What We’re Reading Today: Basil Moreau, Mercy, and being born toward dying

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) Mike Urbaniak, who works in the University of Notre Dame’s Office of Campus Ministry, reflects on a recent pilgrimage to LeMans, France: the birthplace of the Congregation of Holy Cross and where the community’s founder, Basil Moreau, is now buried:the_tomb_of_blessed_basil_moreau

To be there at the tomb of Moreau and to pray there knowing he was also praying for me was incredible.  Mostly, my prayer was a prayer of gratitude.  It was a chance to thank God for this man’s life who has had an incredible impact, almost two centuries, later on a kid from Toledo, Ohio.  This French priest faithfully followed his call, through joy and sorrow, and as a result of the grace of God and the Holy Spirit, has shaped the people who have formed me to be who I am.  It was in this moment of gratitude and vulnerability that I looked to Moreau as a guide.  It is there above Moreau’s tomb that I found his inspiration to me, the “product” he was pointing me towards.

2) As the Institute for Church Life’s interdisciplinary conference on Creatio ex Nihilo is taking place on campus this week, here is a little piece on creation and mercy by Amanda Oshelm at Daily Theology:

Unlike the later Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo, from nothing, Genesis 1:1-2 tells us that there was something:  a dark, formless abyss covered by water.  While water is necessary to sustain life, in this case the biblical imagery is of water’s chaos.  Creation stands in opposition to chaos, and it is the breath of God—God’s Spirit—that sweeps over the waters to bring forth life.

Moral theologian James Keenan, S.J. describes mercy as entering into chaos to help others in their need (1).  If we use that definition to reflect on Genesis 1, then God’s creation is not only splendid and good but also meaningful:  creation is an act of mercy.

3) First Things‘ Fr. Richard John Neuhaus on being born toward death:

All philosophy begins in wonder, said the ancients. With exceptions, contemporary philosophy stops at wonder. We are told: don’t ask, don’t wonder, about what you cannot know for sure. But the most important things of everyday life we cannot know for sure. We cannot know them beyond all possibility of their turning out to be false. We order our loves and loyalties, we invest our years with meaning and our death with hope, not knowing for sure, beyond all reasonable doubt, whether we might not have gotten it wrong. What we need is a philosophy that enables us to speak truly, if not clearly, a wisdom that does not eliminate but comprehends our doubt.

Timothy P. O’Malley on Laudato Si: “Encyclical extends challenge to the faithful”

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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Editor’s Note: recently, Our Sunday Visitor featured an article by the Center for Liturgy’s director, Timothy P. O’Malley.  This piece, which explores Laudato Si‘s challenge to conversion, is excerpted below. The full text can be found here.

Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on care for our common home is not an easy read. The difficulty of the text is not because of the inclusion of scientific analysis or economic terminology. Rather, this encyclical is a text that demands a conversion of life on the part of the reader.

The central claim of Laudato Si’ is that the destruction of the environment finds its source in a human heart turned in upon itself. T1753_300Humanity has ceased to look upon “our Sister, Mother Earth” (No. 1) as a gift to be received and instead has “come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will” (No. 2). The source of this problem is a form of self-adoration in which we claim “an unlimited right to trample his [God’s] creation underfoot” (No. 75). In this way, the annihilation of creation does not simply arise from a lack of prudence upon our part. Rather, we have ceased to be grateful that God has created us as the crescendo to an act of love, which is all of creation.

Thus, the conversion toward gratitude is a turning away from what the document calls a throwaway culture or logic. This very logic, as Laudato Si’ makes clear, is a culture of relativism in which no person is to be received as gift but as an object to be used for the sake of commerce and politics alike (No. 123).

For the full article, please click here.

