Sleeper Awake: An Easter Sermon

Fr. Kevin Grove, C.S.C.

Parochial Vicar, Christ the King Parish, South Bend, IN

 

 

So what exactly happened when Christ spent those days in the tomb?  We speak of this each time we say the Apostles ’ Creed, “he descended into the dead,” before he rose again on the third day.  And now that we stand in the full light of his risen splendor, it is well worth asking what Christ was doing in those intervening days.  And the first answer is that he had passed away and his earthly body lay wrapped in a shroud in the tomb.  But since the earliest times of our Church, people have given real reflection, as should we, to those intervening days between his death and what we know to be the first light of the Resurrection.  And, in an ancient homily that was preached on Holy Saturday, the preacher recounted an interaction between Jesus, who was in the tomb, and Adam.

You see, the homily explains that after Jesus died, the earth was silent and still.  The King of kings had fallen asleep in death and the whole earth in a way kind of held its breath.  It was sort of like a lull before the most magnificent storm; but at the same time, some other place was much more tumultuous.  And it doesn’t get any better than this, that ancient writer said that the very “gates of hell trembled in fear.”  Yes, in that intervening time, eternity itself was being changed; the descent into the dead was going to mean something for all of the dead.  In a literary image of them I like very much the big stone gates of Hell have these words on them:  “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”  I imagine that at the moment the God of the universe died a human death that those gates were what shook to their very foundation; the grip of death that had been holding humans since Adam and Eve, was about to be shaken and broken.  Yes, the gates of hell trembled in fear because Christ was on his way.  Christ went down to hell to break the bonds of death.

The ancient spiritual wisdom recounts, though, a very tender moment in that place.  What happens next is an interaction between Christ, the new man, and Adam the first man who represents all of us.  The text says that Jesus went up to Adam bearing the cross; he was holding over his shoulder what had been the instrument of his death the day before.  And Adam, without having met Jesus, could see the difference; Adam and Eve had caused the first sin of all humanity by disobeying God, by eating the fruit of one forbidden tree in paradise.  Christ saved them by means of a tree, one of torture and shame, but nonetheless one on which he was completely obedient to his father.  Christ came into Hell bearing a new tree of life; he came to show Adam that only one hope existed for him and for all: and that hope was in the Cross.

And in that moment Adam actually recognizes Christ for who he is; he sees his creator looking like him, in an image like his own, strikes his chest in terror, and cries out to everyone around him, “My Lord be with you all.”  And Christ’s response to him and all of them was, “And with your spirit.”  Christ the conqueror, the mighty God who had been killed, is ever Christ the shepherd; and he walks over to Adam the first sheep ever to be lost, takes him by the hand, and lifts him up to new life, saying “Awake O Sleeper, Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light!”

And at that moment, Adam, Eve, and all of humanity became what they were created to be.  Jesus says to Adam, “I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell….you were created in my image.  Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.”  “The enemy led you out of earthly paradise….I will enthrone you in heaven.”

And the power of hell, death itself was utterly broken as Christ led those souls out of the broken gates of hell and into eternal paradise.

That long litany of saints who were taken into glory while our Lord was in the tomb should make even more powerful the event we celebrate tonight.  The gates of hell probably quaked again in fear as all of those blessed souls went forth to God.  But so too should the very fibers of our lives and our bodies tremble just a bit this night.  Because in his death, offered freely for all, Christ went back and saved the first man and woman from death.  But now he comes here; to you and to me, to your heart beating flesh and mine.  He came back to earth, he took up our flesh again, and forever released it from death.  And he did it only so that he might rescue you and me from the power of death.  He did it so that just as he joined Adam to himself for all of eternity, he might do the same for all of us.  And in the baptisms we will witness this night, we see this saving action made visible.  You and I are gathered at the tomb, and Christ is here to pluck up our courage: “Do not be afraid.”  The hour of our salvation has finally dawned.

You and I have been sleeping, yes we have been spiritually sleeping.  But Christ has risen from death, and only so that we will rise from death itself to be with him.  The slumber of our old ways can be tough, and the slumber of death itself is long.  Christ breaks through all these this night.  At long last, my friends, let us walk in the light of our Risen Lord!

 

 

Reconsidering Liturgy and Life through Implementing the New Missal

Timothy P. O’Malley, PhD (candidate)

(Acting) Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Co-editor, Oblation

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In January, I had the opportunity to visit Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus, OH to give a talk entitled, “The Eucharistic Vocation of the Catholic School.”  Indeed, the conditions of the talk were less than ideal for the high school educators gathered that day.  It was Martin Luther King Day, and this talk was the obstacle separating them from the delight of another hour or so of sleep.  In addition, as I later learned, this session was part of a diocesan wide effort to certify all Catholic school teachers in religious education—a requirement that was not necessarily viewed favorably by the faculty as a whole.  I was the dreaded in-service presenter for a certification program in which my audience was forced to be present.

