Tag Archives: Spirituality

Good Friday: Intercessory Prayer and the Confidence of the Cross

TimOMalley-211x300Timothy 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

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Intercessory Prayer and the Confidence of the Cross

Infants and young children are quite clear about their needs.  A baby cries, a mother feeds the child, the baby’s tears cease.  A child falls down and cuts his knee, his father hugs him, gives him a kiss, washes out the wound, affixes a Band-Aid, and the child resumes his play.  A young girl approaches a family friend at a party, asking them to read her a story, and the family friend (unless they are a horrible person, incapable of love), of course, does.  There is such confidence in these requests, particularly in a loving family, because the child knows that most of these simple intercessions will be fulfilled.  The need, the petition, and the fulfilled request are virtually simultaneous moments in the life of the child.

Yet, as we grow older, we lose some of this confidence.  Perhaps, it is because we have learned that our parents cannot grant all of our desires.  They cannot take away from us the disappointment of being turned down for a first job, or the sorrow at watching a relationship—once so full of promise—come to an end.  They cannot ensure that we will get into the college of our dreams, or that once we’re there that we’ll succeed.  They, and no creature for that matter, can answer for us those “depth” questions that arise in the human heart as we grow:  “What is the purpose of life?”  “Why is there death in the world?”  “Is moral uprightness really worth it, when injustice seems to be rewarded more often than not?”

A similar dynamic, dear friends, is often at work in our formation into intercessory prayer.  When we are young, we have confidence that God will answer our most simple requests quickly and with ease.  Yet, as we grow older, more attentive to the ways that our prayers seem to be unfulfilled, we may give up intercessory prayer except in the most extreme moments of life.  We have cried out that our friend may not die, and yet we have not been heard.  We have asked God that our poverty might be relieved, and yet we have not been heard.  We have sought God’s voice in helping us choose a path, and yet we have not been heard.  For most of us, the answer to this silence is not giving up faith in God but readjusting our expectations of what God can provide us in the first place.  We ask for less and not more.  We hope God has a plan, but when we’re asked to articulate it, we’re less than clear what such a plan might be.

The General Intercessions on Good Friday are an antidote to this subjugation of intercessory prayer.  Having heard Christ’s passion, we respond in trust with a barrage of intercessions for the salvation of the world:  that God will guide the Church, increase its faith, and make it effective sacrament of love; that the Pope might be strengthened in his role as servant of Christians; that all ministers, all lay people might reveal this faith in the world; that the catechumens might receive an increase in faith and understanding in preparation for their baptism; that Christians everywhere might be one in the fullness of faith; that the Jewish people might participate in the fullness of redemption, perhaps in a way that we cannot yet imagine (see, Paul’s reflection upon this in Romans); that those who do not believe in Christ may walk nonetheless in sincerity of heart, becoming perfect witnesses of God’s love in the world; that those who do not believe in God may perceive in Christians lives of love and mercy, attracting them to God; that God might lead those in public office to work for freedom, security, and peace; and, that the sick, the dying, the traveler, the captive, the oppressed, the hungry, and the diseased might be strengthened by God, and the source of their suffering blotted from the earth.  We pray this while standing and kneeling, taking time to allow the words of the prayers to become our prayer.

Yet, how can we trust that these prayers may be answered?  Indeed, on Good Friday, we are reminded that it is not we as individuals who prayer these prayers; we do not stand as those alone, isolated monads expressing wishes that remain unfulfilled.  Rather, our voice is Christ’s voice.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses this quite beautifully:

Jesus also prays for us—in our place and on our behalf.  All our petitions were gathered up, once for all, in his cry on the Cross, and in his Resurrection, heard by the Father.  This is why he never ceases to intercede for us with the Father.  If our prayer is resolutely united with that of Jesus, in trust and boldness as children, we obtain all that we ask in his name, even more than any particular thing:  the Holy Spirit itself, who contains all gifts (no. 2741).

So, the General Intercessions that we pray on Good Friday are kind of extensive elaborations upon Christ’s own prayer, bestowed at the Last Supper:

that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn. 17:20-23).

It is the gift of love, of unity that seek.  Of course, this does not take away the painfulness of our often unanswered prayers any more than the mystery of the Resurrection erased Christ’s wounds.  His anguish echoes through the ages (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”) (Ps. 22:1).  Thus, when we ask for something that we do not get, including very good things (the health of a loved one, the gift of a child, a job to care for our family), our prayer is not just heard but it becomes Christ’s prayer—his cry upon the cross.  It becomes the prayer of the saints, who have joined their prayers with Christ’s, who know our sorrow yet rejoice God’s glory.  And the sacramental nature of this prayer means that the sorrow that we feel in uttering seemingly unanswered words can be transformed (through the gift of the Holy Spirit) into a longing for divine life, into a sincere hope for perfect salvation.  So, on Good Friday, let us ask God’s intercession as a child does, confident that they will be heard.  And let our hearts be opened to the surprising way that God hears these prayers.  A savior on a cross.  A king made subject.  The Word of God made flesh, becoming a lamb led to the slaughter.  A world transformed by a preacher from Nazareth.  For, it we become used to God’s surprising way of love, his prayer of being “God with us,” then we may begin to hear his voice anew:  in the cries of the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the lonely, those who know Christ’s cross all too well.

 

 

“Never Shall They Enter My Rest”: The Dangerous Commitment of the Invitatory Psalm

TimOMalleyTimothy 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

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In the past, while praying the Invitatory Psalm (Ps. 95) for the Roman Rite’s Liturgy of the Hours, I have often found myself unconsciously troubled.  The psalm extols the wonder of the Creator, exhorts Israel (and now the Church) to “bow down and worship” before the divine shepherd, and warns the reader of the psalm to listen to the voice of the Lord (unlike our ancestors at Meriba and Massah, who challenged the commitment of a God who dared to enter into history in the freedom of love).MeribahIncident

Thus far, a perfect morning psalm, one that elicits worship and praise for the beginning of a new day.  The Christian in praying the psalm is brought into the presence of the living God, entering the temple, and offering the sacrifice of praise appropriate to the Christian life.   Yet, the psalm text (not counting the final doxology) concludes not with the same divine praise with which it began but a rather dire stanza:

Forty years I endured that generation./I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know my ways.’/So I swore in my anger, ‘They shall never enter into my rest’.

Just like that, the psalm closes.   No further promise of redemption but a stern warning, chilling to the one that takes such prayer seriously.  In fact, the latter portion of the psalm is full of the darkness of human sin, of the hardness of the human heart even as Israel professes its desire to worship the Creator.   The English translation of the psalm in the Liturgy of the Hours does not adequately capture the Scriptural memory of “hardness of heart” (the official translation declaring, “do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness”; the Latin is hodie si vocem eius audieritis nolite indurare corda vestra).  The hardness of heart, which seized Pharaoh in his refusal to allow Israel to worship their God, his reduction of the people of Israel to servants rather than God’s own people; the JudgmentSolomonhardness of heart that led to Israel’s forgetfulness to worship the LORD in the desert, to obey his commandments, including the commitment to remember the suffering of the widow and the orphan.  The hardness of heart of Israel’s kings, of a nation looking to seize power and control at all costs—Solomon’s use of the Temple not simply for divine worship but as a way of entering into political alliances.  And of course, the hardness of heart of all of humanity–responsible for the crucifixion of the God-man.   An act of violence that is now perpetuated throughout the world as human society, including at times the Church itself, has too often imagined that violence and intrigue and secrecy are politically expedient ways to operate.   Do not harden your heart.

