The Trinity and Liturgical Action

Jon JordanJon R. Jordan

Dean of Students

Coram Deo Academy, Dallas, TX

I have spent the last few weeks reading through various works on the Trinity with our Senior class. Our primary texts have included Origen, Aquinas, and Richard of St. Victor, in addition to the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. I am comfortable speaking on behalf of my students in saying that in many ways our understanding of our triune God has been deepened through our discussion of these texts. (Full disclosure: we also learned much from this hilarious video.)

One of the more striking realities addressed in many of these selections is the ontological necessity of action within the Trinity. Of the texts we read, we saw this most clearly presented in Aquinas and Richard of St. Victor.

For Aquinas, the relations within the Trinity require intrinsic action.

“A real relation in God can be based only upon action. These relations are not based upon God’s action in reference to any extrinsic procession, inasmuch as God’s relations to creatures are not real in him (q. 13, a. 7). Consequently real relations in God are understood only in reference to those actions by which there are intrinsic, not extrinsic processions in God.” Summa Theologica I, q. 28, a. 4, c

Richard of St. Vincent, in emphasizing the necessity of multiple persons of the Godhead in order for “perfect charity” to exist, frames this charity around the action of sharing love:

“The proof of consummate charity then is this desire to share the love shown to oneself. Surely one who loves supremely and desires to be loved supremely would be wont to find perfect joy in the fulfillment of that desire, in obtaining the love desired. Never to have the satisfaction of sharing such perfect joy, therefore, is proof that perfect charity is not present.“

For both of these thinkers—as with several others throughout history—it is essential for action to exist within the Trinity. Love must be given, received, and shared. Procession must occur. In the words of C.S. Lewis, who feared approaching irreverence at this point, there is a bit of a “drama” or “dance” within the Trinity. Holy_TrinityYou could say that verbs are as essential to the Trinity as nouns; action is an essential element of God’s being.

So what does it look like to worship a God that acts? If our Sunday services are to be reflective of the God we claim to worship, how does an understanding of action within the Trinity affect the content and style of a worship service?

For starters, a service dedicated to worshiping the God who exists as an acting Trinity cannot be one in which the worshipers themselves do not act. Stadium seating, lengthy lectures, and music that drowns-out the voices of the people are all wonderful experiences in their appropriate venues, namely movie theaters, lecture halls, and concerts. These venues are primarily designed for an audience to view, not act. When a worship service resembles such venues, those worshiping are being shaped into believing that God is primarily an idea to be comprehended or a spectacle to be observed.

Liturgical worship is different. It is not without its flaws or dangers, but it is more reflective of the nature of the acting, triune God that week seek to worship. The worshipers are called to stand, sit, kneel, walk, give, pass, receive, exchange the peace, respond, and recite. Verbs happen. Participation is active, not passive. And all along the way those who worship are being shaped into the image of the acting triune God they worship.


W.W.J.D: Imitating Christ in the Womb

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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What would Jesus do . . .  Like many kids growing up in the ’90s, I could often be seen sporting the fashionable ‘W.W.J.D’ bracelets as a child. For those of you who missed out on the craze, these bracelets were created in Holland, Michigan (just down the interstate from my hometown of Grand Rapids), came in all kinds of colors, and were especially popular among Christian youth groups. ‘W.W.J.D’ bracelets were meant to serve as stylish reminders (very stylish reminders, mind you) that Christians are called to imitate Christ, and in all we do we are to look to him as our example and guide.

My old ‘W.W.J.D’ bracelets came to mind recently when I came across an excerpt taken from one of Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C.’s sermons:

“In whatever interior dispositions you may be and in whatever life situation you may find yourself, look at your Model and apply yourself to imitating him; be assured that in doing so you will be perfect and you will have a sure guarantee of your salvation; because our movement toward glory depends on our resemblance to Jesus Christ.” (see Br. Joel Giallanza, C.S.C., Praying from the Heart of Holy Cross Spirituality: a 30-Day Retreat with Basil Moreau, xvii)

Conformity to Christ, while of course an aspiration of Christians in1-59471-232-8.jpg.x625 all walks of life, is often especially pointed to as an essential element of the spirituality that animates the Congregation of Holy Cross—the University of Notre Dame’s founding religious community. This was certainly a pillar for Bl. Basil Moreau, the Congregation’s founder, who wrote that “Christianity is nothing else than the life of Jesus Christ reproduced in our conduct.” Br. Joel Giallanza, C.S.C., author and editor of many titles that capture the essence of the charism of Holy Cross, even goes so far as to call this conformity or imitation of Christ “the basis of Holy Cross spirituality,” writing: “It must pervade our entire day, every day. Because this conformity must be complete, there are no exceptions” (ibid).

What would Jesus do…

As Moreau points out, imitation of Christ has always been a central tenet of Christianity. To see this, one need look no further than Christ’s own words when he commanded his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him (Mt 10:38, 16:24; Lk 9:23), or to Thomas à Kempis’ (c.1380–1472) widely-circulated Imitation of Christ, and, again, to the more recent popularization of ‘W.W.J.D.’

Today, we’re constantly reminded and challenged, in a variety of contexts—from smaller-scale individual situations to wider ecclesial (and sometimes even cultural) debates on gay marriage or divorce and remarriage, for example—to think about what Jesus would ‘do.’ In these kinds of contexts, Christ’s actions often take center-stage. We recall a Jesus who welcomed sinners and dined with tax collectors, who drew lines in the sand and spit in the mud, who rode an ass and flipped tables and performed miracles and carried a cross.

