What We’re Reading: invitations to love, anxiety, and the evolving legacy of Pius XII

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

Managing Editor

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1) Eric Immel, SJ on neglecting the invitations to love that arise throughout the day:

I exist within the borders and boundaries of a world made in goodness and love. This world has reached out to me a million times revealing that goodness and love, and yet, I often fail to respond. I savor video chats with my godchildren, but it takes me too long to find the time and connect. The maple trees just west of my house have been glowing with fall colors for a while, but I’m only now stopping to admire them, the last leaves falling in the cool autumn breeze.  There are always more pressing matters – a few quick pages to read, or a new YouTube video, or a power nap that I don’t need – while the divine – and my awareness of it all around me – gets brushed aside.

2) America‘s Terrance W. Klein on anxiety and holiness:

Anxiety and sanctity are diametric. Most of what makes us anxious has nothing to do with holiness. It’s woven from the mundane, the personal and the petty. It passes. We need to remember that. When holiness is the focus of our life, anxiety begins to fade.

3) As a historian, I am often intrigued by pieces such as this: an interview with Ronald J. Rychlak on the evolving legacy of Pius XII:

As for the shift in public perception, there is still a long way to go, but more and more historians are coming out on the pro-Pius side; the Congregation for the Causes of Saints gathered overwhelming evidence of Pius XII’s efforts to save all victims of the Nazis, especially the Jews; revelations by Ion Mihai Pacepa (my co-author on the book “Disinformation”) and others have shown that Pius XII’s reputation was intentionally smeared by Soviet intelligence agencies in part of a covert war against the church; and we are seeing many more Jewish and Catholic leaders speaking up on behalf of the truth. So, we are moving in the right direction.

Follow Tony on Twitter: @tonyoleck

The Image and “Like”-ness of God: Social Media and Self-Worth


Maggie Duncan
Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith (2015)
University of Notre Dame, 
Class of 2017

Have you ever been jealous of Kim Kardashian?  I have. Not directly, of course. But when it comes to social media—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter—I do like a good “like.” If anyone knows how to get those, it’s our friend Kim K. I don’t bring this up because I think we can draw heavenly similes from the Kardashians’ tweets. I bring it up because kim k 2in my journey with God, I struggle with a similar vice as Miss Kardashian—the need to brand myself and control how I rank among others.

Social media is a weird beast, and it’s something  for which I’ve never been very good at controlling my desire. Some people can look at a few pictures or comments and be happy, but not me. Facebook became a way for me to check how my life ranked. It became a tool I used to distort and manipulate myself. I used social media as a way to craft an image of myself to try to get people to like me, admire me, or want to be me.

My misuse of social media was not just applied to my own profile. I also used it to judge others. How many likes did they get? Where did they go this weekend? How good is their life? How worthy can they—or rather, we—prove that we are to each other?

I tried to limit social media to heal these patterns a little bit. This past winter, though, I couldn’t tell you how many times I checked, scrolled, liked, and “hearted” per day. That scared me. Where was my heart if this was where I put all my time? Were my thoughts ever on things not relating to my own image or the images of others? Because of this wake up call, I decided to give up social media for Lent.

After I gave up social media, I felt like I was going through a social withdrawal. When I couldn’t be on Facebook or Instagram or the #Twittersphere, I found myself feeling isolated. I couldn’t be affirmed by random virtual entities anymore. I still had my real life friends—but I could no longer spend time crafting my persona.

social mediaDuring Lent, I realized that I wasn’t really living for God or for love, but for likes. I had learned to see myself as worthy only if a certain number of people approved of my image. I ignored the real connections—the “have a good morning” texts or the excited hug from a friend I hadn’t seen in two weeks—for the number of tiny “thumbs ups” I could get on a good profile picture.

As Lent went on, it got easier to be away from it all. In pulling away, though, I saw that my lurking Facebook account was not the only flaw. The whole reason social media is such an issue for me is because of a deep need in my heart to be seen as important.

As Christians and as humans, we are supposed to put our sisters and brothers before ourselves.  My whole sense of self-worth came from how I could do better, be better, be more than others. I found the idea of truly being seen—really seen, live and unedited and sprinkled with imperfections—terrifying, to say the least. I rejected it because my groaning pride and my trembling insecurity would not have it.

When social media, the broken toy that it was, was taken away, I stopped being able to mold myself into a “perfect” person and stopped seeing others as simple categories. I slowly discovered the possibility of seeing us all in an honest light. We weren’t reduced anymore. Rather, we became as detailed and complex as we actually are—we became real humans again. Without this all-consuming project of crafting myself and others, I had some spare time. I used some of that time to pray, to be mindful, to be where I was supposed to be: here, in my real life, not just in the imaginary one where my ego had trapped me.

Letting go of the control I wanted wasn’t easy. A friendly, local priest told me one night when I was struggling that I should say a simple prayer to give up on my willful control, not just in social media but in life: “Dear God, please help me ask You to Help me.”

Dear God, please help me ask You to Help me.

That’s a hard prayer. But it brings a lot of peace.

As I got help from God and from the lovely people in the real world, I slowly started seeing more and more loveliness. I was able to be more grateful. My brain was freed up to love people more instead of insta-judging them. I was able to be myself because I was released from thinking about me and my persona all the time. I was finally not all tied up in the stress of trying to brand myself. I had no social media image to lmichelangelo creationean on during times of insecurity. I could only leap into trust with one fact: I was specifically and intentionally made in God’s image, and that is enough.

