Tag Archives: Saints

Joseph, Husband of Mary: Model of Fidelity

Tim KenneyTimothy J. Kenney
’14 MTS Candidate 

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

What do you get when a high school theology teacher marries theology grad student?


A ton of religious art.

Get it? If not, a quick look around my apartment would show you that this isn’t just a bad joke, it’s the reality of what your friends think to buy when you major in theology. Outside of the dishware and bed sets that you register for at the domestic wonderland that is Bed, Bath and Beyond, unwrapping wedding presents can be a fun indicator of what your guests really think of you (I’m pretty rotten at giving original gifts and as such truly appreciate someone who possesses the skill). My wife Rylee and I soon discovered just how lucky we were in the company we keep. The general theme of gifts seemed to be religious art and wine and, lest our apartment resemble a bachelor pad, Rylee has insisted our décor emphasize the former rather than the latter. As such the holy statues, icons, nativity sets, and crosses that our friends and family sent our way have filled our little apartment with an intentionally Catholic décor, provided us with the opportunity to grow spiritually as we settle in domestically, and has made what were at first blank white walls radiate the comfort of home and Christ.

Throughout this time one image has begun to stand out above the rest. A particularly common theme, very appropriate as a wedding present for a young married couple, were images depicting the Holy Family. I have long had a love for Our Lady and Talladega Nights taught me the theological magnitude of the Baby Jesus. But as I’ve sat reading or writing on our couch, something else, or rather someone else, has increasingly drawn my attention from the icon hung on our wall. A figure generally relegated to the background has increasingly pressed forward and become the focal point of the image in my mind. More and more I have found myself drifting off in thought, eyes transfixed on the tall bearded figure of St. Joseph, lovingly embracing his wife and adopted son.

I can’t really claim to be unacquainted with St. Joseph. Having attended St. Joseph Grade School and St. Joseph High School, both of which are located in St. Joseph County and situated on the St. Joseph River, its safe to say I’ve heard of him once or twice. Even one of my favorite saints (evidence of 9 years of Holy Cross education), St. André Bessette, C.S.C.,  was known for his remarkable devotion to St. Joseph. And yet despite my best efforts and the cards being stacked completely in his favor, I’ve never really been able to connect with the world’s most famous carpenter.

This all began to change following our relocation to Massachusetts this August. The day after we were married, Rylee and I loaded everything we owned into a U-Haul truck. Romantic, I know. Then the next morning at 5 AM we rolled out of South Bend and headed for Boston. Before we had been married a month we had moved 1,000 miles across the country, settled in a new apartment, Rylee had started a new job, and I was knee deep in Karl Rahner, at work on my master’s degree. Talk about a whirlwind.

To say the process was at times disorienting would be a dramatic understatement. Trying to find any semblance of stability seemed impossible because everything about our new life together had to be handled in the short term, as temporary. Rylee and I were living in Boston, for now. I was working toward my MTS, for now. We were just starting out as a family of two, for now. But in what felt like less than a week the conversations among friends shifted from why we came to BC to where we wanted to do PhDs. I was just beginning the marathon that is grad school and had no real answer to the question, “What are you doing after this?” We had no idea where we would be in two years, let alone what I’d be doing at that point. But whatever the future held, it seemed impossible to see the MTS as anything but transitory, a waiting room for the real world that lay beyond.

On top of all this was the reality that I wasn’t just a student and this wasn’t just a continuation of my 4 years of college. I was a family man now and had as much of a responsibility to another person as I did to myself. This was one of the hardest places for me to find firm ground precisely because we were trying to figure out just what it meant to be a family when there are only two of us. I had so many wonderful examples in my life of what it meant to be a great father, but what I had failed to prepare for was how to be a great husband.

And so I sat, eyes locked on the image of Joseph. I didn’t seek him out, I didn’t know why my prayers turned to him. All I knew was that one night long after my wife went to bed exhausted from a day of teaching high schoolers, I sat up willing myself to read, increasingly aware that not only did academic success determine my livelihood, but also that of my family. My attention drifted upward, past the pages of the book in my hands to the far wall, and came to rest on Joseph, holding his wife with a strong, stable, and determined love that I knew was never overcome and never defeated by any adversity that came his way.

I finished my reading and went to bed. After I turned out my light, a lone image stood silhouetted against the white walls of our bedroom. Another image of the Holy Family, this one a beautiful wood carving, it sits atop our dresser and is the last thing I see every night before I shut my eyes. Carved from a single piece of wood, Joseph isn’t just the background; he is the canvas on which his family is grounded. Mary is carved from his side and the two are united as one. I paused for a moment as I looked at the statue, turned and put my arms around my wife. She is my stability. “This one at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). Together with her, I will build my family. My vows to her, made before God, are the commitment of a lifetime and the focal point of my life’s work.

Today is the feast of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary. He was such an extraordinary husband that the Church proclaimed an annual feast to celebrate it. We don’t just remember him because he married an immaculate woman. We remember him because he lived out his vocation so completely that it brought him to God. He does not just blend in as the third person of the Holy Family. He shines out to husbands everywhere, holding up the example of how to fully commit oneself to the vocation and sacrament that is marriage.

In a time when nothing about where I am, what I am doing, or where my life is headed seems certain or stable, Joseph reminds me to look at the walls of this apartment, and most especially to the woman who made them a home, and remember that this is my vocation. Despite the fluidity the next few years may contain in terms of location and occupation, regardless of whether our family expands in 1 year or in 10, my commitment and my role is modeled for me perfectly in the life of St. Joseph.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

Keeping Patrick in St. Patrick’s Day

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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Unless you spend your time hanging out under the proverbial rock, you’re probably aware that today is the feast day of a certain saint famous for his way with reptiles and for creating theological analogies using local foliage (albeit theologically problematic analogies, as we learn here). Yes, laddies and lassies, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. The day when pretty much everyone claims to have distant relatives from the Emerald Isle whether it’s true or complete blarney, because, as the saying goes, Everyone’s Irish on March 17th.