But how often do we contemplate  the fact that Jesus, like us, spent significant parts of his life in wait? And what does it mean to imitate Christ during these periods? If we are to conform to Christ in “whatever interior dispositions you may be and in whatever life situation you may find yourself,” as Moreau writes, how might we imitate Christ during the season of Advent, when our interior disposition is supposed to be one of expectation?

I do not have concrete answers to these questions, but I put these thoughts forward as more of a personal contemplation on what I see as one of the most mysterious (and often neglected) periods of expectation in the life of Christ: the nine months spent in his mother’s womb.

We are told that when Christ was in the womb, Herod was king of Judea (Lk 1:5), Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph (Lk 1:27), and shortly after being conceived Jesus was declared “blessed” by Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, while the infant in Elizabeth’s own womb “leapt for joy” upon hearing the voice of the pregnant Mary (Lk 1:41-42). Did Christ feel love for his cousin, when his body was little more than a heartbeat? Did his barely-formed human mind comprehend the enormity of what was about to be fulfilled (and begun) nine months later in Bethlehem? Did his tiny ears prickle with delight at the holy conversations and excited whispers that must have transpired between his mother and her cousin during the three months the two spent in each other’s company?Mary-Ellizabeth-rejoiceWhat patience it must have cost the Son of God to wait expectantly for that day when he could finally be born into temporality, that man might be born into eternity, only to have to wait another thirty years for the world to know the love that he came to reveal. How difficult it must have been, lying in wait in his mother’s womb and then seeing the faces of families, rabbis, merchants, and customers day after day, sweating in the hot Nazarene sun—did he know at that time what he was going to accomplish on Calvary? Did he have to consciously withhold the light of Mt. Tabor, only to later endure the mocking and rejection of those who should have known him best after all those years? (Mk 6:1-6)

To the extent that we can speak of Christ cultivating virtue, what virtue might he have cultivated during these periods? I often wonder how much of our salvation was worked toward during these silent times, of which we will remain ignorant until we meet our Savior face to face.

There are many legitimate and fruitful ways to approach Advent and prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas.our-lady-of-the-new-advent-image3 But it seems that Moreau’s exhortation to imitate Christ in “whatever interior dispositions you may be and in whatever life situation you may find yourself” could also be an invitation to look especially to Christ’s own periods of waiting or expectation—such as his time in the womb of his mother or the thirty years spanning from his birth to the start of his formal ministry—and to imitate whatever virtues we may find there.

Perhaps this Advent we can look more closely at and begin to cultivate something like a devotion to Christ in the womb. This Christ, too, like the Christ who Scripture tells us calls, heals, teaches, forgives, and sanctifies, may have something to say to the heart, and possibly even to our culture at large.


Three Things We’re Reading Today: The Sacred, Lots of Advent, and Justice

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Sorry about the delay in posting our Monday, Wednesday, Friday list of what we’re reading. Because I’ll be traveling tomorrow to San Antonio for the National Catholic Conference of Youth Ministers, we’ll be featuring six things that you can read.

1) Most of what we’re reading is Advent themed. But this piece on the liturgical formation of children caught my attention this morning:

Churches are not meant to make us feel at home, and Mass is not at all like our family table. Our Churches are meant to elevate our senses beyond this world, and give us eyes to see and ears to hear the things of eternal significance. Children are smart, and they are naturally programmed to experience awe and wonder. Their capacity to understand and respond to the sacred is way more advanced than we have given them credit for, I think.

They do not need another environment artificially geared toward their needs. They do not need to feel at home at Church in the sense that Church does not evoke a different experience than home. What children need is a sense of the sacred–an awareness that what happens at Church is differenent than what happens anywhere else outside of Church. Stepping into Church should inspire a sense of his heavenly home, not his earthly one.

We need to allow our kids to grow up with a sense of the sacred. In our world, where our daily lives are more and more marred by humanity’s faults and sins, we need a place set apart that reminds of the hope of eternity, that lifts our senses beyond the world around us to the glory and wonder and majesty of the throne of heaven. And our kids need to grow up experiencing that same sense.

2) Rick Becker on the new liturgical year:

What’s going on here? It’s like the very last scene of the church year yesterday led into today’s liturgical trailer that previewed…more of the same!


You know the answer, I’m sure. It’s because the new liturgical year is more of the same, and that “same” is Jesus himself who’s always showing up at unexpected times. For Christians, there’s only one show, and it’s perpetually new. As St. Patrick put it, it’s “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me; Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me; Christ on my right, Christ on my left,” basically Christ all over the place. He’s the director, cast, and crew; he’s the dialogue, the plot, and the script; he’s the special effects, the soundtrack, and the cinematography.

The whole shooting match, the whole shebang! And we always have to be ready to receive him, not just at Christmas!

So, yes, take a deep breath – one screening has past; the next is just about to start. Sit back and stay awake: The adventure is about to begin all over again.