Yet, as the educators began to consider the connection between the celebration of the Eucharist and their vocation as teachers, I could see that our thoughtful contemplation of the Eucharist that day became more than a required activity forced upon them by the school (Perhaps, you too, in the formation that you have offered for the Missal—or some other liturgical topic—have experienced a similar transformation of your audience from vacant stare to interested gaze).  During our time together, it was obvious to me that few in the room had ever made the connection between their daily work and the celebration of the Eucharist.  They certainly had not yet linked together their common search for truth in the classroom with the praise of the Eucharistic liturgy.  The way that their own style of teaching (and praying) within the classroom could recall the wondrous deeds that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have carried out for our redemption.  The relationship between the loving sacrifice performed by the educator and that divine gift bestowed to us through the Eucharist.  And, the mission to form their students in the logike lateria of Romans 12:1-2:  “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  As they thought about the Eucharist that day, and its relationship to their vocation, some of them (for the teacher knows he or she cannot fully teach anything apart from the student’s own commitment and divine gift) came to become, as teachers, what they receive in the Eucharist.

We, in the liturgical guild, have no duty more sacred than facilitating this insight among those with whom we work.  We are catechists, liturgical evangelists, educators in a Eucharistic faith.  The theme of this year’s June conference, “Formed for the Liturgy, Reformed by the Liturgy,” is meant to prepare us to carry out this sacred mission.  Indeed, in the coming months, we are charged with preparing people to say new words, to sing new songs.  But, this task is not enough.  It is only stage one of a deeper education, one that moves beyond the signs to a sweet taste of the realities.  It is time for us to re-seize our primary vocation as liturgists:  to teach people to say words with renewed understanding, words that may shape a new heart.

This task is more difficult, in some sense, than preparing for a new translation—one that you may have your reservations about.  It is the work that the liturgical movement envisioned but never brought to completion.  As Josef Jungmann, S.J. laid out:

If the Church comes to life in the participants in the actively celebrated liturgy, then a new relationship to the surrounding world comes into being; a new relationship to the material world itself, to the world of trades and professions.  For it is real men of flesh and blood who are caught up in the process of the liturgy.  It is their voices, their goings and comings which have become part of the sacred action.  It is the bread from the work-a-day world which is carried to the altar.  It is the work of the trademan’s hands which appears in the sacred furnishings and decorations, in the building which encloses everything.  It is the every-day world which is drawn into the sacred action, joined with the sacrifice which Christ presents with His Church assembled here (“The liturgy, a school of faith,” 344).

The mission of the liturgist is to form our sisters and brothers in a way of existence that has become liturgical.

Again and again, liturgical theologians have spoken about this liturgical existence as the basis of an integral Christian spirituality.  In shorthand, they often proclaim lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.  Yet, what can we feasibly mean by “a liturgical existence,” a life that has become “Eucharistic?”  In some sense, to ask this question requires that we consider the nature of existence in the first place:  what does it mean to exist, to be a person?  Think for a moment about those capacities that make you a human being (for more on this topic, see Christian Smith, What is a Person?:  Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up [Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2010]).

  • You can gaze upon the created world, forming images of it (imagination), and then can “remember” these images at any time—calling them to mind, reconstructing them into various shapes and sounds.  This means that you are body and soul, physical and spiritual—a creature made to move from visible signs to invisible realities, and then back again.  You are reasonable, imaginative, creative.
  • You can desire something or someone, not simply based upon physical needs (hunger for a candy bar, physical encounter), but out of deeply held beliefs.  A couple, who cannot have a child, can desire to adopt not because it is the easiest route but because they believe marriage is about a self-gift that leads to life; a groups of citizens within a country can overthrow an unjust regime, out of a deep sense of human dignity, knowing that such an act will inevitably lead to some pain.
  • You can enter into communion with another human being, through the gift of a shared life in marriage, through the intimate conversations that constitute friendship, through choosing to love those who are not before your eyes in an act of solidarity, through dying for a friend, even an enemy.

A “liturgical” existence is then the transformation of those capacities for authentic existence (and others unmentioned) through both a fruitful celebration of the liturgical rites of the Church and a reflection upon the theological realities communicated through these signs.  The couple, who truly understands what takes place in the sacramental rites of marriage, perceives in their vows a commitment to Eucharistic love, “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”  Their natural love for one another is transfigured through liturgical prayer.  Later reflection upon their experience of marriage, in light of the words and actions of this liturgical rite, becomes a renewal of their vocation to self-gift.  Through attending to the signs of liturgical prayer out of the depths of human personhood (our capacity to wonder with the images presented, to allow the text or ritual to serve as a mirror of our relationship to God, to appropriate the beliefs of the text into a way of life, etc.), we become liturgical.  It isn’t magic, it isn’t automatic—but it is transfiguring and it is possible.  For our daily, weekly, yearly participation in the sacred rites of the Church present us with a host of true and beautiful signs, inviting us to contemplate their referent.

My hope is that you consider coming to visit us this summer as we wonder together how to live this liturgical existence; and how we might develop a way of teaching, a way of praying that invites people to savor the central mystery of Christian faith:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God’s love was revealed among us in this way:  God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God has loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us (1 Jn. 4:7-12).

