Jesus’ Grandparents: Saints Anna and Joachim

Danielle Peters-cropDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt, Sisters of Mary

Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame
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This Sunday (July 26) the Catholic Church celebrates the parents of Mary whose names, according to the apocryphal Protogospel of St. James (PGJ), are Anna and Joachim. It is clear that we would not (need to) know anything about this couple, had they not been Jesus’ grandparents. Jesus’ genealogy in the Gospel of St. Matthew delineates the ancestors of St. Joseph. But since St. Joseph is not Jesus’ biological father, we are naturally also, if not more, interested in Jesus’ maternal ancestors.

The story told in PGJ relates that after years of waiting for a child, an angel appeared to Joachim and Anna separately with the good news that their desire for a child would be fulfilled. According to medieval Greek-Orthodox tradition, Joachim retired to Wâdî Qilt, located in the desert between Jerusalem and Jericho. There he stayed in the same cave where the prophet Elija hid and was nourished by ravens (1 Kings 17:3f.).  Wall paintings of Joachim and Anna can still be seen today in Elija’s Cave Church. Joachim’s seclusion and subsequent encounter with the angel is recounted in PGJ:

And Joachim called to mind the patriarch Abraham that in the last day God gave him a son Isaac. And he was exceedingly grieved, and did not come into the presence of his wife; but he retired to the desert, and there pitched his tent, and fasted forty days and forty nights (PGJ 1:3f). … And an angel of the Lord went down to him, saying: Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God hath heard thy prayer. Go down hence; for, behold, thy wife Anna shall conceive (PGJ 4:2).

St. Joachim & AngelAt the same time Anna struggled through her own period of abandonment before encountering the heavenly messenger:

Anna mourned … and lamented … saying: ‘I shall bewail my childlessness.’ … And gazing towards the heaven, she saw a sparrow’s nest in the laurel … And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: ‘Anna, Anna, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive, and shall bring forth, and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world.’ And Anna said: “As the Lord my God liveth, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God, and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life’” (PGJ 2ff).

At the entrance of Wâdî Qilt is a cave with two rooms which Bedouins and shepherds of this area named “Dair al-Banat,” Cloister of Virgins. They maintain that it was here where Anna thanked God that she had conceived a child. Anna promised to dedicate this child to God, much the way that Samuel was dedicated by his mother Hannah in 1 Kings. According to pious tradition, the Virgin Mary was born in a cave near the Bethesda Pool where her Son Jesus would one day perform miracles:

“Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades” (Jn 5:2).

Anna’s husband, the shepherd Joachim (PGJ 4:3f), was familiar with this sight. Near the Sheep Gate was a grotto which was used as a maternity grotto and which later became the crypt of St. Anna Church.

And Anna’s months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said to the midwife: What have I brought forth? And she said: a girl. And said Anna: My soul has been magnified this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary (PGJ 5:3).

Coptic tradition holds that Mary was born on a Sunday, the 1 Baschons (May 9), and that she stayed with her parents for the following two years, seven months and seven days. The Protogospel of James situates Mary’s birth in Jerusalem so that her presentation in the temple at age three could occur close to her parent’s home.

And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: “The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel.” And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her. And her parents went down marveling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. (PGJ 7:2ff – 8:1)

Coptic tradition also relates that Mary’s father Joachim died when she was six years old and Anna when Mary was eight. Accordingly Jesus would not have met his grandparents. Still, in some parishes, the memorial of Anna and Joachim is celebrated as grandparents’ day! Two years ago Pope Francis, while in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day, recalled the importance of parents and grandparents for the healthy upbringing of children and youth. He said:

Today the Church celebrates the parents of the Virgin Mary, the grandparents of Jesus, Saints Joachim and Anne. In their home, Mary came into the world, accompanied by the extraordinary mystery of the Immaculate Conception. Mary grew up in the home of Joachim and Anne; she was surrounded by their love and faith: in their home she learned to listen to the Lord and to follow his will. Saints Joachim and Anne were part of a long chain of people who had transmitted their faith and love for God, expressed in the warmth and love of family life, down to Mary, who received the Son of God in her womb and who gave him to the world, to us.How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith!

“Speaking about family life,” the Holy Father continued:

I would like to say one thing: today, as Brazil and the Church around the world celebrate this feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, Grandparents Day is also being celebrated. How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the

In this context the pope cited the Aparecida Document of the Latin American Bishops Conference, which notes that “Children and the elderly build the future of peoples: children because they lead history forward, the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives” (No. 447). Hence the vital need for this relationship and this dialogue between generations to be preserved and strengthened as a treasure. For this reason, the pontiff invited the world’s youth to “salute their grandparents with great affection and to thank them for the ongoing witness of their wisdom.” In a general audience on March 11, 2015, Pope Francis again underscored the importance and treasure of “grandfathers and grandmothers (who) form the enduring chorus of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise sustain the community which toils and struggles in the field of life.”