By recalling such hardness, the present day worshipper is invited to a process of self-examination, whereby we come face-to-face with our own hardness of heart.  The historical context of the psalm, most likely, is a processional psalm for ancient worshippers, singing a hymn of praise on the way to the temple.  Commenting on the conclusion of this psalm, W.O.E. Oesterley writes, “The abrupt ending of the psalm with the words, so that I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter into my rest’, sets in relief the stern warning directed, by implication, against those who were now standing at the entrance of the temple” (The Psalms, 421).

Those who participate in the divine worship of the Church today are implicated by this stern warning.   The mere practice of participating in worship, of praying the Hours, of attending daily Eucharist, is not enough.  Attendance at worship is not a moment of magic, one that absolves us of “hardness of heart”.  Rather, the one who prays this psalm before the Office of Readings or Lauds, makes a dangerous commitment to cultivate a supplenessLiturgyoftheHours of heart, one that the Christian calls caritas.

Therefore, the one who prays this psalm each day should (together with the entire Church) feel troubled.  We should know that the prayer that we offer in the morning commits us to listen to the voice of the Lord—a voice that comes to us in the often invisible poverty of the neighbor in need.   It is a commitment to submit our bodies, our entire existence, as a living sacrifice to the Lord (Rm. 12:1)—an ethics of praise intrinsic to Christian prayer.   This psalm that begins in praise, in worship, is ultimately (like the entire Psalter in the early Church) an invitation to a process of self-examination of our hearts, a promise to surrender the entirety of ourselves to the logic of divine love revealed in Christ.

The consequences for ignoring this fact are, according to the psalmist, dire:   we will be cut off from divine rest.   Inevitably, each of us will discover, perhaps more often that not, that our once supple hearts (or at least hearts that we thought were supple) have been hardened by sin.  We know that God again and again invited Israel to enter into rest, rescued Israel from captivity, and in the fullness of time revealed the mystery of human possibility in the God-man, Jesus Christ.  God never gave up on humanity.  Likewise, the fact that this psalm begins the Liturgy of the Hours as an exhortation to be aware of our hardness of heart is a matter of hope.   For the Christian who prays the Office dares to enter into the liturgical prayer of the Church with hope that the hardness of heart will be PriestofPraisehealed, softened through the tears of repentance, through the affective transformation of praise, through joining our voices to the Christ’s priestly voice of praise.

In conclusion, the Christian who prays the Invitatory Psalm of the Liturgy of the Hours is making a dangerous commitment to the fullness of Christian charity.   But, we are making a commitment, which we alone are not capable of achieving.  Instead, we know that the priesthood of Christ can heal us of our hardness of heart, slowly attuning us to hear the voice of the Lord in the worship that we enact, in the neighbor in need.   Entering into the healing gift of the psalms in the hours, we join with Augustine in his Confessions:

Through your own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me.   Say to my soul, I am your salvation.   Say it so that I can hear it.   My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul, I am your salvation.   Let me run toward this voice and seize hold of you (I.5.5).

Ultimately, perhaps this is what makes praying the Invitatory Psalm so dangerous.   Not simply that we are committing ourselves to offer our lives to the living God, but rather that in praying this psalm, we are opening ourselves to receive the very Spirit that will heal our hardness of heart.  After all, inviting God to work on us, to reconfigure us into the image and likeness of God, is always a dangerous commitment indeed. 

Practical Mercy: The (Human) Dignity in Making Time

Dorothy Therese

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When I was a summer intern at a nearby Christian non-profit organization, I spent a week watching all the school-aged kids who lived at the shelter.  We needed to fill up our time together, so we chose a story from the children’s Bible, created costumes and assigned roles, and acted it out for all the families at the end of the week: the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Lk 8:40-56).

Jesus Raises Jairus' DaughterLater that day, I pulled out my video camera and asked one of the little girls what she learned from the story.  She responded, “God always has time for us!”

Today, I’m a full time case worker at the largest shelter in town.  I took the job eight months ago as a recent graduate of a professional lay ministry program who wanted to serve God’s vulnerable people and proclaim the good news to the poor.  And now…I am tired.  Yesterday I accidently worked an eighteen hour day, an experience that helped me appreciate all you parents out there, on call twenty-four hours—hats off to you.

I arrived at work at 5:45 AM for a building-wide drug test, which means several staff members watch hundreds of people pee in cups.  All morning I was convinced my hands smelled like pee.  At one point during the tests I stuck my head out of the bathroom and shouted, “Who’s next!?”, to which one of my clients responded, “Good morning to you too!”  Ooops, good morning—sorry for waking you up at 6 AM to question whether you are actually drug free… I suppose I wouldn’t love that either.  Then there was the kicking people out for their drug use, watching guests cry and look defeated, and learning so much as I watched my boss hug one of the culprits and tell her to remember not to stop moving forward because we are still here for her.

BusynessI drove another mom to work after we told her she’d have to take the drug test when she got home, which would be an exception for her.  I spent the rest of the morning in meetings learning about local mental health resources, contacting Child Protective Services slightly frantically, visiting with children’s services folks who decided one of the mothers needed to be asked to leave, meeting with guests one-on-one, and helping set up for a ladies’ party, where my first ‘meal’ of the day was a well-rounded dinner of crackers, cheese, and accidentally-diet root beer.  The party ended at 10 PM, and it startled me, in a refreshing sort of way, to be thanked by a few of the ladies as I stood in the cafeteria chatting with a guest.

It was 10:30 PM when I collapsed in my boss’s office just to find out that the working mom from this morning would also be kicked out because she had not taken the test at all that night, but had left town for ‘a family emergency’ that would last a couple days.  My wise, kind, and confident boss looked at me with such telling eyes when I responded: “Well, she could be telling the truth!”  I just wanted to call the mom and tell her how much I love her.

I drove home that night through the snowy streets of my little town at 11:45 PM feeling numb but satisfied by a hard day’s work.  I ran around all day (quite literally, because I walk so quickly at work that it looks like running), and still I was stopped every twenty feet and had to shout, “I’m in the middle of something!”  In those moments I get frustrated thinking no one respects my time, but later when I’m alone in my office working and a homeless mother wanders in just to say hi, telling me I seem so busy lately, I blush—am I really in this job to “get things done”?  What was the point of all that rushing around—it seemed so important at the time.  But didn’t I take this job to be in relationship with the poor?  When did my job switch from relationship building to crisis management?  Is that why I’m here?