3) Kate Mahon on the First Sunday of Advent over at Daily Theology:

This Sunday’s readings (we’re in Year B now) remind us of our distance from God, who created us and to whom we desperately wish to return, and of God’s promise of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. And even though Christ has already come to Earth, our salvation will not be fulfilled until he comes again on the last day. And so we turn to God, despite our imperfections, and, strengthened by God’s grace, await Christ’s return. It’s a little dark; but, then again, Advent is a little dark. I’ve always loved how, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, right at the time that winter begins to rear its ugly head, right when the days reach their shortest and the nights their longest, right when a little, primordial part of you begins to wonder if the world will ever be warm or bright again, we mark this dark season by lighting a new candle each Sunday and we celebrate our expectation of the coming of the Light of the World on December 25th. It’s incongruous, but the celebration lies in the incongruity. But of course, the triumph of light over darkness, of life over death, of good over evil, is not accomplished on December 25th and was not achieved on the day when Jesus Christ was born of Mary. That is not what we celebrate at Christmas. Think about it: the human infant is one of the most helpless and vulnerable of all the newborn creatures on earth. Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, could not have vanquished a fly, let alone darkness and death at his birth. It’s precisely this vulnerability, exemplifying God’s total humanity in Jesus Christ, which we celebrate at Christmas. Again, it seems that we are celebrating what is incongruous, what doesn’t fit. But what we are celebrating, in fact, at Christmas, in Advent, on this First Sunday of Advent, and throughout the liturgical year, is not what doesn’t fit, but how it all fits; that is, how each event memorialized in the liturgical year fits into God’s plan of salvation manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. And that salvific plan culminates in Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection, a theme that reverberates in each and every feast, fast, and season of the liturgical year.

4) A lovely poem by Charlene Nelson at the journal Second Nature (for those readers still reeling from the electronic saturation of Black Friday):

There were kids to kiss
And blissful songs to sing,
Laughs to roar
And that truest sense of living.

Oh, but tiny morsels
Bleak and gray
We kept snatching up
So we forgot to play.

And then,
At the end of the day
It all fell useless
In a pile
Of vain-memory decay.

Didn’t it

5) An excellent essay by Benjamin Mann at Catholic Exchange on gadgets and the art of presence (for your Cyber Monday through Sunday):

When we extend our minds, in McLuhan’s sense, through the use of electronic media, we externalize both the mind’s strengths and its weaknesses. The Internet enables our curiosity and speculative capacities (our abilities to “be elsewhere” in at least potentially good ways), but it also empowers our pre-existing inner capacity for distraction – the ability to be elsewhere when we ought to be present here and now. Without such technology, the mind “goes elsewhere” on its own: surfing through its inner realm of facts, commentary, and possibilities. With the Internet, it does so externally and visibly.

McLuhan’s idea of externalization suggests that our deepest problem is not our relationship to technology, but something more ingrained. Long before “smartphone” entered the dictionary, each of us carried around a resource with amazing powers of access and connection, as well as vast potential for distraction and self-indulgence. That resource is our own mind. Today, we have simply externalized and boosted its abilities and habits.

We may cringe at the sight of two people sitting across a restaurant table, both absorbed in their smartphones. But how often have we met with a friend or loved one, and ended up absorbed in our own inner thoughts and concerns, of one kind or another? It is the same tendency: unsatisfied with present reality – for trivial or serious reasons, or no reason at all – we look for ways to be elsewhere, ways of escape that become habitual and start feeling necessary.

6) Mike Laskey, a dear friend of the Center, on the relationship between social justice and the New Evangelization:

Right relationship is also at the core of what the Church has termed “the New Evangelization,” which is an ongoing process that calls Catholics to share the Good News with new vigor in a world where so many are searching for meaning. The New Evangelization is all about deepening our relationship with Christ as friend and savior and deepening the relationships we build with one another as Church. This shared emphasis on relationship makes social justice work and the New Evangelization natural partners.




Singing the Season: Advent Introits (part 1)

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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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As we begin a new liturgical year, I thought it an appropriate time to take a look at an often-overlooked liturgical moment: the beginning of the Mass. People often make the mistake of thinking that the truly mysterious part of the Mass doesn’t “kick in” until about 10 minutes in to the liturgy, but this isn’t actually the case. The mystery of the Eucharistic celebration doesn’t begin with the Liturgy of the Word, or even the institution narrative of the Eucharistic Prayer. The mystery of the Eucharistic celebration begins the moment you leave for the church. The grace of the Holy Spirit, the love of God poured into the hearts of men and women everywhere and at every moment and in every place, draws people to seek the source of their life and discover their true end in its summit, and there is only one place on earth that is both the source and the summit of the Christian life: the Mass (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11).

So if the mystery of the Mass begins with the promptings of the Holy Spirit, before a person even darkens the door of a church, then it stands to reason that no part of this celebration stands outside of the realm of this mystery. Every word, every gesture, every action is rife with richness and meaning. Including the words, gestures, and actions that get the whole ball rolling: the Introductory Rites. And what introduces the Introductory Rites? Music.