For the relationship between liturgy and life is as simple as the command to love one another, as God as first loved us.  And it is so complex that it takes a lifetime of liturgical practice and theological reflection to assimilate it.

Editorial Note

Dear friends,

Sorry about the few postings this week.  We have been in the midst of finals week here at Notre Dame in addition to preparing for our June Conference.  Due to some trips being taken this week, we’ll only be posting on Wednesday of this week.  But, beginning next Tuesday, we’ll continue with the Mystagogy series, finishing it before Pentecost comes around.  We’ll also be featuring several columns over the coming weeks that highlight themes from our June conference, Formed for the Liturgy, Reformed by the Liturgy (June 20-22, 2011).

The Bible and Liturgy: The Event Character of the Proclamation of the Word

Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B. Professor of Theology,

Mount Angel Seminary, St. Benedict, OR; Pontifical Athenaeum Sant’ Anselmo, Rome.

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The Bible and the Liturgy are inextricably intertwined.”  With that sentence I opened my first contribution to this online journal.   I want to pursue that thought in different ways in my regular monthly column here.  This month, in order to advance the theme, we can work with a thought suggested by the great Italian liturgist Salvatore Marsili, who speaks of something that he calls the event character of the proclamation of the Word.  The “Word of God” in the Liturgy of the Word does not mean the words of the Bible considered merely as words like our words.  The Word of God is an event: the event of creation and the event of what God is doing and saying in Israel and finally the event of what God is doing and saying in Jesus.  The words of the Bible narrate the event.  They are a precious means to us, for they are given by the Holy Spirit.  As such, they carry far more than mere human words can carry.  They carry the very events of which they speak, and in their formulation is revealed the deepest meaning of the event.  In the liturgical proclamation of these words, the event proclaimed becomes present.  The words in the book are rather like the notes of a musical score.  The score is not the music.  But the score lets the music sound.  When from the score of the biblical book the words are proclaimed in the midst of a believing assembly, the music of God’s events sounds forth in the midst of that assembly!  What is the basic shape of the music?  God speaks to the world, and the world speaks to God.  God “says” his Son to the world, and the world “says” itself as Son back to God.

No matter what particular readings occur in a given liturgy, the Liturgy of the Word always has about it an event character; that is, the events of the past which are proclaimed become event for the believing community that hears them told.  And all the events of the Scripture find their center in the one event which is the center of them all: the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is this about which all the Scriptures speak.  Every proclamation of the Word in the liturgy is an irreducibly new moment.  The event of Christ, in and through which God once acted to save his people— that same event is delivered here and now to this assembly by means of the biblical score, the gift of the Spirit to the Church.

The event of Christ— and of course,  ultimately all the events of Scripture are the event of Christ— becomes in the liturgy the event of the Church. The Word proclaimed in liturgy is not some pale reflection or residue of the event proclaimed there. The whole reality to which the words bear testimony is made present in proclamation.  What was spread out as a series of events through time is now concentrated into the one event of this liturgy.

When we are sensitive to this and focus our attention in this way during the liturgy, we experience a stronger and stronger sense of the presence of Christ, the intense presence of Christ, in the proclaimed Word.  To speak with some of the major categories or concepts of the biblical word, we could say that the Covenant is actualized as it is remembered.  (In some sense Covenant is always the content of the biblical word.)  This actualization is nothing less than a Parousia, a coming of Christ that already participates in his definitive coming in glory.  This is the living sense of Tradition— not old ideas from the past that we still for some reason hold onto, but the divine presence which emerges through the written word of scripture in the here and now of the assembly animated by the Spirit.  This intense presence of Christ is Revelation or Apocalypse, that is, a vision which opens into the heavenly liturgies unveiled in the last book of the Bible.

Mystagogy is the Church’s way of teaching the biblical text such that its words open into this widest heavenly sense, a sense whose future fullness already invades the present of liturgical proclamation.  Mystagogy also shows the way that leads from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  There is a divine logic in the biblical word that leads inevitably to eucharistic liturgy, and we can again and again sense the eucharistic liturgy seeping backwards into our proclamation of the biblical text.

This pattern, to borrow a phrase that I once used as a title for a book, is what happens at Mass.  [See my What Happens at Mass, Chicago: LTP, Revised Edition, 2011.] I have emphasized here that the biblical words ultimately center on the death and resurrection of Christ and the event character of these words when proclaimed. The scriptural words proclaimed in the liturgy become sacrament; that is, the ritual actions and words performed around the community’s gifts of bread and wine proclaim in their own way, at an even deeper level, the one and only event of salvation: the Lord’s death and resurrection. All other events are gathered into this.  And the ritual words and actions proclaim that event as the very event of the community’s celebration: Covenant, Parousia, Apocalypse, now. The bread and cup are a “communion,” as St. Paul says, in the body of Christ, in the blood of Christ. (1 Cor 10: 16) That is, the bread and cup put the celebrating community into participatory relation with the event of salvation history, an hour which does not pass away.