What We’re Reading Today: Saints, Holy Indifference, and Symposium 2016

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) This past Tuesday, Lenny DeLorenzo gave us a piece on Dorothy Day, Therese of Lisieux (and her parents), and calling saints ‘saints.’ Here is an article from editor of ‘America’ Magazine and author of My Life With the Saints, James Martin, SJ, published in 2008 for the beatification of St. Therese’s parents, Louis and Zèlie, who are to be canonized this October:

No one doubts that the Martins led the traditional life of “heroic sanctity” required for sainthood. Though obviously biased, St. Therese wrote: “The Good God gave me a father and mother more worthy of heaven than of earth.” They were devoted to one another, to their children and to their faith. During their first year of marriage, the couple took into their home a young boy whose mother had died. And whenever Louis and Zèlie were apart, they exchanged the tenderest of letters. “Your husband and true friend who loves you forever,” Louis wrote.

2) Dr. Tom Neal reflects on limits, John of the Cross and Ignatian ‘Holy Indifference:’

But as not all hardships and sufferings are willed by God for our life, he taught me to discern which were which (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13). “Much of discernment,” he said, “is the art of discerning limits; of judging what the proper limits are that are needed to protect your primary vocational commitments. And when you face trials and hardships, you need to learn your limits. That’s one of the great gifts of life’s crosses, they expose our weaknesses and limits. It’s what I think, in part, Jesus means when he said to St. Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient; for power is made perfect in weakness.’ Power is made perfect because in our exposed weaknesses — our limits, exposed by trials — we learn the what are the delimiting borders of the ‘holy land’ within which we are to live out God’s will. The river runs swift and powerful and clean because it has sharp edges that define it. Without them, your life diffuses out into a murky swamp filled with deadly and poisonous creatures.”

3) Finally, we’ve just announced that next year’s Symposium, scheduled for June 20-23, 2016, will be titled “Liturgy and the New Evangelization.” Be sure to check out the details here, join the Facebook event and save the date!loaves_fishes_15_re_edit_notre_dame_img_0605

The 2016 Symposium seeks to discern how liturgical prayer, sacramental formation, and liturgical catechesis can contribute to the new evangelization. The Center for Liturgy knows that the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church offers rich resources for the new evangelization. Further, we believe that Pope Francis’ comprehensive treatment of the new evangelization in Evangelii Gaudium requires us to re-think how we understand the importance of liturgical in our parishes.

What We’re Reading Today: Sacred Art, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Sacrament of Confirmation

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) Maureen Mullarkey at First Things writes on Sacred Art and Sacred Subject:

It is said that to write an icon is like standing in prayer. Looking at her work, you trust the truth of Vladislav Andreyev’s words. ‘What we are trying to do in our icon writing, both on the board and in our souls, is . . . to grasp or become in touch in some way with the Logos.’

2) Pope Francis’ homily for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, courtesy of Zenit:

… the first community was a Church at prayer: “Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the Church” (Acts 12:5). And if we think of Rome, the catacombs were not places to escape to from persecution but rather, they were places of prayer, for sanctifying the Lord’s day and for raising up, from the heart of the earth, adoration to God who never forgets his sons and daughters. The community of Peter and Paul teaches us that the Church at prayer is a Church on her feet, strong, moving forward! Indeed, a Christian who prays is a Christian who is protected, guarded and sustained, and above all, who is never alone.

3) Some thoughts from Commonweal’s Rita Ferrone on the appropriate age for the Sacrament of Confirmation. What do you think?

… Eucharist is the culmination of Christian initiation. According to the Catechism, according to canon law, according to the great tradition of Catholic sacraments, Eucharist is the goal, the high point of all Christian initiation. Christians are baptized and confirmed in order to come to the table, and it is from the table that they are sent into the world to live their faith and to embrace the mission of Jesus. Setting the bar higher for confirmation than for Eucharist—requiring six, eight, even nine more years of catechesis before one can be considered “ready”—is grievously paradoxical.