Hopefully we, too, have experienced our grandparents as a “spiritual sanctuary” where our natural and supernatural needs were quenched. We do well to recall stories and events from our childhood which have profoundly influenced who we are. Pope Francis emphasizes in the same audience that in our hectic world, the tranquility radiating from “grandparents and the elderly is a great gift for the Church, it is a treasure!” If found it is “a great injection of wisdom for the whole of human society.” Most importantly, the pope reminds grandparents of their urgent apostolate to pray: “We need old people who pray because this is the very purpose of old age. The prayer of the elderly is a beautiful thing.” (emphasis added)

GrandparentsThe commemoration of the feast of Saints Joachim and Anna, can be an opportunity for us to thank for our grandparents, living or deceased, by recalling specific memories, gestures, or testimonies which have impacted our life. Pope Francis gives us this example: “I still carry with me, always, in my breviary, the words my grandmother consigned to me in writing on the day of my priestly ordination. I read them often and they do me good.” Let us not forget to include our grandparents in our prayers perhaps by using a prayer composed by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in 2008 for the Catholic Grandparents Association: 

Lord Jesus, you were born of the Virgin Mary, the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne. Look with love on grandparents the world over. Protect them! They are a source of enrichment for families, for the Church and for all of society. Support them! As they grow older, may they continue to be for their families strong pillars of Gospel faith, guardian of noble domestic ideals, living treasuries of sound religious traditions. Make them teachers of wisdom and courage, that they may pass on to future generations the fruits of their mature human and spiritual experience.

Lord Jesus, help families and society to value the presence and roles of grandparents. May they never be ignored or excluded, but always encounter respect and love. Help them to live serenely and to feel welcomed in all the years of life which you give them. Mary, Mother of all the living, keep grandparents constantly in your care, accompany them on their earthly pilgrimage, and by your prayers, grant that all families may one day be reunited in our heavenly homeland, where you await all humanity for the great embrace of life without end. Amen!

The Truth About Staying True

Tim Kenney

Timothy J. Kenney

’14 MTS Candidate 

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

This year’s Country-music-season (my new name for summer) was kicked off by the non-Country star Andy Grammer and his hit “Honey I’m Good.” If you don’t already know it, be warned this song is crazy catchy and will be in your head for days. The quick [PG] synopsis goes as follows: This is the story of a guy who is approached by a girl in a bar, but turns her down because he’s in a committed loving relationship with another girl who is at home. Needless to say that’s painting with a rather broad brush, but you get the general picture. Again, if you have a few days to spend humming this song everywhere you go, give it a quick listen.

Grammer has said publicly in both interviews and at concerts that this song is meant to be “a relationship anthem.” And its easy to see why. We can’t help but cheer on the singer as he celebrates staying true to his love at home. And yet right in that moment, we’re caught off guard by the situation surrounding him and its hard not to feel a little uncomfortable with what just occurred.

[Verse 1]

It’s been a long night here, and a long night there

And these long long legs are damn near everywhere

(hold up now)

You look good, I will not lie

But if you ask where I’m staying tonight

I gotta be like oh, baby, no, baby, you got me all wrong, baby

My baby’s already got all of my love

When he tells her “oh, baby, no baby, you got me all wrong, baby,” it catches the listener completely by surprise, and rightly so. unnamedWhat at first seems like its going to be a song about hooking up in a bar is actually a ballad to monogamy? Wait what?? The opening lines of the song make it seem like this guy is into this girl and the surprise twist that he’s in a relationship is really only effective because it’s inconsistent with his actions. The guy who is checking out legs everywhere, and particularly the girl he’s talking to, out of nowhere shuts her down and admits, “My baby’s already got all my love.”

[Verse 2]

Now better men, than me have failed

Drinking from that unholy grail

(Now check it out)

I got her, and she got me

And you’ve got that ***, but I kindly

Gotta be like oh, baby, no, baby, you got me all wrong, baby

My baby’s already got all of my love 



Oh, I’m sure ya, sure ya will make somebody’s night

But, oh, I assure ya, assure ya, it sure as hell’s not mine

Certainly being in a relationship doesn’t automatically exclude you from all interactions with members of the opposite sex. It shouldn’t keep you from going out and meeting new people, making friends, and enjoy healthy relationships. But this isn’t some innocent conversation we’re talking about. All we know about this interaction is what the singer tells us and throughout the song he mentions nothing about the girl he’s talking to that doesn’t have to do with her looks or sex. All of the dialogue we see between them shows the guy treating her like an object, something he can’t have but that’s really going to “make somebody’s night.” There isn’t a hint that he thinks of her in any other way which forces us, the listeners, to ask: why are you still in this situation? If this girl doesn’t make this guy think about anything other than her body and sex, why didn’t he remove himself from that temptation long before it came to this? He ends by asserting his love belongs to someone else and that he’s going to stay true to her, but hasn’t a line already been crossed? Christ warns in Matthew 5:27-28:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

What if we flipped perspectives in the song and heard it as a story he was telling to his wife or girlfriend upon returning home? Is he really the knight in shining armor because he rejected the advances of a girl who he’d been flirting with all night?matthew-527-28 This song is celebrating relationships, but the fidelity it presents is conditional and circumstantial. Consider the song from the perspective of the girl in the bar: she’s enjoying herself and liking the guy she’s talking to, making herself vulnerable to another person and suddenly finds out she was just something hot and fun for him to look at and talk to before he went back to his real life?

The issue here has nothing to do with the fact that this girl hit on someone who ended up being in a relationship. She clearly didn’t know so there’s nothing malicious in it. In addition, there may well have been no way for him to avoid the situation so we shouldn’t blame him just for being there. But there’s clearly something else going on here that we aren’t told about, a temptation that he has to cut off before things go to far. Otherwise his rejection doesn’t make sense because we haven’t seen her make any advances on him. Grammer, introducing this song at a concert, made it clear that this song is talking about precisely the temptation this kind of situation can create.

“Everybody know’s there’s temptation out there. If you say there’s not you’re a liar. But there’s a lot of […] couples doing it right, I wrote this one for you.”