St. Patrick’s Day, like St. Valentine’s Day, has become more of a cultural phenomenon than a religious celebration here in the United States, so much so for the latter that the “St.” in “St. Valentine’s Day” (that is, the historical figure of St. Valentine) has been all but dropped from the consciousness of popular culture, leaving an almost entirely secularized celebration almost exclusively of romantic love, where chocolates, flowers, and bling express the extent of a person’s affections. With St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve at least retained the awareness that St. Patrick was, in fact, a real person, and that he was, in fact, a saint whose devotion to spreading the Gospel impacted an entire nation, but nowadays—or at least on most college campuses—it seems that the celebration of his feast is simply an excuse to indulge in a celebration of all things stereotypically Irish. . . or perhaps more accurately, just the one thing that many people associate with Ireland. In other words, St. Patrick’s Day has become an excuse to drink. Heavily. And not just on the actual day, either—parades and parties take place on the weekend before St. Patrick’s feast day, providing revelers who believe that “Everyone is Irish March 17th” with plenty of opportunities to drink too much, get in a fight or two, and most certainly wake up the next morning with the world’s worst hangover. It seems strange to me that a feast in honor of someone known for sanctity and courage and virtue has given rise to celebrations that generally cultivate none of these things. Somehow, I think, we’ve missed St. Patrick’s boat.

Having spent two of the happiest years of my life living in Ireland, I learned from the locals that the current shape of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland are largely due to the way it’s been perceived and celebrated here in the United States. It’s only in relatively recent years that St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland have begun to resemble the drunk-fests they’ve become in the States, in part because so many Americans have begun traveling to Ireland to celebrate the holiday there—the streets of Dublin were thronged with my fellow Americans on the St. Patrick’s Day I spent there. Prior to this recent trend, though, St. Patrick’s Day was (and still is) a national holiday and holy day of obligation in Ireland, one that, until recently, was celebrated simply: one would attend Mass at the local parish and take the day off from work or school, and perhaps celebrate with a “session,” an evening of music, poetry recitations, and story-telling.

Indeed, far more enjoyable to me than the parade and the pubs was the incredibly beautiful celebration of the Mass for St. Patrick’s Day that I attended at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin in 2011. The incredibly rich cultural heritage of this small country was represented both linguistically—readings and prayers were proclaimed in both English and Irish, and musically—traditional Irish singing and instrumental music resounded through the church as Irish dancers processed in front of the celebrants.

A Mass rock outside the village of Kildorrery, County Cork, where the Irish would secretly celebrate the Mass during penal times, using the rock as an altar. Many such Mass rocks exist throughout Ireland.

This is Ireland: a country whose resilient people truly are the salt of the earth, whose inimitable language and music and prayer intertwine with all of the intricacies of a Celtic knot. A country where the faith persisted in spite of centuries of oppression. A country where that faith persists still, in spite of a threat more insidious than oppression.

The seeds scattered by St. Patrick blossomed in the rich soil of the land of a thousand shades of green, so much so that Ireland became known as the “Land of Saints and Scholars.” Now, though, with the secularization of recent decades, coupled with the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger, it seems that the Catholic identity of Ireland is more akin to a stereotype or cliché than a reflection of reality. Mass attendance has diminished greatly, and the various sacramental moments of a Christian life are often seen as mere rites of passage. Perhaps the most devastating development of recent years has been the revelation of abuse inflicted on the innocent by members of the clergy in Ireland. Just as the sanctity of one man brought a nation to the faith, so too have the sins of a few rocked that nation’s faith to its core. Thankfully, the light of faith has by no means been extinguished in Ireland; there are still many who live the Gospel each and every day of their lives. However, the reality is that the Catholic Church in Ireland is suffering, as she is suffering in many places throughout the world.

Which is why I think it’s more important than ever for people to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, in Ireland, in the United States, throughout the universal Church—not by using his feast as an excuse to indulge in drunkenness and debauchery, but by giving thanks for his witness, imitating his courageous example, and asking his continued intercession for those who live in the land he helped to evangelize.

The Book of Kells' famous Chi Rho, symbol of Christ
The Book of Kells’ famous Chi Rho, symbol of Christ

Like each and every one of the saints’ feast days, St. Patrick’s Day presents us with a vivid example of a particular life, lived at a particular place and time, in which the Word of God—Jesus Christ—took root, became flesh. By allowing that Word to take root in his heart, and by giving his life over to sharing that Word with others, St. Patrick changed the course of history for the nation of Ireland, and the Irish missionaries inspired by his example in turn helped to bring the Catholic faith to the United States of America. Anyone engaged in the work of the New Evangelization ought to see in St. Patrick not a cultural cliché, but a companion on the journey of discipleship and an ally in the effort to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Ultimately, the story of St. Patrick and the impact he had in Ireland is an incredible example of the way in which Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” (Heb 13:8), continues to take flesh in the hearts of those who are open to encountering him, and he does this within the particularities of their own lives and cultures. By allowing Christ to take flesh in his heart, St. Patrick made his own the words of St. Paul—“I now live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20), yet he did so in a uniquely Celtic voice, as we see in the lyricism of the prayer for which he is most famous. Today, or this weekend, or whenever we celebrate all things Irish by raising our voices in prayer and song, kicking up our heels in a jig or a reel, attending parades, eating corned beef and cabbage, donning our favorite green woolen sweater, and yes, even perhaps raising our pints of Guinness (it is a celebration, after all, and everything in moderation), may we honor St. Patrick by looking to this great patron saint of Ireland more than anything else as an example of a life lived in Christ for others, and may we echo the final lines of his prayer with courage and fidelity, wherever our lives may take us:

Christ with me.
Christ before me.
Christ behind me.
Christ within me.
Christ beneath me.
Christ above me.
Christ at my right.
Christ at my left.
Christ in my lying down.
Christ in my sitting.
Christ in my arising.
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me.
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.
Christ in every eye that sees me.
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Three Things We’re Reading Today: Martyrdom, Adoption, and Silence

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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1. Today the Church honors the martyrs St. Andrew Dung-Lac and his companions. Anna Keating at The Catholic Catalogue offers a brief reflection on these brave souls, followed by a brief video posted by the Apostleship of Prayer in 2008. The video draws further attention to the continued persecutions faced by Christians in Asia by holding up the life of Servant of God Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuán (1928–2002), reminding us that persecutions and martyrdoms are not a thing of the past, and that we as a Church must continue to pray for those who are not only enduring but also perpetrating such persecutions. St. Andrew Dung-Lac and companions, pray for us.

2. As we near the end of National Adoption Awareness Month, Elizabeth Kirk, J.D. offers profound insights about the ways in which adoption can teach everyone about the very nature of family in her article “Is Adoption Second-Best to a ‘Real Family’?”

…adoption is a particular calling (perhaps out of the circumstance of infertility, perhaps not) and not a second-best way of building a family.  This reminds us that parenthood is not simply a natural consequence of biology, but rather the occasion for all fathers and mothers to serve God through the children entrusted to them.

3. Finally, NPR’s Guy Raz’s interview “What We Learn When We Find Silence” profiles environmentalist John Francis, who voluntarily stopped talking in 1973 and only began speaking again after 17 years. Francis describes what led him to his unexpected vow of silence, and how it changed him.

I used to listen to someone just enough to think I knew what they were going to say and then I would stop listening, and then I would start thinking about what I was going to say back to show them that they were wrong, or that I could say that better or, look how smart I am, you know?

Insights well worth stopping for a moment to consider in silence as we enter the hustle and the bustle of the holiday season, and more importantly, as the Church enters the sacred season of Advent, preparing for the night when we will marvel together, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is giv’n.”

Three Things We’re Reading Today: St. Cecilia, First Nations, and Millennials

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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1) For the feast of St. Cecilia (November 22nd), read Rick Becker’s reflection at Catholic Exchange on St. Cecilia and Paul Simon:

Over the centuries, as these words were picked up and incorporated into liturgical prayers in various ways, they were truncated and misapplied. The old Catholic Encyclopedia speculates that “possibly the cantantibus organis was erroneously interpreted of Cecilia herself as the organist. In this way the saint was brought into closer relation with music.”

In time, artists began depicting Cecilia as seated at an organ and singing her lungs out – still her predominant iconography to this day. And then, in 1584, the clincher: The Roman Academy of Music adopted St. Cecilia as its patroness, and the die was cast. The entire universal Church soon embraced her as the special celestial intercessor for all musicians.

Sure, it’s all due to a misunderstanding and misattribution, but so be it. She has taken to the role quite admirably by all accounts, and, who knows? – maybe she really was an accomplished vocalist and musician. In any case, even if her singular role in heaven doesn’t match up exactly with her earthly journey, the mismatch doesn’t impinge on her ability to be a special friend and advocate for all those musically inclined.

I’d like to suggest we do something similar with Paul Simon’s song, despite its saucy theme. It’s a shame to avoid what is manifestly a buoyant, joyful tune – just the kind of music you’d want to revel in on St. Cecilia’s special day. It’s such a fun song, and hard not to tap your foot to it – the melody bounces along, and the accompanying grungy percussion along with Simon’s xylophone counterpoint give it an upbeat, happy feel. Can we spin it in such a way as to mute its offensive storyline?

2) NPR has a piece by Sylvia Poggioli on a recently restored painting at the Vatican (The Resurrection by Pinturicchio) depicting the first known image of Native Americans:

The fresco, The Resurrection, was painted by the Renaissance master Pinturicchio in 1494 — just two years after Christopher Columbus first set foot in what came to be called the New World.

Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, told the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano that after the soot and grime were removed, in the background, just above the open coffin from where Christ has risen, “we see nude men, decorated with feathered headdresses who appear to be dancing.” One of them seems to sport a Mohican cut.

The image dovetails with Columbus’ description of having been greeted by dancing nude men painted black or red.


Though, Piggioli is quick to analyze the potential power dynamics of the image (the Pope as longing for the spoils of the new world), there is a deep theological meaning behind a piece of artwork depicting not only the Resurrection but early, Native Americans as somehow involved in the scene of Christ’s Resurrection.

3) The Atlantic Monthly does an analysis of why it’s hard for millennials to find a place to live and work. Worth reading, especially for those interested in parish demographic trends:

The Dayton-SF dilemma isn’t about Ohio vs. California. It’s about a broader dilemma for young workers and, in particular, young couples looking to buy a home, raise children, and achieve the American Dream. The cities with the least affordable housing often have the best social mobility. And the cities with the worst social mobility often have the most affordable housing. When good jobs for the middle class and affordable homes are living in different cities, it represents a slow-motion splintering of the American Dream.


