Christ] appeared in mere seeming” (Against the Heresies, Bk. V, Ch. 1), declares St. Irenaeus, for what appears on Easter morning is the definitive revelation of what the Word of God assumed. jesusresurrection_2Did he appear in soul only, as pure spirit? No. He appears bodily, in glory; not in mere seeming, but with lance and nail marks, clinging to the flesh he assumed.

“Behold the Crucified One, Now Risen in Glory.” Behold the last thing those suspicious of the body would want to find:
the human body, in glory.

But what dies? Irenaeus asks.
The whole man.
And what decomposes?
The body.

And herein lies the great mystery to which Paul testifies, that “that which is corruptible is raised incorruptible.” It is a point of incomparable importance—not just for Paul or Irenaeus, but for us, today, and for our beloved dead.

“For what is more ignoble than dead flesh?” Irenaeus asks, “Or, on the other hand, what is more glorious than the same when it arises and partakes of incorruption?” (Against the Heresies, Bk. V, Ch. 7). In an instant, in the blink of an eye, that which is most ignoble: dead flesh, becomes the most glorious of things: the same flesh, incorruptible.

Why is this of incomparable importance? Well, first we must ask, “What is my body?” To put this all rather briefly, your body is your contact with the world. It is the space of interaction, of relationship. It is with this body that you feel pain, that you know joy, that you are delighted and disappointed and wounded and healed. This is the body that your mother held, that friends have embraced; through this body you have learned all the things you know. It’s this body that you and others have cared for; this body that you and others have mistreated. What is your body but your history, the symbol of your history, the memory of your history, your very presence in and participation in the world with others?

And so what happens when your body dies?
All of that dies with it?

We resist this thought, and for good reason. Surely, all of that can’t die. Even when I am not here, what about those who will remember me? All of that will live with them, and some mark I have made upon the world will endure. We resist this thought, and for good reason, because we remember those we have loved, those who have loved us. They live on in our memories of them, in the impressions they have made upon our bodies, our histories, our hearts and minds.

But if they live on by the power of our memories, then they themselves become subject to our memories’ endurance. And we know our memories fail.

Angel of Death (tomb of Pope Alexander VII, St. Peter's Basilica)

Angel of Death (tomb of Pope Alexander VII, St. Peter’s Basilica)

We struggle to sustain them, but eventually our memories, too, which we want to keep alive and active shall become inert in our own deaths, so that even those great figures of history, whom everyone knows and remembers, will disappear into obscurity when no one remembers them. Our memories fail and our bodies decompose.

What greater ignobility than this? So says Irenaeus. Death, in this sense, is absolutely humiliating. All that energy we expend, the drama and tragedies of our lives, our cares and our loves and our fears and our sufferings, become meaningless in the dead flesh.

Alas, the body is unstable, corruptible, or, in a word, insignificant.

ResurrectionSo why is nothing more glorious than the risen body?

Because. . . God returns significance to the body. God re-members: He preserves all that we would lose and he puts back together all that is pulled apart. God gives us a power of memory that does not depend on our own power: the God who remembers gives us a share in the unfathomable power of one who meets the meaninglessness of dead flesh and rescues meaning.

How do we know? Because Jesus was raised bodily. His body is the promise that we, too, can be raised bodily; His body is the sacrament that this life, now, has permanent significance, because God remembers the body. . . all of it and all it means.

Oh, that sting of death, it’s the looming threat of meaninglessness. That victory of death is significance swallowed up. But where is that sting, where is that victory, if God remembers the body? If God’s “knowing us” is not limited by death, then what have we to fear?

Resurrection-of-the-Dead-290x290So we find ourselves both haunted and comforted by this restlessness of memory, to believe we shall be remembered, even as we know our own powerlessness. In the one who appears—Christ Crucified, Christ Risen—we discover what we always wanted and never expected: from our powerlessness we are raised in glory.

It is this mystery we contemplate this month above all; we practice remembering our dead, in faith; we entrust ourselves to their prayers, in hope; and we dare to imagine our communion with them, in Christ, in love.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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