But Lent was ending soon. If I told you that Easter came and I stayed off of social media and lived a perfect life, I would be SO lying. Easter did come, and I fell down in the “ashiness” of my own sin, spending four hours on Facebook that day.  (That’s five and two-thirds episodes of Keeping Up with The Kardashians, for those of you wondering.)

Acknowledging this failure, I reflected on what I learned during Lent and what I should do going forward. I now have timers on my computer and blocks on certain websites, but most importantly, I now understand how much easier it is to rest in how God sees me—beautiful, flawed, and good—instead of how I want people to see me.

No lasting peace comes from likes, double taps, followers, or creeping around on the “interwebs.” Not even Kim Kardashian, God bless her, can promise that twitter fame or a show on E! will bring peace. Lasting peace, a gift from God, is only present in a heart that rests in God, open to loving the people He gives you to love.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).

‘Primetime’ and Pedagogy

unnamedScott Boyle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Vision

Coordinator, Notre Dame Catechist Academy

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I almost don’t remember the days I would wake up early to watch “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” before kindergarten. I’d usually wake up right at 7:00am and run to the TV with just enough time to catch him picking out his sweater.

Before the days of Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO Go, I had one shot to catch the episode. Wake up too late, and I’d miss King Friday XIII presiding over the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

These days, almost any programming is available on demand. Plan your schedule around the most popular shows on prime time? No need. Want to watch all three seasons of House of Cards or Parks and Recreation? No problem. Now, any time is prime time.

Traditionally, prime time refers to the period when the most eyeballs are on the television, usually between 7:30 and 11:00pm. Prime time programming is designed not only to capture, but also to hold the attention and interest of the broadest section of viewership.

Advertisers have realized that more viewership and attention during prime time means greater exposure for their commercials. More attention increases the likelihood that they will have greater success educating (and convincing) us of the necessity of their latest products.Pedagogy experts have studied and applied the success of the “prime time concept” to classroom teaching. In the Notre Dame Catechist Academy, we have extended those insights to the task of catechesis.

In this piece, we explore how catechesis invites us to look at our fundamental identity as disciples, and how we train our catechists to grow in that identity using prayer in catechetical “prime time.” We have realized that prayer is the essential foundation that helps our students grow into disciples – both in the classroom and in the world.

The Concept of Prime Time

Like advertising, classroom prime time refers to the periods when the most students are paying attention and their capacity for retention is highest (normally at the beginning and end of each class session). Ideally, this is the time for teachers to share the day’s most important concepts. Catechesis, while seeking to make use of the “prime time concept,” differs from advertising and normal classroom prime time in that it moves beyond mere concept acquisition. St. John Paul addresses this in his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, where he writes that “the primary and essential object of catechesis is…the mystery of Christ” (5).

Since our goal is to direct students toward mystery, catechetical prime time cannot (and does not) focus merely on a rote rehearsal of important concepts.

The Role of Mystery

St. John Paul II does not use mystery here in the normal sense of the word, that is, to refer to something that cannot (and maybe will not) be known.

Rather, he invites us to think of God as a being so “other” that we cannot think of him in terms of concepts that can traditionally be mastered or comprehended like 2 + 2 = 4 or a² +b² = c². Rather, when referring to the mystery of Christ in catechesis, St. John Paul II seems to be directing us to consider God as someone who can be “infinitely known” rather than “not known” at all.

To put it bluntly, seeking to know God does not end in a formula. It ends in discipleship.

The Model of Discipleship for Catechist Formation

In the Incarnation, Christ reveals himself to us as a human person. The truth of the fact that God comes to us as a human person demands different catechetical formation.

Let me illustrate this by means of example. No matter how well we might know another person  (our friends and family, for example), that person will always remain a mystery in some way to us. Try as we might, we will never be able to understand that person completely or know how that person will act in every given situation. Does that mean we turn away from our friends and family? No. People are not concepts to master. We would never say that we have “mastered” our friend John or our sister Stacey.

Proper catechetical formation in light of the mystery of Christ should follow in the same way, and the relationship between Jesus and his disciples can serve as a good example. Even though the disciples did not understand Jesus and his teachings all the time, they continued to walk with him. In walking with him, they gained strength for their own journey of faith.

As catechists, then, a relationship with the mystery of Christ looks like the journey of discipleship. Like those early Christians, we too should continue to place ourselves in Christ’s presence so that we can be open to the ways that we can grow in relationship and knowledge of him for our own journeys of faith.

St. John Paul II puts it this way, again in Catechesi Tradendae:

“The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ” (5).

In this way, we do not proclaim or merely rehearse a laundry list of Christ’s important qualities as we form our catechists in the Catechist Academy. Rather, we continue to invite them to grow as disciples, constantly inviting them deeper into intimacy with Christ, to probe the depths of his mystery in their lives and the life of the world.

Prayer in Prime Time

In the Catechist Academy, we turn to prayer most frequently as we invite catechists deeper into this life of discipleship. Pope Benedict XVI addresses the implications of this relationship during a General Audience address in 2011: “The main objective of prayer is conversion: the fire of God which transforms our hearts and makes us capable of seeing God and living for Him and for others.”