Jesus Heals the Woman with a HemmorhageWhen Jesus is on his way to heal a frantic Jairus’ only daughter, he stops by a woman of faith who so longed for healing she just wanted to touch Jesus’ tassel, and he says, “Daughter, your faith has saved you, go in peace” (Lk 8:48).  The crowds think his stopping to help this poor woman has ruined everything—he was on his way to save someone important’s little girl, how could he dream of stopping for anyone else?  But Jesus knows better: “Do not be afraid, just have faith and she will be saved” (Lk 8:50).  Everyone thinks he is crazy: he is not being practical with his time!

I see myself so clearly in those crowds, in the people who are frustrated by another woman’s need, who believe that everything else to be done must be so much more important.  After all, I need to organize all my files for an audit, and call about that parenting class, and attack bed bugs with my bare hands, and contact that lawyer, and help my exhausted co-worker, and investigate new resources for a mother’s unique needs.  These are all good things, aren’t they?  Why do people keep knocking on my door with more and more needs?  Why do people need so much?

But we all know that our first and foremost role as Christians is to love as Christ loved: radically.  We’re surrounded by people and a culture that tells us how important it is to be “successful,” to accomplish as much as possible with all our gifts.  Meanwhile, right in front of us stands God’s creation, asking for our help, for a few minutes of our attention, for a smile.

Sometimes after work I go home and just really want someone to listen to me talk about the intensity of my day, the heartbreak and the joy.  And my roommates look up from their books and listen.  It would be ridiculous for me not to offer this to the folks at our shelter, some of whom haven’t been hugged in years, who just want someone to look them right in the eye with the silent recognition that they do have dignity.

God always has time for us.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 10

Sr. Ann Astell

Professor, Notre Dame Department of Theology

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This is the tenth in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff
to republish them here.

Previous articles in this series:
Reflections on the Creed: Part 1
Reflections on the Creed: Part 2
Reflections on the Creed: Part 3
Reflections on the Creed: Part 4
Reflections on the Creed: Part 5
Reflections on the Creed: Part 6
Reflections on the Creed: Part 7
Reflections on the Creed: Part 8
Reflections on the Creed: Part 9

“I believe in the communion of saints…”

“I believe in the communion of saints.” According to Jesuit theologian George Maloney, this statement of faith is “the one least understood among Christians and therefore the one that has least importance for practical Christian living.”

In issuing a “universal call of holiness” (Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5), the Second Vatican Council clearly intended to foreground this dogma, to render it understood and practical in the modern world, and to place it at the heart of the Church’s self-understanding. The communion of saints constitutes the Church in its very sociology. To be a member of the Church is simply to be called to sanctity — called by Christ and called by the saints.
What does “the communion of saints” mean and how is it important for our lives? The creed does not declare our belief simply in the existence of saints, but in the communion of saints, in their vital connection with each other.

St. Paul’s great realization was that the saints are the members of Christ’s Mystical Body, united in the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father” (Eph 4:5). By this definition, the “communion of saints” is the very life of Christ, which binds Christians together. Sharing the Scriptures, the teachings, charitable works, the joys and sorrows of Christian living, and the sacraments — above all, the Eucharist, which is Christ Himself, the food of martyrs — they live out and actually increase the communion of saints.

This mysterious bond in Christ is so deep, so real, that each one’s prayers, good works, suffering, and striving for sanctity affect the others. This holds true not only of Christians in direct contact with other — who see each other, work together, belong to the same family or parish. No, the communion of saints affects a spiritual connection between persons that overcomes the limits of time and space.

In Christ, what I do and offer in charity makes a difference in the lives of others — no matter in what hidden corner I stand. The Servant of God Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968) taught his followers this motto: “I sanctify myself for others.” What I eat at my table affects the hungry. What money I spend affects the poor. What and how I pray affect the prayers of others.

Belief in the communion of saints calls us to a deep responsibility for each other here and now. It also gives us hope, knowing that the saints who have preceded us on the earthly journey continue to intercede for us in Christ. As J. P. Kirsch explains, “The departed saints … are concerned about those still struggling.” The saints in heaven care for those on earth.

Because the saints in heaven are united with God, each Christian’s union with God on earth is also a communion with them. To live out of the truth of this communion, to realize its potential, is to crack open what is for many an unbreakable barrier, to achieve a vital communication between heaven and earth, between those living in time and those living in eternity. Our God is “the God of the living, not the dead” (Mt 22:32).

Whereas the Feast of All Saints invites the whole Church to look upward to the saints in glory, the Second Vatican Council gives us the same vision from the opposite direction. It invites us to see the Church on earth as the saints in heaven see it and call it to holiness. What unites the two perspectives is the faith of Christians, ancient and ever new, in the communion of saints.

Call Off the War: Let’s Put an End to Liturgical Politics

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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As a senior at the University of Notre Dame in 2003, I received permission to take a graduate course offered by Maxwell Johnson, entitled Liturgical History.  Here, for the first time, I came to see the possibility of treating liturgical prayer as an authentic site for theological inquiry.   Until then, my “study” of the liturgy was limited to a reading of the ordo before setting up for Mass as the sacristan of the undergraduate seminary.  Johnson’s course had me hooked.  I was fascinated by the development of liturgical texts and practices in light of an array of theological and cultural influences.  I began to see the liturgical context of all theological inquiry.   And I appropriated the vision of the 20th century liturgical renewal as I worked on a thesis with Max Johnson in the spring semester, seeking a deeper grasp of the historical, theological, and pastoral implications of The Liturgy of the Hours.

In the intervening years, my passion for liturgical studies has flourished all the more.  I immersed myself in both liturgical and sacramental theology and the patristic period, finding the subtle ways that liturgical prayer shaped the preaching, teaching, and theological inquiry of Augustine of Hippo.  I’ve grown fascinated with the appropriation of liturgical texts (and themes) in English literature and novels.   And my interest has increased, not simply out of a scholarly desire to “master” Augustinian thought, but because I sought a way to develop a liturgical mystagogy capable of transforming the lives of contemporary believers.   To seek a healing of our desires, our limited understanding of God, of the dis-ease with which we approach our bodies, of our failure to see vocation as a form of “liturgical” self-gift for the transfiguration of the world.

Yet, throughout my studies and now in my directorship at the Center of Liturgy, I have often found that liturgical prayer (rather than a site for genuine healing) has become simply another form of the culture wars that have embroiled both politics and the Church today.  I have attended conferences, where any mention of Benedict XVI or concerns about the de-sacralization of liturgical prayer have been greeted with suspicion and derision.  Simultaneously, I have encountered students (and professors at other liturgical conferences), who seem to at best tolerate the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  The Notre Dame Center for Liturgy is often measured according to the same ideological standards.  Where are we in the liturgical wars?  Am I, as director, on the right or left?