How are Bible and Liturgy inextricably intertwined?  To celebrate Mass is to open the Bible and to receive from it the Body and Blood of Christ in the heart of the Church.

 

Educating the Liturgical Imagination: Our Procession Into Unity Before God

Kristi Haas

Echo: Faith Formation Leadership Program, University of Notre Dame (Echo 7)

Apprentice Catechetical Leader, Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Angleton, TX

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Our Procession Into Unity Before God

Sometimes the Liturgy stirs us into moments of uncertainty and even tension.

On the one hand, the Liturgy positions us all together as equally forgivable sons and daughters before God.  Anyone can receive Baptism, and, God willing, we will all have funerals.  Remember the spectrum of saints whom we honor and remember when we pray Eucharistic Prayer I?  They include women and men (Mary and Joseph), a slave who was martyred and a pope who was martyred (Felicity and Cletus), a fisherman and a tax collector (Andrew and Matthew), prophets, apostles, doctors, scholars, and a martyr named Chrysogonus to boot.  In this light, it made sense to let all the children in catechesis have a chance to participate in the weekly procession to our sacred space.

On the other hand, the Liturgy persuades us that the Good Book impresses less when it is performing as a weapon or a hat.

Thus it was that I had to decide: could I allow the squirreliest of CCE (Continuing Christian Education) children to carry the candle and Bible to our room?

We had added an opening procession to our weekly session somewhat accidentally.  Unlike at the creation of the world, all the ingredients for a procession were there before CCE time began.  The program provides a big pillar candle, a cloth appropriate for the liturgical season, and a Bible to compose the prayer space in each room.  The children gather by age in the social hall and wait for their catechists to walk them to their rooms.  Our catechetical texts and our parish staff remind us to begin CCE with a prayer.  Finally, I was already plotting to line my third-graders up in a propitious order before we took off for our sacred space [Educating the Liturgical Imagination, Part 1] in order to seat them that way.  Voila! – a procession in the making.

Initially, I tried to line up the children according to their jobs.  I thought this was a great idea because I could determine whom they would eventually sit next to without their ever suspecting it.  We only did this a couple of times; it didn’t work because:

(1)   If and when children arrived late or were absent, we were left without our normal line leader, line caboose, or key children whose mere presence evokes quietude from their neighbors.

(2)   Having come pretty much straight from school and having various combinations of strong will, poor respect for authority, attention deficit disorder, and the beautiful energy of children, some of the kiddos simply preferred not to stay in the order I announced, either at the beginning or, especially, upon entering our sacred space where a multitude of seats awaited.

(3)   Third-grade memory does not reliably remember a job assigned at a different time (fifteen minutes ago) and in a different location (down the hall), unless, of course, that job is candle extinguisher.

(4)   They suspected it, etc., etc.

The good part about this plan was at least that it would give each child one turn as the line leader and the line caboose and one turn bearing each object during the procession.  Still, in these circumstances, it would have taken way too much time each Monday to actually make it work.

Sunday came, and Monday followed – another CCE session.  Eventually, the seating order fell away from the procession and landed as nametags at each seat.  The objects in the procession remain.  Sometimes, I ask the first children to arrive to carry them.  On days when a handful of children already have their attention on three handfuls of objects, I invite children who I know will not set anything ablaze or wear the Bible.  Some days, a child will ask me if he or she can carry the candle today.  (They don’t really ask for the Bible first, but they do ask for it once we already have a candle bearer.)  I usually say yes, adding a review of procession procedure when necessary.

Recently, a chapter about the Wedding at Cana led to a variation on the procession theme.  I was initially at a loss for how to make this interesting to third-graders who can’t drink wine, who don’t know where Cana is, and who clamored with repulsion once when I explained that I was there to make them “fall in love” with God.  “Eeewwww!”

The answer came in the form of a taste test activity.  This particular taste test involved two liquids: one, very plentiful, symbolic, and useful to us, and the other, among the most volatile substances in the catechetical world.  This activity with water and grape juice led into a message about the role of water and wine at the Liturgy.  I read excerpts from the Eucharistic prayer and related them to the Wedding at Cana.  All of this went quite well.

The route to the Eucharistic Prayer, however, passes by way of the offertory procession.

Every Monday, when we do the procession described above, there is a small risk of spilled candle wax.  This risk pales – literally – in comparison to the risk of grape juice on the carpet.  Nevertheless, with a smidge of detachment and a near certainty that the kids had never come face to face with cruets before, I added a faux offertory procession to the lesson plan.

The children were in their places.  Their taste buds were awake, the majority of their attention, focused.  The conditions were right.  Which two children, then, would make those seven fateful steps from one side of the classroom to the other, holding cruets full of water and grape juice?  I took a quick glance around the room at the volunteers:

Would I choose Davie,* who has been asking me since the taste test for a refill of grape juice?

Or Kathy, perhaps, who wants to be a nun when she grows up, runs circles around the others in knowledge of the faith and concern for the poor, loves being a hospitality minister, and has perennial jumping beans in her sneakers?