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the music sung at the beginning of Mass is more than an aesthetically pleasing way to move the priest from the back (or side) of the church to the front. This music serves to “open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity,” and, yes, “accompany the procession of the priest and ministers” (GIRM, 47). In other words, this music gathers the individuals of the assembly—who have come from across the street, across town, or even across the country—and draws them into one voice, one body, offering one prayer to the Father through the One Mediator, Christ (1 Tim 2:5), through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In many Catholic parishes today (if not most), the Mass begins with a congregational hymn, usually chosen because its text compliments or highlights other elements of the liturgical celebration like the Scripture passages prescribed for the day or the liturgical season. Many beautiful hymns have been written throughout the history of the Church, and during Advent, perennial favorites are brought forth from the treasury such as hymnal“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “Creator of the Stars of Night,” and “People, Look East.” As beautiful as these hymns are, and as much as I love singing them throughout this season, I’ve found myself drawn to the texts actually given to us by the Church for this liturgical moment, discovering within them a source of contemplation—a new (old) point of entry into the mystery of the Eucharist; a mystery that, like God himself, is ever ancient and ever new. This Advent, I’m rediscovering the Introit.

Before the now familiar four-fold pattern of congregational hymns became normative (Entrance, Offertory, Communion, Recessional), Mass began with the Introit, which takes its name from the Latin word for “entrance,” introitus. Every single celebration of the liturgy has a designated Introit, found in the Roman Missal along with the various prayers of the priest like the Collect, the Prayer over the Offerings, and the Prayer after Communion. Mass_001-200x300What is remarkable is that the texts for the Introit are specifically and intentionally chosen according to the liturgical feast being celebrated, and they serve an important, beautiful, mysterious purpose. Equally remarkable is that many people are unfamiliar with them.

Over these four weeks of Advent, I’m going to spend time with these texts that open the door, as it were, to the marriage feast of the Lamb. I’ll be taking a look at their sources in Scripture, the ways in which they tie in to the liturgical season, and how they’ve been sung across the centuries. Believe it or not, composers today are still setting these texts to music, and many of them—like the composer of this week’s contemporary setting—are even drawing inspiration from the ancient chant melodies of these Introits, using those melodies as a springboard in their crafting of a new “song of praise to our God” (cf. Ps 40:3). I hope to discover a new layer of depth within the Entrance Rite of the Mass that will enrich my (and hopefully your) understanding of and appreciation for the Advent liturgies. At the very least, there’s going to be some beautiful music involved.

adtelevavi700In the original Latin, the Introit for the First Sunday of Advent is:

Ad te [Domine] levavi animam meam, Deus meus, in te confido: non erubescam neque irrideant me inimici mei. Etenim universi qui te expectant non confundentur. Vias tuas, Domine, demonstra mihi: et semitas tuas edoce me.

Now if, like me, you know just enough Latin to get yourself in trouble (“Et tu, Brute?”), here’s an English translation, courtesy of the monks of Solesmes:

Unto you have I lifted up my soul. O my God, I trust in you, let me not be put to shame; do not allow my enemies to laugh at me; for none of those who are awaiting you will be disappointed. O Lord, make me know your ways. Teach me your paths.

And finally, in the current Roman Missal, we read:

To you, I lift up my soul, O my God. In you, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame. Nor let my enemies exult over me; and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

(In case you were wondering why the current version is shorter, the first two versions contain the antiphon and the first verse of the accompanying Psalm, while the third version contains only the antiphon. Nevertheless, the proper Psalm may still be sung with the antiphon.)

Both the Entrance Antiphon and the Psalm verse are taken from Psalm 25, which is the proper Psalm for the First Sunday of Advent (cycle C), and has also been designated as one of the seasonal Responsorial Psalms for Advent. So right away, even on the surface, we see that this Entrance Antiphon ties in with other Scriptures proclaimed during Advent.

On a deeper level, though, it is profoundly significant that the first words the Church sings during the Advent—in fact the very first words of the new liturgical year—are “To you, I lift my soul, O my God.” In just nine simple words, a relationship is established: a relationship of humility between us and God, between creature and Creator. But why do we lift our souls to God? Because without God’s help and protection, our enemies (sin and death) laugh at us—the devil exults over us in our sinfulness, and in this sorry state, we lift our souls to God as an acknowledgment that we are in need of a redeemer. We lift our souls to God because God is the only one who can help us. And God helps us by showing us his paths, revealing the way to himself by sending the One who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Jesus Christ is the answer to our prayer when we beseech God, “O Lord, make me know your ways. Teach me your paths.”

In 2006, Belgian composer Ludo Claesen composed a setting of this Introit using the Latin text (he composed settings of the other Advent Introits in the years following). If you listen first to the original chant melody,


and then listen to Claesen’s setting,


you can perhaps hear some similarities between the two melodies. What is so striking about this piece, not even ten years old, is that it is firmly rooted in a musical tradition that is centuries old, and yet it still sounds fresh and new and beautiful to our ears, for it is written in a musical language that is entirely the composer’s own. This is ancient beauty that has been made new. This is sacred music that draws from the treasure house of the Church’s tradition and yet breathes forth new life by engaging with that tradition in a creative way.

Even without knowing that this piece of music was inspired by an ancient chant source, a person can still sense the yearning conveyed in its melodies and harmonies. Even without knowing the translation of the Latin above, one can still perceive in this music a lack, an incompletion, a need that, in the end, can only be fulfilled by God. “To you, I lift up my soul, O God.” Because my soul is broken. I have broken it by my sinfulness. And you, God, are the only one who can heal it. You are the only one who can triumph over the enemy who would exult over me, and you are the only one who can guide me back to your heart. “To you, I lift up my soul, O God,” and I can lift it no higher, for I am too small. Reach down and receive my soul—stoop down from heaven and save me.