This form of liturgical politics is ultimately exhausting and detrimental to the flourishing of the Church.   Happily, the function of the liturgy as ideological marker is increasingly absent from the students who I teach.  I have an array of students, who prefer Eucharistic liturgies filled with polyphony and chant, incense ascending above the altar.   Likewise, I teach just as many undergraduates whose preferred liturgical style includes drums and harps and guitars.  Each of these groups kneel during the Eucharistic prayer (even if there are no kneelers) out of devotion to the sacrament, not as an opening volley to a liturgical tete-a-tete.  They participate in Eucharistic adoration as a way of renewing their own sense of Eucharistic gratitude, not because they have a private and individualistic sense of the sacrament.  They have often perfectly embodied the ideal of the Second Vatican Council that the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ, which moves the Christian community toward a more authentic vision of love for the neighbor.  And the two sides, often enough, are actually friends.

Most importantly, they seek to understand the liturgical life of the Church as integral to vocation; to the concrete ways that they commit themselves to a form of self-gift in the world.  They do not spurn the world (though sometimes, they need to learn to talk about the relationship between faith and culture in a more sophisticated manner).   They do not reject the holiness of the ordinary:  of human sexuality, of meals cooked and enjoyed with friends, of happenstance conversations with friends.  Rather, they seek to offer up every aspect of their lives to the Father, and liturgical prayer is the privileged technology for this offering.

The problem with liturgical politics (and the liturgy wars) is that it gradually suffocates this spirit of prayer.  Ironically, it turns liturgical prayer (a participation, ever so brief, in the heavenly peace of the city) into an act of war.  We grow to suspect that the hymn chosen at a particular celebration of the Eucharist is intended to communicate some implicit ideological theme.   We hear chant and assume that the music director is dialing back the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  We “use” the liturgy to institute our own ideas of what reform should look like, rather than celebrating liturgical prayer as an authentic encounter with the living God.

So what to do?   The end of liturgical politics will require a bit of ascesis on all our parts; a new discipline of charity, of self-gift.  I’ll admit on a personal level I prefer Eucharistic liturgies with incense and chant, the sound of the organ filling the sacred space.  But to be Catholic includes more than personal taste, even if that taste has been refined through liturgical study.   It involves understanding that beauty in liturgy is essential.  But beauty is found fundamentally in the action performed, in the ritual movement, in a heart lifted up to the Father as a gift of love.  When I attend a liturgy that does not “conform” to my preferred liturgical style), the proper response is one of self-gift not suspicion and demonization.  For the action that is performed is still the Eucharistic gift of love, the Eucharistic offering of self for the life of the world.   Those occupying the formal position of “liturgist” in a parish should have the same attitude in liturgical celebration.   The Catholic “liturgical” tent is wide, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with recognizing this fact, rather than forcing the same liturgical style on every member of a parish.

Simultaneously, it must be realized that the purpose of liturgical prayer is not strictly about us.  The root of liturgical politics is often a kind of self-worship.   It’s not about creating a beautiful experience for us to enjoy, an opportunity for us to celebrate our culture, an occasion for the Church to demonstrate herself as triumphant victor over secularity, and on and on.   Liturgical prayer is always an encounter with the Triune God, mediated through the Church.  An encounter that ideally results in the joining of our very humanity with the life of God.  Not simply a general sense of our humanity but the very particular narrative, which I bring to the liturgy that I attend.   The widower, who comes in sorrow, should discern in liturgical prayer an opportunity for an encounter with Christ just as much as the family of six perceives in liturgy a vibrant opportunity for prayer that is taken up into family life itself.  Liturgical politics “deforms” the liturgy, turns it into a sectarian exercise, where the only ones who are welcome are those who look, sound, and act like me.  The rite of the Church (and following the rubrics of said rite) are intended to protect this primary function of the liturgy, to keep it from becoming an expression of self instead of an encounter with Christ.

Putting an end to liturgical politics won’t be easy.  It will require authentic charity (and the presumption of good will) among bishops, clergy, liturgy committees and professional liturgists alike.  It will necessitate real dialogue, disagreement that does not disfigure one’s dialogue partner but is open to the possibility of a genuine encounter.  It will involve the examination of those half-truths, the partial narratives, that we have adopted to buttress our position.  Such charity is a “theological virtue”, one bestowed by God not through human effort alone.  And as Thomas Aquinas reminds us, the final end of the Eucharist (the res tantum) is union with the mystical body of Christ.  True and authentic, self-giving love, with all those who abide now in Christ.

Thus, in this year of faith, in this year in which we look more closely to the liturgical renewal brought about by the Second Vatican Council, let us also put an end to liturgical politics.  Not simply to be kind and tolerant to one another.  But because the real work of the Council remains undone:   to renew the vigor of the Church’s love for Christ, to manifest the brilliant charity of Christ within the modern (and now post-modern) world itself, and to offer the possibility of transforming every aspect of human culture into a gift of love.

 

The Spirituality of the Lay Ecclesial Minister – Part 2

Daniel Whitehouse

MDiv. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

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This is the second in a series of articles geared toward developing an understanding of the lay ecclesial minister in terms of spirituality. The first article, The Spirituality of the Lay Ecclesial Minister – Part 1, laid a foundation for this understanding through a discussion of the participation of the lay faithful in the threefold mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. This installment will endeavor to clarify the secular nature of the vocation to lay ministry.

The decree of the Second Vatican Council on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, declares: “[t]he Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ.… All activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of this goal is called the apostolate, which the Church carries on in various ways through all her members.”[1]

The document continues to develop the language of a ‘oneness of mission’ in which all share through a diversity of ministry. John Paul II designates the uniquely lay expression of ministry when he states, “[the] lay faithful has its own manner of realization and function, which, according to the Council, is ‘properly and particularly’ theirs … designated with the expression ‘secular character’.”[2] This secular character, by which the lay faithful is often described, deserves a closer examination.

Aurelie Hagstrom examines the secular character of the laity throughout the relevant conciliar and post-conciliar documents positing three possible interpretations of this character. The term could refer to: a sociological phenomenon which grounds itself in the actual de facto “life situation of the laity,”[3] a theological/ontological reality grounding itself in baptismal identity,[4] or a dimension of the whole Church “that finds expression in a particular way through the laity.”[5] While each position has its own strengths and weaknesses, Hagstrom notes that the third interpretation is particularly strong in its assertion of the secular dimension of the entire Church.[6] She goes on to state that though the Church’s mission is to the world—having a secular character and demanding the responsibility of all the Church’s members—“the laity have a particular relationship with secularity, which characterizes their participation in the mission.”[7] Therefore, the lay faithful are not bracketed from the internal life of the Church by virtue of their secular character; rather, they participate in the Church’s secular mission. As another scholar affirms, “In ascribing a secular character to the laity, the council did not mean to exclude them from activity within the community of the Church.”[8] Apostolicam Actuositatem also gives voice to this reality by stating, “the laity … exercise their apostolate … in the world as well as in the Church.”[9] Hagstrom ultimately claims, “because the Church’s mission is both spiritual and temporal, the laity are called to the building of ecclesial communion (ad intra) as well as to the transformation of the world with gospel values (ad extra) … the secular character of the laity is not posed in opposition to their participation in the inner life of the Church.”[10]  The secular character of the laity’s participation in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king is fundamentally oriented towards the secular mission of the Church even if it finds expression ad intra.