Alonso, the adorable sometimes-provocateur who once claimed to speak “African” before learning that I have travelled to Uganda and actually speak (including on that occasion) bits of an African language?

Annie.  She writes in complete sentences.  Using calligraphy-like serifs.  Attention to detail.  Bingo.

With her, I chose Elisa, her friend who attends Mass regularly, who therefore has seen real offertory processions, and who follows directions happily.  Plus…her mom is a catechist.  There will be time for amends if her shirt ends up purple.

That made two, and so we began.  The procession went off without a hitch, making the rest of the lesson possible and illustrating the kind of reverence that also befits bearers of Bibles and candles.  (Maybe next time, I’ll bring our parish’s liturgical ministry sign-up sheet!)  There were questions about why we offer gifts of water and wine at Mass and why the priest pours water into the wine.  I wished I knew the immediate reasons a little better so that I could answer their questions at that practical level at which third-graders ask them: Why wine and not grape juice, or apple juice, for that matter?  Why add water?  The wine isn’t from concentrate!  At the same time, I admire and rejoice in their curiosity, and I wish I could “become like a child” and share such wonder at these new experiences.

Thankfully, the Liturgy itself completes each of our incompleteness in a way we couldn’t have suspected.  We can look into the Scriptures and history books to find that we use wine first of all because Jesus did so at the Last Supper; second, because the early Christians did so in memory of Him, third, because the wine becomes the same Blood of Christ which, with water, poured out of the side of Christ at the Crucifixion, and so on.  But ultimately, we use water and wine in order to pray:

By the mystery of this water and wine

may we come to share in the divinity of Christ

who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

As for my desire to become like a child in wonder, I cannot help but find these words far more wonderful than any of the words I normally say or hear.  This mystery is bigger than myself; I become small in a most beloved way before my Lord, who commits to my humanity as a husband commits to his wife’s destiny; who, by committing to us, calls us to align our destiny with His destiny in the least of our brothers and sisters.  What can we say?  “Wow!”

In this way, Christ makes it all right that I can’t treat the children perfectly equally during CCE processions.  “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).  Before God, we are all already equal as adopted sons and daughters; still, from this celebration we are sent forth to grow, together, in the divinity of Christ that already unites us.

That is the point of catechesis.

 

Practicing Radical Gratitude: The Work is as Basic as Bread

Aimee Shelide, MA

Recruiting Coordinator, ECHO:  Faith Formation Leadership Program and Emcee of Notre Dame Vision

Catholic Worker Resident, Peter Claver House, South Bend, IN

Practicing Radical Gratitude

There Will Always Be Bread

My favorite part of a weekend shift at Our Lady of the Road (our Laundromat-café for people to drop in, do laundry, shower, and eat breakfast) is when the blessing of many volunteers affords me the opportunity to sit and chat with one of our guests over a cup of coffee and toast with peanut butter.  We run out of food frequently at the drop-in center, but there is always peanut butter and bread.  If Bethlehem means “House of Bread” then Our Lady of the Road is a mini bethlehem in the midst of downtown South Bend.

The abundance of bread that we receive weekly from a local bakery in town reflects the reality of almost every other Catholic Worker community.  Dorothy Day herself would often write of this thread of hope in the fabric of great need:  “There is always bread” (The Long Loneliness, Postscript).

Sharing bread at table easily reminds us of Jesus’ self gift in the Eucharist and the multiplication of the loaves and fish that fed the thousands.  In her December 1969 column of The Catholic Worker, Dorothy wrote,

“Actually, we here at the Catholic Worker did not start these soup lines ourselves…The loaves and fish had to be multiplied to take care of it, and everyone contributed food, money, and space.  All volunteers who come, priests and lay people, nuns and college students, have worked on that line and felt the satisfaction of manual labor, beginning to do without, themselves, to share with others, and a more intense desire to change the social order that leaves [people] hungry and homeless.  The work is as basic as bread.  To sit down several times a day together is community and growth in the knowledge of Christ.  ‘They knew Him in the breaking of the bread.’”

On Palm Sunday this year, I welcomed the chance to sit and talk to Ron, and to share bread with him.  I was weaning myself off of coffee for Lent and pulled up a chair with water and my toast spread crust to crust with peanut butter.  Ron was one of the first people I met upon moving to South Bend nearly three years ago.  I got a good vibe from Ron instantly.  Friendly, helpful, humble, and honest, he reminded me of my dad.  In fact, they are probably around the same age.  Seeing Ron walk through the door for Weather Amnesty at night or sip coffee quietly at a table on Sunday mornings always put me oddly at ease and reassured me that I was in the right place.