What We’re Reading Today: Why I Need the Liturgy, Li’l Sebastian, and Orestes Brownson

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) An excellent post by John Fyrqvistat at the ‘The Catholic Catologue’ explaining why we need the liturgy:

For it is in God’s presence that we are able to truly worship, an act which sets us free. In His presence we are free to shed the idols that distract us. We are free to rightly order our loves, and conform our wounds to those he bore on the cross. Liturgy is the source and summit of our lives for this very reason: in true worship we are made whole. In God’s presence sins are forgiven, wounds are healed, lives are transformed.

2) Chris Schroeder, SJ connects every Parks & Rec. fan’s favorite four-legged equus to the practice of devotion. The Jesuit Post deserves ‘5,000 candles in the wind’ for this one:

Reviewing this history of pilgrimages and shrines, however, I must recognize that none of them were my idea at all. It was other people who have stirred me up and showed me what it meant to connect to God. Nor did they do so by enrolling me in a catechism class or theology lecture. Devotion, whether to God or to comical mini-horses, is something that we learn via the example and the experience of others, rather than long-winded explanations. When we review our own experience of God, we find everywhere the well-placed candles, the timely words, the abandoned crutches that others have left behind in our hearts.

3) First Things’ Peter Lawler with a 2002 piece on Orestes Brownson and political discourse:

Brownson should grab our attention, then, because he adopts a philosophic stance on political life that is neither pragmatic nor existentialist. And neither doeshe point back to Greece in an effort to bypass the Christians, as many twentieth-centurypolitical theorists have done. Rather, in a broadly Thomistic way, he views natural reason and supernatural theology as complementary human goods-and he rejects the easy dichotomies that permeate so much of the history of political philosophy.

What We’re Reading Today: post-encyclical readings, John the Baptist and Gothic Cathedrals

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) First Things’ Maureen Mullarkey presents her list of post-encyclical readings:

[Christians] should remember that it is not the business of the Church to do the same things as the state—to build a Kingdom like the other Kingdoms of men, only better; nor to create a regime of earthly peace and justice. The Church exists to be the light of the world . . . .

2) Over at the New Liturgical Movement, Gregory Dipippo offers some liturgical notes on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist:

It has often been noted that the days of the year begin to grow shorter right after the Birth of John the Baptist, which is three days after the summer solstice, and begin to grow longer right after the Birth of Christ, four days after the winter solstice. The priest who taught me to serve the traditional Mass once explained in a beautiful homily of two sentences how this symbolizes the words in which St. John “summed up the entire Gospel in a single sentence, ‘I must decrease, that He may increase.’ ” (John 3, 30)

3) National Geographic reports that recently a historian began using lasers to “unlock mysteries of Gothic cathedrals”:

A former composer, would-be monk, and self-described gearhead—or, as he puts it, “tacklehead”—Tallon intends to make that history right. With the help of 21st-century laser scanners, he is teasing out clues hidden in the ancient stones of Notre Dame and other medieval structures—and revolutionizing our understanding of how these spectacular buildings were made.


Laudato Si, Guardini, and Liturgy

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

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Pope Francis’ recent encylical Laudato Si on care for our common home has been analyzed by an array of media sources for its ecclesiological, political, and social-cultural insights. But, one thread that has not been entirely acknowledged is the  robust liturgical and sacramental vision that Pope Francis provides in the final chapter of the lengthy document, Ecological Education and Spirituality. If one does not attend to concrete ways that one can promote this vision, then of course, the encyclical remains nothing but words upon the page (or screen). Thus, in a series of articles, I hope to offer a liturgical commentary upon one section of the text, Sacramental Celebration and the Celebration of Rest.

EcologyYet, before doing this, I want to acknowledge the central liturgical and sacramental insight that guides the document as a whole. The text commences with St. Francis’ doxological exhortation to Christians everywhere to praise God for our Dear Sister Earth. Pope Francis notes that the ecological destruction affected by humanity is caused by a form of non-orthodoxy, non-right worship:

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters (no. 2). 