In the Catechist Academy, then, we follow this lead. Since prayer allows us to so consciously place ourselves in the midst of the presence and mystery of God, it is the focus of our catechetical prime time. We use intentions and Lectio Divina at the beginning and end of each class to help our students become more “capable of seeing God.” By meditating on the scriptures and inviting their deeper meaning into their lives, our catechists become more capable of speaking Christ’s truths not only in their classrooms, but as disciples in their everyday lives.

Without prayer, conversion toward discipleship becomes more difficult. If catechists don’t invite God’s truth into their hearts, they close themselves off from hearing the ways he wishes to use them to become disciples and to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

For all of us too, making time for prayer not only gives us the time to share our joys and concerns with God, but the opportunity to hear his voice speaking back to us. When we can most fully hear his Word, we can then be more capacitated to act upon it (c.f. James 1:22).

In the Catechist Academy, prayer will continue to be the foundation of our pedagogy and our prime time. We have seen that a renewed focus on prayer will serve not only as the foundation for better catechesis, but for discipleship. When our catechists are better able to hear the echoes of God’s Revelation in their hearts, they are better able to respond as disciples, forming their students and themselves to be better citizens of heaven.

Her Wounds of Love

Molly DailyMolly Daily, ND ’14

Intern, Washington University & Webster University Catholic Student Center Campus Ministry

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This time of year, parishes start bringing out Books of Life or Books of Remembrance – a place to write the names of loved ones who have passed away – often with a particular focus on those who have passed away in the last year, but including those we have mourned for years.

This time of year, I find myself thinking about my grandma.

My grandmother was a vibrant, fiery redheaded woman who wasn’t even five feet tall. As I get older, I see how much of me is made up of her. She loved running, popcorn, shopping, and being busy. For the first seventeen years of my life, I don’t think I ever saw her sitting down for more than two minutes. Every time I visited her she made me “warm chocolate” – never hot, because then it would burn my tongue. She fit as many decorations as she could onto her house – most of which had an American flag on them – and told me that Mickey Mouse lived her neighbor’s little decorative toy house. And every time I slept over at her house, even when I was way too old to be tucked in, she would sing “You Are My Sunshine” to put me to sleep.

It’s hard to reconcile that image of my grandmother with the woman I kissed on the cheek in July six years ago, telling her that I’d see her again soon but knowing it was very possible that she would never see me again. This woman was frail, tired, and small. She could only speak a few words at a time, and she only ate chicken wings and Cheetos – and even then, she wouldn’t eat much.

My grandma was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a degenerative neurological disorder that affects the voluntary muscles of the body. She was one of ten percent of ALS patients who was also diagnosed with dementia. ALS took her voice, her strength, and her ability to walk. Eventually, in July of 2009, it took her life as well.

Throughout the time my grandma was sick, I never really questioned God. I didn’t blame Him for giving her ALS – I blamed genetics and bad luck. I wasn’t angry with God, but I didn’t really see how He fit into this disease. ALS is gruesome, nasty, and painful. It takes a person’s dignity and their will to fight.

When someone dies of a painful disease, people like to tell you that now they’re in Heaven, doing what they loved most. For my grandma, that meant a lot of people told me she was running across the finish line of a race – something she hadn’t been able to do for years – and God was waiting for her with an ice cold Guinness in hand. There was a part of that statement that was comforting, sure, but it also reduced my grandma’s suffering, the last few years of her life, to nothing more than a hurdle to get over and something that was simply erased. In addition to knowing that God holding a beer was pretty theologically inaccurate, this view of my grandma’s afterlife left something to be desired. But I didn’t know how to improve that view, how to reconcile the pain of ALS with anything glorified. I wondered if my grandma was up in Heaven looking her healthiest and most robust again, or if she could walk and talk again.

It wasn’t until my senior year of college, four years later, that I got a satisfactory answer to some of these questions. I was in Dr. John Cavadini’s course, The Catholic Faith, when we began talking about suffering and death. He started asking us the same questions I had asked myself – what happens when we die? If someone is shot, do they bear that wound in Heaven, living with the pain forever? When a mother sacrifices herself in front of a van for her child, do those wounds, those pains, plague her?

Dr. Cavadini explained that as Catholics, we believe that those marks of suffering on our bodies that we bore as marks of love will remain on our souls – but they will be transformed, glorified. They will become beauty, incarnating the Love which we pour forth and worship. My mind immediately went to my grandmother, of course.The pains and hardships of ALS that made her weak and listless, I believe, are long gone now. However, I do believe what Dr. Cavadini told me – that those wounds, those pains she endured out of love, out of a desire to keep fighting and to stay with us just a bit longer – are glorified now. She is happy and whole – wounds and all.

It’s surprisingly easy for me to believe this, mostly because over past four years, I have already seen the glorification of her wounds in those she left behind. After bearing her loss together, my family is stronger than ever. My extended family gathers each year on her birthday to celebrate mass and have a meal together. After her funeral, we decided to keep in contact as regularly as we had when she was sick – a promise we’ve kept to this day.

I don’t wish the pain of ALS on anyone, and I wish my grandma was here with me today – but I find solace this time of year in knowing that her love remains with us to this day and adds dignity beyond measure to her life, and has glorified her wounds in her death.