This is how we begin the Advent season, and we will conclude it by celebrating God’s response to our desperate plea, when God does indeed reach down to us and heals our souls by becoming small himself—by taking on a body that can be broken as our souls have been broken by sin, by offering that body, lifting it up to the Father in love so that we might all be lifted up. We pray: “To you, I lift up my soul, O God,” and God replies: “Behold, I am coming soon” (Rev 22:12).


How to Celebrate Advent in a Violent World

Denise Azores-GococoDenise Azores-Gococo
Heartland Farm, KS
University of Notre Dame ’14

I distinctly remember the message of homily at a school Mass when I was in the middle school, shortly before we were released for the Christmas holidays. The priest was discussing the different emotions associated with liturgical seasons; namely, Lent as a sad time and Advent as a happy time.  He wished to introduce the idea that, perhaps, the emotions should be assigned the other way around. Lent arrives shortly before springtime.  It is a time of renewal and preparation, and after all, the Church is not officially in Paschal mourning until the Triduum arrives at the very end of Lent.  We are still welcoming our Messiah into the city gates, after all. Advent, on the other hand, comes at a time after the autumn sunshine has petered out.  Early mornings are cold and dark.  The garden is sleeping.  The trees are bare. The earth is solid and recalcitrant. The deafening howl of wind stifles out all other sounds of the earth. Living on a farm, one begins to realize that weather means more than convenience.  A few weeks ago, central Kansas experienced its first frost.  Until now, this meant nothing to me, but this year it meant working tirelessly until the sunset to save the last remaining crops on the vines, mulching the vegetables that would hopefully make it through the winter in the ground, and collecting and storing the irrigation system so it wouldn’t freeze and crack.  It meant closing the chicken house, increasing the corn in our birds’ diets, and guarding their water to resist the freeze. I was exhausted by the end of it all, and as I watched the sun set and felt the chill of the breeze, I felt profoundly in tune with a power greater than myself.  We on the farm could do some things to alleviate the harmful effects of the cold, but we could never stop it in its tracks.  We are powerless against it. The cold out here means something to the farmers and their livelihood. In a similar way, the cold has a significance in the lives of the thousands of homeless Americans.  The sharpness of a subzero wind can remind us of the sharp divides between social classes.  There are those who dislike the cold because it means an uncomfortable walk in the parking lot and higher heating bills, and there are those who dread the cold because it means they might not make it through the night.  There is a violence about winter weather, ending the lives of plants in the garden as well as human beings on the street.  It is at this time that Advent comes into our lives. This Advent, the severity of the cold can be thought of in conjunction with the severity of other violences that afflict us.  We hear of the Catholic-raised Frenchman who was seen bearing a knife as yet another victim of ISIS was beheaded before his very eyes.  We hear of the assault of Ebola, destroying persons from the inside out.  We hear of a beautiful young wife, convinced that opting out of terminal disease is honorable and courageous. We hear of gunmen in school libraries, of drug-trade related murders in Mexico, of gang violence in El Salvador, Chicago, South Bend.  And for what? The more we listen and the more we care, the more it seems that, like the cold, we cannot resist it.  One story ends and another begins.  We are powerless against it. This is the world into which our God chose to come. Nativity scenes look a little different when we remember that the happy, beautiful baby exists only to take on the burden of all of our sins.  Our God feels the tearing and bleeding of Ebola-ridden flesh.  He wails with the mother whose son’s body was found, broken in the streets.  He huddles in doorframe of a building as the cold temperatures freeze his flesh and slow his heart. He holds the hands of the man captured by ISIS and grimaces in pain as they end his life.  Our God, who grew from that glowing baby in the animal feeder,  greets the gang member who has senselessly killed dozens, rejoices in his contrite tears, and says, “I love you, and I forgive you.” This Advent season, may we remember how much our world needs a Savior.  Let us find the murderer in our own hearts and cast him away.  Let us feel the pain of the suffering billions, sharpened by the intensity of the winter chill, and let us rejoice that we have God who counters senseless violence with senseless love.

Ebola and the Eschaton

Bellafiore headshotSamuel Bellafiore
Undergraduate Fellow
B.A. 2015 Music, Philosophy

Remember Ebola? It’s been a few weeks since I thought about it.

Remember ISIS? I forgot until the defense secretary got fired.

Why try to remember World War II, the pilgrims, or the Alamo if I can’t remember what happened last month?

For a few months this year it seemed the world was going to pieces. Terrorists were capturing cities and exterminating religious minorities. Thousands of Africans were bleeding out with a strange disease. Worse, we thought, Americans might get it too.

But the red-blue election maps came and we forgot. No doubt newspapers have kept covering Ebola, but the articles are shorter. Now they’re at the bottom of front page or even the impenetrable depths—page three. On The New York Times homepage, the font size for Iraq headlines is smaller. You have to scroll down to find them.

This coverage didn’t change because the situations had improved. No one stopped dying. I just stopped paying attention.

Why is it so easy? Why is it so easy to forget?

First, while we have an amazing capacity for self-gift (for instance, American doctors treating Ebola) we have an equally remarkable ability to becomHT_ebola_outbreak_2_sk_140728_16x9t_384e self-centered. As a nation, we’re far more concerned about internal affairs than the state of the world. How can we help anyone else if we haven’t already helped ourselves? So when Ebola affects American doctors or appears an imminent danger in the United States, we begin to care. For the most part, this is why American media (and thus American people) started paying attention to Ebola. And it’s why, when the domestic threat diminished, we stopped looking.