Having established the spirituality of the layperson within the threefold mission of Christ and demonstrated the referent of the ‘secular character’ of the lay faithful, the next article in this series will direct our attention to the increasing numbers of lay men and women serving the Church ad intra through lay ecclesial ministry.

 



[1] Second Vatican Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem (AA). 18 November 1965, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651118_apostolicam-actuositatem_en.html>, 2.

[2] Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (CL). 30 December 1988, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_30121988_christifideles-laici_en.html>, 15.

[3] Aurelie A. Hagstrom, “The Secular Character of the Vocation and Mission of the Laity,” Ordering the Baptismal Priesthood: Theologies of Lay and Ordained Ministries. Ed. Susan K. Wood, 152-174 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 153.

[4] Ibid, 170.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 171.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Zeni Fox, “Laity, Ministry, and Secular Character,” Ordering the Baptismal Priesthood: Theologies of Lay and Ordained Ministries. Ed. Susan K. Wood, 121-151 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 143.

[9] AA, 143.

[10] Hagstrom, 172.

The Spirituality of the Lay Ecclesial Minister – Part 1

Daniel Whitehouse

MDiv. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

The Second Vatican Council, in its dogmatic constitution on the Church, exhorted all members of the Church to recognize and pursue their vocation to holiness stating, “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”[1] This universal call to holiness is the fundamental vocation of all people, as Christ Himself directs us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48, RSV). Upon hearing the invitation to perfect charity, the question quickly becomes: ‘how?’ The response to this question of expression is largely determined by many factors including: particular vocation[2] (whether it be ordained ministry, consecrated life, marriage, or single life), personality, and occupation. The emerging role of the lay ecclesial minister could seem to push on the categories of spirituality, convoluting lay and ordained manifestations of holiness and tending towards clericalism in the laity.

This series of three articles will explore the concept of spirituality as it pertains to the lay ecclesial minister. The first article will highlight both the participation of all the lay members of the Church within the threefold mission of Christ. The second will discuss the secular character of the lay vocation. The third will treat the unique features of the spirituality of the lay ecclesial minister, positing that the spirituality of the lay ecclesial minister is an authentic manifestation of lay spirituality, integrally oriented to ministry and organically linked to the Church.

Christifideles Laici, John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on the lay faithful, provides a very thorough overview of the lay mission and vocation echoing from the Second Vatican Council. The document begins with a commentary on Christ’s parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16, RSV) stating that, “[t]he call [to work in the vineyard] is a concern not only of pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world.”[3] The expression of this mission for all the lay faithful is founded upon incorporation into the threefold mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king through their baptism.[4] This spirituality of proclamation, sanctification, and service in Christ is intrinsic to all the faithful; however, the lay faithful share Christ’s mission in a degree and essence of their own,[5] based on both their state in the world and their apostolate. Briefly treating the threefold mission of Christ of priest, prophet, and king in relation to the layperson will elucidate a proper understanding of a genuine lay spirituality from which we can move forward.

First, we turn our attention to the priestly mission of Christ to sanctify. John Paul II affirms lay participation in this mission by stating: “[t]he lay faithful are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered Himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity.”[6] The baptismal priesthood participates, according to John Paul II, in Christ’s Priesthood through a willingness to sacrifice in order to both glorify God and sanctify the world. Lumen Gentium also expresses the particularly lay dimension of the priestly mission stating:

“[Christ] also gives [the laity] a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men…. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.” [7]

In and through uniting his or her prayer, activities, work, recreation, rest, hardships, and family life to Christ in the Holy Spirit, the layperson not only gives glory to God but also works towards the sanctification of the world.  Though exhibited differently, the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood are complimentary and have a common root in Christ.[8]

Next, the prophetic mission of Christ is also made present in the layperson by virtue of their baptism as John Paul II contends, “[t]hrough their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, … the lay faithful are given the ability and responsibility to accept the gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed, without hesitating to courageously identify and denounce evil.”[9] While the hierarchy of the Church—those ordained to ministry—preach and proclaim Christ officially, the lay members of Christ are prophetic through the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful), witness of life, and convincing speech such that “the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life.”[10] The essence of prophecy for the layperson is that he or she would bear witness to the truth of Christ by his or her words and deeds, as well as contend against wickedness and sinfulness in everyday life. Lumen Gentium gives pride of place in the lay prophetic endeavor to the Christian family, wherein husband and wife testify to faith and love for one another and their children.[11] Evangelization by word and life is the means by which the world will come to hear the Good News of Christ: “it remains for each one of [the laity] to cooperate in the external spread and the dynamic growth of the Kingdom of Christ in the world.”[12] Even without bearing the authority of the hierarchy, every baptized person, in a manner proper to his or her particular vocation, is charged with the great commission of our Lord: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20a, RSV).

Finally, according to John Paul II, the lay faithful participate in the kingly mission of Christ in two ways. First, John Paul II states that the laity “exercise their kingship as Christians, above all in the spiritual combat in which they seek to overcome in themselves the kingdom of sin, and then to make a gift of themselves so as to serve, in justice and in charity, Jesus who is Himself present in all his brothers and sisters, above all in the very least.”[13] The mission of Christ’s kingship concerns the re-ordering of all creation with its ultimate telos (goal or purpose), namely, the perfection of charity and union with God. Therefore, lay people should seek to govern their own passions and desires in order to overcome sin, so that they can serve God and one another properly. Secondly, John Paul II continues:

[I]n particular the lay faithful are called to restore to creation all its original value. In ordering creation to the authentic well-being of humanity in an activity governed by the life of grace, they share in the exercise of the power with which the Risen Christ draws all things to Himself and subjects them along with Himself to the Father, so that God might be everything to everyone.[14]

With this in mind, sharing in Christ’s governance is demonstrated to include both a personal and communal role, although markedly different from the ordained manifestation of the kingly mission. The laity “must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all creation, … its role in the harmonious praise of God … [and] … [t]hey must assist each other to live holier lives even in their daily occupations,” in order that “the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity and peace.”[15]

The lay faithful, as demonstrated above, are called to participate in the threefold mission of Christ in an essence and to a degree harmonious with their particular vocation;[16] however, “what specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature.”[17] Given this reality, the next clarification to make is the nature of the lay vocation, which will be treated in next week’s article in this series.


[1] Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium (LG). 21 November 1964, Papal Archive. The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html>, 40.

[2] Second Vatican Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem (AA). 18 November 1965, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651118_apostolicam-actuositatem_en.html>, 2.
[‘Particular vocation’ and ‘state of life’ are used interchangeably.]