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!

Moral Community and the Saints

SamuelBellafioreSamuel Bellafiore

Music, Philosophy ’15

Undergraduate Fellow

New visions of moral community have arisen in recent years. These views, which often include a troubling redefinition of the person, identify moral community as the collection of thinking, reasoning, problem solving and independently acting persons. At the heart of these views lies a curious assertion: If you are not currently a person and thus a community member, the moral community has no responsibility for you. [1] Many problems, not worth enumerating here, immediately ensue.

One problem that is worth mentioning: no one would dare implement this consistently. For instance, when we talk about environmental policy, we talk about conserving the earth not only because it is valuable in itself but because we have a responsibility to leave future generations a healthy environment. We’re aware that if we don’t care for the earth, we perpetrate a grave crime on our descendants. Our descendants can’t be persons now. They don’t even exist. Yet we intuitively recognize our responsibility to them.

The communion of saints even better belies the modern pretend about what makes moral community. The saints provide a framework for considering what the scholar of the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” For whom am I responsible? The saints’ lives and our relationship to the saints show us how responsibility stretches throughout time.the-forerunners-of-christ-with-saints-and-martyrs-fra-angelico

The saints strove for holiness out of love for Christ, not to inspire us, but in following after Christ they passed Him on to those who came after them. Intentionally or not, they left a witness that time and distance cannot efface. They were doing what Christ did first and did in the highest degree: “leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” (1 Peter 2:21)

Some saints, like Francis of Assisi and Mother Theodore Guerin, lived lives of obvious service. They manifested their life’s goal of loving Christ and handing on what they had received. This often took the form of service to and solidarity with the poor. Others like St. Bruno of Cologne left less apparent examples. St. Bruno founded the Carthusians, one of the strictest monastic orders. He spent much of his life in silence and solitude and generally is remembered for, well, very little.

The Church recently celebrated all these saints’ feasts. Whatever these saints did, the Church receives their fruits. Their charity, sacrifice, prayer and tending the deposit of faith enable our Christian life today. We’re told the blood the martyrs is the seed of Christians. Plants cannot grow without seeds, so the saying suggests that without the martyrs’ blood, you and I might not be Christians. There might not be Christians. If the martyrs didn’t die but we still became Christians, we wouldn’t be the same Christians. This goes for all the saints. Over time their charity became charity toward us. Their prayer didn’t benefit only those around them but us too. Their sacrifices likely bear small, unnoticed fruits even today. By living and dying well, the saints cared for us.

We might even say if these saints had not lived their lives of holiness, they would have been derelict not only to their contemporaries but to anyone who came after them. Living their vocation, while foremost an act of loving God, also turns out to be a kind of responsibility to their present and future neighbors. In his Meditations on Christian Doctrine, Blessed John Henry Newman hints at this:

I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes…if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another…Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

In God’s providence He can raise another, but it is awfully difficult to replace a link in a chain that’s already taut.

By fulfilling their vocations, the saints were kind to us. We shouldn’t give our descendants any less. But the people we call “saints” were humans first, people with loves, frustrations and faults. They became saints. The only way to give the future Church what the saints gave us is to become saints. They show on an ecclesial level what is true globally, that community is not confined to our lifetimes. The saints show that when I act my action does not pertain to me alone. Nor do I influence only the person next to me. What I do, the way I live, may bear a fruit I never see or could never know.

The saints gave something to us. We must give something to our descendants. Then can we ask if we must do something for the saints? What is the relationship between our generation and the ones that preceded us?

Philosophy's favorite mustache.
Philosophy’s favorite mustache.

None other than Friedrich Nietzsche, whose time in a Rome hotel once overlapped with Thérèse of Lisieux’s, provides helpful thoughts on this topic. His second essay in On the Genealogy of Morals calls the relationship between the present generation and its forefathers one “where we modern men have perhaps have the greatest difficulty in grasping its relevance.” (trans. Douglas Smith) He posits the present generation always sees its relationship to ancestors as that of debtor to creditor, except that the debtor can never fully repay the debt. He dislikes this. “A debt is recognized,” he says, “which gnaws incessantly by virtue of the fact that these forefathers, in their continued existence as powerful spirits, never cease to grant the race new advantages and advances in strength.”

It’s an idea you could take too far. Seeing the saints this way would mean seeing them as dominating, menacing forces but there’s a relatio180px-Teresa13anninship between Nietzsche’s point and the saints. The saints’ lives did not end at their deaths. By their heavenly intercession with
God, their lives continue now with even greater efficacy. Their power is the kind Nietzsche despises most — the power of the God who becomes weak and dies on a tree — but he is still right that we have to reckon with our relationship to them, what they have done and still do for us. We might wonder, Should we be trying to repay the saints? Do we have an obligation to them?

 We might as well ask if we should try to repay God. Indeed, that is what we should do. Our relationship to the saints is more like our relationship to God than to our descendants: What we do now may can be an act of kindness to our descendants. But our responsibility, if any, to the saints and to God can be one only of responding in thanksgiving. We’re not the first to ask whether we should try to repay God. The Psalmist did when he inquired, “How can I make a return to the Lord for his goodness to me?” (Psalm 116:12) The question is in part rhetorical. Making this return is impossible, for what God has given is infinite and infinitely more than we could ever give.adorationofthelamb-jvaneyck1

But the Psalmist continues. “I will raise high the cup of salvation and call on the Lord’s name.” Of ourselves, there is no adequate repayment we can give to God. His gifts of love are not loans requiring repayment. But we can render Him the thanksgiving He Himself enables. The Roman Missal says, “although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift” (Common Preface IV). We can offer Him the Eucharist, the bread of life and cup of salvation, but this gift we offer is not ours at all. What we can give Him only what is His already.