Heaven Is Not A Goal (With a Short Discourse on College)

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Vision and Student Engagement

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I have never been to Heaven, though I have been to Iowa. Iowa is not Heaven, but it may open to it. When Ray Kinsella built his Field of Dreams, he followed the seemingly nonsensical promise that turning his plowshares into baseball bats and his crop rows into foul lines would draw some untold company. But even as he built a destination for dreamers, the prophecy within the film—eventually spoken in the only voice that should ever deliver prophecy: that of James Earl Jones—reveals why the dream is for something other than the field itself. The thing that matters is not the place at journey’s end but to enjoy what you find there:

People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn into your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door, as innocent as children, longing for the past. “Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,” you’ll say, “It’s only twenty dollars per person.” And they’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children, and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray.

I love the little throwaway line in the middle of this monologue where the mystical enjoyment of this game—on this field—is described as bringing the pilgrims enjoyment so wonderful that it will “be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters.” In Kinsella’s original book (which has somewhat bizarre religious overtones), this line is written like this: “…it will be as if they have knelt in front of a faith healer, or dipped themselves in magic waters where a saint once rose like a serpent and cast benedictions to the wind like peach petals,” (Shoeless Joe by Ray Kinsella). The contrast in images is startling, for a serpent rises up in order to strike with venom but in this case the rising up with the force of a serpent issues good-words that are as delicate, fragrant, and comforting as petals on the wind. I doubt Kinsella knew that he was basically describing Saint Juan Diego who as a child would have received a lecture from his father in which he was told “not to rise like a serpent and shoot out anger against the people, instead receive them in love,” (Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego: The Historical Evidence by Eduardo Chávez). juan diego

As a grown man, Juan fulfills and exceeds this instruction when, at Our Lady’s instruction, he rises up before the bishop to let petals fall from his tilma. Kinsella’s odd image suggests that one who embodies all the power of a striking serpent in order to bless rather than to curse is like a saint, and that the transformation of that power from fury to peace is like magic.

Imagine trying to teach a serpent to redirect all his instincts towards a new end. I imagine you would have to do nothing less than make him forget his former action before teaching him how to use the same power for a new action, one which is quite the opposite of his former one. That is what it would be like, say, for a soldier to wholly recast the power of his own efforts in favor of a new purpose—you know, like Ignatius of Loyola, who was first broken of his own ambitions in order to be re-educated for a new purpose. In service of that new purpose, Ignatius exercised no less passion than he did on the battlefield—i.e., he became the one who rose like a serpent not to strike down but to build up. Just so, the peasant Juan Diego takes on the serpent’s and soldier’s poise to strike with the blessing given to him from Our Lady. Perhaps Juan had to be given the soldier’s courage while Ignatius had to be given the peasant’s meekness. In either case, the union of opposites—“the meek soldier” and “the bold peasant”—is no less peculiar than a serpent offering benediction, which is so anomalous that only something like magic could explain it.

Which brings me back to that little throwaway line about being dipped in magic waters: You know who else imagined this kind of transformation in like terms? Dante. At the top of the Mountain of Purgatory—that place of transformation—Dante imagines two boundaries of water on either side of the Earthly Paradise. In truth, the two bodies of water are the same river that flow “from God’s own will” (Purgatorio 28:125), but on one side of the Earthly Paradise it is called Lethe and on the other it is called Eunoe. The River Lethe is a river of forgetfulness: as if by magic it “take[s] the memory of sin away,” (Purgatorio 28:128; cf. Inferno 14:136-138). John_William_Waterhouse_-_Dante_and_MatildaThese waters wash away all the prideful, envious, wrathful, slothful, covetous, gluttonous, and lustful urges, habits, and even consequences of such actions, leaving the one who emerges from the waters without memory. Every memory is taken away from the one who plunges into these waters because all of his memories—like that of a serpent for whom the instinct to strike with venom flows in every part of himself—were tinged with aspects of the sins that plague him. To be without memory, though, is to not be yourself, and to become yourself is the whole point of the purgatorial journey; therefore, on the other side of the Earthly Paradise, the River Eunoe flows to restore the memory of “all good done,” (Purgatorio 28:129; cf. 33:124-132, 142-145). All that power expended upon ulterior motives, slanderous thoughts and deeds, furtive games of rivalry, and acts of love muddied with undue self-regard… all of that power is restored and released for an holistic purpose: to praise the One who blesses and to serve the good of others. On the far side of Eunoe, the saint emerges with the power of a rising serpent speaking benedictions that are as fragrant, delicate, and comforting as petals on the wind.

Dante’s saints are free to praise and serve in the activity of Heaven, while Kinsella’s saints are free for what that dreamy field offers. For Dante, the saint is not simply defined as the one who passes from the Earthly Paradise to the Heavenly Paradise; rather, Dante’s saint is the one who enjoys the Heavenly Paradise. Likewise for Kinsella, the saints of baseball that he imagines are not made by coming to the Iowa field, but rather by enjoying the game they find there. Iowa isn’t Heaven because Heaven is not a goal, and Heaven is not a goal because gaining admission isn’t the point. Enjoying Heaven is the point.

John Henry Newman had a way of speaking of Heaven that made it seem rather un-enjoyable, at least at first glance. In one of his better-known sermons, he describes Heaven thusly:

Heaven then is not like this world; I will say what it is much more like—a church. For in a place of public worship no language of this world is heard; there are no schemes brought forward for temporal objects, great or small; no information how to strengthen our worldly interests, extend our influence, or establish our credit. These things indeed may be right in their way, so that we do not set our hearts upon them; still (I repeat), it is certain that we hear nothing of them in a church. Here we hear solely and entirely of God (“Holiness Necessary for Future Blessedness”).

