Three Things We’re Reading Today: Humanities, Love, and Christian Music

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

1) A really interesting piece at First Things by Mark Shiffman, dealing with the fear that leads a number of students to avoid the humanities as a discipline:

This fear (which we prefer to cloak under the more respectable name of “anxiety”) is the real story behind the current steady decline in the humanities. According to Amazon, the most highlighted passage in all books read on Kindle—highlighted almost twice as often as any other passage—is from the second volume of The Hunger Games: “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” Students want continual reassurance that they’re equipping themselves. They clothe themselves in an armor of achievement that they hope will protect them against uncertainties—of the job market, of course, but also deeper uncertainties about their status, their identities, their self-worth. Disciplines that have (or appear to have) a technical character and a clear arc of accumulated knowledge and skills leading toward a foreseeable career goal reinforce the feeling that they are working steadily, assignment by assignment, toward gaining more control over an uncertain future.

One cannot help but wonder if there is a “liturgical” formation that comes about as we learn to ask those fundamental questions that place us face-to-face with the human condition. Interesting to consider.

2) A beautiful post on the inefficiency of Christian love by Jesuit, Keith Maczkiewicz at the Jesuit Post:

To choose efficiency is to brush aside suffering, to ignore friends in times of need, to prefer the familiar to the true. But to choose love–to listen to that other voice–is to choose an alternate route. Loving means waiting, sometimes for hours. To love is to waste time, to expect, even seek, delays in the work of establishing or maintaining relationship with another. Loving is terribly inefficient and always will be, and, I suppose, there’s no way around that.

3) A piece on contemporary Christian music at Second Nature written by T. David Gordon offers a rather constructive (and it seems deeply valid critique) of Contemporary Christian Music in worship. He offers 8 points, we give you one:

As with all novelties, once the novelty wears off, what is left often seems somewhat empty. In a culture that celebrates what is new (and commercial culture always does so in order to sell what is new), most people will pine for what is new. But what is new does not remain so forever; and once it is no longer novel, it must compete by the ordinary canons of musical and lyrical art, and very little CWM can do so (again, because its authors face a fifty-to-one ratio of competition from other generations). Even promoters of CWM prefer some of it to the rest of it; indicating that they, too, recognize aesthetic criteria beyond mere novelty. Even those who regard novelty as a virtue, in other words, do not regard it as the only virtue. And some, such as myself, regard novelty as a liturgical vice, not a virtue because of its tendency to dis-associate us from the rest of our common race, heritage, and liturgy.

He also offers a deconstruction of the term contemporary worship to begin with:

“Contemporary worship” to me is an oxymoron. Biblically, worship is what angels and morning stars did before creation; what Abraham, Moses and the Levites, and the many-tongued Jewish diaspora at Pentecost did. It is what the martyrs, now ascended, do, and what all believers since the apostles have done. More importantly, it is what we will do eternally; worship is essentially (not accidentally) eschatological. And nothing could celebrate the eschatological forever less than something that celebrates the contemporary now. So ultimately, I think the Apostles’ Creed will stick its camel’s nose into the liturgical tent, and assert again our celebration of the “holy catholic church, the communion of the saints.” The sooner the better.

Definitely worth the read.


The Hidden Creation: being made new in dim corners and hushed voices

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck
MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

It can almost go without saying that the Sacrament of Confession is quite possibly one of the most uncomfortable experiences a Catholic will ever undergo in his or her lifetime. Perhaps this is why it can often be so easy to rationalize oneself out of going: “Well, this month wasn’t that bad…” “I really just don’t want to waste Fr. so-and-so’s time…” “I would go to Confession today but I just really need some Taco Bell right now.” Penitents wait in line to receive sacrament of reconciliation at New York church

And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who is guilty of basing the decision of whether or not to attend the sacrament on the priest I see in the confessional as I walk by: “Fr. Jim is just a little too tough on people…” “Well I was going to go today but I really don’t want Fr. Dan to look at me differently after.” “My family’s really close to Fr. Steve… what if he tells my mom?”

If you find yourself putting off going to Confession or at the very least waiting in line with what feels like a boulder in the pit of your stomach, you’re not alone. As difficult enough as it is to look at one’s own darkness, it is twice as unpleasant to ask another person (whether a stranger or a friend) to do so with you. Reconciliation is, by nature, an uncomfortable experience.