The desecration of creation is the result of a sin that mistakes humanity as lord and master of the universe. We have forgotten our status as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, as those who are meant to receive before we participate in the activity of co-creation. And indeed, the heart of Laudato Si is an acute diagnosis of the problem of self-worship. As Pope Francis writes:

A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality (no. 75).

It is no accident that at the center of the document is Romano Guardini, the liturgical and cultural theologian par excellence. For Guaradini was acutely aware of liturgical prayer’s role in revealing to humanity our identity as creatures in need of reform in the midst of the modern world. That the laws of liturgical prayer could move us away from self-worship toward divine love.

EndofModernWorldIn his The End of the Modern World, Guardini discusses the dissolution of a liturgical and festive culture in the medieval period, which guided the sense of time and space for the human being:

Re-enacted year in year out in the liturgy of each and every church in Christendom, this symbolic rendering of time became the very rhythm of temporal life. Every event of life for a man or for his family–birth, marriage, death, labor and rest, the advent of the seasons, the passing of the weeks, the deeds of the day–each of the them breathed the rhythm of the ecclesiastical year. That rhythm had become one with the single moment and with the span of man’s life even to his last extremity (21).

LakeComoFor Guardini, the loss of this culture is not simply reclaimable. The cultural structures of knowing and being that once dominated the world have been replaced by both modern ways of being and knowing and now the dissolution of the modern age itself. Humanity no longer lives a time that is infused with the liturgical year, with a form of festivity that orients human life toward worsip. That being said, Guardini moves forward with an optimism that in this age, the human being can create a space for freedom and self-gift, which will move us away from self-worship and destructive approaches to power:

…it must be possible to tackle the task of mastering nature in a way that is appropriate, but also to find a new sphere of freedom for the soul, to give back true security to life, to achieve an attitude, a disposition, a new order of living, standards of what is excellent and what is despicable, of what is permissible and what is impermissible, of responsibility, of limits, etc., by which we can hold in check the danger of destruction presented by arbitrary natural forces (Romano Guardini, Letters from Lake Como, 84-85).

For Guardini, liturgical prayer is a concrete Christian practice that offers the kind of formation toward freedom of self-gift. Though it is impossible at present to analyze the entirety of his magisterial The Spirit of the Liturgy, this text describes how the practice of liturgical prayer can move the human being away from self-worship, toward a salutary use of power. That is, for Guardini, liturgical prayer is an enactment of a realistic vision of the human person, one that enables us to see creation for what it is:

In the liturgy the voice of Nature makes itself heard clearly and decisively. We only need to read the Psalms to see man as he really is. There the soul is shown as courageous and despondent, happy and sorrowful, full of noble intentions, but of sin and struggles as well, zealous for everything that is good and then again apathetic and dejected. Or let us take the readings from the Old Testament. How frankly human nature is revealed in them! There is no attempt at extenuation or excuse. The same thing applies to the Church’s words of ordination, and to the prayers used in administering the sacraments. A truly refreshing spontaneity characterizes them; they call things by their names. Man is full of weakness and error, and the liturgy acknowledges this. Human nature is inexplicable, a tangled web of splendor and misery, of greatness and baseness, and as such it appears in the prayer of the Church. Here we find no carefully adapted portrait from which the harsh and unpleasing traits have been excluded, but man as he is (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 32).

Thus, in some ways, one can read Laudato Si as an application of the liturgical and cultural thought of Guardini to the present environmental crisis. And, like Guardini, Pope Francis gives prominence of place to divine worship as essential to healing the human being; of re-creating a culture in which human beings are not masters of the universe but worshipers of God.

The implications of this kind of liturgical-ecological culture will be unfolding over the coming days through attending to Laudato Si’s Eucharistic vision.