[3] Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (CL). 30 December 1988, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_30121988_christifideles-laici_en.html>, 2.

[4] Ibid, 14.

[5] LG, 10.

[6] CL, 14.

[7] LG, 34.

[8] Ibid, 10.

[9] CL, 14.

[10] LG, 35.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] CL, 14.

[14] Ibid.

[15] LG, 36.

[16] AA, 2.

[17] LG, 31.

Young Adult Styles of Prayer: The Rule of St. Benedict

Patrick Sullivan

Echo 7

St. Monica, Archdiocese of Indianapolis

Contact Author

Preface

In the USCCB’s pastoral plan for ministry of young adults, “Sons and Daughters of the Light,” the opening three paragraphs speak to the rich diversity of young adults. They are in their twenties and thirties, are single, married, divorced, widowed, with children, in rural and urban areas with jobs and in school; they come from all over the world and have been brought up in the same town their entire lives. Young adults are recent converts, cradle-Catholics, discerners, skeptics and lukewarm Christians.[1] The irony of the “definition” of young adults is that in an attempt to describe the category, there is a discovery of the great diversity it contains. The quest to define “young adults” yields unexpected results; instead of narrowing down the nature and needs of this population, a great diversity and undefinable quality is discovered.

In recent years, the United States church has taken great strides toward developing a proper ministry to this wide cross-section of the church. Dynamic programs have sprung up to meet the growing and changing needs of young adults, leadership roles have been offered to those desiring to serve the church, and “parish regulars” are becoming more willing to “turn over” roles of leadership to young adults.

With this in mind, the great challenge of young adult ministry, in all its rich diversity, lies in the rapid, unpredictable life of each young adult. As many are young professionals or newly married, the consistency of their day-to-day routine is seldom found. Late hours, intense school work and the prospect of young children of their own often dictate the life of these young adults. Therefore, developing parish programs to meet the individualized needs of these young adults is not without difficulty.

Perhaps because of this lack of stability and unpredictability in the life of these young adults, it is unsurprising that the two most desired things for this demographic are, as mentioned in the Basic Guide to Young Adult Ministry, “intimacy – to be loved and have others to love…[and] community(church related or not) that share their values and interests.”[2]

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to introduce young adults to an outlet to meet these deep desires. This article does not propose to be an end in itself, but rather an introduction to a communal, spiritual life that will draw young adults together, bound in common through a regular and intimate life of prayer. [3]

Introducing the Rule

The life of the young adult is anything but stable. From undergraduate programs, to master’s degrees, to first, second and third jobs, the average young adult might find him or herself in four or five different cities in the span of just a few years. Circles of friends, daily routines and communities are in regular flux. From the surface, it might seem impossible to develop any stability at all.

In the search for any regular form of spiritual life, the young adult would do well to take the Rule of St. Benedict to heart. Without knowing the story or context of Benedict’s Rule, many a young adult might hear the “Rule of St. Benedict” and stumble at the word, “rule.” With such a demanding work schedule, the last thing any socially adjusted twenty-something might need is another set of rules. That being said, this Rule was developed to be a “living guide to the spiritual journey and to community living, rather than a legal document.”[4] Indeed, the community of Benedict, itself, and the rule, were first developed for beginners to the monastic life.[5]

In her own reflection on the Rule of St. Benedict, Esther de Waal describes the Rule and the vows taken in conjunction with it as meeting very basic needs of the human condition. “They are not, as they might seem at first glance, about negation, restriction and limitation,” but rather “they are based on a commitment which is both total and continuing…the paradox is that they bring freedom.” [6]

As a young adult, in the midst of regular chaos and instability, the Rule of St. Benedict provides a means for stability (on a human level), a common purpose (on the communal level) and an avenue toward a deeper and more intimate relationship with God (on the spiritual level).

The Rule

Listen carefully, my child, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice. The labor of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.[7]

As a young adult in just as many transitions as described throughout Young Adult pastoral literature, the stability of the Rule is certainly attractive. Yet, as mentioned above, the “rule” language does cause some hesitancy. In reading and reflecting on Benedict’s prologue, though, I am struck by the tenderness that runs through the text.  Benedict is not looking to levy a cruel code of conduct as the holy disciplinarian, but rather seeks to lay a foundation of prayer and consistency, much in the same way a father would.

Benedict invites us to listen. He invites us to listen to the advice he shares, to the message of the community and the prayer that is formed through monastic life. It is important to note that he does not say “do” or “you must” but rather “listen.” The end of a Benedictine spirituality is not a long list of tasks and goals, but rather an open heart – one that will beat with the constancy of prayer found in union with Jesus.

As a young adult, the invitation to “listen” may, in fact, be more difficult to take to heart than the “rule.” While many a young adult might be adverse to yet another rule, their jobs, school, home, taxes and commutes are all filled with rules. There are rules for conversations and rules for walking. There are rules for dressing, for singing for playing sports and for cooking. Rules are not uncommon to young adults. Listening, however, is a different story. The chaotic daily life of young adults is filled with noise: music, instruction, to-do lists, lectures, meetings and emails. It might seem that we are listening constantly to the noise that hums throughout our day, but the listening that Benedict invites us to must not pierce the silence but rather by enveloped by it.  Benedict’s invitation to listen cannot be fulfilled in this noise. We are not called to listen in the silence, but rather to the silence, itself.

Stability

In Esther de Waal’s reflection on the Rule, she sees his invitation to stability as necessary for “planting roots” and “growing an identity.”[8] In the life of a young adult, the discovery and manifestation of identity is critical.[9] In this rapid search for identity, though, young adults often find themselves scurrying between post-graduate service fairs, volunteer drives, career centers, pilgrimages, vacations, study tours and intense retreats. The irony in all of this is that in the frantic search for identity, the young adult has no time or consistency to plant any roots. Like a farmer who constantly uproots his crop upon “discovering” better soil, such young adults are never given time to grow into themselves.

“For it is impossible to say, ‘who am I?’ without first asking, “where am I?”[10] The Rule of St. Benedict provides the stability needed to begin to answer these questions. Moreover, the Rule is not relegated to a lofty idealist pursuit of identity, but is grounded in the realistic quest for basic human needs.[11] Indeed, Benedict, himself recognizes human need and human nature and in the context of his Rule encourages his brothers to follow these rules only to the best of their ability.[12]

Community

As Sons and Daughters of the Light and The Basic Guide to Young Adult Ministry both point out, young adults commonly desire to surround themselves with people who share their values and position in life.[13] By living in a “community,” I have been given a concrete outlet to this desire. That being said, I know that most young adults are not afforded this opportunity; their search for authentic community is often hampered by working hours and domestic responsibilities.