I think there are two primary reasons that the sacrament of Reconciliation is immensely undervalued in today’s world. The first is the discomfort one experiences in it (described above). The second is our not quite knowing how to grasp and appreciate what exactly is extended to us through the sacrament. But what exactly is offered to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? There are many ways to talk about Confession, and there is not much new that I can add here. But what I’d like  to draw attention to is that after one is forgiven through Confession, “a new being is there to see”: “for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone. (2 Cor. 5:17)” (cf. Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship: 107)

Each of the sacraments in some way renders “a new being,” doing away with the “old order.” But there is something quite unique about Confession, in that each time a Catholic approaches the sacrament, he or she is extended an invitation to be re-made in God’s own image, to shed the burden of sin and to become, as it were, a new being. Such an invitation is radically merciful, deeply personal and wholly undeserving. confessionIf the Sacrament of Reconciliation is uncomfortable, perhaps it is in part because we are handed mercy when deep down we know we deserve justice.

And what is more, consider that this mysterious gift is extended to us in a uniquely personal way, in that it allows for no other witnesses but the person seeking forgiveness, and the minister of this forgiveness. Baptism, the Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick: each are typically celebrated with others present. But the mercy extended in Reconciliation is communicated privately, as though in a whisper. Each time a Catholic goes to Confession a hidden miracle occurs: in hushed voices and in dim corners our Creator removes the faults and sins that stain our lives and re-creates us in His own image. There is no ‘big bang’ here. He quietly and routinely reaches into the darkness and whispers “Let there be Light.” Or as G.K. Chesterton writes:

388_stainglass-690x200“[W]hen a Catholic comes from Confession, he does truly, by definition, step out again into that dawn of his own beginning and look with new eyes across the world…. He believes that in that dim corner, and in that brief ritual, God has really remade him in His own image. He is now a new experiment of the Creator. He is as much a new experiment as he was when he was really only five years old. He stands, as I said, in the white light at the worthy beginning of the life of a man. The accumulations of time can no longer terrify. He may be grey and gouty; but he is only five minutes old.” (Autobiography, 229–30)

The creation of the universe may have been an event unwitnessed by human eyes, but each time we step foot in the confessional we are personally invited to contemplate and witness the re-creation of our own souls. Why do we try so hard to discover the former but never stop to consider the unfathomable magnitude of the latter? paralytic

I often wonder if the difficulty with Confession is that we are not quite sure what to do with such a radical, personal, and undeserved gift of mercy (a topic which I will explore in greater depth in my next post).

Confession may be uncomfortable and often painful, but let us not allow this to deter us from encountering Divine Mercy. Let us hasten toward our Creator, trusting that in that “dim corner” and “brief ritual,” we will really be “re-made in His own image.”


Baseball, Love, and the Liturgy

Chris LabadieChris Labadie

MA Candidate, Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary

Director of Liturgy, Saint John’s University Campus Ministry

I love baseball. I love the precision, I love the numbers crunching, I love the way a ball sounds off a bat or smacking into a glove. What I love the most about baseball though is the brotherhood that builds up in a clubhouse and spills over onto the field. There is no wonder why players are referred to as “the boys” of summer.

As the Major League season was coming to a close last week with the seven game World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals, the game took somewhat of a back seat. Last Sunday, Oscar Taveras, a 22-year-old outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic. Oscar-Taveras-St.-Louis-Cardinals-John-Jay-The outpouring of grief from fans and players around the league was immediate and heartfelt. It was not until the next afternoon that a statement came from Mike Matheny, the manager of the Cardinals and a man who has been very open about his Christian faith throughout his career. As I read the statement, I became more and more convinced of my love for the game, especially as I read the final heart-wrenching words:

In my opinion, the word ‘love’ is the most misused and misunderstood word in the English language. It is not popular for men to use this word, and even less popular for athletes. But, there is not a more accurate word for how a group of men share a deep and genuine concern for each other. We loved Oscar, and he loved us. That is what a team does, that is what a family does.

Matheny did not mean that the team loved Taveras because he could catch a ball or hit home runs, he meant that they loved each other because there is a bond that extends beyond the game.

Love often is the “most misused and misunderstood word in the English language.” The world tells us that love is something temporary, something fleeting. We can choose to love someone today, but if they make us angry tomorrow then we just shut off the love. We are conditioned by the media to “love” celebrities or products, but only insofar as they give us pleasure or make us feel good about ourselves. How quickly does our society move from one fad to the next? From one failed celebrity marriage to the next? Love has become synonymous with instant gratification and pleasure.