I knew that Ron had not worked in many years, but I had always guessed it had something to do with hard times resulting from unemployment and back child support payments.  As he began to share with me about his current job search (inquiring about potential openings at Notre Dame) I realized I had never asked Ron about his past and the circumstances that led to his nomadic lifestyle.  Without too much prodding, he willingly shared about an incident of fifteen years prior where he wisely redirected anger (intended for a person) to his fist, which passed at full speed instead through the windowpane behind him.  The resulting injury left him permanently numb in his hand and most of his right arm.  A helpful handyman and hard (right-handed) worker was now devoid of feeling and lost his ability to maneuver his right hand in precise motions, limiting his scope of possible jobs.  At that point, his temporary period of sobriety slipped away, along with the hope of gainful employment and self-sufficiency.

As I listened to Ron share his story, I couldn’t help but wonder how I didn’t know any of it after two and a half years of conversations.  I embarrassingly admitted to myself the reason: I had not let Ron enter into my heart.  The process of coming to know another (and in turn letting myself be known) demands time and vulnerability—both of which I had withheld.

How many others—even those with whom I live—have I kept at a distance for some distorted desire for privacy?  For control over my personal (physical and emotional) space?

Dorothy Day writes about the luxury of privacy and how voluntary poverty asks us to sacrifice this comfort that is often reserved for the privileged.  Even one’s desire to enter into solidarity with the poor and embrace simple living can be a misguided yearning for a separate “form of luxury”:

The tragedy is that we hold on—to our books, our tools, such as typewriters [today, computers], our clothes; and instead of rejoicing when they are taken from us we lament.  We protest when people take our time or privacy.  We are holding on to these ‘goods’ too.  Occasionally, we start thinking of poverty […]—we dream of going out on our own, living with the destitute, sleeping on park benches or in the city shelter, living in churches, sitting before the Blessed Sacrament as we see so many doing from Municipal lodging house around the corner.  And when such thoughts come on warm spring days when the children are playing in the park, and it is good to be out on the city streets, we know that we are only deceiving ourselves, for we are only dreaming of a form of luxury.  What we want is the warm sun, and rest, and time to think and read, and freedom from the people who press in on us from early morning until late at night.  No, it is not simple, this business of poverty” (Poverty and Precarity, May 1952, Selected Writings).

We want solidarity on our own terms.  We separate “service” from “real life” and want to define what constitutes poverty and what pushes the limit.  There are some days when I would much rather get to know someone without having to worry about solving their problems.  Helper though I am, it is easier to just not ask so as to not be responsible for their challenges, not take on their suffering.  But hospitality at a distance, during a limited time frame with gloves on, is not hospitality but a sort of compartmentalized (and even misnamed) Christian discipleship.

My conversation with Ron on Palm Sunday called me into deeper relationship.  It came at the brink of Holy Week, on a day when we remember Jesus’ decent into Jerusalem to meet his impending suffering and death.  I understood the Paschal Mystery anew this year:  the Incarnation is God’s own waiving of the right to privacy.

 

In God taking on human flesh, all barriers were removed.  Divine and human became united in the person of Jesus Christ.  The Incarnation is a further call for all followers of Christ to give up our privacy, our personal space, our individualism, our ambitions, and selfish motives as well as our fears, and dive into direct relationship and vulnerability with those in our midst.

By the Eucharist we are capacitated to do this—to become what we receive, the Bread of Life broken for the world.  Dorothy Day devoted herself to daily reception of the Eucharist.  Jim Forest, who has written two biographies of her life, claims that this practice both drew her to the Catholic Church and sustained her work until she died in 1980.

The work is as basic as bread.  And there is always bread.  In this liturgical period of mystagogia (deeper understanding of the Mysteries of God) and metanoia (ongoing conversion), may the Mass become our work.  May our work be nourished by the Bread of Life Himself.  Let us, like those on the Road to Emmaus, come to know Christ in the breaking of the bread and, furthermore, through the breaking open of our lives to those in need.

 

 

 

 

Editorial Notes: Articles This Week (5/9-13)

Friends,

In addition to our conclusion to Charlie Gardner’s series of articles on social mysticism, we will be featuring another article in Fr. Jeremy Driscoll’s series on Bible and Liturgy, the second column of Krista Haas’ reflection on Educating the Liturgical Imagination, as well as a series of mystagogical articles, promised since the beginning of Easter by Tim O’Malley.  Tim, the co-editor of Assembly, has been working to finish his dissertation, as well as putting the final touches on this year’s conference, Formed by the Liturgy, Reformed by the Liturgy.

Establishing a Mysticism of Social Justice: Dorothy Day and the Liturgy, Part 4

Charlie Gardner

Apprentice Catechetical Leader, ECHO:  Faith Formation Leadership Program

St. Joseph Cathedral, Manchester, NH

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[Editor’s note:  This is the fourth of a four part series on Dorothy Day’s social mysticism]

Conclusion: A Mysticism of Social Justice

It may seem strange to talk of a mysticism of social justice, but establishing a spirituality that bears fruit was an important goal for Day.   In the introduction of her autobiography The Long Loneliness, she defines her understanding of mysticism, which relies upon a theo-dramatic understanding of the Liturgy and the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ:

A mystic may be called a man in love with God. Not one who loves God, but who is in love with God. And this mystical love, which is an exalted emotion, leads one to love the things of Christ. His footsteps are sacred. The steps of His passion and death are retraced down through the ages. Almost every time you step into a Church you see people making the Stations of the Cross. They meditate on the mysteries of His life, death, and resurrection, and by this they are retracing with love those early scenes and identifying themselves with the actors in those scenes.