What about ISIS? That never seemed to threaten our lives directly. Why did we begin paying attention? Though it’s not the whole explanation, it was startling to see military and diplomatic strategies suddenly failing, falling to ragtag radicals. Drastic changes, especially ones that threaten America or American self-image, garner quick attention. While a long, slow war was being fought for a decade, we often forgot. There were no stories about an epidemic of amnesia.  Far removed from the violence, there was nothing new for us to consume. And sometimes only the new and the drastic draws our gaze.

Because, second, it doesn’t take much to distract us. Horror stories from abroad barrage us for a few months, but then it’s election time. We do something worse than failing to remember: we remember for bad reasons. International crises cease being a concern and start becoming instruments for blame. Foreign suffering becomes a tool for local politics. Event X proves party Y is incompetent and must be replaced. This manipulation is the worst form of forgetfulness.

Our forgetfulness drags us back into self-absorption. Every two years at elections, we complain about and perpetuate institutional gridlock. We lose sight of all but our parties. We bicker about the economy and immigrants for several weeks, declare one team the winner and forget all about the immigrants and the elections. When elections end, we don’t have to go back to looking at human suffering. The Christmas shopping season has begun.

Third, maybe we forget about these events because we never really recalled them in the first place. Real remembrance involves compassion. News articles often do little to aid that. While facts often speak for themselves, even horrifying news can easily become just more data in our info-saturated minds. Being aware is different from being sympathetic. Knowing is different from caring. And who couldSaint_Augustine_repentance blame us? Forty years ago, people just didn’t have to encounter so much information about suffering so fast and so often. There was a news hour once or twice a day. We’ve heard of more suffering than any of our ancestors. Maybe we simply cannot bear to think about all of it. To cope we have to become desensitized. Understandably, we instead try to address the close, potentially more manageable suffering of our families and friends.

In late Ordinary Time the readings speak of a world ripe with crisis. Jesus tells us things like, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Also, “There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place” (Lk 21:9, 11). It seems like global violence comes in cycles. ISIS, Ebola, and Syria are just the latest turn of the wheel. When these times come, I’m sometimes tempted to think of these verses. Was Jesus talking about, you know, now?

But wars and plagues are nothing new and, despite our news-conditioned impressions, they never really stop. People have seen signs in the sun and the moon and on the earth for Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 3.26.39 PMthousands of years. The annual arrival of Advent reminds me: “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). Battles and diseases come again and again, and each December the Church still find herself waiting. Waiting for the age when tired death will yield to a world of all things new. Advent reminds us to remember, to recall a world thick with death and pregnant with desperate hope. It is a time to renew our eternal solidarity with the suffering. We remember and yearn for some time centuries ago when our longings were already answered. . .

When I first wrote this post, there were riots six hours from where I was writing. I wondered how violent protests, store lootings and shootings by police—things I thought were from another age or for another continent—were happening in a major U.S. city. These memories are already fading. These too have left the headlines. Tonight or next month, will I remember? Will I do anything to echo humanity’s groanings?

Coming on the clouds, to this mess He will return.
Coming in poverty, this mess He has already entered.

Come, Lord, and do not delay.


Three Things We’re Reading Today: Gratefulness, Thanksgiving and the Stranger, Watchfulness

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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

1. Okay, so this first link isn’t something to read; it’s something to watch, or even just to listen to while you’re prepping leftover turkey. (It’s a holiday weekend—consider this the gift of ease in taking in new information.) In its post for Thanksgiving Day, The Catholic Catalogue provided a link to the TED Talk from Brother David Stendal-Rast, a Benedictine monk, who affirms that:

It’s not happiness that makes us grateful. It’s gratefulness that makes us happy. . . . Now the key to all this is that we cannot only experience this once in a while. We cannot only have grateful experiences. We can be people who live gratefully.

A lesson simply presented that is well worth hearing again.
And again.
And again.

2. Over at Crux, Kathleen Hirsch points out in a piece called “Giving Thanks for the Stranger” that, even amid cultural and stereotypical misconceptions about the first Thanksgiving, there is still something it can teach contemporary society, whose “gratitude has become domesticated, . . . generosity blasé.”

I would suggest that we look beneath the material wealth that much of the world looks on with envy to the hidden scarcities that no fruit basket can fill. We in America have grown sorely destitute in the qualities that made our abundance possible: trust, a confidence in the goodness of man, basic decency and honesty, the immeasurable value of a fair chance, and the freedom from any kind of tyranny, but most important, the tyranny of the crowd. . . . Only a genuine Communion table, founded on gratitude, can lower those walls. 

3. With the beginning of Advent this weekend, a piece on Aletia entitled “Advent: A Time to Ponder the Question Jesus so Gently Whispers to Us” encourages attentiveness as a living out of Christ’s commands to us: “Be watchful! Be alert!” (Mk 13:33).

…what we can very easily miss—especially at this time of year—is the great and wonderful moment the Lord is preparing now, which we celebrate at Christmas but which, of course, is a continuous reality, seeking to occur every day; the setting of Christmas, however, makes it clearer for us. And that is when the Lord, gently, quietly, and with great subtlety and even greater respect, whispers to each of us His great invitation: “May I be born in you this Christmas? Will you give birth to Me in your life, in your every activity and thought, in your world?”