So with the saints. If there is any payment we can render them, it is our small participation in the liturgy of heaven, where contemplation and charity are entirely one. “Repaying” the saints, if such a thing is real, is this: living our vocations, receiving and giving life as members of Christ’s Church. If we do this we serve the entire Church, the Bride who is universal over the earth, across time and in heaven. For we are in communion, Christ the Son of the living God.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee.


[1] see, for instance, Mary Ann Warren, On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion or Peter Singer, Practical Ethics

The Saint Who Taught Me to Worship: The Feast of Augustine

Tim-OMalley-e1375811311325-137x150Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

Contact Author

Like many of those involved in liturgical scholarship, my own interest in the liturgy began at any early age. I remember being highly aware as a seven year old that worship of God in the Eucharist was the sort of activity that might change what it meant to be alive in the first place. I was the strange second grader who longed each Sunday for Mass. In high school, my desire for worship turned to the contemporary praise songs that played over Praiseand over again on the local Christian radio station in Knoxville. This music, and the accompanying affections, were essential to my life of faith. As I grew older, slowly turning away from this praise music, I discovered the rich hymnody and poetry of the Anglo-Catholic world–once again coming to know the reality of God through a new, poetic form of praise. Worship, the act of praise and adoration, was integral to my life as a believer–until the fall semester of my junior year when I was studying in London. In the midst of loneliness, as well as a parish choir that was less than spectacular, I noticed that my feelings in worship dried up. The disappearance of these affections during Mass slowly led me to doubt whether God existed at all. I attended Mass but felt nothing. In the spring semester on campus, I found myself in a joint theology/philosophy seminar on Augustine taught by John Cavadini (my current boss) and Fr. John Jenkins (the now president of Notre Dame). Early in the semester, we turned our attention to that magisterial work of Augustine–De civitate dei (a text that I find quickly becoming my favorite work by Augustine in my middle years). As we reached Book X, that book which treats the theme of worship and sacrifice, I found myself face-to-face with the following passage:

Our heart is his altar when it is lifted up to him [sursum est]; we plead to him by his Only-begotten priest; we offer bleeding victims to him, when we strive for his truth even to shedding blood [ad sanguinem]; we burn the sweetest incense to him when we are aflame with holy and pious love in his sight; we consecrate and we return his gifts in us and our own person; by solemn feasts and dedicated days, we render sacred and proclaim the memory [dicamus sacramusque memoriam] of his benefits, lest, by the passing of time ingrate forgetfulness might creep upon us; we sacrifice to him a victim of humility and of praise on the altar of our heart kindled by the fire of love.[1]

This account of worship did not emphasize how Augustine felt in the act of worship. Rather, it treated authentic worship as nothing less than the gift of ourselves to God. True worship was not about generating the right emotions so that we can “feel” God’s presence in our lives. Rather, true worship, formative worship changes what it means for us to be human in the first place. Our memory, our understanding, and our will are to become sacrifices of divine praise to God–gifts offered to the God who first loved us. Worship was not about what I felt. Instead, it was about who I was to become: one who praises God in all that I do. AugustineofHippoElsewhere in this same work, Augustine writes:  “God will be the end of all our desires, he who will be seen without end, loved without weariness, praised without fatigue.  This work, this desire, this motion, will be truly common to all, like eternal life itself.”[2]

The destiny of the human vocation is nothing less than total praise, a common gift of our humanity to God in love without any effort except the duty of delight. This treatment of sacrifice forever changed how I would think about worship. Liturgy is not dependent upon the kind of feelings that are generated in the act of worship. Divine praise is an objective action, one in which we practice giving our wills over to God. We practice that vocation of total praise, which is the destiny for those of us who desire eternal membership in the city of God. This task is never easy. It is not without a formation of our desires, a form of practice that requires the Christian to learn not only to feel but to love. As Augustine comments in his Enarrationes in Psalmos:

What about you?  Do you too want to sing and play psalms?  Then not only must your voice sing God’s praises but your actions must keep in tune with your voice.  After you have been singing with your voice you will have to be quiet for a while, but sing with your life in such a way that you never fall silent.  Suppose you are engaged in business and you are contemplating some dishonest deal:  you have allowed your praise of God to be silenced and, worse still, you have not only smothered your praise but have committed blasphemy; for since God is praised by your good works you are praising him simply by performing them, whereas your evil deeds are a blasphemy, and so you blaspheme as you commit them.[3]

The vocation of humanity is this kind of praise, a perfect praise in which every form of worship finds its end not in better, more sophisticated (and novel) worship that generates more and more emotion. But in that gift of self, which Christians call love. Worship is not about us, it is not about our affections. Instead, it is about becoming who God intended us to be: members of a symphony of perfect praise of the voice and the will alike. On this feast of St. Augustine, I’m grateful to this member of the choir of the saints, who taught me to praise aright.

[1] Augustine, ciu. 10.3 (CCL 47A:  275.14-23; Dyson 394-95):  Cum ad illum sursum est, eius est altare cor nostrum; eius Vnigenito eum sacerdote placamus; ei cruentas uictimas caedimus, quando usque ad sanguinem pro eius ueritate certamus; eum suauissimo adolemus incenso, cum in eius conspectu pio sanctoque amore flagramus; ei dona eius in nobis nosque ipsos uouemus et reddimus; ei beneficiorum eius sollemnitatibus festis et diebus statutis dicamus sacramusque memoriam, ne uolumine temporum ingrata subrepat obliuio; ei sacrificamus hostiam humilitatis et laudis in ara cordis igne feruidam caritatis.