Pair that with the song’s chorus and it says something interesting about this temptation:


So nah nah honey, I’m good

I could have another but I probably should not

I got somebody at home,

And if I stay I might not leave alone

No, honey, I’m good

I could have another but I probably should not

I gotta bid you adieu

To another I will stay true

(ooh ooh I will stay true)

(ooh ooh I will stay true)

This view of temptation leaves the end result open and ambiguous. It treats temptation as a risk, something you know you should avoid to be safe, but could probably get away with just a little. It still gives a bit of a rush without going too far over the line to the point that you’ve done something really wrong. The song’s use of “probably” and “might” in the chorus make it clear there’s still some ambiguity as to whether or not he’s going home with her. We have to stop and ask, is this uncertainty really worth it? Is it worth putting yourself in such a dangerous position as this, being one bad decision away from ruining your marriage or relationship, just to talk to someone in a bar? It puts an unnecessary amount of pressure on his ability to make one right decision in order to save himself from doing something terrible.

Temptation_of_ChristWe can turn here to the example of Christ’s own temptations in the desert as both confirmation and clarification on this matter. We see in it that Grammer is right: temptation is out there and it cannot always be avoided. Sinless as he was, Christ still experienced temptation and had to reject it and remain faithful to the Father. He doesn’t dabble in the temptation before he rebuffs Satan’s offer, he recognizes the situation and solidifies his fidelity. It is precisely in this moment of struggle that Christ defies his tempter and clings to his Father, staying true to the Truth.

By giving in to the small temptation, even though it didn’t lead to anything and allowed him to stay “true,” the singer still left the woman he loves out of his heart. He may have gone home alone, but he left her alone as well. The commitment of love, shared by all of those couples Andy Grammer is saluting, can’t be set aside for a time and then recovered when its not a burden. That weakens it and makes it impossible to sustain. And yet, there is still room in the end for Christ to have the final word. Regardless of whether or not the singer should have been in this situation, we see him ultimately reject the temptation before him and reaffirm his commitment to love. We can only celebrate his action if we learn from what preceded it. At the song’s conclusion he has turned backed to love, back to God, and the message we need is one of truth, commitment, and fidelity in the face of temptation.

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What We’re Reading Today: Interstellar, marriage & celibacy, and displaced communities

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) A review from Bishop-Elect Barron’s apostolate, Word on Fire. Here Daniel Stewart reviews Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” and personal love:

The love that moves the sun and the other stars also binds us together across spacetime.MV5BMjIxNTU4MzY4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzM4ODI3MjE@._V1_SX640_SY720_ It is this personal force of love that saves humanity in “Interstellar” over the pragmatic approach to resuscitate an abstract humanity. And it is this personal love that must save us now. This love, this incredible gravity that created the universe is also the force that draws us back in.

2) “First Things'” Matthew Milliner on two pathways to heaven, marriage and celibacy:

If reality is muted in most American weddings, it was unavoidable at this service. Brother Timothy’s head was tonsured, a narrow rivulet of flesh cut into his hair, resembling the crown of martyrdom. For much of the service, he lay prostrate on marble before the Abbot and a shimmering Deësis icon. He was then enshrouded by his brothers in a black cloth. His mother stood in the front row weeping as Mary does in the icon, for her boy has figuratively died. I had figured the blanket was some kind of liturgical cloth with which I was unfamiliar, but as the service proceeds, the purpose of the black blanket became clear. It becomes his habit. He will be wearing the clothes in which he was buried until he is buried again.

3) I found these two articles interesting: a recent CARA report on closing down churches, and Christine Schenk’s reaction and examination of what we do with displaced communities:

What is missing in the sociological analysis is the power and meaning of Christian community.

What does closing a vital, solvent parish do to believers who have journeyed together over many years in good times and in bad? What does it mean to urban Catholic communities — formed in the social gospel — who have found fulfillment in serving the needy in their neighborhoods?

What We’re Reading Today: Bishop-Elect Robert Barron, Millennial Catholics, and Church Architecture

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) If you haven’t heard the news, today Pope Francis named Fr. Robert Barron (rector of Mundelein Seminary and founder of Word on Fire Ministries) an Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles. Fr. Barron has been best known for his evangelical work and his Catholicism film series. Fr. Barron’s statement can be read here.

The late Francis Cardinal George—the spiritual grandfather of Word on Fire—was a mentor and friend to me. The mission closest to his heart was the evangelization of the culture, bringing Christ to the arenas of media, politics, law, education, the arts, etc. I can’t think of a more exciting field for this sort of work than Los Angeles, which is certainly one of the great cultural centers of our time.timthumb

2) Last week “Patheos” published its Summer Symposium on “Catholicism: Future of Faith in America.” The published essays address “the current realities in the Church and focus on the cultural trends that jeopardize faith, the hope of spiritual revitalization, and the possibilities of new vocations, of young leadership, and of radical choices for authentic discipleship.” The symposium also featured a piece by Timothy P. O’Malley, director of the Center for Liturgy, on the gifts millennial Catholics bring to the Church:

But, in the end, I cannot maintain my sourpuss disposition about the future of Catholicism in the United States. Though sociology can report upon the dire state of present Catholic practice, it cannot predict the future of the millennial Church just now coming into positions of leadership in Church and society alike. At Notre Dame, I encounter every semester undergraduate and graduate students who have chosen the Catholic Option. These students have immersed themselves in the theological tradition of the Church. They upset traditional categories of liberal and progressive by singing Latin polyphony on the weekends, spending summers in Calcutta serving the poor, and taking courses where they learn to critique forms of conspicuous consumption. They write plays about the perils of eating disorders, organize conferences around the effects of pornography, and feel deeply uncomfortable belonging to either the Democratic or Republic party.