For most of us—myself included—spending eternity in a church actually sounds pretty terrible. If Heaven is like a church, then maybe it is rather like baseball: it’s tedious, it’s repetitive, and it takes forever. That, in fact, is precisely Newman’s point. We tend to conceive of Heaven on our own terms, but we would do well to practice re-conceiving of ourselves in the God-given terms of Heaven. The language of this world is often the language of suspicion and duplicity; the schemes of this world are typically directed towards one’s self-promotion; and the credit we seek to accrue in this world is weighed in the laudations we earn or even the laudations we trick others into conferring upon us. A church—rightly conceived—is a place free of these games because it practices its participants in another game: learning to enjoy that place where a good we do not earn is given and where we delight in sharing that good with others. That place is Heaven. In the world, we practice springing our energies in poisonous maneuvers to either subtly or not-so-subtly advance ourselves even at the expense of others. In a church we practice taking the good of others as our own good. The energy expended is comparable but the purpose is not. In a church, the mighty learn how to wield their might in favor of the meek and the meek learn how to boldly lead the mighty in benediction.

Only once our memories are cleansed of past grievances, shame, and worldly ambition, may our memories be restored to new life in forgiveness, gratitude, and charity. In a way reminiscent of Augustine’s contemplation of the life of the saints at the conclusion of Book XXII of City of God, Newman encourages us to seek memories redeemed in mercy:

Let us thankfully commemorate the many mercies He has vouchsafed to us in times past, the many sins He has not remembered, the many dangers He has averted, the many prayers He has answered, the many mistakes He has corrected, the many warnings, the many lessons, the much light, the abounding comfort which He has from time to time given. Let us dwell upon times and seasons, times of trouble, times of joy, times of trial, times of refreshment (“Remembrance of Past Mercies”).

There is a lot to remember there, and remembering all of that would take all of our energy, all of the time. This activity would be so engaging that we would hand over all we think we’ve earned and all we think we’re due as if we were “pass[ing] over money without even thinking about it” in order to enjoy the peace we once lacked. Money, here, stands for all that worldly ambition procures and giving that up is precisely the admission price for a “perfect afternoon”.

To think about this in another setting, consider the typically unadvertised condition of a majority (or at least a significant minority) of college students, including and perhaps especially those who are currently enrolled at their elite “dream schools”. The problem of conceiving of Heaven as a goal is echoed in the perils of conceiving of college admission itself as a goal, especially since in the case of the latter we often train children and teens to cultivate ambition toward that end, to measure themselves according to admissibility, and to compete with each other for position and ranking. For those in the most prestigious and selective colleges, the ambitious, achievement-driven, metrics-obsessed, comparison-laden, goal-oriented behaviors that they all virtually had to cultivate in order to get into their “dream schools” are the very same habits that prevent them from enjoying college.

AdmissionWhen these students get to college, they keep often keep operating according to what they’ve been trained to value: the pursuit of accomplishments and the calculation of worth by inverse comparison to the merits of others. In short, their capacity to learn in order to grow, to venture even at the risk of failure, and to allow themselves to be seen as in process rather than finished products is dulled precisely because of how ‘the system’ (Newman’s “world”) shaped them in order to achieve admission to college and, moreover, what ‘the system’ continues to expect of them once they are in college. The antidote to the venom of the system is not to expect less of college students; in fact, the antidote is to expect more: they should be guided to be more fully human rather than little goal-gobbling achievement-machines, especially since little goal-gobbling achievement-machines eventually breakdown, whether during college or afterwards. (Full disclosure: I myself am a recovering goal-gobbling achievement-machine).

After all, you can’t enjoy a baseball game if you’re obsessed with how much everything costs, who has the best seat, and how to consistently “upgrade your experience,” just like you can’t enjoy Heaven if you keep thinking about how to get ahead, how to work the situation to your own advantage, or how to favorably compare your merits to those of others. In this regard, even elite Catholic colleges may not very much resemble Newman’s own idea of a university, which is certainly meant to cultivate virtue more than ambition, so that when the exorbitant tuition fees change hands it is not done with the consumer expectation that “I better get my money’s worth.” (Another note in the interest of full disclosure: I don’t think exorbitant tuition fees are okay.) What you should get when you gain admission is an education not for the sake of what you think you like but what will help you to enjoy life, unto life everlasting.

If we are to listen to the prophetic voice of James Earl Jones (as we always should), or that of Dante or of John Henry Newman, then we might come to imagine that if saints are indeed models, they are models not because of where they end up or what they achieve but because of who and what they become. The saints are grateful, they admire each other, they praise together, and they passionately enjoy all of this. The question of Iowa fields and (elite) colleges is also the question of Heaven itself: what are you learning to enjoy?

Follow Leonard DeLorenzo @leodelo2.


For a lovely reflection on the construction of a Cathedral, Field of Dreams, and Heaven, see Hope Feist’s blogpost from earlier this year.

Musical Mystagogy: All Souls Day

Carolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Today the Church observes the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, better known as All Souls Day. Indeed, the entire month of November has come to be associated with the remembrance of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, and the music of the Church in no small way helps us to remember and to grieve, but ultimately, to find hope in the promise of the Resurrection.

Today’s piece is one that finds a balance between acknowledging the human struggle in the face of death and upholding faith in God as the only answer to that struggle. Welsh-born composer Geraint Lewis (b.1958) began composing his All Souls Day anthem The Souls of the Righteous in December 1991, and finished the piece in 1992, in the wake of losing his close friend and colleague—fellow composer William Mathias—to cancer. The piece testifies not only to his grief, but also to his faith in God as a source of solace and comfort even in the midst of that grief.