When Christians think about love, our first place to look is in the First Letter of John: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 Jn 4:16, NRSV). God is not temporary or fleeting. God does not love us one day and turn away from us the next, because He is love! His love is offered to us freely, for all of eternity, and without any conditions attached—even if we choose not to love God, God will still love us because we were created by the One who is pure love. god-is-love-2Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, reminded us that this love can be expressed in so many different ways, but all of them require us to be actively responsive to the love given to us first by God. This is what sets Christian love apart from the transient “love” that our modern world enjoys spreading around to anyone who will pay attention. For Mike Matheny and the St. Louis Cardinals, this Christian love meant sharing “a deep and genuine concern for each other,” for the people who had become teammates, friends, and brothers. In a time of loss they are able to rely on that concern for one another in order to move forward.

I was greatly struck by Matheny’s comment that it is not popular for men, especially athletes, to use the word “love.” As a Catholic man, I find it necessary that I love something—my family, my friends, my God, my Church. All of these are worthy of my love and, if I do not express that love, I am not fulfilling my duty to God or to those people. There is an excellent blog that I read fairly regularly called “The Catholic Gentleman” ( In a post on the true meaning of St. Valentine’s Day, the author expressed his understanding of why love is so important for the Catholic man:

If we really love others, we will care about their salvation. If we care about their salvation, we will share the Catholic faith with them. St. Valentine had the courage to share the Gospel with the man who had the power of life or death over him—and yet most of us won’t broach the topic of faith with our friends out of fear of disapproval. Let’s choose to courageously share the faith we have received with others as God provides opportunity.

The author of the blog knows that in order for us to be good Catholic men we must not be afraid to love and be loved, we must not be not afraid to express that love to God and to those around us.

How do we express our love of God? As a liturgist I admit that I am a little biased here, but I truly believe that the liturgy is the ultimate expression of love. Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred HeartWe can see the love given to us when we witness the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist. God loves us so much that He suffered and died for us on the Cross, but also left us a “memorial of his death and resurrection,” so that we can continue to see that love on a daily basis. At the same time, the liturgy is our ultimate act of giving our love to God. Sometimes that love is imperfect and we are not as fully invested in the words and actions taking place before us. Sometimes our love is hiding underneath anger or pain or a need for reconciliation. Sometimes we are fully invested in what is happening and we are singing, with full heart and voice, the praises of our God. The Lord loves it all and accepts whatever we bring that day. So in a world where the media tells us that men are not supposed to show our feelings, especially love, the liturgy is once again a counter-cultural movement that says: Love. Love with everything you’ve got. Love through your pain and your joys. Love when your young friend and teammate has been killed in a car accident. Love with a genuineness that no one will be able to deny. That is how we abide in God and God abides in us.


Hope in Action: Devotional Prayer and the Marathon

Laura TaylorLaura Taylor 

House of Brigid

Wexford, Ireland

As my feet pounded against the pavement and wound through Dublin’s narrow streets earlier this week, my thoughts wandered amidst the surrounding cacophony of the marathon—the rumble of footsteps fromMarathon Pic 1 the tens of thousands of runners around me, the exuberant cheers from spectators along the race route, the shouted words of encouragement and motivation passed from one runner to the next; the deep, controlled breaths of the seasoned runners, and the short, shallow gasps of the neophytes. My interior self was thrown into turmoil, too, with thoughts of proper pacing, constant checks for the slightest indicators of injury, perhaps too-regular calculations of the remaining distance—not to mention all the everyday doubts, fears, uncertainties, and expectations fighting for their place in the mix as well.

The monotony of running 26.2 miles became particularly apparent at mile 14. As the prospect of running another 12 miles sank in, the first twinges of exhaustion coursed through my body. At mile 16, I noticed some of the faster runners begin to walk. At mile 19, increasingly more competitors appeared to have suddenly stepped into a mire of molasses; the 20-mile marker poster seemed to mock us, stretching farther and farther away. My muscles protested at the continued exertion, the heat of the sun blazed down, the road began to incline, and the discomfort of it all became nearly unbearable. Insidious thoughts of ending the pain altogether and quitting the race clashed against my halting determination, and threatened to become too convincing to fight for much longer. As a first-time marathoner, I naïvely expected my months of training would be enough to get me to the finish line—but they weren’t. Something far deeper, though, would.