[2] Augustine, ciu. 22.30 (47B:  863.33-36; Dyson, 1179):  Ipse finis erit desideriorum nostrorum, qui sine fine uidebitur, sine fastidio amabitur, sine fatigatione laudaitur.  Hoc munus, hic affectus, hic actus profecto erit omnibus, sicut ipsa uita aeterna, communis.

[3] Augustine, en. Ps. 146.2 (CCL 40:  2122.6-14; Boulding, 421).

A Few (More) Good Men and Women

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

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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The Church has many reasons to celebrate, but this week, there are seven new ones: on October 21, Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven men and women saints at a ceremony in Rome attended by more than 80,000 people from across the world. What struck me about this particular group of men and women is how diverse they are: although some of them are from the same time period or the same geographic region, each life story is a unique, beautiful example of how God’s grace can make even the most seemingly ordinary person an extraordinary witness to the Good News of Christ. Here are brief(ish) biographies of each of our seven new heroes and heroines in the faith. May the examples of these, our brothers and sisters in Christ, inspire us all to seek and follow the unique path of holiness that God has designed for each of us.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, known affectionately as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” was born in 1656 in what is now upstate New York. Her mother, an Algonquin, was a Christian; her father, an Iroquois, was not. Both parents and her brother died of smallpox when Kateri was only four; she herself suffered facial scarring and impaired vision from the disease, which generally weakened her health for the rest of her life. Kateri’s uncle, a member of the Mohawk tribe, took her in after her parents died. As a child, she encountered the teachings of Jesuit missionaries and decided to become a Christian when she was eighteen years old. Baptized at the age of twenty, Kateri subsequently suffered persecution from her tribe, who ostracized her so intently that she left for a Jesuit mission located south of present-day Montreal, where she lived among other Christian converts until her death at the age of 24. Known for her purity, Kateri vowed a life of virginity and penance. She is the first Native American to be canonized a saint, and the patroness of ecologists and environmentalists, as well as those who have lost their parents and those ridiculed for their piety. Her feast day is July 14.

St. Marianne Cope was born in Germany in 1838; her family emigrated to upstate New York in 1839 and became American citizens in the 1850s. Upon completing 8th grade, she went to work at a factory to support her eight younger siblings and her invalid father. She continued to work until her siblings were old enough to care for themselves, and entered the Sisters of St. Francis in 1862, a year after her father died. After professing her vows in 1863, Sr. Marianne taught and served as principal for several schools in New York. A gifted administrator, Sr. Marianne assisted in the establishment of two hospitals noted for providing medical care regardless of race or religion. By 1883, she had become mother general of her congregation. That year, Mother Marianne received a request from Hawaii for someone who could administrate the hospitals and educate people there who were afflicted with Hansen’s disease, or leprosy. Mother Marianne accepted the challenge before her and moved to Hawaii with six of her fellow sisters. In 1884, she met Fr. Damien (also a saint), and when he was diagnosed with Hansen’s in 1886, Mother Marianne ensured that he received compassionate treatment. Following his death in 1889, she was chosen to be Fr. Damien’s successor as the administrator of Boy’s Home, a facility at Kalawao that provided care for patients with Hansen’s. She remained in Hawaii for the rest of her life, establishing and expanding facilities for the care of the sick and the outcast. She died in 1918, and is the patroness of outcasts, those afflicted with leprosy, as well as those with HIV/AIDS. Her feast day is January 23.

St. Pedro Calungsod was born around 1654; his exact birthplace is unknown, and few historical details of his childhood exist. What is known, however, is that he encountered Jesuit missionaries and was baptized Christian. Calungsod excelled as a catechist and altar server, and around the age of 14, he accompanied the Jesuits to the Ladrones Islands in order to assist their mission of evangelization. The missionaries converted many of the local natives to Christianity, but they began to encounter hostility when rumors began circulating that the missionaries were responsible for the illnesses and deaths of several infants in the villages. In 1672, Calungsod and his companion, Diego Luis de San Vitores (now beatified), arrived at the village of Tumon, Guam. They learned that the wife of the chief had given birth to a daughter, and they went to baptize her, but encountered fierce opposition from the chief himself. The chief left the village to recruit help in killing the missionaries, and during his absence, Calungsod and San Vitores baptized the baby girl with the consent of her mother, also a Christian. When the chief returned, he was enraged. He attacked and killed both Calungsod and San Vitores with spears. Calungsod was only 17 years old. He is now invoked as the patron of Filipino youth, catechists, and altar servers, and his feast day is April 2.

St. Jacques Berthieu was born in 1838 in France to devout Christian parents. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1864, and after spending nine years as a diocesan priest, he obtained permission from his bishop to enter the Jesuit order in 1873. Two years later, his request to become a missionary was granted, and he arrived at Madagascar in December of 1875. For the remaining 21 years of his life he traveled around Madagascar and the surrounding islands, serving as a missionary to various territories in the midst of two consecutive wars, suffering exile and difficult living conditions. By 1895 a peace treaty had been signed; however, a local rebellion spread to various parts of Madagascar, in which the rebels claimed that the recent devastation of the war had really been caused because they had abandoned ancestor worship for the ways of the foreigners. Berthieu refused to abandon his flock to preserve his own life, and by 1896, the rebellion had made its way to his mission. He was captured by the rebels, who demanded that he renounce his faith upon pain of death. Berthieu refused, and was shot and killed by the rebel forces. He is the first martyr of Madagascar to be canonized a saint, and his feast day is June 8.