The text for this piece is taken from chapter three of the Book of Wisdom, which is one of the optional Old Testament readings for All Souls Day (Wis 3:1–9). It is also one of the optional Old Testament readings listed in the Rite of Christian Burial. Rather than set the entirety of the passage, Lewis distills the Wisdom text down and focuses on the texts that convey its two most essential truths: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and the pain of death shall not touch them,” and “To the eyes of the foolish, they seemed to perish, but they are at peace.”

Musically, Lewis conveys these two truths by constructing the entire piece around two central motifs. The first of these motifs unfolds in the extended organ introduction; the second is sung by the choir at its first entrance. The first motif consists of two brief phrases followed by an extended phrase—each phrase feeds into the next, and the effect here is evocative perhaps of the shortened inhalations and exhalations of a person in the final hours of life, culminating in the breathing forth of one’s spirit in the soaring extended phrase.

The second motif, in contrast, is constructed of long, even, sustained notes as the choir sings the text, “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and the pain of death shall not touch them.” The simple yet noble choral melody seems to suspend the text in mid-air as an object held up for our contemplation. Here is the consolation offered by a loving God—the truth that never wavers, that sustains both those who face their final trial and those who mourn them after they have passed from this life into the next.

The organ and the choir engage in a dialogue, each repeating and developing its own motif as though the music is trying to help the listener come to terms with these truths which are ultimately beautiful and hope-filled, yet still challenging in the midst of grief. This dialogue continues until the piece reaches a turning point and, after an extended organ interlude, everything fades away save one low sustained note. It is in this moment, suspended between time and eternity, that the choir takes over the first motif with the text, “To the eyes of the foolish, they seemed to perish, but they are at peace.” This is what the organ has been trying to tell us all along. The souls of those whom we love and mourn are at peace, and we, we are the foolish, the slow to understand, the ones who struggle against their passing in our limited human ability to perceive the truth—that the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and the pain of death shall not touch them.

Aladár Körösfói-Kriesch, All Souls Day
Aladár Körösfói-Kriesch, All Souls Day

Even though we might assent to this profound truth intellectually and spiritually, the process of grieving is still a profound human and emotional struggle, because the experience of death remains shrouded in mystery. To gloss over this struggle or seek refuge in worn-out, shallow platitudes is to reduce the gravity of death. Yet, every moment of heart-rending grief can become a moment in which we who mourn can make an act of faith by acknowledging our devastation and, from the depths of our grief, placing our trust in God and the souls of our loved ones in his hands.

Lewis reflects this continuous struggle to seek and find consolation in God through his gentle use of dissonance in the organ accompaniment. Every so often, a chord grates against our ears as a reminder that there will always be moments in which we rail against the harsh realities of death; nevertheless, by turning to God in faith, even these moments of struggle will become moments in which we are drawn ever closer to the One who holds our beloved dead in his care.

The final phrase captures this mysterious juxtaposition beautifully: the choir sings “but they are at peace” one last time in a return to the sustained notes of their original motif, and the final chord of the organ lingers in its dissonance as a musical symbol of the fact that we who are left behind will continue to struggle with the mystery of death, a struggle that can only be ultimately resolved for us when we ourselves pass from this life, for it is only when our own souls are in the hands of God that we will truly be at peace. Nevertheless, in the meantime, we are comforted and sustained by the truths that invite us to put our faith and place our trust in God, even—and especially—when we are confronted by the mysteries of death.

Follow Carolyn on twitter: @carolyn_pirtle

What we’re reading: black vestments, All Souls, and letter to “conservative” Catholics

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

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1) This All Souls Day, two pieces make the case for black vestments: the “Liturgy Guy,” and a 2012 article from The New Liturgical Movement.

Black signifies mourning, but not simply mourning in general. Rather, black directs us in a particular way to mourn and pray for the dead. While white is a color of festivity and rejoicing, violet is the color which signifies penance and sorrow for sin.

2) Daily Theology’s Andrew Staron on death, friends, and the communion of saints:

Moving from fear, inattention, and dishonesty, we might come to recognize death as the shared end of life. And what might be only a reluctant acceptance of a common fate, can become if shared in the company of friendship, an embrace of communion. We can find that in our love for our friends, we are freed from our fearful desire to be the exception and instead embrace the end shared by us all, not because it is inevitable, but because it is the end that comes to our friends.

3) During a time of great debate and discord among Catholics, Rebecca Sharbaugh writes with this letter to “conservative” Catholics:

I promise to balance the emphases of my faith with yours by truly listening to what you have to say.  I promise to never demean the beautiful ways you serve God just because they are different than the ways I choose to serve God. And most of all, I promise that I believe the Church is better with you in it than it would be without you.

Follow Tony on Twitter: @tonyoleck

What we’re reading: discourse, raising hell, and all souls

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

ND ’14, MTS ’16 (History of Christianity)

Managing Editor

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1) Bishop Robert Barron on argument and censorship:

So in the spirit of Howard Sudberry, I would say to those who signed the letter against Ross Douthat, “Make an argument against him; prove him wrong; marshal your evidence; have a debate with him; take him on. But don’t attempt to censor him.” I understand that the signatories disagree with him, but he’s playing by the rules.