My thoughts turned back towards my graduate school courses on liturgical asceticism and the ancient desert monastics of Egypt and Palestine. If those courageous—though somewhat disconcerting—men and women could endure the scorching desert heat, meals of stone-hard bread and locusts, sleepless night vigils, coarse animal-hair shirts, and wage spiritual battles against the anthropomorphized passions and emerge victorious, then surely I could endure the self-inflicted pain of running a marathon—High5 EnergyGels© notwithstanding (I wouldn’t wish those on any enemy!).

Inexplicably, the words of the Ave Maria slowly, languorously laced their way through the mêlée to reach the core of my innermost self. What I most needed in this moment was hope—the kind that comes not from within, but from above. How in the world did I think I could ever accomplish this Herculean effort on my own? In that interminable 19th mile, I decided to draw strength from the tradition of the Church during my own hour of need—the very prayers that sustained saints and martyrs in their times of distress. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I would be “guided and enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints” (Spe Salvi, §34). Too delirious to formulate a proper theological interpretation of this internal struggle, praying the Rosary on my fingers while running became a vehicle of active hope.

Rosary Pic 1Despite my ragged breathing, the ancient words flowed freely with each step. In those last few miles, I journeyed with Christ and the Blessed Virgin by reflecting on the five Glorious Mysteries, the splendor of the Gospel message made real and present in my very human search for strength. In the most unlikely of times and places, I somehow felt more a part of the Church than ever before. I meditated on the hope and endurance of the great saints and martyrs who came before me and experienced all manner of suffering and persecution:

“In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for. This unknown ‘thing’ is the true ‘hope’ which drives us, and at the same time the fact that it is unknown is the cause of all forms of despair and also of all efforts, whether positive or destructive, directed towards worldly authenticity and human authenticity” (Spe salvi, §12).

Pope Benedict XVI says the Rosary duringWhile I was only praying for the strength to finish the marathon, Benedict XVI’s words resonate on a deeper level. My self-inflicted suffering could be considered a stand-in for the very real and heartbreaking suffering that occurs every day in this world. Fortunately for all of us, “the star of hope has risen—the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God. Instead of evil being unleashed within man, the light shines victorious: suffering—without ceasing to be suffering—becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise” (Spe salvi, §37).

Through praying the Rosary, my pain and exhaustion were thus transformed into a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. I completed the marathon running strong, the opening words of the Salve Regina echoing at the edges of consciousness:

“Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.”

Marathon Pic 2

All Saints 1

Perspectives for All Saints Day

On this Solemnity of All Saints, we would like to present a compilation of past wisdom shared on this particular feast here on Oblation. As the saints offer us examples of God’s love concretized in rich and varied lives, so each of the posts below holds up different facets of this rich feast.

First, Timothy O’Malley presents sainthood as a gift of witness for the Church and the world in “The Vocation to Sainthood: The Transfiguration of Our Humanity.”

Second, Katherine Mahon reflects on the celebration of the feast of All Saints Day itself in “‘All Holy Men and Women”: The Example of the Saints.”

Finally, Ben Wilson contemplates the lives of the saints as individually and collectively presenting a rich icon of the inexhaustible love of Christ in “The Mosaic of Christ: A Reflection on All Saints Day.”


Blessed be God in his angels and in his saints!

Communion of Saints

Eclipse of the Heart

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

Preliminary Note: This is not a scholarly argument but rather a quick, unscientific reflection based upon firsthand observation.

 My wife and I send our kids to a Catholic school.  The primary reason for this is because we think the educational opportunities happen to be stronger at this school than at other schools available to us in our immediate area.  Secondarily, we appreciate the general warmth and kindness of the school community.  Neither of these reasons is directly related to a Catholic identity.  catholic_schoolIf we happened to live where I grew up, our kids would go to one of the public schools because what happens to be true of our Catholic school here was true of the public school I attended there.

Appropriately for Halloween, I remember being haunted.  In this case what haunted me once was what a slightly older school parent said to me a couple years back.  With her son set to graduate from the eighth grade and move on from our grade school to high school, I asked her what she thought about his Catholic education to date.  She said that he and all of his friends were, generally, “really nice kids” who “received a really good education” and were prepared to do well in high school.  The hint of disappointment I thought I heard in what otherwise seemed like a positive assessment was confirmed when she added, “and I just don’t think that’s enough.”