3) I’m a big fan of Church architecture, and love learning from sacred art and architecture. So here’s an interview from the Liturgical Institute with architect Dr. Denis McNamara:

armenian heavenly jerusalem for web[…] The church building, then, is a sacrament of God reconciled with humanity, as the Catechism tells us (no. 1180). It is made up of many members such as bricks, stones and steel beams, all arranged with an eschatological glory to provide a place where God dwells with humanity. Just as we say the altar “is” Christ, so we can say that the church building is a great sacrament of Christ’s many members assembled in their heavenly glory. Just like the heavenly liturgy, the church building is centered on Christ, glorified, perfected, filled with angels and saints, radiant with light and an image of the new heaven and new earth.

“Wordless Communication”: Basil Moreau and Interior Peace

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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Be still, and know that I am God…

How many of us would feel comfortable acknowledging this simple command from Psalm 46:11 as an accurate description of our lives? I know I wouldn’t.  In my experience as a graduate student and Assistant Rector for almost 200 male undergraduates, “peace” is often more of a foreign, abstract concept than a reality in my life. It’s something in the distance that I just can’t seem to grasp. BUSYI keep expecting “peace” to be just around the corner at every juncture in my life (“as soon as I finish these graduate school applications… then I’ll rest.” “I just need to make it through these final exams and then I will have some time to relax and pray.”). And just when I think I’m about to grasp it, “peace” disappears around the next corner. No matter how hard I try, it seems, I can never quite slow my life down enough to find my peace.I often catch myself wondering if perhaps I am not to experience this “peace” until old-age, when I will sit on my large, wrap-around porch with a cigar and scotch in hand, and a stack of all of those pleasure-books I kept telling myself I would read over Christmas or Summer break piled up high next to me. Alas, until then it appears that “peace” will remain this ever-elusive, abstract something that I am destined to spend my life pursuing.

This is not just true of exterior life, but I have found that it often applies interiorly as well. I find it difficult to simply “be still.” For me, just simply “being” feels wrong. My prayer (when I actually stop to make time for it), is busy prayer. I pray devotions – the Angelus, the Rosary, Our Lady of Sorrows, the Liturgy of the Hours – I do spiritual reading, trying to expand my knowledge of key saints and authors that I feel I am supposed to be familiar with; really, I do anything that will keep me feeling as though I actually accomplished something. Rare are the moments when I simply calm my thoughts, slow my heartbeat and “be still.”

Blessed Basil Moreau on interior peace

imgres-2If you are like me and find yourself constantly pursuing a peace you can never seem to grasp amidst obligations, pressures and deadlines, I direct you to a meditation from Basil Moreau that I came across in prayer one day and which transformed my life. It is a meditation for Quasimodo Sunday on Christ’s words, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19, 21, 26). In this meditation, Moreau reflects on the following: what is peace? How much is it needed? What are the means of acquiring it and keeping it?

To the first question, Moreau responds that peace is:

[…] a habitual disposition of the soul that makes us completely despise the enjoyments of the world and of the flesh, makes us rise above thoughts of sadness and discouragement which sometimes well up from our self-love, and preserves us from this eager, natural impulse as well as from those preoccupations which trouble and disturb the mind. (Kevin Grove, C.S.C. and Andrew Gawrych, C.S.C., ed., Basil Moreau: Essential Writings (2014): 292)

In short, Moreau writes that peace “establishes calmness in the soul along with that gentle quiet, which is the fruit of victory over our passions and the disordered longings of our heart.” (ibid) It would appear that interior peace, for Moreau, is at once a fruit of virtue and a necessary foundation of virtue. It disposes us for grace, he tells us, because the surest way of growing in virtue and grounding ourselves “in the land of the saints where we have been planted” is to “listen to the interior voice that speaks to us during prayer.” (ibid., 293)

This leads us to the second question: how much is peace needed? For Moreau, interior peace is fundamental. Without it, we can neither “effectively ask for divine light and favors by the fervor of our prayers nor during the meditation listen to the Holy Spirit who speaks to our heart.” (ibid) I must admit that when I first read this, my world was rocked a little bit. I had been living and praying as though peace was something that would come later, that would be only a fruit of meditation, and not a starting point for it. “To present ourselves before the Lord and to offer him prayers worthy of being heard,” Moreau writes, “we need to follow the example of the prophet-king and to have previously found our heart, for our minds cannot at the same time be both filled with things of earth and attentive to the things of heaven. But, how could anyone find his heart unless he takes care to calm the desires of his heart as soon as they begin?” (ibid)resurrectedAn interior stirred up with planned projects, eagerness or an impatience to accomplish a day’s tasks, moodiness, resentment, etc., cannot make room for prayer, much less the kind of prayers that “pierce the heavens and bring down the dew of heavenly blessings.” (ibid)

So peace, in Moreau’s thought, is an interior disposition necessary for hearing the Lord’s voice. This disposition is so important, in fact, that Moreau claims it is only in such a recollected soul that the Lord truly makes his voice heard: “That is why he leads into solitude the soul he wants to favor with his wordless conversations, according to these words: I will lead her into the wilderness and will speak to her heart” (Hos. 2:16). Why into the wilderness? The “wilderness” fosters “peace, inner calm, and recollection.” Sometimes we need to be reminded that if we are able to foster this kind of peace, to engage in this “wordless conversation” with our Creator, then we will “hear the voice of the spouse even in the midst of the world and the bustle of this age.” (ibid)

Disorder and agitation are the enemies of this peace. They take away “light for understanding and strength from the heart,” Moreau writes. He describes the heart that is not at peace as “a battlefield where orders are poorly given and even more poorly carried out, where no one knows whether to take flight or attack” (294):

Such a heart is a path going in all directions at once if the seed of the divine word is trodden under the feet of those who pass by. Temptations come along; the devil is right behind; the soul is troubled. Without vigorous strength, the soul quickly loses the precious fruit of the graces it has received and sees taken away from it in the blink of an eye all the spiritual goods it had derived from meditation.