Practicing the Rule on an individual basis will certainly develop a practice of stability in the life of a young adult, but abiding by it in a “community” – even in the loosest sense of the term – will deepen the roots that have already been planted. Throughout the Rule, Benedict constantly encourages his fellow monks to practice sincere hospitality and charity. Through the prayers and “rules” found throughout St. Benedict’s Rule, young adults may be able to develop a sense of community in relation to those with whom they come in to contact with every day. Though not sharing a living space, many young adults will have regular co-workers or colleagues. Therefore, the practice of seeing Christ in such people, bearing with them, and enduring in patience[14] might lead a young adult to a deeper connection and “communal” relationship with Jesus, himself.

Prayer

Throughout the Rule, Benedict makes constant mention of the office of prayer, and the sacred reading that should be done by the brothers. As De Waal describes in her commentary on the Rule, the practice of Lectio Divina [15] played a central role in the life of St. Benedict and in the context of his Rule.[16] Encouraged to take a word from their reading with them throughout their work, the monks allow prayer to be the heart beat and rhythm of their days.[17]

In the life of a young adult, where work (in the school or office) dictates most of the day, a great beauty can be discovered in allowing prayer to run throughout the entire day. Instead of compartmentalizing work, home and prayer, the Rule of St. Benedict invites young adults to turn the work they do into an avenue for prayer. While Benedict might not have seen the work itself as anything extraordinary, he did see the occasion for work as an occasion for prayer. Therefore, as a young adult praying with the Rule, one might be encouraged to take a word or phrase from Morning Prayer and mull it over throughout the day, perhaps returning to the source again at lunch, or a coffee break and continuing to ruminate on the message throughout the day. The Rule, itself, even encourages those monks working away from the monastery to take the Rule with them, and continue to have prayer flow through their day.[18]

Living the Rule

This brief reflection on the Rule of St. Benedict is not supposed to be an end in itself, but rather seeks to function as a guide, that is, as something that points the reader to the source. To truly pray with the Rule, young adults are encouraged to read and apply the Rule to their own individual circumstances. As the Rule was intended to be a realistic guide for beginners, young adults should continue to treat it as such. Instead of seeking an earth-shattering, life changing moment in life, the Rule should be allowed to slowly transform the life of a young adult so that he or she is slowly brought into a deeper relationship with Jesus.


[1] SDL, 7

[2] Cusick, DeVries, 17-18

[3] For the purposes of this project, only Benedictine spirituality will be introduced. Had this been developed into a full guide, a variety of other popular prayer styles (Ignatian, Lectio, etc would have been introduced as well).

[4] Swan, 14

[5] Sawn, 15

[6] De Waal 1984, 55

[7] Rule of St. Benedict, v. 1-3

[8] De Waal, 56

[9] Cusick, Devries, 17

[10] De Waal, 56

[11] De Waal, 57

[12] RB 48.9

[13] SDL, 9; Cusick, DeVries, 18

[14] Ephesians 4:2

[15] Had this been developed into a full textual guide, the reader would be directed to a section on Lectio Divina in the life of a young adult.

[16] De Waal, 1995, 124

[17] De Waal, 1995, 123-4; RB 48.11

[18] De Waal 1995, 132; RB 50.4

Sources

Cusick, John and Devries, Katherine, The Basic Guide to Young Adult Ministry. Orbis Books: Maryknoll, NY, 2001.

De Waal, Esther. A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict. Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 1995.

De Waal, Esther. Seeking God. Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 1984.

National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishops’ Committee on the Laity, Sons and Daughters of the Light: A Pastoral Plan for Young Adult Ministry. USCCB: Washington, D.C., 1997.

Saint Benedict, ed. by Timothy Fry. The Rule of Saint Benedict. Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 1992.

Swan, Laura. Engaging Benedict: What the Rule Can Teach Us Today. Ave Maria Press: Notre Dame, IN, 2005

 

Happy, Happy Friday: Beware of Pedastals (July 20)

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

Contact Author

 

PRELUDIO: So I don’t know about you folks, but in this video I’d happily have Scotty from Star Trek beam me to either of the places that they are (I feel like if they can get a massive piano to both of those places, then it shouldn’t be too hard to transport me there somehow):

Anyhoo, folks, I hope you’re feeling the chill-itude J and HAPPY FRIDAY, PEOPLE!!!

HOLA, PEOPLES!!!,

So whenever you drive past a Chuck E. Cheese, have you ever wondered if you would still fit in the awesome plastic tubes in the play area? (Answer: yes, you can, because parents follow their kids into those things all the time. It was always just tough when you were a kid, darting around in there as free as a bird, and you encountered a parent whose parental devotion was making them squeeze through those pipes like toothpaste coming out of a tube. It was tough, but somebody had to do it.)

Sometimes it’s kind of entertaining to see how many pieces of tiny playground equipment you can pull yourself through (do not attempt this without a trusted friend who can call 911 if you get stuck. That, or go buy some axle grease to pry you free.) This must be done with caution, however: if you break a piece of playground equipment, then you risk being labeled a ‘young neighborhood hooligan’ who goes around pulling essential pieces of the playground off and running away with them. Do you want to be labeled as a hooligan? Then treat playground equipment with RESPECT, SON. It’s done nothing but make your life better (except when you fall off of it and break things, but hey, life’s risky), and darn it, you should be sending it flowers and chocolates for all it’s DONE for you, you ungrateful…hooligan. And now we can keep moving along ;)

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, Beware of Pedestals

Youtube clip of the week:

Dorothy Day has a wonderful quote that goes like this: “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

At first this quote sounds like it’s full of self-importance. Is Dorothy Day saying that she’s more than a saint, or that calling someone a saint is a bad thing? I guess the answers to those questions would be “No” and “It depends.”

Folks, we are a naturally inquisitive people, and we like to feel that we’ve ‘figured someone out’ or that we get who they are. But we have to be vigilant with just how tightly we hold on to what we’ve ‘figured out’ about someone else. In “A Grief Observed”, C.S. Lewis was tormented with the fear that the memory of his wife would eventually become less and less like the real woman that she was when she was alive. He wanted to remember her truly on her own terms rather than adorn her memory on his terms until the imagined form bore no resemblance to the real person.

It doesn’t take the death of someone we love for us to fall into the trap that Lewis feared. In our desire to ‘figure each other out’, we can put each other on pedestals and assume that the friend in our memory is identical to the real one. And when we actually spend time with that other person, we have a choice. We can let the person be real on their own terms, revising the impression of them in our mind where it’s not true to life. Or we can cling tenaciously to the person we imagine them to be, rationalizing away their faults and dismissing their complexity in favor of our mind’s false image (after all, an image that we can control tends to be much simpler to understand).

It’s a bit like this: say we have a drawing of our best friend, one we’ve sketched from memory, and we meet up with them the next day for lunch. When we see them in person, we realize that we’ve gotten some of their features wrong in our drawing. We can either adjust our drawing to reflect the real thing…or we can cling to our drawing because we’re unwilling to admit that we’re wrong. By doing so, we don’t allow the other person the chance to be as real and human as we are.