I have a lot of questions regarding how well (or not) Catholic schools actually form young people in the Catholic faith, or even teach the Catholic faith in a robust and substantive (though of course age-appropriate) way.  I know many of the schools are successful in teaching other things very well and I believe that, by and large, they are positive communities, with many of them offering quality educations in places where alternatives are bleak.  At the same time, I find myself more than hesitant to declare that they are altogether effective in promoting lasting faith formation and attuning young people to the particularities of the Catholic faith.  At worst, I fear that if just enough is given in terms of religious education and formation in faith, then students will be inhibited from growing further in the future and/or will settle upon a rather deficient understanding of Catholic belief and the quality of faith.  My experience of Catholic education from the perspective of a parent (as well as from a University setting where I meet many young people who are products of Catholic education), is that, by and large, it really isn’t all that effective in instilling a love for the Church or of forming a religious imagination.  I don’t mean to suggest that those two things should replace a fine education and a warm environment, but I do mean to suggest that the former are distinctively Catholic markers whereas the latter are not. IMG_2444

Halloween has become for me an annual occasion of my discontent.  When
I helped out with my son’s kindergarten class several years ago, I
found myself deeply disappointed at the beginning of October when I discovered that the expectations for the end of the month festivities all had to do with typical Halloween stuff. I expected something else. There seemed to be nothing at all happening in regards to All Saints’ Day.  Maybe it was part of the class’s lesson in religion, but the celebration itself didn’t have the saints in view, neither the canonized ones nor the anonymous ones.  It was as if Halloween was worth celebrating for all its fun and treats, but the saints weren’t. At least that was the implicit message in what was being offered, even if no one at the school intentionally made that choice.  And that’s just it: no one was intentionally making a choice to be Catholic, to create a distinctively Catholic culture, to educate in Catholic things and to form Catholic imaginations, and so the default was to do pretty much the same thing as everyone else, while saying please and thank you in the process.

This memory resurfaced about a week ago when I learned from a friend that her daughter’s Catholic school (in the same city as our own) was intentionally making a change in the way they approached this “holiday”.  Here is an excerpt from the note sent to room-parents:

Monsignor would really like us to shift our emphasis away from ghosts, witches and goblins to the real origin of All Hallow’s Eve—the vigil (preparation) day for All Saints’ Day.  So we are encouraged to downplay the secular emphasis on Halloween and build up the Catholic feast of all the holy men and women who have gone before us in faith, hope, and love.

All Saints 3In effect, Halloween was being removed so that the light of the saints could shine through.  This school was making the choice to let the kids see that and not just what they would already have seen otherwise.

A strange thing happens with Halloween.  It is not so much that a religious holiday gets morphed into a secular celebration (like Christmas) but rather that a secular celebration eclipses a religious holiday and makes it invisible (more like what the “holiday shopping season” does to Advent).  Just like everyone else, Catholic school children are given a festive opportunity to pretend being something they’re not rather than practicing and celebrating what they are and are called to become: holy (young) men and women.

Halloween teaches kids to look forward to and be excited about dress-up and candy.  This isn’t inherently harmful except that it comes at the expense of what might otherwise incite their imaginations and stoke their excitement, if we would only teach them accordingly.  Isn’t there a grand opportunity here for Catholic schools to teach our kids how to be excited about and dream about the possibilities for holiness in the company of both the great and unknown saints who have lived and died in faith?

In short, I think that for this particular holiday—the Solemnity of All Saints—we would be wise to ask ourselves how well we are working through our Catholic schools make sure that the following invitation falls upon receptive hearts and well-formed imaginations:

Let us all rejoice in the Lord, as we celebrate the feast day in honor of all the Saints, at whose festival the Angels rejoice and praise the Son of God. (Entrance Antiphon, Solemnity of All Saints)


In Defense of Emptiness

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

When we hear the word “empty,” we automatically tend to think of it in negative terms. Here are a list of synonyms from an obliging online thesaurus: desolate, devoid, despoiled, forsaken, abandoned, waste, godforsaken—you get the idea. Empty landscapeThis word “empty” is not one that we would readily like to have applied to ourselves: no one wants to think that their lives are empty, or to hear someone say that they are empty-headed, or worse, empty-hearted.