Here we begin to see why interior peace is so foundational, so necessary for the life of a Christian, as without it we can neither “be disposed to receive any grace,” nor “bring it to fruition once received.”

And with this we come to the third question of our reflection: how can one attain such peace? This, it seems to me, is one of the most pressing questions of our age. 51xrAg9mceL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I know for a fact I am not alone in my struggle to attain both interior and exterior peace. It was difficult in Moreau’s time, and it has certainly not become any easier in our own. But true to form, Moreau offers three simple, practical steps for attaining such peace: (1) humility, (2) love of God, and (3) obedience in conjunction with prayer.

Humility is the first step to interior peace, as Christ himself told us when he said: “Learn from me, for I am humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28-29). We need to be freed from human judgments, the natural “passion of human respect,” as Moreau calls it. Humility makes us “as calm and serene as a rock in the midst of the waves of opinions that come and go.” (295) The humble are not rocked by the storm that rages around us; our happiness is not disturbed at all, because “we would have learned to value only what God put in us and to judge ourselves for what we really are.” (295)

Love of God is the second way to inner peace, because “whoever loves fulfills the whole law,” and therefore ‘love of God’ encompasses all other ways. (295) We have been made to love and be loved. We have a beloved friend, Moreau explains, “and a heart properly raised can never do without one.” This friend is Christ, “who alone can make us happy, who alone is worthy to capture the affections of our soul and fulfill all its longings.” (295) Moreau directs those who are searching for interior peace to look on Christ, and to see how far his love for us took him:

To calm our fears and to inspire confidence in us, he had to humble himself to becoming a slave and to clothe himself in the form of an infant (Phil 2:6-7). Yet, that is what Jesus did. He had to take on himself the weight of our sins to deliver us from death and had to find a nearly miraculous way of putting in our hearts the burning coals of charity. Yet, that is what Jesus did. He had to pour out all his blood to lighten our burden and to help us carry it. Yet, that is what Jesus did. (296)

10.9.12_main_quad_jesus_statue_1In return for these acts of love, all Christ asks is that we “go to him with confidence like children to their father.” How can we resist such an invitation, such a call, such a courtship? It is only in Christ’s loving embrace that we can find “peaceful happiness.”

Finally, Moreau exhorts us to be obedient, to “set about doing the will of another rather than your own,” as Thomas Kempis writes in The Imitation of Christ. Do you desire peace? Then follow Moreau’s testimony: I love my God, and I am loved by him; I never do anything except what he wants me to do. To love God’s will “is to love God himself,” and “whoever lives according to the rule [here Moreau is speaking to his religious on the rule set down by the constitutions of Holy Cross] lives according to God.” (297) And we add to this obedience prayer – for the Church herself asks for peace in the chants and supplications of the Divine Office. The Church cries out “through the mouth of the priest at the altar: ‘Lamb of God, grant us peace.'” Eucharistic-AdorationAt other times, the Church prays before her divine spouse exposed in public adoration: “Lord, give peace to your servants, such peace as the world cannot have.” And finally, the Church offers peace to her children: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”

Let us not hesitate a moment longer, then, as Moreau writes, to follow these pathways to peace. “Let us courageously persevere on it, or, if we have not yet begun, let us find the means to enter upon it once and for all without ever leaving it.”

Psalm 46: 1-11

God is our refuge and our strength,

an ever-present help in distress.

Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken

and mountains quake to the depths of the sea,

Though its waters rage and foam

and mountains totter at its surging.

Streams of the river gladden the city of God,

the holy dwelling of the Most High.

God is in its midst; it shall not be shaken;

God will help it at break of day.

Though nations rage and kingdoms totter,

he utters his voice and the earth melts.

The LORD of hosts is with us;

our stronghold is the God of Jacob.

Come and see the works of the LORD,

who has done fearsome deeds on earth;

Who stops wars to the ends of the earth,

breaks the bow, splinters the spear,

and burns the shields with fire;

Be still and know that I am God!

I am exalted among the nations,

exalted on the earth.”

The LORD of hosts is with us;

our stronghold is the God of Jacob.

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Experts in Communion or Students of Desire?

 Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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A week ago yesterday, the Center for Liturgy kicked off its 2015 Summer Spirituality Series. This year’s theme, “Experts in Communion: Consecrated Life in the Modern World,” invites three lecturers to explore communion and consecrated life in the modern world through three different lenses: Holy Cross Spirituality, Carmelite Spirituality, and Schoenstatt Spirituality.

Fr. Kevin Grove, CSC opened the series with a profound and theologically informed reflection on our topic, developing his remarks from the distinct perspective of the Congregation ofSIXTIETH028 Holy Cross – that is, a community founded in 1837 by blessed Basil Moreau and approved by Pius IX as a congregation of pontifical right in 1857. The work of Holy Cross, as Fr. Grove described, is “to conduct our labors as educators in the faith. The undergirding spiritual core of that work is that the cross of Christ is our only hope.”