For Day, a mystic loves Christ in practice through service to her brethren and reenacts His life.  In this passage, Day tells of people retracing the steps of Christ, mediating on their faith, and becoming the actors of those early scenes.  Through the liturgy, in this case praying the Stations of the Cross, one can unite with Christ and live out His love.  Her theo-dramatic understanding of the Liturgy relies upon the understanding of the Mystical Body of Christ.  When we join the Mystical Body, “we are identified with Him, one with Him.” Profane time becomes sacred and all of our actions are transformed.  We enter into the Biblical world and we relive those scenes.  A mystic is one who is living a supernatural life of charity in sacred time.

For Dorothy “the final word is love,” in all her work comes back to it: “This work came about because we started writing of the love we should have for each other, in order to show our love of God.  It’s the only way we can love God” (Selected Writings: By Little and by Little 359).  Through the liturgy, Day she came to know the supernatural life and modeled her life from Christ’s example of washing his disciple’s feet.  She actively practiced Christ’s love and spread it to all those around her.  By doing so, she became aware of the living reality of the Mystical Body of Christ.  Through her writings, Day articulates a mysticism of social justice. Through the example of her life, she establishes a pathway where we can come encounter God through loving action of our brethren, especially the poor:

Sometimes in thinking and wondering at God’s goodness to me, I have thought that it was because I…sincerely loved his poor, He taught me to know Him.  And when I think of the little I ever did, I am filled with hope and love for all those others devoted to the cause of social justice. (6)

This love was at times very difficult, yet she persisted in her faith in living the supernatural life: “I do not mean at all that I went around in a state of exaltation or that any radical does. Love is a matter of the will…And this strength comes from God. There can be no brotherhood without the Fatherhood of God” (ibid.).  Love is not easy; it is not a one-time feeling.  Rather it is a concrete way of living that she engaged in every day.  Her mysticism is a whole narrative pattern, not episodic punctuations or peak moments.  It is a constant pruning and dying to oneself, and serving others in selfless action.  All of Day’s actions were inspired by her faith in the Mystical Body, and her faith was strengthened through her action. It is a cycle that allows one to enter ever more deeply into the supernatural reality, in which God identifies with the poor:

The majority of them asked the same question: “How can you see Christ in people?” and we only say: It is an act of faith, constantly repeated.  It is an act of love resulting from an act of faith.  It is an act of hope, that we can awaken these same acts in their hearts, too, with help of God, and the Works of Mercy… How do we believe? How do we know we indeed have faith?  Because we have seen his hands and His feet in the poor around us.  He has shown Himself to us in them.  We start by loving them for Him, and we soon love them for themselves, each one a unique person, most special! (329-330).

Unfortunately social justice is often separated from the spiritual life, but Dorothy Day laid a path for us which unites the two.  She showed that through works of love especially to the poor and marginalized, we can encounter Christ in the world.   Self-sacrificing action is manifested in the liturgy and ought to inspire self-less action in our daily life.   And when our actions unite the love of God with love of our neighbor, we are united with God in the Mystical Body to become Christ acting in the world.   We are transformed to be Christ serving Christ.

 

Teaching Catholic Practice: Praying the Rosary with Middle School Students

Sammi Kretz

Apprentice Catechetical Leader, ECHO:  Faith Formation Leadership Program

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Bedford, NH

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Our parish uses the Edge program for our middle school religious education. Before our first class began, our coordinator asked me to lead prayer at the end of each monthly gathering.  When I asked her if there was a specific type of prayer she was hoping I would lead, she thought that perhaps it would be nice to introduce the Rosary to the middle school students.  Now, before you think that we prayed the whole Rosary before each class, I will tell you that we decided that a single decade of the Rosary would be stretching the limits of middle school students’ abilities to be quiet, still, and prayerful.

Why pray the Rosary with middle school students? First of all, many of our students do not have much experience with traditional prayers of the Church; sadly, that includes experiences of the Mass. We wanted to end our classes in a spirit of prayer that would send students home refreshed, renewed, and filled with hope in the Lord. Since Mary is the Mother of our Lord, whose “role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it,” and since she is also our Mother whose prayers adhere “to the plan of the Father,” we – the Church – are “sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope (CCC 964, 2679). Why wouldn’t we want to introduce this form of prayer to our students? Besides our beautiful beliefs of Mary’s role in the Church and our own lives, which few of the 150 students probably grasped, there were practical reasons for praying a decade of the Rosary each month with the students.