Yet there is a way in which being empty, becoming empty, is actually a necessity for living the Christian life, for only that which is empty can be filled by the grace and love of God. Put another way, emptiness is a precondition for receptivity. As we conclude this month of the Rosary, I can’t help but think of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the exemplar of this receptive emptiness. British author Caryll Houselander characterized Mary’s virginity—indeed her very being—as a form of emptiness; however, this emptiness did not represent a lack in any way, shape, or form. To quote Houselander’s exquisite little book The Reed of God:

The-Annunciation“It is not a formless emptiness, a void without meaning; on the contrary it has a shape, a form given to it by the purpose for which it was intended. It is emptiness like the hollow in the reed, the narrow riftless emptiness, which can have only one destine: to receive the piper’s breath and to utter the song that it in his heart. It is emptiness like the hollow in the cup, shaped to receive water or wine. It is emptiness like that of a bird’s nest, built in a round warm ring to receive the little bird” (21).

Houselander goes on to say of Mary:

“She was a reed through which the Eternal Love was to be piped as a shepherd’s song. She was the flowerlike chalice into which the purest water of humanity was to be poured, mingled with wine, changed to the crimson blood of love, and lifted up in sacrifice. She was the warm nest rounded to the shape of humanity to receive the Divine Little Bird” (21).

This emptiness of the Blessed Virgin is the same emptiness to which all of us are called. 4fce9c220050d.preview-620It is only by becoming empty of self that we are hollowed out to become a reed through which the song of divine love can resound throughout the world, an image that brings new meaning to the first line of the famous prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Make me an instrument of your peace.”

Indeed, it is only by becoming empty of self that God can fill us with himself, yet even as we are filled, so too are we called to pour forth. God desires not merely to fill us, but to fill us abundantly, as the psalmist proclaims: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Ps 23:5b,). God pours himself forth—recklessly, with loving abandon, holding nothing back, overflowing our hearts with himself, so that through us, his love may flow into the hearts of others. God empties himself so that we might become full, and this divine self-emptying is definitively made manifest in Jesus Christ, as St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians:

“Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found in human appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6–7).

advent_2002_gateInto the emptiness of Mary’s virgin womb divine love was poured, and love himself became incarnate only by emptying himself of divinity. It is only into our own empty, waiting hearts that God can pour forth the gift of himself, so that we in turn might pour that love forth into the empty, waiting hearts of others.


After Prodigal: A Brief Look at Robert Downey Jr.’s ‘The Judge’

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck
MTS Student, History of Christianity,
University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

At least on the surface, the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is a simple enough narrative: a greedy son demands his inheritance from his father, and takes it to a “distant country” where he squanders it and is forced to seek work at a pig farm.  After dayprodigalsons of working among the swine, he realizes how far he has fallen since leaving his father’s home. The father, filled with compassion, sights his son returning from a long way off and runs to embrace him.

Aside from the slight grumbling of the older son, the story wraps up neatly with the reconciliation of father and son. Upon simply returning home, the son is greeted with an embrace, a robe, and a fattened calf.

But imagine this story through a different lens – one in which the context is not first-century Palestine but twenty-first century United States, and in which the father in the story does not represent God but is instead a very human father every bit as flawed as the son. In a world all too accustomed to divorce and broken homes, it does not seem too difficult to imagine a situation in which reconciliation is not as easy as simply returning home.

I recently saw Robert Downey Jr.’s new film The Judge, and was struck by the way it attempts to re-imagine the parable of the prodigal son. The Judge tells the story of Hank Palmer (Downey Jr.), a successful, big-time defense attorney who returns to his hometown of Carlinville, Indiana for the first time in twenty years for his mother’s funeral. I will not give away much else beyond that, but suffice it to say that when Palmer left home, he left behind a string of hurt feelings and broken relationships that have only grown worse in his absence.

At the heart of The Judge, like the parable, is the theme of reconciliation—but in the film the path toward reconciliation is messy, complicated and painful. The characters struggle to shoulder the demands of forgiveness and reconciliation, at times being consumed by their own pain and offended egos, and at other times displaying radical acts of selflessness.  And as we see, the path to peace demands real sacrifice: each character has to adapt to a new reality and take steps toward repairing the damage and pain wrought by the family’s previous life together.

The Judge seems to approach the parable of the prodigal son from a new perspective, one that takes place after the son has already returned home (at least physically).  It attempts to explore what true reconciliation might look like when those seeking it must navigate the hurt egos, the broken hearts and the deep pain caused by long absence and un-resolved conflicts.