It is through this hermeneutic – from the perspective of this particular context – that Fr. Kevin approached the questions of communion and consecrated life raised by the Summer Spirituality Series. Having posited Holy Cross as his frame of reference, Fr. Kevin then went on to develop a theological anthropology that would inform his entire lecture – an anthropology pivoting on human desire. “If we are to go searching for God,” he explained, “we need to know how it is that we go searching in general. For each of us, that means identifying how we desire and what things we desire.”

But where to begin? The first building block for understanding this desire can be found in a single verse of Genesis. Eve, beholding the fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, sees that it “was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise.” (3:6) How are we read such a small but significant line? Fr. Kevin offered the following interpretation:

gen3-6What is remarkable about this scriptural text is that it captures a way of describing three desires that would have been intelligible across ancient near eastern civilizations. The first, taking them in the order that Genesis puts them, is the desire of the flesh—the fruit of the tree was good for food. In other words, those human desires that relate to physical embodiment: food, drink, sex, etc. The second phrase in that tightly packed bit of Scripture is “delight to the eyes.” This, the desire of the eyes, is for ownership of things of the world: anything that one might see with his or her eyes and seek to have, control, or use. And finally, the third desire was for that which would make one wise. This desire was called pride of life, or sometimes worldly ambition, and the wisdom coming from the tree would augment that in a very important manner.

Of course, it is important to note that human desire is not a consequence of the fall, something foreign to prelapsarian man or woman. Rather, as Fr. Kevin claimed, desire is at the very core of our tradition:

These three desires: the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and pride of life are present in Genesis’ description of the first man and the first woman—they are desires in them, not in the fruit—before they ever sin and disobey God’s command not to eat. That the desires exist is a good thing and we can only hold that they were created as good.

That the desires exist, then, is a good thing – and we can only hold that they were created as such.

Fr. Kevin also explained how the Holy Cross habit, rather than a cassock of the old days of clericalism, is a visible sign of invisible commitment and a three-part statement of vows: a tunic of poverty, a cord of chastity, and a mantle or yoke of obedience.

So, the narrative account of the first sin is not that food, drink, sex, possessions, and pride are bad. Hardly. It is that they somehow got out of balance. And since that time—both in the Bible and in human history in general—individuals and nations and perhaps even you and I struggle with the integration of the same three desires. We are always flopping back and forth between complete self-denial and total self-indulgence. We do whatever feels good, sometimes at the expense of what is good (desire of the flesh), want more than our fair share (desire of the eyes), and all of our lives run the risk of becoming all about us once in a while (pride of life).

Fr. Kevin traced the development of this Christian anthropology through the New Testament, drawing attention to Christ’s confrontation with his own desire in the desert (noting how Jesus does not suppress or eliminate any of the three desires in Matthew 4:1-11, but instead puts them in proper relationship to God), to the famous Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus gives his followers three practices to reorient their desires: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Sound familiar? This is precisely what we put into practice during Lent. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are tools for learning to “desire” well.

Yet there is a further stage for those willing to take the step beyond the Lenten practices, and toward the long-term course of integrating the three desires: we call it taking vows. The long-term integration of desire, in Fr. Kevin’s case, looks a heck of a lot like the vows of poverty (to balance the desire to own all things), chastity (in order to commit to fleshly control), and obedience (to practice putting the will of others – of God – before our own). As Fr. Kevin put it, “The entire religious life – priests, brothers, and sisters – is built around this system of trying to work out these three desires. And, at its best, the religious life is understood as itself a school wherein its members, by their vows, might learn to desire – that is, learn to love – well.” holy_cross_ordination_300Blessed Basil Moreau bound his religious by vows because his community’s union was to be different than other models of unity he witnessed in 19th-century France. His was to be a community that “began in a baptismal call to put on Christ and grow ever more in conformity to Christ, through vows, over time.” His religious, as Fr. Kevin put it, were “to be able to teach communion to others precisely because they themselves were always to be students.” This is a lesson that extends far beyond the scope of those vowed men and women religious of Holy Cross. It is my conviction that Fr. Moreau is destined to become a saint not because he founded a religious community that has built great universities and served in parishes and various apostolates all over the world, but because he was a man who understood the human heart and wanted nothing more than to direct the energies, hopes, and desires of all people toward their Creator.

blessed_basile_moreauWhile Fr. Kevin’s school takes the form of religious life lived in community according to the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross,  I will find my own school within the context of marriage and a family; where, like Fr. Kevin, I will live by vows that will teach me to desire well and to practice true communion. Thus when I stand before God and look into the eyes of my future wife to profess my own vows, I will do so knowing that to be an expert in communion is to constantly remain a student of desire. Together we will take vows, making that initial step in a life-long project of integrating our desires, of learning to love well.

And what, precisely, is the true communion for which we are aiming? Let us conclude by answering this question as Fr. Kevin did, with the Augustinian definition of heaven given by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who writes that “The redeemed are not simply adjacent to each other in heaven. Rather, in their being together as the one Christ, they are heaven.” (Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology, trans. A. Nichols: 238)

At that point, as Fr. Kevin reminded us, “our communion will no longer be that which we practice, but what we become: when together in Christ we will be heaven.”

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The Price of Being Right

Alan Stout

Editor, “Worship with Integrity”   Pamplona, Spain

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How much are you willing to give up in order to be happy?

It’s no secret that we often look to the externals of life to make us happy, and many times these are intrinsically good things. For example: saving for our children’s education, financial freedom, a car that doesn’t break down all the time, pursuing our life’s passion or mission, time in prayer or spiritual direction or doing incredible mission work. These are all good things, demanding of us either our time or our money. In addition, each of these things is directed toward only one thing: our happiness. That is to say, we pay a price either in time or in money to be happy.