What We’re Reading Today: literature, forgiveness and the Synod on the Family

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) Peter J. Leithart over at First Things on why literature matters:

“What impressed me was the teacher’s point that the poem leads its reader to expect an unstressed syllable at the beginning of the fourth line, but instead Shakespeare uses a stressed one. I suddenly felt the word ‘bare,’ how it cuts across an established expectation, the way a good tennis player catches his opponent leaning the wrong way, or a pitcher throws only fastballs, then  gets the batter to swing at a change-up.”

2) In the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, Anna Floerke Scheid at Daily Theology seeks to articulate a spirituality of forgiveness:

A spirituality is something I have to engage regularly. I have to practice it.  A spirituality of forgiveness means relating anew each day to God’s healing grace working on the abuse or violation that was done to me. It means struggling to remain open to this grace of forgiveness even in the midst of my hurt and anger.  As Middleton-Brown said, “I’m a work in progress…and I acknowledge that I’m very angry.”  Forgiveness doesn’t mean not feeling hurt.  It doesn’t mean not feeling angry.  What it does seem to involve is a recommitment every day to let go of impulses toward rage and vengeance, and instead to struggle to embrace God’s love and peace.

3) Gerard O’Connell discusses the pastoral practice and the working document for October’s Synod of Bishops on the Family:

Speaking about marriages that have broken down, the WD makes clear that all those who responded consider it a fundamental principle “to care for wounded families and make them feel the mercy of God.” Everyone recognizes that marriage break-down is “a defeat for all,” and that afterwards people need to recover trust and hope once again. “Everyone needs to give and receive mercy.” To begin with, the Church asks couples who are separated or divorced to show respect to each other, and not bring more suffering to their children.

The WD emphasizes the need for the Church h [sic] to “accompany” such couples and families, and this means “to adopt a wide and differentiated attitude” to their different situations, remembering that “God never abandons anybody.”

What We’re Reading Today: priesthood, polyphony and leisure as the basis of summer break

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) Over at The Jesuit Post, Paul J. Shelton, SJ reflects on his first year as a priest:

I guess this year has been about meeting Christ, again. One of my priest mentors, Bill, likes to say sacraments give us permission to be Christ. I like this, not for me exclusively qua priest, but for everybody.

2) Dappled Things’ Karen Ullo on God speaking in polyphony:

I wonder how often such rational arguments have steered people toward despair. How ardently we humans long to hear the voice of God, and how resolutely we convince ourselves of His silence. We cannot reconcile the idea that a noisy instrument of destruction might also be a healing whisper of God’s eternal love.

3) An interesting little piece on leisure as the basis of summer break from R.J. Snell at the Intercollegiate Review.  Perhaps it will occasion further reflection from our authors connecting Pieper’s essay on leisure as the basis of culture with liturgy.

As I explain in Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire, it isn’t easy to become the sort of person who engages in activity meaningful in itself. We are all trained to evaluate everything in terms of its usefulness, and so have a difficult time comprehending what it even means to do something for its own sake. As Pieper notes, it’s hard to find people who know how to feast, for it requires a certain kind of existential richness, a depth of vision and understanding to see the point.

Worship with Integrity

Alan Stout

Editor, “Worship with Integrity”   Pamplona, Spain

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Editorial Note: This article first appeared at “Worship with Integrity” on April 13, 2015. It has been re-published here with the author’s permission.

As a young 20-something I thought it was normal to be angry and anxious, and depressed as I was. Thanks be to God in 2009 I began asking for help from a counselor and spiritual director named Greg McBride, who was recommended to me by my pastor. The work Greg helped me to do was some of the most personal and difficult I could have imagined, but also the most rewarding. That is because in the course of working with him, I learned to rediscover my integrity.