This film is a reminder that authentic reconciliation between human beings is a difficult and pain-staking process. It is not automatic, and calls for patience, mercy,  and intentionality. True reconciliation demands time, sacrifice and conversion. It is never a one-way street, regardless of who is to blame for the rupture. Each person involved needs to give something up: forgiveness must be extended, wounds must be given time to heal, and relationships must be re-established.  Reconciliation is a difficult and uncomfortable process, if only because it must navigate the complex, messy and broken relationships that are all too common in a fallen world.

The Judge offers a contemplation on this daunting complexity of authentic reconciliation, and is especially appropriate in the midst of ongoing discussions sparked by the Extraordinary Synod and the upcoming October 2015 Ordinary Synod on the Family. While this film might not provide answers to the many difficult questions facing the Church and families today, it certainly gives us much to think about.


Pass It On

Meredith HollandMeredith Holland

Master of Theological Studies Candidate

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry


One of the most difficult yet beautiful ways to approach transition is to reorient one’s vision of that which comes to a close to instead become that which sends forth. This is one of the lessons I learned over and over again during my time at Notre Dame, as we looked ever more earnestly at a future that called us into the world.

My experience serving as a mentor and program assistant for Notre Dame Vision welcomed me into a community of faith and a particular way of seeing the world; yet, at the end of each week long conference, the participants—and even more so the mentors-in-faith—were told bluntly and repeatedly that the experience of Vision, their gifts, and their very lives are not about them. The unceasing mission of self-gift emerged: We have been a part of this community in order that we may offer our lives to make other communities better.

10170880_10154114649930512_3002612544775213836_nThe Notre Dame Folk Choir taught me by unfailing example the wonder of unconditional love, the joy of song in the Christian life, and the gift of receiving the Eucharist in community with those with whom we share so much. The transition from this faith community at a Catholic university to parish life must be an immersive opportunity to offer this joy and life, rather than allowing this past to be simply a personal memory. We have been so that we may now live.

Commencement Weekend in May 2014 was not a nostalgic review of the past four years; it was a celebration not merely of what we had experienced but even more so of that which we had been offered and the gifts that had been cultivated within each of us. Inherent to this coming to a close is a sending forth, a continuing journey through which we are called to “pass it on.” In his Commencement Address, Rev. Ray Hammond demanded that we both remember and live into the Christian vocation of self-gift:

Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame“My fervent prayer is that you will always remember the gift of grace you have received—the grace of parents who love you, the grace of friends who embrace you, the grace of teachers who have taught you, and the grace of opportunities that lay before you. And for your sake and God’s sake I pray that you pass it on.”

This mission to pass it on is one of action, a grace embodied and a love made tangible. Yet, this being sent forth and command to share what we have received is difficult to reconcile with our current states of life; we, as young adults, are still learning, still being formed. We are in graduate school and professional school, transitioning into adulthood, taking ownership of our faith while working in a secular world. The life of the young adult is increasingly a tension between a heart bursting with gratitude and a mind still being cultivated that can too easily become paralyzing.

In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI writes of the necessity of transforming the gift of love received into a capacity to give oneself in love:

“Faith, worship and ethos are interwoven as a single reality which takes shape in our encounter with God’s agape. Here the usual contraposition between worship and ethics simply falls apart. ‘Worship’ itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality of both being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented. Conversely, as we shall have to consider in greater detail below, the ‘commandment’ of love is only possibly because it is more than a requirement. Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given” (14).

My own experience in graduate school thus far has been frustrating, too often seeming intangible and leaving me to feel restless, a hoarder of knowledge with no apparent end. books-resources-papersParticipating in the celebration of the Eucharist and being sent forth at the end of a liturgy only to move into the classroom at the other end of the hall can seem futile; after all, how can this classroom be the setting in which the Eucharist can pass over into a concrete practice of love? The hours of reading and writing can seem irrelevant to a life meant to be shared, a love meant to be freely given.

I must remind myself that there must be a balance; just as I have been a part of other communities in order to learn lessons that I am now called to share, this experience is such that I might serve better in the future. And, yet, “passing it on” cannot wait—it must be now. This tension must be lived into, finding concrete ways to embody the love I have been freely given and offer in gratitude the love that the Eucharist capacitates the Christian to share. Continued formation does not preclude present self-gift. This requires the constant reorientation to a vision of the Christian life as a pilgrimage, an ongoing journey that is formed both through the reception of a love that sends forth and the response of self-gift that seeks to fulfill the Eucharistic vocation.