St. Giovanni Battista Piamarta was born to a poor family in Brescia, Italy, in 1841. His mother died when he was but nine years old, and his adolescence was made difficult by the presence of various gangs in the town. He sought refuge in the Church by entering the diocesan seminary, and was ordained a priest in 1865.  Fr. Piamarta’s ministry was marked by a special concern for young people who struggled to live good lives amidst the harsh living and working conditions of Brescia. He founded several organizations to assist the youth spiritually and professionally, offering religious catechesis as well as training in various technical skills. In 1900, Fr. Piamarta established the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth in order to assist him in his apostolate. Today, the Congregation is found in Europe, Africa, and South America, where its members minister to the poor and the unemployed. Fr. Piamarta died in 1913 after spending his life in service of the underprivileged. He is the patron of those seeking employment, and his feast is April 26.

St. Carmen Sallés y Barangueras was born in 1848 in Barcelona, Spain. She was the second of ten children, and her parents were devout Catholics. In 1858, the same year in which St. Bernadette Subirous received her miraculous visions of the Blessed Mother, Carmen and her family went on pilgrimage to Montserrat, where Carmen received her First Communion. During that journey, the ten-year-old Carmen, whose devotion to Our Lady had been strengthened by the events at Lourdes, vowed to devote her life to Jesus through Mary, and became convinced that God was calling her to religious life. Upon returning to Spain, Carmen asked her parents to release her from a betrothal to a young Spaniard. They granted permission, and she entered the order of the Adores Sisters, whose mission was to serve young women who were former prostitutes or criminals by providing shelter and education. Sr. Carmen worked with such women for 22 years, helping them rediscover their dignity by treating them with love and compassion. In 1892, Sr. Carmen founded the order of Congregation of the Conceptionist Missionary Sisters of Teaching. Throughout her life she was an advocate for women, defending their dignity and insisting upon their equal treatment with that of men. She died in Madrid in 1911. Her feast is July 25.

St. Anna Schäffer was born in 1882 in Bavaria. From an early age she exhibited a devout piety, and felt called to life as a missionary sister. She set about trying to earn the dowry necessary to pursue her religious vocation; however, in February 1901, while working as a laundress, she slipped into a boiling vat of lye, which significantly scalded both of her legs to above the knee. Treatment proved ineffective, and in May 1902, she was released from the hospital, forced to spend the rest of her life as a bed-ridden invalid, while her injuries continued to cause her daily pain. After struggling against her condition, she resigned herself to accept her sufferings with joy, offering them in imitation of Christ’s sufferings on the Cross. She wrote letters to all who sought spiritual advice or consolation in suffering. In 1910, she experienced what she called “dreams,” visions of St. Francis and of the Lord. Later that year, she received the stigmata, although she prayed that the visible wounds be hidden so that she might suffer in secret. In 1923, her legs became completely paralyzed and her spinal cord stiffened due to rectal cancer; nevertheless, she continued to write and to pray. In 1925, she fell from her bed, injuring her brain, which resulted in the loss of her voice. For the last five weeks of her life she suffered silently, continuing her practice of intense prayer and devotion to the Eucharist. She died in 1925, and the anniversary of her passing, October 5, is now her feast day.

In his seminal work Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.” In the stories of these seven men and women – laypersons, clergy, religious, missionaries, invalids, youth, elderly – we see our own stories. More importantly, we see the story of Christ reflected and refracted as light through a prism, shining with a brilliance that is unique to them and yet universal to all of us, for we are all called to holiness. We are all called to embody the Gospel with the same single-hearted fidelity shown by these men and women in the daily joys and struggles of their lives.  May they be our companions on the journey of faith, spurring us on to faithful witness, so that we might one day join their company, “Saints among the Saints in the halls of heaven.”
All you holy men and women, pray for us.

Saint Luke: Faithful Servant of God’s Word

Jem Sullivan, PhD

Adjunct Professor in the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC.

Staff to the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis and the Subcommittee on the Catechism

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Each year the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Luke during the month of October. This liturgical feast takes us back to early Christian times when Luke was revered as one of the four writers of the Gospel, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, and patron saint of physicians and surgeons.

While few details are known about the life of this Gospel writer, it is generally held that Luke was born into a pagan family. He is identified with the person described by Saint Paul as “Luke, the beloved physician: (Colossians 4:14). Other Christian historians and theologians, including the historian Eusebius, Saint Jerome, and Saint Irenaeus also refer to Luke’s profession as a physician.

We know that he was a traveling companion of Saint Paul in his ministry of preaching and teaching.

But it is Saint Luke’s writings – his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles – that give us the deepest insight into the life and mission of this early Christian saint. A 15th century century drawing entitled Saint Luke from the Rosenwald Collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC., offers us a beautiful artistic image to accompany our celebration of Saint Luke’s feast day.

Inspired writer of God’s word

At the center of the manuscript drawing we see a haloed Saint Luke in an interior space, holding a pen in his hand. Two stained glass windows let a warm and colorful light into the scene. Saint Luke is seated at a wooden desk on which a small bookstand holds an open book. We see Saint Luke while he writes the sacred books that form part of the canon of Sacred Scripture.

Saint Luke, c. 1425/1435

French 15th century, Rosenwald Collection

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

At the left hand corner of the room we see an ox, one of the traditional artistic attributes of this saint. According to legend, early Christian scholars gave Saint Luke this symbolic attribute because the ox, a sacrificial animal, recalls the redeeming oblation of Jesus on the Cross, as well as the temple sacrifice of Zechariah in the opening verses of the Gospel of Luke.