Integrity, he defined, is when we act according to our true nature. As a people dead to sin and reborn in Christ through the gift of baptism, we now have a heavenly dignity, a divine sonship. But in a world of sin, we often fail to respond in our integrity to the gift of our baptismal dignity. A good measure for whether we are acting within our integrity, I have found, is being attentive to when we are loving, honest, grateful and forgiving. Each of these virtues must be exercised together, for each virtue contains the others. Love, for example, naturally contains gratitude, honesty, and forgiveness. I have been meditating on these four words since I began my work with Greg, and on how I can always be acting in each of these four ways. Still, it is useful to define what we mean by each of these words.

Loving: C.S. Lewis wrote a book about the “Four Loves” illustrating that the ancient Greeks had many different words to describe love.url But perhaps the best definition of love for our integrity is our own. That is, it is the way we are when we are first filled with love. Note well that this is not a “do,” but rather it is a “be.” This is because God does not have something he wants us to “do” nearly as much as he has someone he wants us to “be.” Of course, actions descend from being. I cannot act hatefully and at the same time “be” loving.

Honest: This is not the same kind of honesty as when someone rudely says, “I’m just being honest.” No, that kind of being honest is no honesty at all, because it is not spoken from a place of ownership. “Honest” means that we say something that we are willing to look back at years later and say, “Yes, I stand by that.” Because honesty is not something that we are always comfortable using, or at least haven’t learned to use well, this kind of looking inward takes some time and patience.

Grateful: Gratitude is the recognition that I am entitled to nothing, and that all I have is gift. Saying words of love and honesty won’t go far unless there is also deep gratitude for what the other is to us and how good God has been to us. Gratitude keeps us humble, it keeps us in perspective; it keeps us remembering the past well, and not in resentment or in vanity.

Forgiving:  Forgiveness has to be given to ourselves and to others. If we lack forgiveness, we have not fully given up our desire to control circumstances or punish another. Forgiveness is the key to freedom that allows us to be fully confident in whatever it is we wish to do or say.

Loving, honest, grateful and forgiving, when exercised together, create a sort of rule by which we can judge our behaviors, in order to measure whether they are within our integrity or not. For myself, I cannot recall a time when I have been acting within my integrity and have sinned. For the times that I have sinned, I can always identify one of these four ways in which I had been lacking.

Acting within our integrity is particularly interesting when we consider our real identity: that is, our dignity in divine worship as sons and daughters of God, during the liturgy of the Mass.catholic-mass If I understand that I am God’s beloved son when I pray before the altar of almighty God, I cannot (when in my ‘integrity’) simply cross my arms and plug my ears. Instead, I would by my nature respond with gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice and the gift to me of the beautiful liturgy. I would be honest in my prayers before God, offering my tiredness, my imperfections and also my genuine love for him. I would be loving both to Jesus and to those around me since I have radically experienced his love. Finally, I would be forgiving both to myself and to those around me, because I would see that I have already been forgiven so much.

The incredible thing is that while we may err in acting within our integrity, our dignity as sons of God never changes. Sometimes we may feel helpless in our weakness against sin, and incapable of responding to God. But that’s only step one, “I can’t.” Step two is recognizing that there is one who can and will help us, and that one is the Holy Spirit. Amazingly, we are never without the gift of the Holy Spirit, who helps us to act within our integrity as we rediscover our dignity as true sons and daughters of God. In fact it is only by the Holy Spirit that we can worship with integrity and be transfigured; it is because of the Holy Spirit that our prayers and worship can be perfected. God has condescended to us to invite our perfected worship to be returned to him as a perfect offering and sacrifice.

Considering our integrity may be a particularly fruitful place to start for deepening the spiritual richness of our lives of liturgical prayer. When we serve at the altar with integrity, we embrace the crying babies and put off our judgment of others. When we act within our integrity we, by our natures, choose to swing the thurible a little more profoundly, to read from the lectionary a bit more thoughtfully, to do a bit more preparation and study outside of Mass, to offer our celebration or participation at Mass with genuine art. In return, we have the privilege of diving deeper into the mystery of God’s love for us, and we become luminous to those around us.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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