England Durham DC East End including Rose Window - Alasdair Carter

Forever Building and Always Being Restored

May 14, 2012; Duncan Stroik..Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Duncan Stroik

Professor of Architecture, University of Notre Dame

The month of October is filled with feast days of great saints – including the Church’s two newest, Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII. Near the beginning of the month, on October 4, we celebrated St. Francis of Assisi. As I reflected on the question posed for this blog post, “what does or ought the church building do to shape the wider culture?,” St. Francis came to mind as an instructive example of how building churches complements a larger goal of evangelization and culture-shaping.

St. Francis, of course, did not set out to build buildings; he set out to radically live and preach the Gospel. Others were attracted to his life and eventually the Franciscan Order developed. Over the past one thousand years the Franciscans have influenced the Church through the gift of their particular charism and have influenced the culture by their presence in the world. St. Francis received this call to give up everything and follow the Lord directly from Him in prayer. As St. Bonaventure tells us in his Life of St. Francis,

“One day when Francis went out to meditate in the fields he was passing by the church of San Damiano which was threatening to collapse because of extreme age. Inspired by the Spirit, he went inside to pray.

Kneeling before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with great fervor and consolation as he prayed. While his tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord’s cross, he heard with his bodily ears a voice coming from the cross, telling him three times, ‘Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.’ Trembling with fear, Francis was amazed at the sound of this astonishing voice, since he was alone in the church; and as he received in his heart the power ofThe San Damiano Cross is the large Romanesque rood cross that St. Francis of Assisi was praying before when he received the commission from the Lord to rebuild the Church. The original cross presently hangs in the Basilica of Saint Clare (Basilica di Sant the divine words, he fell into a state of ecstasy. Returning finally to his senses, he prepared to put his whole heart into obeying the command he had received. He began zealously to repair the church materially, although the principle intention of the words referred to that Church which Christ purchased with his own blood, as the Holy Spirit afterward made him realize…”

St. Francis repaired San Damiano in Assisi with his own hands. Today this is often interpreted as almost a mistake by Francis, not the real work that the Lord was calling him to. And yet, St. Francis and the Franciscans continued to build churches. As the Order spread, they needed places for people to gather to listen to their preaching and places for people to receive the Sacraments. And so, they built. The Incarnational and sacramental nature of our faith shows us that the spiritual and the material go together. Indeed, even our human nature shows us this. We are made of body and soul joined together. The body, the material aspect, cannot be excluded. To build and re-build the Church, for St. Francis and for us today, we must build and re-build churches.

A church building is always a sign of the presence of the Church in the world. For some, it is a welcome sign of a home and of the presence of God in our cities. Catching sight of the towers, cross, or doScreen Shot 2014-10-27 at 11.43.19 PMme of a church is a reminder that God dwells with us, and if it is a Catholic
church, that He is dwelling in that particular place. “Did you not know that I would be in my Father’s house?” He asks, and gives us the assurance that we do know exactly where to find Him.

For others, a church building is a sign of contradiction and an unpleasant reminder that the Church is not going anywhere. T
here are some who would prefer to see churches that are indistinguishable from any other building, or hidden away in the outskirts of a city, so they can believe the voice of the Church can be equally suppressed. In his Choruses from ‘The Rock’, T.S. Eliot writes eloquently about this attitude of not wanting the Church:

I journeyed to London, to the timekept City,
Where the River flows, with foreign flotations.
There I was told: we have too many churches,
And too few chop-houses. There I was told:
Let the vicars retire. Men do not need the Church
In the place where they work, but where they spend their       Sundays.
In the City, we need no bells:
Let them waken the suburbs.
I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told:
We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor
To Hindhead, or Maidenhead.
If the weather is foul we stay at home and read the papers.
In industrial districts, there I was told
Of economic laws.
In the pleasant countryside, there it seemed
That the country now is only fit for picnics.
And the Church does not seem to be wanted
In country or in suburbs; and in the town
Only for important weddings.

However, the Church does not stop proclaiming the Gospel just because it seems to be unwanted. And likewise, we should not cease building and restoring churches. We should follow the example of St. Francis and countless others who came before us. We should build large churches full of beauty that are uncompromising in their proclamation of the glory of God. We should build churches in the middle of cities, where they will be seen by all. We should restore and renew the beautiful churches we have, not abandon and close them. St. Francis shows us that our efforts to build can and will be fruitful. As T.S. Eliot says later in Choruses from ‘The Rock’, “The Church must be forever building, and always decaying / and always being restored.” Let us take up this work handed on to us, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the world!

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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