Middle School students do not often find their own time for quite, reflective prayer.  Incorporating prayer into our class time seemed important, not only because it is one of the six tasks of catechesis, but because it is where we experience our personal and communal relationship with God.  “The tradition of Christian prayer is one of the ways in which the tradition of faith takes shape and grows…” (CCC 2651).  If prayer is so important, and we are going to incorporate it into our class, we need to think about time, environment, and the development of the students in learning to practice prayer.  Most middle school students need structure and have difficulty sitting quietly for long periods of time. However, saying a “quick” prayer would not give them a chance to settle and be refreshed at the end of a class.  By saying a decade of the Rosary, they have structure with the format of the prayer with time to settle and reflect on a different mystery each month.  Many students also learn and have positive experiences if they are able to have something to touch (Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences).  Rosary beads are a tangible sacramental to help focus the movement and rhythm of prayer.  Of course we had to explain the need to be reverent during this prayer and while using the Rosary beads – to the surprise of the students, the Rosary beads are NOT a “Catholic Necklace.”

When it came time to introduce the Rosary to the students it was a bit more difficult than I anticipated. I had the words, the PowerPoint visual aid, and the passion; however, getting 150 middle school students to listen with open hearts and minds after 2 hours of lessons and activities can be a challenge.  The students sitting in front of the room were the most receptive.  Luckily, each month, the students in the front of the room change.  I made sure that each gathering I re-emphasized the importance of prayer and the reason we were praying the Rosary before we began our prayer.  I also started walking from table to table (we have 10) at each Hail Mary and I asked that table to lead the prayer with me.  This gave responsibility to the students at each table and helped them to concentrate on the prayer more fully.

Since this is the first year we incorporated the Rosary into our class time, I have been reflecting on ways to improve their prayer experience next year.  Perhaps we will spend more time during the first class talking about prayer and what their personal experiences are.  Then, I might have each class come up with a reflection to lead on the different mysteries to help make the prayer more meaningful to them.  And while we continue to reflect on ways to guide them in prayer, we will rely on the working of the Holy Spirit, who through our prayer, unites us to Christ.

 

 

Establishing a Mysticism of Social Justice: Dorothy Day and the Liturgy, Part 3

Charlie Gardner

Apprentice Catechetical Leader, ECHO:  Faith Formation Leadership Program

St. Joseph Cathedral, Manchester, NH

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[Editor’s note:  This is the third of a four part series on Dorothy Day’s social mysticism]

Washing of the Feet:  Johannine Model for Bearing Fruit

The model of all bearing fruit action is Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles.  After which, He asks them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:12-15).  Washing one another’s feet is the action which all Christians are called to imitate.  It signifies their love for another and it is a manifestation of their participation in the divine charity.

Day modeled her leadership of the Catholic Worker after Jesus’ model of washing the feet of the disciples.  She seriously believed what He said after He washed the feet of his disciples: “I have done, you shall do also” (344).  Day learned the lesson from Christ and sought to wash other’s feet, because she wanted to spread Christ’s love to others. Charity cannot be exclusively aimed at God with disregard for our neighbors because being united with the Mystical Body “means fellowship with Christ and fellowship with the members of Christ as well; for we cannot separate Christ from His members and truly cling to Him if we do not love them” (“Frequent Communion and Social Regeneration” Orate Frates).

While the washing of feet acted is out every year during Holy Thursday Mass, it also is signified every Mass during the offertory, which unites the love of God and man.  In the early Church, everyone brought his own individual gift, something he had raised or worked to acquire—something that he could have used for his own support—and therefore stood for himself.  By bringing forward this gift, he was fully dedicating his whole self to God:

Of the gifts offered, some bread and wine were laid on the altar to be the essential elements of the Sacrifice of Mass, and all the rest of the one common offering was laid aside on tables to be used for the poor and the needy.  Thus the common offering make by them to God became at the same time a common act of love and charity to the poor and the needy, so that in one and the same collective but unitary action they worshipped God directly and served Him indirectly in their fellowman. (“Basis of Social Regeneration” Orate Frates)

The action of the offertory is at once symbolic, yet real.  And through such action, the Liturgy is meant to be “the inspiration of all one’s daily life; the whole of this life must be centered in and flow out from the daily Sacrifice of the Altar” (“Our Social Environment” Orate Frates).  Our actions at Mass must not remain there, but rather should radiate from the altar into society.

Theo-Drama: Living in Sacred Time

Through her participation in the liturgy, Day reenacts the Gospel in her daily life.   She writes, “It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ.  Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been (Selected Writings: By Little and by Little 94).  Not only is she spiritually speaking of making room for Christ in ourselves, a pruning which we must do at every Mass, but she also takes her words quite literally: “Any giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ” (ibid.). The liturgy is a dress rehearsal for life outside the Mass.  It is only through practice that religion comes alive, and then all one’s actions assume a biblical reality, especially the Works of Mercy, such as” feeding the hungry.  It is real action as well as symbolic action.  It is walking in the steps of Jesus when He fed the multitude on the hills, and when He prepared the fire and the fish on the shore.  He told us to do it.  He did it Himself” (341).  By imitating Christ’s actions outside of Mass, not only will we be able to unite with Christ’s Body but we will also be able encounter God face to face.