2) Amanda Osheim in Daily Theology on raising hell:

A few years ago, though, a friend inquired into my theological opinion on the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ lyrics:  “If you wanna to get to Heaven, you got to raise a little hell.”  Such a deep, meaningful, pop culture question is like turning on the bat signal, and I began my response by reflecting again on the Apostles’ Creed.

3) Leonard DeLorenzo writes in America Magazine on the journey from all saints to all souls:

I have struggled to know where that hope begins in my imagination; but over time, the memory that has tended to recur most frequently when I think of my grandfather is of our last moment together in that hospital room. Part of me is still surprised that I had the audacity to trace the sign of the cross on his forehead and pray over him. Perhaps the meaning of who he was to me is mysteriously wrapped up in that memory, even though I am still trying to understand it.

Follow Tony on Twitter: @tonyoleck

The Memory of God

Jenny Martin
Assistant Professor, Program of Liberal Studies; Concurrent Assistant Professor, Department of Theology University of Notre Dame

Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Vespers on Wednesday, October 28, the feast of Sts. Simon and Jude. We are grateful for the author’s permission to publish it here.

For the past several years, I have led a freshman seminar on ancient Greek literature, which includes reading both the Iliad and Odyssey in full. In this context, my students and I talk a great deal about the nature of memory, and these Homeric epics in particular as books of memory. Not only was the oral recitation of these enormously long and detailed poems an impressive feat of memory in itself, but also the explicit themes of memory and forgetting are to the fore in terms of their content. It is most interesting to me in these discussions that for Homer, the relative merits and demerits of remembering or forgetting seem ambiguous.

Tsugumi Ota, Lotus Eaters
Tsugumi Ota, Lotus Eaters

Odysseus and his crew are constantly fighting against natural and supernatural forces that would have them forget themselves. His men eat Lotus Flowers and no longer remember their desire to go home, and the witch Circe detains the crew for a year with feasts and enchantments, moments of forgetting that are obviously problematic. But Helen puts nepenthe in the wine of Menelaus and Telemachus in order to dull the memory of their grief, which seems in some sense to be a mercy. The remembrance of family genealogies is crucial to establishing identity and friendship, yet many of Odysseus’ apparent memories of himself and his personal history turn out to be wholly contrived, works of fiction within a fiction constructed simply for strategy or effect. Furthermore, in a text that may ostensibly be about the virtue of remembering, it is perhaps doubly ironic that the Odyssey ends with Athena blotting out totally the community’s memory of Penelope’s numerous suitors whom Odysseus slays.

In both epics, but especially the Iliad, the heroes are all the time preoccupied with accumulating honor and glory for their heroic deeds, for bravado and courage in war, for acts of loyalty and patriotism, and so on: this drive for fame and personal honor motivates nearly every act, even or especially the most foolhardy, so again, it is difficult to tell if Homer is supporting or critiquing his culture’s preoccupation with being remembered as honorable.

Odysseus blinds the Cyclops
Odysseus blinds the Cyclops

Certainly, Odysseus’ rashest act and greatest mistake was his insistence on revealing his true name to the Cyclops Polyphemus: had he remained nameless, it is arguable that the god Poseidon would not have harried him so relentlessly. On his homeward journey in the Odyssey, Odysseus clings to a rock in the sea after shipwreck and laments that he should have died gloriously at Troy rather than have his deeds be forgotten with such an undistinguished death as drowning. It was not enough for the ancients that honorable deeds be performed; they must be witnessed and acclaimed by others or they could not, so to speak, be credited in the ledger books. In the Iliad, we see Achilles making the choice for an early, violent death in war with great honor and external praise over a long and happy life that is unremarked and unremarkable. And yet, when we come upon the shade of Achilles in the underworld in the Odyssey, he tells Odysseus that it would have been better in life had he been a poor, land-less peasant working in someone else’s fields. Mixed messages, to be sure.

Sts Simon and JudeOn this feast of the Apostles St. Simon and St. Jude, about which very little is known, I would like to praise not their glorious deeds, but rather draw out the virtue of letting oneself go unremarked: how honorable it is to engage in quiet, everyday work that is neither broadcast nor publicized, thanked nor recognized, remembered neither in the annals of history nor the vocalizations of the epic poet. What is recorded in the Scriptures about Simon the Zealot and Jude, also called Thaddeus, is actually rather spare: they are listed by name alongside the other apostles in the synoptic Gospels and in Acts, and Jude is given a single line in the Gospel of John and a short epistle of only 24 verses. Their names are inscribed and recalled, yes, but the many particulars of their daily work on behalf of the kingdom of God are not known to us, or to anyone. Furthermore, even their names can be misremembered if not sometimes outright forgotten, overshadowed in Simon’s case by the far more prominent Simon Peter, and in Jude’s, by the far more infamous Judas Iscariot. Indeed, the tradition of Jude being the patron saint of lost or impossible causes could possibly be traced to this very confusion: because few would pray to Judas called Thaddeus, horrified that they might inadvertently be praying to Judas Iscariot, when he was called upon, Jude would be willing to intervene in even the most desperate of circumstances.