A unique Gospel

The Gospel of Luke contains six miracles and eighteen parables that are not found in the other Gospels. Biblical scholars note that in his sacred writings Saint Luke stresses the dignity of the poor and the duty of followers of Jesus to care for them. For Luke, care for the poor is a constitutive element of true Christian discipleship. Luke, for instance, is the only Gospel auth

or to include the story of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man who fails to help him in his need.

Saint Luke also gives a special place to Mary, the Mother of God, in his sacred writings. It is in Luke’s Gospel that we read the Magnificat, the Virgin Mary’s perfect hymn of praise to God. In addition, it is in the Gospel of Luke that we read of the Annunciation to Mary, the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple, and the story of Jesus’ disappearance in Jerusalem. Luke also includes these words of the Archangel Gabriel, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” and the acclamation of Elizabeth who rejoices in the gift of the Incarnation by saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”

Finally, Saint Luke is the one to remind us, time and time again, of God’s unrelenting mercy and forgiveness. Luke is the Gospel writer who recounts the parable of the Prodigal Son, welcomed back by a merciful father, as well as the account of the forgiven woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. On every page of Luke’s Gospel radiates the image of Jesus in his encounters with the poor, those in both material and spiritual poverty.

Servant of God’s word

Finally, another dimension of Saint Luke’s writings is the inspiration he drew from his close association with Saint Paul, apostle to the Gentiles. In the opening verse of his Gospel Saint Luke explains the origin of his own ministry when he writes: “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1: 1-3).

In the Church’s liturgical celebration of the feast day of Saint Luke we recall this “servant of God’s word,” whose Gospel invites us to encounter the love of God for all, especially the poor. The witness of this saint also serves as a reminder of the daily vocation of every Christian to ponder on and to live by the word of God.



The Vocation to Sainthood: The Transfiguration of Our Humanity

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Liturgy and Evangelization

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“But, we’re only human.”  So, I often heard this phrase while giving presentations to groups affiliated with the Church, ranging from junior high confirmation groups to adults studying the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.  The phrase is innocent enough.  And on one level it is correct.  To be only human is to recognize that we are in via, on the way to what we will one day be.  That we are limited in what we can know, in how our actions might affect other people.  Yet, on another level, the phrase is patently false, an excuse for an unexamined life:  we’re only human.  That is, because we’re only human, we can’t live the life of perfect love.  Of perfect self-gift.  Of perfect discipleship.  And if we can’t live this way, then what is the use of trying?

Indeed, the beauty of the feast of All Saints is that it stretches our imaginations to what we can one day be.  That we are never only human.  Rather, through the instrument of our humanity, God has performed marvelous deeds throughout history.  Certain men and women throughout time have learned the logic of love at the heart of Christianity.  They have come to see the fullness of love revealed in the Father’s love for his Son, the Son’s total self-gift to the Father, and the Holy Spirit that comes to dwell in love upon the Church.  And once you’ve received this love, you have to give it away.  And the only way to give such love away is through our humanity.  It is the gift of our body to the world.  As the liturgical-sacramental theologian, Louis-Marie Chauvet writes regarding the corporality of faith itself:

“…corporality is the very meditation where faith takes on flesh and makes real the truth that inhabits it.  It [The Church’s sacramental life] says this to us with all the pragmatic force of a ritual expression that speaks by its actions and works through the word, the word-as-body.  It tells us that the body, which is the whole word of humankind is the unavoidable meditation where the Word of a God involved in the most human dimension of our humanity demands to be inscribed in order to make itself understood.  Thus, it tells us that faith requires a consent to the body, to history, to the world which makes it a fully human reality” (Symbol and Sacrament, 376).

Thus, it is our very humanity that makes it possible for us to become saints.  It is the lay person, who becomes leaven within the body of the world.  It is the priest, who comes to embody Christ’s self-giving love for his particular parish, the body of Christ in this geographic area, at the corner of these streets.  It is the contemplative monk, whose sacrifice of silence, of prayer, of praise and thanksgiving in this monastery becomes a sign of our heavenly destiny.  It is the mother and the father in this home, who love their own children to the end, who teach them that they are not made to consume or to produce but to give totally of oneself.  It is the lawyer in this particular firm, who fights against all injustice, all attempts to disfigure the humanity of a person.  It is the scholar in this college or university, whose study seeks to assist the Church to know more deeply the God who calls, that such knowledge might transform the Church’s prayer.

Sainthood, thus, operates as a kind of Eucharistic logic.  We bring the gift of a particular human life, offering it to God.  And through the Holy Spirit’s dwelling upon this life, coming to transform it into an icon of love, the life becomes “holy.”  We become the artwork of God’s own sanctity.  And others notice.  You see, sainthood isn’t for the saint.  It’s for the Church, it’s for the world.  We see what’s possible when our lives mirror faithfully the Gospel of love to the very end.  And others see it.  This life becomes evangelical, a leaven for all the world.  Behold the joy of the saint.


So, this All Saints Day, stop using the phrase:  we’re only human.  Instead, start saying, we’re not human enough.  Because in the saints, just as in Jesus Christ, we come to learn what a human life could actually look like.  We come to notice what happens if we let every part of our lives become an experiment in incarnating the Gospel, in this place, in this time, in this way.  Develop a holy longing that our humanity might be as human as that of the saints.  For, indeed, All Saints Day celebrates the whole communion of saints.  And yet, it also acknowledges our own destiny:  that we are all called to sainthood.  That our vocation is ultimately the perfection of our humanity, not according to the logic of the world, but of Christ’s own self-gift.

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue

When the Saints Go Marching In