So why, then, if happiness takes so much time, effort, or money to achieve, would we ever sacrifice our happiness for anything? The unfortunate news is that we do. And the number one thing we squander our happiness for? The price of being “right.”

price_is_right_spinnerNow, I would be careful to distinguish between “being right” from pursuing the “truth.” Truth might be a matter of pursuit, of zealously learning and always being open to the great possibilities of reality. Whereas being “right” is about our claiming to have that truth and to wield some power on account of possessing that truth.

The problem with “being right” is that it costs us everything, in terms of our happiness. If I must be “right” with my wife, it causes me not to be self-reflective and see where I might have been rude or unloving in some way. I may say, “I bought this brand of coffee instead of that one, because this one is clearly better.” “Yes, but I asked you to buy the other one,” she replies. If I insist on being right, I guarantee that this will end poorly. It is worth it, in this case, to not be right. If I must be “right” about myself, I might continue to believe lies of the enemy, lies that cause me to think less of myself and of God’s wonderful creation. If I choose to be “right” about another, I get to enjoy believing that they will never change, that they will always act the way they will and I lose hope. Faith, hope, love and even our own happiness are all lost if we hold on steadfastly to being “right.”

With respect to the liturgy, it is not uncommon that we will go to a Mass that involves something that drives us a little bit bonkers. I don’t need to write a laundry list of complaints we have about liturgical practice here, but suffice it to say that we all, either through study or not, have come to an opinion about how things “should be.” We very quickly start judging whether or not what is taking place before us is “right.” While I am not advocating that we simply throw our hands up, what I am suggesting is that we must guard ourselves against our need to be “right” in any given instance, for the sake of our privileged ground of divine encounter with almighty God. The incredible gift of getting to worship God on a Sunday must be the guiding principle for our liturgical life, not whether norms and regulations are followed perfectly or whether the Mass goes according to our understanding.

The question that remains is what price are we willing to pay for being “right?” Are we willing to trade our happiness for the frustration, anger, entitlement or grumbling that often accompanies being right? Are we willing to ruin our beautiful opportunity to know and love God for the sake of validating our own opinion on the matter? I would suggest that there is no price worth paying for the sake of being right and that being right is really only a matter of our pride. If our integrity requires humility, then I would suggest that we cannot worship God within our integrity if we are insistent on being “right.” We have a much easier time being in close relationship with Christ if we choose to love him despite some of the imperfections in his Church and ministers.

12-26Now our giving up of being right does not preclude us from witnessing to the truth. The most powerful example of this may come from St. Stephen in the book of Acts. What strikes me about Stephen’s preaching to the Jewish court that brought him in was that he never attempted to justify or defend his actions. He did call attention to what they did not want to hear, but he did not give up his life for being “right,” about Christ. Stephen was inflamed by his love for Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is that love for Christ which gave him the gift to rightly prophesy about the matter at hand, and which resulted in him being stoned to death.

While I sincerely hope that none of us have to die for the sake of bearing witness to Christ, I do hope that when we are given the chance to speak as Stephen did, we do so out of our integrity and love for Christ. We have paid a dear price to love God, our whole lives, for through baptism we have died to living for ourselves and have been born to living for Christ. I do not see reason in ever trading a minute of the happiness we get to know in loving God for the sake of our own ego. After all, what is the value of the love of God? Priceless.

What We’re Reading Today: salvation from distraction, St. Camillus, and baptism

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) A wonderful sermon from Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick on St. Paisios’ (recently canonized in the Orthodox Church) very practical wisdom regarding the spiritual life within the context of a family:

St. Paisios understands very clearly that distraction is a huge problem in modern life. He says that we should rejoice if we even have ten minutes for prayer or even two minutes to read something good! As a wise father, Paisios is not expecting superhuman efforts out of his spiritual children. He is suggesting something that can be done by anyone.Distraction really is an enormous problem for us, isn’t it? It is something that I struggle with myself. I like to check my smartphone way too often.I like to have some kind of noise going on while I work or while I drive or even while I am being entertained some other way—I literally will be watching something on my television and yet distracting myself from that by reading my email or checking Facebook or whatever. I have distractions from my distractions!paisios-athonite-crop-1024x591

2) Gregory Dipippo at the “New Liturgical Movement” writes from Rome on the feast of St. Camillus (July 14):

Pope Leo XIII declared him a Patron Saint of the sick, and along with St John of God, the founder of the Order of Brothers Hospitallers, added his name to the Litanies for the Dying. (In the Extraordinary Form, his feast is on July 18th, one of a series of Saints displaced from their respective death days by the feast of Pope Anacletus, now recognized to be the same person as Pope Cletus.)

Shortly after its founding, the order received as a gift a small church dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, very close to the Pantheon in the center of Rome. It was completely torn down, and over the course of the 17th century rebuilt as one of the most elaborate churches in the city, despite its small size; the relics of St Camillus, who was canonized in 1746, now rest in the side chapel of the right transept.

3) Fr. Robert Barron unpacks what it means to be baptized ‘priest,’ ‘prophet,’ and ‘king’:

So what does this look like in practice? How does it show itself in the lives of ordinary believers? Let us look at priesthood first. A priest fosters holiness, precisely in the measure that he or she serves as a bridge between God and human beings. In ancient Roman times, the priest was described as a pontifex, bridge-builder, and this remains a valid designation in the Christian context. The reconciliation of divinity and humanity produces in human beings a wholeness or integration, a coming together of the often warring elements within the self.