Tradition holds that Simon and Jude suffered a martyr’s death together while preaching as missionaries in Persia, with their bones buried together in the same tomb. Psalm 116:15 tells us that in the sight of the Lord, the death of the faithful is not simply remembered, but is precious, even if anonymous or unremarked. Though the days of mortals may indeed be like grass that withers and fades, “the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps 103:15–16). That our lives and our deaths are gathered up, recollected in the deep memory of God the Father, who is all love and all gift, is everything. So Christian believers in the security of the steadfast love of God and the gift of the Church can afford more than the ancient Greeks to be anonymous, can afford to work—even heroically—without always seeking out the praise or recognition of others. As the letter to the Ephesians teaches, our Christian community is a body, and of a body, and works on behalf of the body of Christ, all without insisting that our individual accomplishments, gifts, reputations, or names be recognized and recorded as preeminent.

With God, there is a mysterious calculus at work, an impossible calculus not of the order of this world—whether ancient or modern—in which what is erased from or torn out of the ledger books endures all the same, and is in fact written more indelibly the less we contend for its recognition. The Psalmist also witnesses to this mysterious phenomenon of God’s peculiar book-keeping (what French poet Charles Péguy calls with gorgeous lucidity a “strange arithmetic”) where tears and weeping are sown, but shouts of joy reaped (Ps 126), where what is sown in darkness is gathered up, re-collected, recollected, in a light not weakly contrived or invented by human beings as a measure of worth, but in the true and brilliant light which is the glory of God and its lamp the Lamb (Rev 21:23).

In both our going forth and our coming homeward, let us endeavor to remember that the lives of the saints are luminous not on their own merit and an insistence upon being remembered, but only insofar as they allow themselves to be more and more deeply transparent to Christ, which, perhaps paradoxically, allows them in this surrender of visibility to be more genuinely themselves.

The doxology that ends St. Jude’s brief letter recollects this source of strength we have that is not our own but is all gift, and we will allow him the benediction this evening: “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24–25).

St. Simon and St. Jude, pray for us.

Christian Hope and the Holy Souls

Laura TaylorLaura Taylor 

House of Brigid

Wexford, Ireland

“Ego sum lux mundi,” read the ancient words of Christ engraved in the weathered, grey stone above the high altar of St. Colman’s church in the quiet country parish of Ballindaggin, County Wexford, Ireland. “I am the light of the world.”

St. Colman's Church, BallindagginI was there to pay my respects for a deceased relative of a nun with whom I had become quite close over the last year. Following traditional Irish funeral observances, it seemed like the inhabitants of the entire village had packed the church for the customary removal service. These traditional Catholic prayers recited at the church in the evenings before funerals are about as ingrained in the Irish consciousness as their love for piping hot tea, spuds, the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), and commiserating about the weather. We were there to pray fervently for the commendation of this dearly departed soul to heaven, that she would in turn pray unceasingly for us from there with the eternal communion of saints, in the company of Christ and our Blessed Mother.Removal Pic 2

No instructions were given at any point in the ceremony about when to sit, kneel, or stand; the people around me just knew.

The parish priest sprinkled holy water over the casket, and the moment the prayers were finished, everyone leapt from their seats in a rush to shake the hands of the grieving family members, while the many conversations among the mourners elevated the noise level in the church to a dull roar. Our religious duties accomplished, we spilled out of the mid-19th century church–the men headed straight to the village pub, the women congregated outside for the latest gossip, and I strolled pensively around the small cemetery nestled against the church walls, waiting for my companions to emerge so we could make the hour’s journey home.

As we remember the souls of the faithful departed in this month of November, I find myself increasingly struck by the visceral manner in which the Irish honor, mourn, and think about the dead. Carlingford ChurchFamilies and local communities band together immediately following the death of a loved one: they fill normally-empty church pews to the brim in order to somberly commemorate “anniversary Masses,” and to pray en masse for the deceased at removal services, wakes, and funerals. Conversations about death in Ireland are quite open–almost bruisingly candid–and happen over a cup of tea, in the street, or out at the pub. The famed Irish wakes still happen–albeit less often now, due to the rising popularity of funeral homes–and are completely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The open casket lies in state in the family’s living room, mourners sit in chairs around the body and take turns swapping humorous or emotional stories about the deceased, and a seemingly endless supply of scalding hot tea and coffee, and freshly-baked cakes and scones in the adjoining rooms provides much-needed spiritual and bodily nourishment, and still more cathartic conversation.irish_wake_paintingThere is a freshness in the Irish perspective towards death and dying, however unsettling it may be to a young American in her mid-twenties, who, before moving to Ireland, had attended only a couple funerals–all with closed caskets, all conducted as swiftly and discreetly as possible, the reality of death too uncomfortable for the American psyche. In Ireland, though, I see the true embodiment of Christian hope lived out each day; even in the throes of sorrow and grief, death here is no frightening spectre, but an almost-friend–a constant, quiet companion on life’s journey.

Here, mourning is a public act, and the healing process truly is communal. Churches see their numbers swell dramatically in the month of November in Ireland, as the annual remembrance of the dead draws people from all walks of life–the old, the young, the rich and poor, Travellers and settled, the faithful, and, surprisingly, those who have drifted away from the Church. They are all connected in their grief, and their desire to remember the ones they have lost. The liturgies of this month in particular somehow seem to tap into the deepest recesses of the heart, compelling all of us to congregate, remember, and pray for our loved ones, that they might, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.vigil at maynoothPope Francis’ namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, tenderly refers to death as a sister: “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no one living can escape.” There is an inexplicable comfort in this Month of the Holy Souls here in Ireland, for alongside the heartache of loss accompanies a lingering sense of peace, and hope.  

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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