Thanksgiving and the Liturgical Life

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

Contact Author

Yesterday’s Washington Post ran a front-page story on the growing popularity of “Friendsgiving.” Though reasons vary for preferring friends over family, one young Washingtonian explains the logic of “Friendsgiving”: “You get to be with people you actually want to be around and aren’t just obligated to be around—crazy aunts and uncles and brothers you might not get along with” (26 Nov 2014). 635520672806510009-air-travelYet despite the growing popularity of a family-free Thanksgiving, each year millions of Americans still flock to the roadways and take to the airways, traveling hours to celebrate Thanksgiving with mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. In fact, AAA reports that over the past few days more than 46 million Americans traveled 50 miles or more to celebrate Thanksgiving, the most since 2007. Yesterday I was among these millions of travelers, journeying over 600 miles to spend Thanksgiving with my family.

x1cdd2d84Despite its depiction in TV shows like Friends and How I Met Your Mother, most Americans do not spend Thanksgiving with a small self-selected and self-enclosed group of like-minded and amiable people. We spend Thanksgiving with family, with parents and siblings, children and spouses, with people we have either known since infancy or with whom we are bound through marriage. These are people we have not chosen, and if we have chosen, as in the case of a spouse, there are likely moments when, truth be told, we’d like to unchoose our choice. These are the people with whom we argue, laugh, and cry. They are people we may find difficult or prickly. These are people who may greatly resemble us in taste, disposition, and interest, or we may find it difficult to wrap our mind around the absurdity that—for better or for worse—we are but one member of this family.

Whether or not we enjoy spending time with our families, Americans expend considerable time and money to travel great distances with spirited children and endure long delays in order to share a meal together and to enact the well-worn practices of Thanksgiving particular to our family. It’s likely that we know when we will eat. We know the kinds of conversation we will have and who will make a characteristically inappropriate remark. We generally know when and on what grounds we will argue. We know the movies or football games that will be watched. We’ve got the contours of our particular family rituals down, and we continue to gather annually to re-enact them, and indeed, in some way, to express gratitude for them.

We renounce something of our personal preferences and lay aside the pride of independence and something of our sense of absolute self-determination, however momentarily, to participate in the common celebration. The practice of Thanksgiving demands sacrifice.

It is in this way that the holiday millions of Americans celebrate today bears something of a liturgical imprint. Despite the problematic histories that form its foundational narrative and the increasing encroachment of commercial enterprise into these precious and precarious moments, whatever else Thanksgiving may entail, it still points, however imperfectly, to the reality that learning to express gratitude entails sacrifice.

17776_w185In his seminal work The Spirit of the Liturgy, Romano Guardini observes that learning to say thank-you, learning to praise God in the communion of a Church composed not only by “one or two neighbors, or a small circle of people, congenial by reason of similar aims or [even] special relations, but with all, even with those who are indifferent, adverse, or even hostilely-minded” requires a sacrifice (39). Such sacrifice “consists in the renouncement by the individual of everything in him which exists merely for itself and excludes others, while and in so far as he is an active member of the community: he must lay self aside, and live with, and for, others” (38). Sacrifice is particularly difficult for modern men and women because we tend to imagine it in the first instance as a loss or a deficit. But in the sacrifice of the Mass, at the Eucharist, sacrifice does not bear the modern connotations of loss but rather the ancient understanding of sacrifice as praise, as an enactment of gratitude. 2008-corpus-christi-receiving-holy-communionThe sacrifice of worship precedes from and culminates in gift. It proceeds from the gift of God’s ingathering of His people to worship, into the “we” of the Church; this “we” which “signifies the he who employs it is expanding his inner life in order to include that of others, and to assimilate theirs into his” (40). Culminating in the gift of Christ in the Eucharist, in the sacramental re-presentation of Christ’s offering of Himself on the Cross, we participate intimately in His gift of thanksgiving to the Father.


Fire Unfelt, Unseen

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.12.38 PMCrawford Wiley, M.S.M.

Director of Liturgy & Music
Church of St Jude the Apostle, Wauwatosa, WI

Advent, that season of the Church when we on earth with undiscording voice bewail the commercialization of Christmas and affirm our place in the cognoscenti of Those Who Know Better, was once a season of more prosaic and less elite discontent: I refer, of course, to the forty-day Advent fast.

I had forgotten this practice until an Orthodox friend recently mentioned that she wasn’t eating butter. “No butter?” I asked, horrified. “It’s the Advent fast,” she reminded me. I remained confused. “But it’s not Advent yet—and it’s Pascha that gets moved around on the Orthodox calendar, isn’t it? We have the same Nativity date, don’t we?” (Breathing with the Church’s Eastern & Western lungs requires calendar-juggling.) “Our Advent fast lasts forty days,” she said, and then I remembered reading this in the wee hours of some winter morning, hunched over in the Hesburgh Library stacks. St Leo the Great preached sermons on the Advent fast (which, to further complicate matters, he insisted on calling The Fast of the Tenth Month, a reminder of those logical days of yore when December really was the tenth month), and it’s amazing how much his sermons sound like run-of-the-mill Lenten sermons: fasting is good for you; giving alms is your duty; try praying more, everybody. I think there’s health in considering Advent a twin of Lent; rude health, involving more soul-searching and quaking than barely-suppressed-Christmas-spirit.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.18.33 PMIf we paid attention to the readings at daily Mass in the two weeks preceding Advent this year, we’d get this soul-searching in spades. The first readings are from St. John’s Revelation, and some of them are terrifying.

Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:5)

So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Rev 3:16–17)

These passages bring to mind two particularly troubling thoughts: I am not a good person, and the time before I will be judged for this is running out. Day after day in these weeks leading up to Advent the readings confront us with our personal and public failure to be Christ in the world. You have lost the love you had at first (Rev 2:4). You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead (3:1).  When the readings don’t directly confront us with our failures, they declare the mysterious and dreadful glory of a God who is ultimately Other. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder (Rev 4:5). Then I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire (15:2). This only throws into relief our current inability to enter fully into that life of the Divine.

Early each morning the front page of the Times (and a great percentage of its other pages) is witness to the cruel brokenness of this world. Injustice is in the ascendant. The mighty are secure in their seats at their breakfast tables, drinking good coffee. The poor are oppressed. The hungry are not filled with good things, and the rich poor_widowsend them empty away. And I am myself a microcosm of this brokenness, this severance from God’s goodness, this drying-up of the fountains of Love. I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest, Jesus says to us on Tuesday, the 24th of November, and I know that the widow is one of those of whom the world is not worthy, and that I am one of those others who have all made offerings from their surplus wealth (see Lk 21:1–4). This state of affairs cannot last, nor will it.

Christ’s call is clear: Repent. He is coming at any moment to break into the world and make all things right, and now is the accepted time—the day of repentance—to take up our crosses and follow hiScreen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.14.28 PMm. In one of his sermons on the Fast of the Tenth Month, St Leo the Great urges the prosperous to show their thankfulness to God by liberality to the poor and needy—this is a form of repentance, of realignment to the will of God. And this repentance is itself a form of God’s grace: “The transcendent power of God’s grace, dearly beloved, is indeed daily effecting in Christian hearts the transference of our every desire from earthly to heavenly things.”

Christmastime is here! sings the muzak in Starbucks, and outside the earth is hard as iron, water like a stone. Pace, Dame Julian, but all is not well. We have been given talents, and have kept them stored away, and we know that the end of the parable is unpleasant. On Wednesday, the 19th of November, Gentle Jesus Meek And Mild disturbs us by saying “‘Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me’” (Lk 19:27). It’s a parable, and what exactly he means by it is, perhaps, up for debate. But the import is clear: the cold earth is cracking with the fire beneath, judgment is coming, and if we do not repent we may be undone.

Earth grown old, yet still so green,
Deep beneath her crust of cold
Nurses fire unfelt, unseen:
Earth grown old.

We who live are quickly told:
Millions more lie hid between
Inner swathings of her fold.

When will fire break up her screen?
When will life burst thro’ her mould?
Earth, earth, earth, thy cold is keen,
Earth grown old.

“Advent” by Christina Rossetti


Three Things We’re Reading Today: Gossip, Sacred Art, and Blessing

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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

1. An editorial from  America Magazine on Pope Francis’ teachings against gossip entitled “The Tyranny of Talk.” Given that social media allows us to say whatever we want, whenever we want, about whomever we want, we as Christians would do well to take the Pope’s words to heart and pray with the Psalmist, “Set a guard, LORD, before my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps 141:3).

“It’s so rotten, gossip,” [Pope Francis] said in February. “At the beginning, it seems to be something enjoyable and fun, like a piece of candy. But at the end, it fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us.” . . . “Those who live judging their neighbor, speaking ill of their neighbor, are hypocrites, because they lack the strength and the courage to look to their own shortcomings.” For Pope Francis gossip is not only harmful because it tears down our fellow human beings, but because it diverts our attention away from what is most important: our own Christian behavior.

2. A stunning piece brought to our attention by First Things, written by Pelagia Horgan for Aeon Magazine, that seeks to provide insights on the question “How should secular people approach sacred art?

I’d never been moved to tears by a painting before, but I was when I saw this one [Fra Angelico's The Last Judgment] a few months ago in Florence. Yet if I step back and take in The Last Judgment as a whole—the saved on one side, welcomed by angels; the damned on the other, herded by devils; the celestial host above them, directing it all—it strikes me as an odd painting for a secular person to love. The Last Judgment is more than a work of art. It’s a profession of faith—in divine justice, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, life everlasting. What does it mean for a person like me to love a painting like this? What does it mean to be moved by the beauty of a vision you can’t believe to be true? . . .

What Mark Rothko said of his own late works might be said of these [frescoes]: ‘They are not pictures.’ They are something else—something more like instruments of spiritual attunement.

The beauty of Fra Angelico’s frescoes startles, attracts, and engages the author and others who have experienced them, but most of all, points beyond itself to something more mysterious, more real. This article should not merely be consumed; it ought to be contemplated.

3. In preparation for Thanksgiving, Michael Bradley at Ethika Politika writes a beautiful piece, answering the question “What is Blessing?

Blessings are those opportunities, capacities, occasions, and providences that enable or encourage us to realize various dimension of our full-being as humans. . . . Blessings properly speaking are gifts; they evoke our gratitude precisely because we recognize them as originating beyond our own merit or scope of action, and as such we are grateful to those others—and perhaps to that Other—from whom and through whom the blessings of our lives are gifted us. 

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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