What We’re Reading Today: discernment, millennials, and ‘God’s Smile’

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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1) Check out Philip Kosloski’s simple advice for discerning God’s will:

Personally I have had to discern God’s will many times over the years. At first I had to make the big decision of what to do after high school. In the last two years before I graduated, I had a deep conversion and sincerely wanted to do God’s will. At first I thought I was called to enter college and then get married. While praying, I didn’t have a lot of peace about the situation, but I really liked this girl that I was dating. I didn’t want to give it all up, so I persisted and applied to a local university.

2)  What must the Church do to reach Millennials?  Joan Frawley Desmond engaged this question, a question in which the Center for Liturgy has much interest, in a piece that includes an interview with Director of NDCL Dr. Timothy P. O’Malley:

“The vast majority of Millennials are disengaging,” said Curtis Martin, who leads the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (Focus), an apostolate that trains young missionaries to share the faith with college students on U.S. campuses. “They have not heard the Church’s message with the Church’s voice.”

But Martin also observed that the religious indifference of many cradle Catholics is matched by the enthusiasm of a small but vibrant group of new arrivals. Their striking commitment reveals the enduring appeal of Catholic faith and community in an era shaped by powerful secular forces.

3) First Things’ William Doino Jr. on the legacy of Pope John Paul I, also known as “the smiling pope”:


Despite the stature of his position, he maintained his modesty and close relations with the poor and outcast, in line with his episcopal motto, “Humilitas.” He often quoted St Augustine: “If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility. Not that there are no other precepts, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts our meaningless.”

Spiritual Wakefulness

Claire Fyrqvist, M.Div.

Claire Fyrqvist lives with her husband John and two sons in the Catholic Worker neighborhood of South Bend.  She and John job share at Right to Life and love to catch good liturgy wherever they can.

Editorial Note: The following reflection was delivered as part of Morning Prayer during the Center for Liturgy’s recent Symposium, Liturgy and Vocation. We are grateful for the author’s permission to post it here.

You know very well that the day of the Lord is coming
like a thief in the night.
Just when people are saying, “Peace and security,”
ruin will fall on them
with the suddenness of pains overtaking a woman in labor,
and there will be no escape.
You are not in the dark, brothers and sisters,
that the day should catch you off guard, like a thief.
No, all of you are children of the light and of the day.
We belong neither to darkness nor to night;
therefore, let us not be asleep like the rest,
but awake and sober!
1 Thessalonians 5:2–6

Spiritual wakefulness and spiritual sleep, even for the greatest saints, are constantly at odds with each other in the human heart. The experience of being human is to long for fullness, to be totally alive, yet there are constant distractions and temptations, gravity itself, which is always pulling us back into a kind of spiritual drowsiness, a state in which we cannot hear or see God.

One way this state manifests itself is delusion, or imagination, to be completely or even partially out of touch with reality. When I was discerning my vocation…for over a decade…I had a wise spiritual director tell me that I had made an image of God in my mind and was agonizing over imagined, hypothetical situations that didn’t actually exist as real choices in my life. img_1426Instead of embracing the gift right in front of me, my future husband John, I kept visualizing myself in a habit (it was often glowing) and getting completely anxious and paralyzed by this image. The mind can be powerful in this regard, convincing us that something is perfectly real and viable when in fact it has no bearing on reality, on what is actually happening around us.

Alternately, one can be so consumed with material existence and the details of life that it becomes impossible to see beyond the immediate and the practical. This is very easy to do, particularly when we as adults have a myriad of roles and responsibilities we are trying to juggle. As a parent now I am so much more liable to fall into this kind of sleep, barely lifting my head above the waters of constant activity, tasks, and physical cares to acknowledge God’s presence in prayer.

St. Paul describes a kind of spiritual sleep of those who cherish above all “peace and security.” We love more than anything to be comfortable in our views, our relationships, our lifestyle, and our habits. The Church is full of people, myself included, who can be so set in their ways that they cannot truly hear the words of Christ in the Gospel or be moved by the liturgy and its searing truth. We often do not want to be awoken from this kind of sleep because it will require making changes, potentially difficult sacrifices, and ultimately die to ourselves. The Gospel is much more palatable if you can fit it neatly into your already constructed world view that affirms and consoles you in your way of being, not challenges and wakes you to the urgency of love.

And indeed there is urgency! This reading is laced with urgency. The Lord is coming like a thief in the night! A woman in labor! If you have had a child or attended a birth, you know that those agonizing hours of waiting and laboring which brings a child into the world are incredibly real moments, zoomed out of time and space. You surely cannot escape it, yet there is no experience more real, more human, more infused with the divine. Sleep in fact would be impossible.

Such an experience of reality, both raw and startling, can bring about a kind of intense joy, a great sense of relief to be free from delusions, free from schedules and endless tasks, free from the personal comfort that can dull the senses; we are at last aware of what truly IS, that God is all in all, that we ARE, and that essentially nothing else matters.

These moments of wakefulness cast light in the darkness of our lives. And this light can continue to illuminate our way as we return back to the normal days and the normal tasks, transforming them into acts of great love, allowing us to be beacons of light for others. 800px-Candle_Light  This wakefulness makes great sacrifices possible because we recognize our true identity in God, and God’s magnificent love for us in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. As children of day we are compelled back to the liturgy and the sacraments, where over and over we can be awoken and startled out of our darkness and into the light of Truth.

Christ is surely going to return and we must be ready, yet God every day wants to visit us, to be with us and give us His Spirit and His Light. “We belong neither to darkness nor to night; therefore, let us not be asleep like the rest, but awake and sober!”

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Institute for Church Life

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