When other people disappoint us, do we wonder if it’s because we expected them to be more? It can make it harder to forgive others’ faults if we have already made them out to be incapable of fault. If we let the division progress between imagination and reality, then maybe we will become like the person who can think loving thoughts about their spouse and then go home and treat the real spouse badly. We have to be vigilant that the people we love will not be placed up on a pedestal or put away in a neatly labeled box just so we can feel that we understand them fully. If we don’t even understand ourselves perfectly, how can we expect to completely predict and comprehend another human being? Shouldn’t we allow them room in our minds to be human, to change our impressions, to make mistakes, and to be real?

Do you often feel like you don’t have it all together in life, that you want your weaknesses to be understood and forgiven, and that you’re just a living, breathing, broken yet worthwhile human being most of the time? If you feel this way about yourself, you must give others space to be as real as you are, to feel the same things, and to be broken on their way to being made whole. God will have us know the world as it is, and we must not attempt to turn away from the truth when we find it.

Friends, I hope that this day is a grand one ;) and I send along, as ever, my

Love, prayers, JOOOYYY!!! And a HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY!!! HOODALALLYY!!!

Laura

Happy, Happy Friday: God is On Our Side

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

Contact Author

 

PRELUDIO: As a YouTube comment on this song put it, “Even his butt can play better than me.” Without over-thinking that sentence, just enjoy the song (and the fact that his hands look like footage of a hummingbird in flight, or the wing beats of the large and terrifying insect that dive-bombed you yesterday. Your choice):

Anyhoo, folks, HAPPY FRIDAY!!!

HOLA, PEOPLES!!!,

So here’s one part of childhood that was a sad farewell in my life: really decorated classrooms in school. In college, all of the rooms were so indistinguishable from one another, like the movies in “The Land Before Time” series (after the first one, that is). (Fun fact: there are 13 movies in that series. By the time they got to the end it should have been “The Land Before Time: The New Bipeds In Town”).

But back in the glory years of elementary school, posters of butterflies and puppies and flowers were EVERYWHERE, like Technicolor overload. If you didn’t feel like learning about the state capitals, you could always read the poster that said “Reading Takes You to the Stars!” And once you finished reading that, you could stare at the class’ pet hamster (who was usually asleep, but at least you could pretend he was awake and doing cartwheels or something). And then you could play with the contraband blob of Sticky Tack that you thieved in September and stored in your desk in case you became desperate. And then you could pull out your Lisa Frank poster and your eyes would start watering (not out of emotion, but because those colors were so intense that it made your color-saturated classroom look beige by comparison). So really, there was a lot you could accomplish in third grade without having to learn about photosynthesis, and it all began with your teacher having an explosively colorful and decorated room.

I guess in college they figure you can feel secure without the posters that say, “Be a Gold-Star Student!”, but really by then you’ve just evolved more sophisticated ways to distract yourself (like wondering where the professor bought his tie, striving valiantly to stay awake by eating 6 Tic Tacs at once, and pretending that you’re industriously typing notes on your laptop when really you’re reading about the Denver Broncos on ESPN). But I digress: I just miss the overstimulating, extremely colorful decorations of my youth in academia. But we can keep moving along now ;)

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, God Is On Our Side

YouTube clip of the week:

A wise Dominican sister once told my high-school religion class a beautiful story, and here’s how it goes:

A woman’s Bible study group was examining the line from Scripture that says, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” The line piqued the interest of one lady, and subsequently she sought out a silversmith and asked him if she could watch him refine silver. He agreed, and as he held the silver in the fire, he explained to her that he had to watch the silver constantly. If the silver was held in the fire for a moment too long, it would be destroyed. The woman asked, “But how do you know when it’s ready?” The silversmith answered, “Oh, that’s easy: when I can see my image in it.”

Friends, there’s something that we can ‘lose in translation’ as we journey through our daily lives. We spend so much time caught up in the trees that we forget about the big picture; either that or we spend so much time reading the fine print that we forget the words that are written across the entire page.

What do we forget, friends? That GOD CARRIES US TENDERLY. GOD LONGS FOR US. HE WANTS US TO BE WITH HIM BECAUSE HE LOVES US.

I’m guessing that if any of you are like me, right now you’re thinking, “Well, YEAH.” But there’s a difference between knowing something as fact in our minds and believing it in our hearts so completely that we stake our lives upon its truth. We might know how a rope works, but it’s only when we have to hang our lives on it that we really start to care if it can hold our weight. We might say someone is trustworthy, but what happens when we must stake our lives on their reliability? It is in that moment of truth that what we know as fact deepens into part of our daily reality, one that is tested by fire and eventually found worthy.

We know that God loves us, and we’ve known it for a long time. But how many of us live as though He really did love us infinitely? How many of us have placed that truth as the cornerstone holding up our life? Do we forget that God is on our side, that He WANTS us to be with Him in Heaven, and that He loves us? By that I don’t mean that we forget that like we forget the capital of Albania: it’s more forgetting that something is true because other things get in the way, like fear and mistrust making us ‘forget’ that a dear friend is really as good as we remember them to be.

We can’t make ourselves feel the love of God that surrounds and carries us: it’s a conviction that we receive from Him, one that we have to ask Him to give to us through grace. The belief that allows us to hang all of our hopes on His love, to put all of our life’s eggs in the one basket of His care for us…it comes with time, and we have to ask for it as a gift. And folks, we have to trust that He will give us that conviction: NOT when we feel like we need it, but when He knows we really need it. It’s on His time and His understanding, not ours, so we’re called to trust in His timing.

Don’t you know that God loves you? Like, REALLY loves you? Maybe it would be easiest to break this down:

GOD IS NOT: looking for ways to trip us up, checking off marks on some celestial tally-board every time we do something wrong, loving us in a detached, impersonal way (like a guardian that’s mildly interested in our fate but has other things to attend to), or telling us to be perfect without intending to see us through.

GOD IS: taking every opportunity to lead us Home, shouting our name in our pain and confusion, carrying us tenderly even when we don’t feel His arms holding us, wiping away every tear with infinite gentleness, willing us to exist in every moment because He loves us (because we would cease to exist if He stopped willing for us to be), offering us mercy that we can’t earn, understanding every detail of our life with infinite interest and care, giving Himself away on the Cross for our sake, taking advantage of every crack in the armor we build against Him and finding every way in to our hearts. He longs for us to draw near, and the love that motivates His longing is not cold or distant. It is love that purifies and refines that which it cherishes, purifies its beloved until the image of God shines out from the beloved’s face. The prodigal takes one step home and the father covers the remaining distance at a sprint.  If we do not yet live and breathe in the reality of His love for us, then we must pray that someday what we know now as bare fact, we will also trust as a lifeline and a solid ground. We can hang every hope on God: He is a strong enough line to bear all of our burdens and more.

Friends, I know this was a longer Heart than normal, I hope that today is such a GRAND and GLORIOUS day for each of you, and I send along, as ever, my

Love, prayers, JOOOYYY!!! And a HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY!!! HOOODAALALLYYY!!!

Laura